(Fidget) Spinners in Counseling

Fidget Spinners are all the rage these days.  They are in every grocery store, gas station, and school.  Kids can't seem to get enough of them-- mine included, but, do they really help?

Pros of fidget spinners:

  1. Kids Feel Socially Accepted – If a student has a fidget spinner, they are with the "In Crowd."  I have seen it myself.  As soon as a student starts spinning their fidget spinner, a crowd of people will stop to watch.  Instant conversations start taking place, and friendships can be forged.  
  2. Can Help As A Sensory ToyLet's face it, spinners help with sensory input.  Kids can become mesmerized by watching and holding the spinners.  Fidgets in general can help students with sensory issues be successful, as students use them as a self regulation skill to monitor their own behaviors.  They can have a calming effect--but only to some.  
  3. They have more than one use – Fidget spinners are, well, toys.  And, like any toy, kids can use their imagination to use it for more than just to spin.  A friend or mine, Yanique from Kiddie Matters blog, uses them in her counseling program to get kids talking about Social Skills.
These fidget spinner social skills games are great for children to practice social skills. These counseling activities can be used by parents, teachers and counselors. They are a nice addition to any social skills lessons.:

If you look on Pinterest, you will find a lot of other ways spinners are being used in the classroom as well.  You will find them used as game board spinners, challenges for STEM projects, in creative writing and math.  Their uses are unlimited.

Cons of fidget spinners:

  1. They are a toy – When I was a kid, Cabbage Patch dolls were all the craze, so were Beanie babies, Webkinz, Rubik's Cubes and SIlly Bandz (those little jelly bracelets that came in different shapes that kids wore on their arms by the dozens) and now there are Fidget Spinners.  It's only a matter of time before the fad dies out.
  2. Schools are banning them So many students in our school were using them, that they actually became a distraction.  The best fidget spinners are those you cannot see (or hear) but students can use under their desk as a sensory distraction.  Too many of our students couldn't use 1 hand to operate their spinners and they were out constantly.  The whirl they made was sometimes loud as well, causing a distraction to those students sitting nearby.
  3. They wore out their welcome – Similar to the other latest fads, when not used properly they do not function in the same manner. When children over use the fidget or do not use it for the intended purpose it just becomes the latest and greatest toy.
I really liked the idea of Fidget Spinners.  Students need opportunities to use self regulation skills and find coping skills to use to help them they are feeling stressed, distracted, and anxious.  I wanted to work on coping skills as the school year winded down, so I came up with a calming spinner that would be a suitable alternative to the ones sold in stores--plus a lot cheaper!

I thought back to the paper spinners I made with my dad when I was a kid.  We were always making things from windup cars made out of match sticks, match stick boxes, rubber bands and empty thread spools, to spinners made from paper plates and string.  I would play with those "toys" for hours, simply winding them up and watching them go.  So I decided to give the paper spinner a little update with a counseling twist.  Take a look at this video.

I decided to mix the art of coloring a zen inspired doodle with the fidget spinners of my youth. Calming patterns coupled with a calming quote leads for great discussions with students.  

After putting together several designs, I printed them on card stock to make them a little heavier and stiffer.  I had my students each pick 2 designs to color (one for the front and one for the back). As the students colored, we talked about the quotes they picked, what had stressed them out during the week.  As they finished coloring their spinners, they then cut them out and glued the 2 sides together.  Using a pencil, we poked 2 holes a little less than a 1/2 inch apart in the center of the spinners.  Using string, we fed the string through the holes and tied the ends together.  To start them off, just twist the strings and then pull tight.  With a little practice you can keep the spinners going and rewinding and unwinding by adjusting your tension as you pull.  It became a contest who could keep their spinner going the longest.  

The great thing about these fidgets, is that are also mesmerizing like the store bought ones, but they truly have a counseling purpose and incorporate several coping skills into one.  

Try making your own, or you can use mine.  Here is the link:

If you have any great ideas for using Fidget Spinners in your counseling program, I would love to hear about it.  Make sure to leave me a comment!

What You Need To Know About Attending A Professional Conference

If you are reading this, congratulations!  You'll soon be off to an amazing adventure learning and growing as a school counselor!  Attending a conference is a lot like going to the beach.  It's exciting and relaxing all at the same time.  There are plenty of signs to take in and like the sun's rays, you'll be basking in an incredible amount of knowledge that will leave you with a sunkissed glow.

To get the most of your time, remember these tips:

1)  You are there to learn.  The best way to do that is to talk to colleagues.  Sit next to someone, attend lunches and social gatherings.  Meet new people.  Some of my best friends I met at former ASCA conferences, and now many of them I now talk to every day despite the fact we live in different parts of the country.   I can't wait to attend this year's so I can reconnect with them.  I have learned so much from them, and they are always there to share a lesson or a tip, or lend a helping hand.  If you are planning to attend ASCA, make sure you join our meet up.  We're even planning a gift exchange this year as part of the mixer and a way of getting to know one another.

2)  Wear comfy footwear.  You will walk around a lot.  You will also sit a lot.  Dress at the conference is casual professional.  I'll typically wear something I would wear to work.  I have dress yoga pants that look great paired with a nice shirt so I will be bringing every pair I own!  You want to be comfy.  There is nothing worse than sitting for hours in something that makes you uncomfortable.  You'll also want to bring some clothes for down times as well.  It'll be hot so bring some t-shirts and shorts with you as well.  I always have something that I can wear to a nice restaurant too in case I go out with a group.  If you are going to the RAMP awards dinner, they are formal--so dress your best.

3)  Save room in your suitcase.  I always bring way too much stuff home with me.  I tend to buy books and games, and I always bring goodies home for my boys.  The conference exhibit hall is an exciting place to be.  Lots of vendors, you can actually look through all those counseling books you've been eyeing in the order magazines that are shipped to schools (Stop by YouthLight for your copy of StarBound and Research Press if you're interested in Building Champions--I'll be signing copies!)  The exhibit hall is also where you will pick up your conference t-shirt, loads of pens, stress balls, post it notes, and info.  Plus lunches and snacks will be served there as well.

4)  Get the conference app.  Knowing what sessions you want to see and having a schedule will be important.  The conference app keeps it all together for you.  It also has all the handouts so you have everything all in one place.  I have the last four years' on my iPad and they are always great reference materials.

iPhone Screenshot 2

I also like to keep a copy of where I will be going and where I am scheduled to be.  The last two years I also was a volunteer so I had to be in certain places on time and early!  Each year you get a nametag.  I like to print my schedule out and put it on the back of my nametag as I wear it constantly.
Just click on the picture to get a PDF copy.    

Another thing to note is that I am presenting on Sunday, July 9th from 11-12 with Malti Tuttle and Christy Land.  Our session is called Packing Punch into Lunch Bunch--and we'll share how to pack a powerful delivery program into your Lunch Bunch Program.

5)  Other Stuff.  Other things that I bring along with me include a portable phone charger.  I find myself taking a lot of photos, sending lots of tweets, and taking notes with my phone.  I used to bring my iPad, by I was finding it heavy to lug around, so I'm sticking with just my iPhone.   You do get a conference bag, but it is also handy to have a bag you can tote around with you.  I also find bringing a raincoat (last year in New Orleans I forgot one, got stuck in the rain and ended up buying an umbrella for a ridiculous amount of money) and a sweatshirt or sweater is important.  The conference rooms can get pretty chilly.

The last thing you want to remember is that this is an experience.  Soak it all in.  You will be re-energized, revitalized, and recharged.  Enjoy every minute of it and be sure to look for me!

Keeping Your Counselor To Do List Organized

If you have ever walked into my office, you would have most likely seen a mountain of post it notes.  I mean they were everywhere, with little reminders of what I need to accomplish, call, or see that day.

Those days are over.  O.V.E.R.

Here's my desk today.  

Notice the brown?  It's a desk. . .  But, in that picture is the key to being organized.

I made these weekly planner To Do lists to keep on my desk.  They have a highlight section that I can jot my notes down in and keep all my reminders handy.  I found a tutorial for making my own notepad. (I haven't tried it yet, but I am excited to do so.  It looks pretty easy)  Instead of lugging my planner/binder to every team meeting or classroom I visit, I'm going to take a planner sheet.  It will be helpful to jot down the periods end if I'm going in a class for a lesson, and it also gives me space to take a note if a student asks me.  Plus it's bigger than a post it note, so it will be a little harder to lose!

Here is a better view:

I think the biggest key to organizing your To Do list is to visit it frequently.  Cross off those things that are done.  You feel a real sense of accomplishment when you can mark something complete and you will be more likely to continue on with the next task.

The next key is to prioritize.  What is the single most important thing you have to do that day?  I know you are probably thinking all of it, but there is always something bigger than the rest.  Number your list.  Rewrite it in order if you have to, but get it prioritized.

Another way to organize your To Do List is to enlist help if needed.  What can you delegate?  What can you get someone to help you do?  For example, the other day, I had cards that I wanted printed and laminated and then cut apart.  By myself it would have taken me the whole day to get it done, between copying the pages, waiting for the laminator to heat up, and then actually cutting them apart in between appointments, tours with our incoming 4th graders, phone calls to parents, and meetings. Instead, I asked a student to help me make the copies, laminated everything myself, and then brought the sheet of laminated goodies to the office where it was cut into more manageable pieces, then found a sub who was looking for a project to help me cut them out.  My time on the project was minimal, and it was a huge job, but in the end, it didn't seem like it.

Lastly, use a planner.  Planners will help turn your To Do list into a plan.  Once you begin keeping track of your year, you can also use it to really develop your school counseling program.  You'll be able to see the trends of when things are super busy or sort of slow.  You can use these trends to find time to go into classes or move things around, so you feel more consistent throughout the year.
This is what the inside of my planner for next year looks like.  This year's is packed full and I can't show a picture for privacy reasons.

If you would like a copy of my weekly planner, click here.  It's a freebie!

If you would like to see my matching perfect counselor planner, click here.

What does your To Do list look like?  How do you keep it organized?  Leave a comment below and let me know!

Playing Card Games To Learn Coping Skills

Kids love playing games.  Cards games are always a hit, and playing cards with students when in a counseling session can be really helpful.  First it gives kids a focus other than you looking at them.  They are concentrating instead on the cards and the game, and not where your eyes are.  Eye contact can be uncomfortable for kids, so any game can help break the ice.  Second, a deck of cards can really start the conversation going.  

I started using cards as a coping skills when kids came to my office in tears or a panic attack.  I used them as a distraction for what they were experiencing, and as we played, I would ask them questions about the events that led them to come down to my office.  The more I played, the more I tried to use the cards as a therapy tool.  Then I began adding questions to each card, asking students to answer the question on the cards as we played.  Then, I began making my own cards.  

Cards can be used with individuals and with groups.  When you add cards to groups, you also help students build social skills and practice patience and self-regulation.  I use these cards in my social skills groups and my resilience groups.  They are a perfect review after students talk about their stress triggers and learn various coping mechanisms.  Talking together and answering the questions really reinforces the learning concept and students are quick to offer suggestions to one another if someone doesn't have an answer.  Cards also help to build alliances between students in group.  As students discuss themselves, they become empathetic towards each other, but also realize that they are not alone with their fears and feelings.  

Answering questions like, "Name one coping skill you have used successfully," or "why is yelling at someone an unhealthy way of handling stress?" reinforce skills.  Be sure to add a variety of questions into your card games.  Techniques, what would you do if, true/false, and how would you feel if questions add a good variety.  

To see or purchase my Coping Skill Card Game, click here.  

Do you have a favorite technique for helping students learn coping skills, or do you have a great way to use playing cards in counseling?  Let me know.  Leave a comment below!

5 Ways To Use Timelines in Counseling

When I was in grad school a million years ago, we often used timelines when talking with clients.  When I began working as a school counselor, primarily with juniors and seniors and concentrating on the college admission process, I rarely pulled out the timeline.  Working again at a middle school, however, I find myself using timelines a lot, and for a variety of uses.

The timeline is a powerful tool.  It helps organize thoughts, and helps students put things in perspective.  It's a great tool for also reminding students that the past doesn't have to equal the future, and show how life continually moves forward.

Here are a few ways I use timelines.

1) To get an accurate time frame of events that occurred.  Many times, students will come in, tell me about their horrible day, and I feel lost in their story because they are jumping back and forth across the time spectrum.  Using a timeline, I can say, "Back it up to last night and show me on this timeline when things happened."

2) To understand family dynamics and changes.  This is incredibly helpful when working with students in family groups, or students who have moved around a lot.  It can be a connect-the dot for where they have lived or to understand the changes their families have gone through.   This is an important part of the divorce and separation groups I run.  The students really love this when talking about their family story.

3)  To show change does occur.   I like to have kids describe their past, plot where they are, and describe their hopes for the future.  This is great because it helps students understand that their past does not equal their future, and then we can start focusing in on what needs to change to change the future.  In the picture below, we use a little CBT to show how changing our thoughts can also change future behaviors.

4) To show growth.  Using timelines to measure anger, sadness, or frustration at a given point in time (now) and then again after a few minutes of using coping strategies, can show that working through problems can lead to improvements.

5) To create goals.  Each year I do a lesson called How Long Is A Lifetime.  We use timelines to project the life we want.  Students think about the things they value and want out of life then use the timeline to indicate where they want to set their goal.

I'm sure there are many other ways to use timelines.  If you have a way, I didn't mention, I'd love to hear about it.  Make sure to leave a comment below!

How To Help Students Transition To High School

Middle school is a time for young adolescents to learn to navigate from child to young adult.  Many boundaries are tested, and independence is acquired.  8th graders are the big guys on campus, but they are still those sweet, young, innocent, scared kids who began their middle school career just a few short years earlier.  The transition to high school, for many is a scary time.  They won't be the big fish any more and they are starting over in the feeding chain.

So, how can we best help our students make that transition?  What can we do to make sure they are well prepared for their new adventure?  Have a transition plan.

1.  Students need to know what to expect.  Go over the basics--important people to know, where to go if they have a question, what is the principal's name, what a high school schedule look like, what to do when they are having difficulty in a class.  I played Classroom Squares with classes to go over these important need to know tidbits.  

2.  Students should also know their graduation requirements.  What does it take to graduate high school?  What electives are available, and what classes are available to freshman.  We have our high school elective teachers in business, art, and technology visit our middle school and describe the offerings available to freshman.  In addition, they bring some current students who describe projects and assignments they did in the class.  It gives the 8th graders a real life example of what to expect and what they will be doing if they choose a particular course.

3.  Make a plan.  Students need to look into the future and determine what they would like it to look like.  It's important to talk about values.  What is important to them?  Values are important as they determine a career, but it is also important as they plan their high school program.  Values include:  Do I need a study hall?  How rigorous a course should they take?  How many extracurricular activities should they try?  I spent three days with the 8th graders talking about values and goals a few months ago.  Having meetings with the students to make a 4 year plan is important too.  I always tell student that they can't just plan one year, they need to look at all four.  

4.  Visit the high school.  Nothing settles nerves more than getting a test drive of the new surroundings.  Our students will visit in June during Regents week.  It's not as crowded as students only attend high school if they have a Regents exam for a specific class, so there will be days that our students can visit without disrupting the regular day.  High school students also make excellent tour guides and they are always happy to share what they have learned along the way.

5.  Allow students to ask questions.  The more questions they ask, the more they learn.  No question is too small, or little importance.

6.  Spread the discussion about the transition to high school over a period of time.  The more you talk about it, the more familiar it will become.  

What ever you do to get students ready, take your time, be patient, and find multiple opportunities to discuss it.  The more prepared they are, the more they will feel prepared to make the change.

Let me know how you help students to transition.  What's your success story?

Guest Post~ The Size of the Problem lesson

My friend, Kylie, wrote a blog post for me about the Size of the Problem.  Aimed to help middle school boys with coping skills and understanding the cause and effect relationship of behaviors and reactions, this is a really helpful lesson for ALL students.  I hope you check out her TpT store too, The Creative Social Worker.

Hi!  My name is Kylie (The Creative Social Worker), and I am currently a school social worker for early childhood - 8th grade.  I have also worked in a treatment center for addiction, clients 18+, and work at a craft store on the side.  Needless to say, working with such a wide range of students, and being the only social worker in the district, definitely keeps me on my toes!  Those two things are also what is driving this post today:
Struggling to keep the interest of some of my 7th and 8th grade boys, I knew I had to pull out some creativity and make something that not only would benefit them but also increase their engagement.  The first activity I created was directed to address the topic of “Size of the Problem.”  But what it turned out to be, was so much more than that.
For this activity, I made a symbolic mountain for a visual, and placed 4 open spaces to sort cards: problem sizes of no problem, little problem, medium problem, and big problem.  I also made a key card, that includes the different sizes of the problem and reaction for reference.  I ended up making 48 prompt cards, which include realistic situations (some we have discussed already), for them to relate too.  

The “more” part?  My students are not only using their identification skills of the different categories, but because of the prompts, they are using perspective-taking skills, using empathy, and there are opportunities to discuss coping skills!  And, in addition to the sorting activity, I also created an add-on for this activity inspired by “20 Questions.”  To further challenge students with a great understanding of the different sizes of problems/reactions, one player must first pick a card.  Then, the rest of the group can ask 10 questions to try to figure out the size of the problem.  For example, is it something you can’t solve without an adult?  Or, would you be crying?  Students are also given a tip card with examples of types of questions they can ask.
The next activity I created was kind of a spin off of some of my most favorite lessons on Teachers Pay Teachers.  I don’t think it comes as any surprise that turning some of the most popular board games like JengaⓇ into a counseling game is usually a winner for upper elementary and middle school.  Or, for elementary school, turning Bingo into a counseling game.  I’ve used some of the question sheets on Teachers Pay Teachers, some of the specialized Bingo games, and have made a few myself.  But I wanted to be able to use these games more often and longer, and in a really easy way.  So, I made question sheets with Bingo in mind.  I have started out with 3 topics: icebreakers, self-esteem, and size of the problem (again for my 7th & 8th grade boys!).  My favorite part?  Each question sheet contains a whopping 75 different questions!  With that much information, it makes these sheets pretty much universal with every game, and personally the least amount of prep for me (considering traveling between two buildings).  I not only reuse JengaⓇ and switch out the topics, but reuse Bingo cards, as each question goes with a number.
Both of these activities have turned out to be a huge success for me and my students.  I hope you enjoyed reading about them!  If you would like to read more, or check out similar resources, you can find them here:
Size of the Problem Sort & Discuss +20 Questions Inspired Add-OnGrowing Counseling Game Prompts Bundle 6th-8th
The Creative Social Worker (1).jpgLet’s connect!  TpT  Pinterest  Facebook  Instagram  Email   Blog

If you have a great lesson that you would like to share, let me know!  We are at our best when we work and learn from others!
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