No matter your counseling theory of choice, reality is that you need “stuff” to counsel elementary students. Most of our sessions aren’t just sitting and talking. We need tools and props and resources and toys and games. These serve to engage our students and also to meaty concepts more concrete for their developing minds. Sometimes we have the benefit of planning our sessions ahead of time. Most of the time we’ve got to operate “on the fly.”
Over the years, I grew a collection of tools that became invaluable to have on hand for individual counseling sessions. Having them helped me feel more confident and they absolutely helped me serve my students better. Below are some of my favorites and how I use them. I’m not including any games here – I’ll do that in a separate post!
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Hand Paper Shredder
I couldn’t live without this shredder. I’ve had one every year that I’ve worked as a therapist or counselor and it gets used every week. It’s great for helping kids “let go” of grudges. For shredding nightmares. Destroying unhelpful thoughts. One of the best things is that it requires a little physicality to use. There’s something extra powerful about feeling the gears grind while shredding something negative.
Cognitive-behavioral is hands down my theoretical orientation of choice. It’s a little harder using it with elementary age students, but it’s definitely doable. Something that helps my students understand it better is having relevant examples to examine. It can be tough for students to identify and verbalize their own thoughts, so examples provide some helpful scaffolding. I created a huge set of thought cards that get pulled out pretty often with students. We sort them by helpful vs. unhelpful. I can evaluate what’s going on with students by asking them to identify which unhelpful thoughts they have. And students can select helpful thoughts they want to use as affirmations. I coded mine by topic (anger, worry, etc.) so it’s easy for me to pull out relevant ones for specific students.
I’ve never had the toys or space to do child-centered play therapy as a school counselor. Rice tray, though, is one of the best ways to integrate play into school counseling sessions. At the very least, it’s super helpful to have a set of figurines that work as family figures. While I often used them when working with my youngest students, I found they were also great for working with my students developing their English skills and kiddos that are super shy. I used to have the “family sets” from Lakeshore, but recently discovered the family figurines you see above which are cheaper AND more versatile. Zero budget for this? Print and laminate clipart or pictures, cut them out, and then use tiny binder clips to hold them up!
Bouncy and Splat Balls
Our kids run into problems all day long, big and small. Sometimes we get to help our students that struggle to cope with them. One way I help my students be more resilient it showing them how we can BOUNCE BACK when we have a problem or we can go SPLAT. Having bouncy balls and splat balls or globbles to demonstrate and play with makes it more fun, and makes a real impact in students’ minds. Note: The egg splat balls look way cooler, but they don’t stay stuck to the floor (they splat flat and rebound super quickly). The globbles don’t splat as flat but they stay stuck/smooshed.
Sometimes our counseling sessions involve needing to teach our students skills. I’ve had fun using “spinners” to do this. Sometimes I pull out ones that I have ready made to use (like the one with ideas for how to make a friend). Other times, the students cut and color and assemble one in session to take home. I keep copies of the pages in a binder with other counseling “worksheets” (see below!) PS The size of the problem spinner has gotten loads of use in my house with my son!
I’m not a worksheet person. I just don’t think they’re the best option most of the time, especially in class lessons. That said, I do think there’s a time and a place for them, especially when you might want to send something home, get their words on paper for them to see themselves, or when coloring might be helpful. I have a few CBT worksheets that get used ALL THE TIME, plus I love Kate’s color your feelings pages.
Loads of Fidgety Things!
Spending most of my time with 2nd-4th grade meant that I was often able to (and/or needed to) do some talking with my kiddos. Having things to hold and fidget with: 1) takes some of the pressure off of tough topics, 2) provides some sensory input, and 3) is honestly just fun. Sequin pillows or critters (affiliate link), squishy balls, stretchy tubes (affiliate link), stuff you find at Target…you’ll figure out what your kids respond to best. In my last office, I had two different spaces where I did individual counseling in my office and had a few things at each.
Do you have any favorite tools to use in your individual sessions? If you do any ongoing individual counseling, you may want to check out my post about what to do in your first sessions.
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