A couple of years ago, I moved out of my school counseling office and packed up all of the things I had bought with my own money over the previous seven years. Put all of my resources and a few fidgets on my shelves to work from home, and stashed the rest away in the garage. I keep meaning to go through it but it’s a bit overwhelming… because I absolutely overbought.
It is super duper easy to fall into the trap of thinking you should or need to buy all of the things as a school counselor. There’s a lot of cool “stuff” out there that our creative counseling brains see and think “oooo, I could use this!” When I think about all of these impulsive buys, however, I notice that I never actually used most of them. Oops.
I don’t want you to make the same mistake as me, so I’m putting my brain into “restart” mode and sharing the things that I would say are totally worthwhile and that for me, are must haves for an elementary school counseling program. I’m going to break it down into three categories: “Things”, “Resources”, and “Furniture Stuff.”
Also – these are MY must haves. I can’t and won’t tell you anything that YOU “must have” because every counselor and school is different!
I love a good PowerPoint/Google Slides slideshow in lessons, and I also love walking around the room while I present them. Having a clicker is A-M-A-Z-I-N-G. Not sure how I got along without one!
You don’t need every single fidget or calming tool that exists, but having a few is truly helpful. They serve two purposes: 1) they help kiddos who come to our offices because they need help regulating and 2) kids (and grownups!) like to have things in their hands when they’re talking to a counselor. My students’ favorites varied from school to school and year to year so I can’t predict what yours will love, but these have been some big hits: Pop-Its, stuffed animals (it would be great to have a weighted one as well as a super soft one), pin art, stretchy or squeezy things, and liquid timers.
Individual white boards are really helpful to use in class lessons. It’s one way to minimize worksheet/paper use in class. I’ve also used them in small groups. I bought mine from Amazon (cheaper than Lakeshore), but some people buy the material from Lowes/Home Depot and have it cut down
Individual page protectors/pockets are great for the same reason. Unless you think a student is going to refer back to a worksheet, or that caregivers will want to see it, each kiddo doesn’t need a copy. Use dry erase pockets and markers to cut down on waste (and give students the opportunity to use dry erase markers which they seem to really enjoy!).
I have sang the praises of the mini hand shredder many times before and I will continue singing it to my deathbed. It was one of my most used tools in individual counseling. We’ve shredded grudges, nightmares, unhelpful thoughts, and more. The physical experience of shredding is very powerful for the kids.
Smelly markers! They provide a sensory experience, they color really well (and very saturated), and they’re certainly more fun than pencils.
Books! BUT, I recommend, whenever possible, to read a book before you buy it. I’ve rented a lot from the public library, looked them up on YouTube, etc. to see if my students will connect with them and to determine if it’s a book I actually “need” to own. I’ve posted about my favorite Julia Cook, Trudy Ludwig, and Feelings books before. You’ll also want to have at least two different grief books available (The Invisible String is my favorite). PS This picture does noooot represent my all time faves. I can’t pick my all time faves! But, I can say all of these had very important roles in my counseling library.
You don’t need a million games…but you do need some games. Some favorites with my students have been: CandyLand, Chutes and Ladders, Don’t Break the Ice, and JENGA. I was shocked Uno wasn’t a fave, but I think my students’ families just didn’t play that so they weren’t familiar with it. Let’s Go Fishing is one I never expected to be a big hit – but my 2nd and under crowd loved it.
Some of my most used tools as a school counselor are printable resources/activities that I created – things that I used every quarter (and sometimes every week, month, or day). I’ve narrowed it down to my three absolute most used things. It was painful to only pick 3!
Adding structure into my individual counseling sessions, especially those that were a little more ongoing, has been so helpful. It keeps us more focused, it’s less intimidating to the students, and it provides predictability (and with that, a sense of safety). This folder lapbook rocks for checking in with emotions and how things are going, as well as what they want to talk about in the session, and how they feel as they leave.
My main counseling theory is CBT, so helping students to 1) understand the connection between thoughts, feelings, and behaviors and 2) identify helpful vs. unhelpful thoughts is important to me. I used interactive “CBT stories” and thought cards allllll the time. While CBT is awesome, the metacognition involved means it can be tricky for some students and making it more concrete vs. abstract is the way to go.
While lots of board games and card games can be therapeutic all on their own, I often add more directive counseling prompts in my sessions. These Any Game Counseling Questions cover 26 different skill areas or topics and can work with any game that has (or can have) numbers or colors.
Leaving furniture for last because 1) it’s the priciest and 2) you might not know what is already in your office. Once you’ve got a handle on what’s already available to you/left behind, you might want to consider finding if your school doesn’t already have it.
Comfy chairs for individual sessions with kids, parent meetings, and teacher consultations. This wasn’t something available to me at my school, and with a limited budget, I turned to the always wonderful Target. Twice now I’ve bought their “dish” chairs and looooved them! Sometimes they go on sale with the rest of the “dorm room” stuff. They also have them on Amazon and WalMart.
In between my comfy chairs I kept a cart that held my most commonly used individual counseling tools (many mentioned above!). It helps the flow of the session to have as much right there on hand as possible! I got mine from IKEA, but they also have them at Michaels, and I’m linking one from Amazon.
Many of the students in my small groups had some emotional and physical regulation needs. Having seat discs and chair bands available at my small group station (a kidney bean table which also was my “desk”) was super helpful for them. I also had lots of extras of these that I loaned out to teachers.
Other furniture must haves for me fall under the “helps me stay organized” umbrella. I have a whole blog post about school counseling organization you can read to get those ideas.
If you’re a new (or new to elementary) counselor, here are some other blog posts I think would be helpful to you:
If you are reading this post, there’s a very good chance you’re embarking on a new career, position, or school. I just want to say – congrats, best of luck, and feel free to reach out with questions you have along your journey!