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Favorite Games for School Counselors

As a school counselor, there are certain “must-haves” and a few games are certainly at the top of that list. While games are fun, they also help to build an authentic relationship between us and the student and can contribute to important skill development like taking turns, respecting others, graciously losing, OR winning, problem-solving, patience, regulation, and the list goes on! An added benefit, according to research, is that games can help to engage our most-resistant clients/kiddos.

We polled the counselors in Team TRC to see what their favorites are and why. Hopefully this helps you find some new games for your office or new ways to use the games you currently have!

Store Bought Games

Uno

Uno is a favorite for good reason; it is a fun, (sometimes) quick, rapport builder that encourages the development of turn-taking and patience. Another benefit to this game is the chance to practice handling disappointment. We all know how disappointing it can be when someone puts down the dreaded +4, but it’s important for children to see the difference between someone doing that to be mean and when it is part of the game, which is another great lesson to teach using this game!

Don’t Break The Ice

Don’t Break The Ice is a game that naturally helps to develop self-control because the children must control the impulse to hit blocks when it is someone else’s turn or to hit a bunch of blocks at the same time. They also have to practice gauging their strength to avoid hitting the blocks too hard!

Jenga

Fun, short, simple, and with extension options galore, Jenga is a great option to have on your shelves. On its own, it targets self-control and encourages students to think before acting, but it can be adapted to target just about any skill you are working on. 

Hedbanz

An ever-fun option, Hedbanz is especially good for lunch because you don’t need your hands too much! You can choose to play this as it comes for building rapport or group cohesion or, you can replace the cards and target specific skills. 

Pop-Up Pirate

In this game of luck, students must take turns placing their swords into the barrel. One unlucky kiddo will place their sword and Pirate Pete will burst right out of the barrel! Pop-Up Pirate is a great option for pre-readers, keeps kids engaged, and is a helpful way to practice responding to the unexpected! 

Pop up pirate game

Hungry Hungry Hippos

Hungry, Hungry Hippos is a fast-paced, energy-filled game! This one can get a little loud and may not be the best option for students who struggle with that type of play, but the energy can be so much fun. A creative way to use this one is to target thought-replacement. Prior to playing, have students brainstorm some unhelpful thoughts. When their hippo eats a marble, pause the game and choose an unhelpful thought. Then, replace it with a helpful thought and continue playing! Or do it at the end, for however many marbles their hippo ate.

I Got This

Students are tasked with some kind of physical or mental challenge. Some can be really tricky! They have to gauge how confident they are feeling about the task and allocate a certain number of points to it. If they complete the challenge, they get that number of points. If they don’t, they don’t! This game presents an opportunity for counselors to help students come up with and practice a self-talk statement before or after they do each of the challenges.

I Got This game

Chutes and Ladders

Another favorite, Chutes and Ladders is a simple-to-play game, wonderful for all ages and presents awesome opportunities to think about how “sometimes you go up and sometimes you go down” both in the game and more generally, in life. This game can also connect well to choices and consequences – when you go up a ladder, have share a choice that has a good consequence. Then, when you go down a chute, share a choice that would have a negative consequence.

Candy Land

Candy Land is a quick and fun option that is a popular option in many counseling offices! It is great to use to establish rapport, work with younger kiddos or any kiddos who aren’t quite reading yet, or when you just need to help a student develop their ability to manage disappointment or frustration. 

Connect Four

Connect Four, is a quick, simple game to have at your disposal. It’s also helpful to help students use this game as an opportunity to practice pausing before acting and making predictions about their choices. This might sound like, “What do you predict will happen if you put your piece there? What might I do next?”

Sorry

Sorry requires students to make decisions. Once they draw their card and see how many spaces they can move, they must choose which of their pawns to move. They must also choose whether to bump other people’s pieces and – sorry! – send them right back to the start. This game can be used to have important conversations about genuine vs. disingenuous apologies. You may ask questions like, “Does that feel like a real apology? What does a good apology sound like? Feel like?” When playing Sorry, everyone is trying to get their pieces to the “safe” spot. This can open up a conversation with children about their own safe place. “What is your safe place? How does it feel there?”

Memory

Always fun to play with the littles, Memory is a great game to have access to. You can use traditional versions, or create your own, or use one featured in our Monster Feelings group!

Let’s Go Fishing

Let’s Go Fishing is great to have to help kiddos develop their coordination, patience, and self-control. They use their little fishing poles to “catch” different colored fish, which can be challenging, especially for the youngest of our students. This makes it a great option to use when practicing different coping skills or positive self-talk! It also moves on it’s own and is different from what most kiddos have at home, so it can be extra engaging. 

Hoot Owl Hoot

Hoot Owl Hoot is a great teamwork-based game. Because of the collaborative nature, it is great for students who are not-yet-ready for competitive games! Kids can practice ‘coaching’ one another along, providing suggestions and celebrating together.

High Ho Cherry-O

High Ho Cherry-O is a great group game for littles (no reading required!) that focuses on filling buckets. Children spin to learn how many pieces they will either collect or return. For child(ren) familiar with Have You Filled a Bucket Today, each turn can be an opportunity to think of something that either fills someone’s bucket or dips into their bucket.

Making Any Game a Counseling Game

If you’re thinking about how to use any of these (or other) store-bought games in a specifically therapeutic way, check out our Any Games Prompts. This resource includes prompts for 26 different topics that can be used for just about any game any game that includes a dice, spinner, or colors like Uno, Candy Land, Chutes and Ladders, and so many more.

  • Tip! You can really make any game work with these (Jenga and Don’t Break the Ice are extra faves here) by color-coding them with color dot stickers!
Make Any Game a Counseling Game

These low-prep counseling questions and prompts will work with almost any game you already have – I bet you will use them almost daily at your school! Each set of prompts is coded by number and color. Roll a 5? Respond to prompt #5! Drew a yellow card? Respond to the yellow prompt! Questions/prompts are worded so that they can be answered multiple times during a game without it being repetitive – because repeated practice is what leads to generalization! These are excellent for individual counseling and small group counseling but can also work for class lessons.

I NEED THIS

Therapeutic Games

We’ve incorporated lots of simple games into our individual and group counseling curriculums, but there are also two stand-alone games that students have asked to play again and again!

Worry Game

This is a CBT-based, fantasy and adventure themed board game that can be played competitively or cooperatively. Escape the Worry Spell helps children defeat worry by focusing on four key skill areas: coping skills, helpful thinking, self-awareness, and thought-challenging. Fire cards and gem cards get students thinking about their own worries and practicing various strategies to overcome them. Because there are so many prompt options, it is unlikely that a child will get the same one each time so this game to be played time and time again for continued fun and learning!

Coping to Calm Game

With many different options for individual counseling, small groups, or whole classes, our Coping Skills Game is a helpful choice for those kiddos who struggle with regulation or overcoming day-to-day stressors. The goal of this game is to understand that like the weather, some things are out of our control, but our minds and our bodies are not! To do this, it gets students practicing skills like muscle relaxation, deep-breathing, positive affirmations, and problem solving through their gameplay.

More Quick Thoughts

We usually think of games in counseling being for individual and group counseling, but you might consider using these in class lessons, too! This could look like:

  • A mini lesson, or even reading a book, on topics like sharing, sportsmanship, worry, etc.
  • Break into small groups and each group is given a game to play and practice the skills from the lesson.
  • Reflect on how they used the targeted skill during the game!

If you can only buy four store bought games, our top choices would be…

  • CandyLand
  • Jenga
  • Don’t Break the Ice
  • Uno

What would your top school counseling games picks be?

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Hello, I’m Sara!

With 10 years of experience in
elementary school counseling,
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