It can be a useful tool to help students stay focused, therapists agree.

More accurately, a distraction, argue teachers.

No, it's just fun, say kids.

The one thing everyone can agree on: fidget spinners -- the colorful, hand-held twirly device trending in area schools -- are here to stay, at least for a little while.

Fidget spinners, which come in a variety of styles, sizes and colors, are all the rage. Stores can't keep them in stock, and youngsters are collecting them by the handful.

But what exactly is a fidget spinner and why are kids finding them so appealing?

Third-graders in Massillon City's Whittier Elementary School said they like playing with the inexpensive spinners, which can be personalized. Kids are spending hours learning tricks and trading them with friends.

School officials see the value in a toy that can be used to keep students who have trouble sitting still and paying attention on task. But, say teachers, the spinners have become more of a disruption in the classroom than a helpful tool.

Keeping little hands busy

Similar spinning toys have been around for decades, but it wasn't until the last few years that fidget spinners have been more widely sought after, and the popularity of the toy has exploded locally in the last few months.

The 3-inch device can be found in gas stations, toy stores and online.

A basic fidget spinner is a two- or three-pronged sphere with a bearing in its center, circular pad. A person holds the center pad while the prongs spin. They can be made of various materials, including brass, stainless steel, titanium, copper and aluminum, and different types of bearings can produce varying spin times, vibration and noise.

Fidget spinners and other devices in the fidget category can be useful tools in helping children, especially those with Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder, stay focused in school so they can learn.

Improved concentration was noted in some children who played with the device, which can provide an outlet for excessive movement, said Sarah Groves, a mental health therapist at Akron Children's Hospital.

The fidgets allow restless kids to release excess energy in an appropriate manner, she explained, which is helpful when restraint is called for, such as during a long car ride, in church or in the classroom.

"The purpose of a fidget is to exert some of the excess motor activity that kids sometimes struggle with," said Groves. "Fidgets help keep hands occupied and help the child to learn to self-regulate when feeling restless.

"It's similar to an adult doodling at a meeting. It allows them to stay more in tune with what they are supposed to be paying attention to."

A 2015 study published in the Journal of Abnormal Child Psychology, looked at 8- to 12-year-old kids with ADHD, and found those who participated in gross motor activity -- meaning the movement of limbs or large parts of the body -- performed better than those who sat still during tasks involving working memory, which is a type of memory used for processing incoming information.

Exercise has also been proven to be helpful for kids with ADHD.

Tool or toy?

For some students, fidget spinners cross the line from tool to toy, and the twirling becomes a distraction in the classroom.

Therapist Groves said there are number of products that fit under the fidget category, and many could prove more beneficial for a child.

Fidgets can be as simple as a piece of Velcro placed under a student's desk that he or she can touch and rub during class, to beads on a piece of string, or an exercise band.

Groves prefers fidgets that can be attached to the student or a desk. Some fidgets designed as necklaces, rings and bracelets as well as those that attach to the tops of pencils also can be effective.

"They can move it around and chew on it," she said.

Groves said parents may play the biggest role when it comes to figuring out it fidgets are fitting for a child. Most important, she advises, is setting rules and expectations for how, when and where a child should use the device.

Groves suggests educating children about what a fidget is and why it can be beneficial to them.

Parents also should stress that fidgets should not be thrown, or used to taunt or hurt others.

Finally, Groves suggests introducing the fidget in a controlled environment such as while doing homework, in church or in the car.

This allows a child to practice using it while parents are able to supervise to ensure it is being used appropriately.

"Don't just let them take it to school," she said. "We want everyone to be on the same page. It's not play time in the middle of class. We want them to understand that this is for when you are struggling to help you out."

Reach Amy at 330-775-1135 or amy.knapp@indeonline.com.

On Twitter: @aknappINDE