Tuesday, March 28, 2017

Using Music in Counseling

When I went to the VSCA Conference last fall I attended a session on using music in counseling. I have been to a few similar presentations before but generally they involve using popular songs that have to be carefully screened and sometimes certain words deleted. I agree with the theory behind using music (and movement) in counseling with all populations. In the presentation they showed a clip of using music and rhythms with groups of children with special needs. I was in awe of all they did but I am not musical and I don't have the time or patience to screen popular songs. Despite my lack of confidence I did promise myself I would find opportunities to use more music and movement in my program this year. I bought two sets of rhythm sticks and have used them in activities in my self-regulation groups this year. Our school division adopted Second Step and it has songs that go along with each unit so I have used these. I also use some of the CD's produced by Conscious Discipline in kindergarten and first grade groups. I felt like I needed more for the upper grades so I was happy to find Sing-Along Guidance for Grades 3-8 by Young and Schwintek and published by
https://www.youthlight.com I am using "Not Gettin' Paid for Watching TV" in grade 3 for a career lesson, "Don't Tell Me I Can't" in grade 4 for a goal setting lesson, and "It's All Up to Me" in a career lesson. These are songs that are written and performed by professional recording artists written with lesson plans for guidance lessons. I think some of the other songs and lessons, there are 12 in all, belong in the middle school.

Saturday, March 25, 2017

Rock or Clay Problem

Many students come see the school counselor because a problem has them stuck and they are overwhelmed by an uncomfortable situation that is causing them unpleasant emotions and stress. When talking to my upper grade students about problems I like to use the metaphor (and props) is it a Rock or Clay problem? Generally I start by giving them a rock and asking if they can change its shape. Then I give them Play-Doh and ask if they can change it. Then we talk about Rock problems like parents separating or one parent living in another country. There is nothing a child can do to change this type of situation so they just have to cope. Mindfulness is a great technique for rock problems. We generally generate a list of positive coping strategies: talk to someone you trust, exercise, journal writing, drawing, listening to music, etc. For clay problems they need to use self-regulation (control) and find a solution that will get them past being stuck. Sometimes I have them make a shape from the Play-Doh that represents the solution they plan to try. I have done this with individuals and in small groups. I did it the other day with my group of ELL students who all have experienced living separately from a parent and coming to US with no English. I gave them each a rock and a can of Play-Doh to take home so they could explain our session.

Thursday, March 23, 2017

Kindness Book

Maria Dismondy has many great books to use in counseling and for parents to read to reinforce social emotional development. As a counselor I am asked a lot about how to help siblings resolve conflicts and treat one another respectfully. Some of the students who are very kind to peers at school fight and fuss with siblings. This book is published available http://mariadismondy.com/ and will be available at Amazon soon. I can't wait for my copy to arrive! If you can't wait on her website the author reads the book aloud. She also has a Reader's Guide and coloring sheet. While you are on her site check out her other fabulous books like The Juice Box Bully, The Potato Chip Champ, Pink Tiara Cookies for Three, Chocolate Milk Por Favor!, and Spaghetti on a Hot Dog Bun.

Tuesday, March 21, 2017

Book To Teach Optimism

We use the MindUp Curriculum from the Hawn Foundation. It has a lesson titled "Choosing Optimism" which I think is one of the most important lessons. Optimism is a learned trait and if practiced, can become a way of thinking. The Curriculum suggests about 4 books as Literature Links and the ones for this lesson are okay but my favorite book on optimism Is Rain Brings Frogs by Maryann Cocca-Leffler. She is a great author and the message of hope in this book is powerful and the illustrations capture the audience. I use this with grade 2.

Group: First Grade Boys Social Skills and Self Regulation

I am starting my final round of groups for the school year, it may seem late but we go to school through the third week in June. Generally this round is more intense tier 2 intervention for students who need more support. They may have been in a group earlier in the year but they are still struggling with social emotional, behavioral, or self-regulation issues. Most of these referrals come from teachers in progress monitoring meetings but a few are from parents. This year I am doing 2 small groups with first grade boys using my Howard B. Wigglebottom group curriculum based on the books, songs, and online resources from wedolisten.org I modify each year. I keep these groups really small 3-4 students in each group and they are 30 minutes long (they are pulled out of content class which means sometimes they miss social studies and sometimes science). I have shown you one boy's pre-group survey. The surveys do NOT go home, they are perception data for me. The pre-group survey helps me tailor the group to their needs. If they all report often "I am a good sport when I lose a game" I will skip that book and lesson. I make packets in advance and include the focus of the lesson and an activity each time. I have to vary the activities depending on their ability to write. I do 8 sessions and each time I have them color a star if they were following the group rules (these boys need this type of feedback). In the last session I will use the same basic survey (modified if we skipped a book). They take their group booklet home the last session so their parents can see what was worked on in group.

Monday, March 20, 2017

Anxiety and Depression: Consulting with Teachers

Our district is requiring all staff to go to mental health first aid training to help prepare them to deal with mental illness. Since the most common mental illnesses in elementary school are anxiety and depression, this is a resource I have available for my teachers. In Anxiety and Depression in the Classroom: A Teacher’s Guide to Fostering Self-Regulation in Young Students, Nadja Reilly explains the impact of anxiety and depression and other mental health issues in children. She provides suggestions to build resilience and teach self-regulation in order to help kids to succeed in school and beyond.

Self-regulation, fun, and play activities are natural ways to relieve stress and worry and recharge energy. Reilly discusses how to teach students deep-breathing exercises and various ways to understand their bodies. The book provides detailed instructions for educators who teach children in grades K-5. Reilly lists materials needed, gives step-by-step instructions, and offers variations to accommodate specific needs.

As Reilly explains, the teacher can encourage students to come up with funny or silly names for these sensations to make them less threatening. The class comes together to come up with ideas for decreasing these body sensations, such as deep breathing. The book also provides a chapter on communicating with parents to promote teacher-parent collaboration and assist families with kids who are struggling. For use both in the classroom and with parents of school-aged children, this is a book school counselors may want to purchase and loan out to teachers.

Sunday, March 19, 2017

Books about Depression for Kids

Like most school counselors I like to have a variety of books to share with students related to a specific concern or a strategy or skill to manage an issue or symptom.  Seeing characters in books going through something similar to the child normalizes it. Most children understand that is they write a book about it, then it must be pretty common. Here are some of the books on my bookshelf I use with students who feel depressed.
Bowden    I Just Want to be Me
Cook        Blueloon
Crist         What to Do When You Are Cranky and Blue (Grades 4-5)
Foley        Danny and the Blue Cloud
Jones        The Princess and the Fog
Malcolm   Meh: A Story About Depression
McIntyre   How Frederick Found His Light
McKee      Elmer and the Rainbow
Miles         Move Your Mood
Mundy       Sad Isn't Bad

Saturday, March 18, 2017

Depressed Students

This year I have noticed that more of our students are depressed and we have already done more suicide risk assessments in mid March than we did each of the past 3 years. Some of these are students who were referred for services in the past for anxiety.  About half of people diagnosed with depression are also diagnosed with an anxiety disorder www.adaa.org Children with depression may display these symptoms:
Depressed, angry, or irritable mood
Difficulty sleeping or concentrating
Change in grades, getting into trouble at school, or refusing to go to school
Change in eating habits
Physical/somatic complaints
Mood swings
Feeling worthless or restless
Frequent sadness or crying
Withdrawing from friends and activities
Loss of energy
Low self-esteem
Thoughts of death or suicide
When symptoms last for a short period of time, it may be a passing case of “the blues.” But if they last for more than two weeks and interfere with regular daily activities and family and school life, a child may have a depressive disorder. This site is a good resource for parents www.dbsalliance.org

Teachers often overlook children with depression because it has internalizing symptoms not disruptive behavior with externalizing disorders, such as ADHD. Depressed children often don't ask for help at school because of negative thinking patterns: No one cares about my feelings, nothing can be done to help me, and so on (Cash, 2003). Younger students often lack the necessary language skills and self-awareness to report their depressed feelings. Even preschool age children can be depressed. Some students with depression will qualify for a 504 Plan and some may require an IEP.

School counselors can develop a positive relationship, provide emotional support, and teach students who are depressed coping skills.My go to goals for students with mood issues are: good sleep hygiene, healthy eating habits, and plenty of exercise (especially outdoors). There are not many resources for elementary counselors but these may be of some assistance schoolcounselor.org/students-with-depressiocounselingyouthwithdepression

If a student has moderate to severe depression they should be referred out for cognitive behavior therapy and evaluation to see if medication is warranted.

Friday, March 17, 2017

Problem-Solving STEPs Bulletin Board

We use the Second Step program in all our schools Kindergarten through grade 8. The curriculum teaches a 4 step problem solving model. This is my bulletin board that stays up this month to remind the students of the STEPs. It is 3-D and super cute, made by our school base substitute teacher for the school counseling program.

Thursday, March 16, 2017

Superheroes Unmasked

Steven Hitt and Ellen G. Stewart have put together Superheroes Unmasked: An Amazing Approach to Helping Children Learn Social/Emotional Insights and Skills that is published by youthlight Stewart is a certified school counselor and art therapist. Hitt is the Managing Director for the LaGuardia Performing Arts Center and Assistant Professor of Dance. The developers researched the theory of superhero stories and play. The curriculum guide includes 15 lessons which are aimed at grades 2-6. I am using it as a basis for an 8 session Tier 2 small group for third grade boys. I did 
Session 1: Superheroes, Self-Awareness & Self-Esteem
Session 2: Listening is a Superpower
Sessions 3-7 based on "SUPER" (there are multiple activities for each letter so I selected based on needs of my group members) 
U=Understand the situation
P=Place yourself in their shoes
E=Encourage other ideas
R=Respond appropriately
Session 8:Super Mission Quest
Superheroes Unmasked would make a great after-school club curriculum because there are well developed lessons and many supplemental activities. There are 70 activities and games included aimed at kids becoming positive change agents.

Problem Solving Theme: Reading About Problem Solving Bulletin Board

This is the bulletin board outside our school cafeteria which shows the books I use in classroom lessons and with groups to teach problem-solving steps. We used parts of the Kindness board from last month to simplify the task of swapping out our boards monthly.

Wednesday, March 15, 2017

Evidence-Based School Counseling Conference (EBSC Conference) 2017

The Fifth Annual EBSC Conference hosted by the University of San Diego was just as rewarding as the one last year at the University of Georgia. I think the only counselors who were disappointed were those who discovered they waited too long to register since it sold out several weeks ago. I learned about things I knew nothing about like the counselors' role in linked learning. A break out session I found very interesting was led by last year's host (the University of Georgia) on their research "Who Is RAMPing and Who Is Not?" They had very interesting data and facilitated an interesting discussion about the current state and what might impact who RAMPs in the future. The highlight of the Conference for me was the Keynote address by a practicing school counselor in Arizona, Christa Mussi.
Christa has RAMPed at multiple schools and shared many valuable practical tips to manage an effective Evidence-Based School Counseling Program.
Our district presented a break out session Districtwide Initiative to Rock Tier 1 with
Evidence-based Classroom Lessons to a packed room. As promised here is a link to our presentation Districtwide Initiative to Rock Tier 1 with Evidence-based Classroom Lessons https://www.livebinders.com/edit/index/280076# Go to the Evidence-based tab. 
I encourage you to watch for more information about this Conference that will be held in New York in March 2018!

Tuesday, March 7, 2017

Book to Explain Brain to Help Children Self-Regulate

Julie Mendenhall, School Counselor, has written and published another great resource for counseling. "Sunny Shifts His Brain". The book teaches students in grades Prekindergarten to Grade 3 a little about the brain and then explains to children how to use two simple strategies: 1 Check: Learn when I need to change my behavior. and 2) Crisscross and Shift: Learn how to cross arms/legs and "shift" to clearer thinking. Crisscross is a concept I have been sharing with students, teachers, and parents for years that I believe comes from Brain Gym (learn more at braingym.org). I have shared these strategies with several teachers of children who need help developing self-regulation. This book is very useful to some of my students who have OCD type symptoms if not a formal diagnosis. It is one of several terrific resources for explaining and teaching self-regulation available at youthlight.com
Julie has presented this brain-based research to counselors and her PowerPoint is available on her website juliemendenhall.com

Monday, March 6, 2017

New Book on Mindfulness for Young Children

Squirmy Learns to be Mindful by Joree Rosenblatt, a therapist and mindfulness educator, tells the charming story of Bella the butterfly who earned the nickname "Squirmy" for her impatience. Her mother teaches her to be mindful, calm, and focused. Squirmy teaches young children how to be mindful. Read how the author explains mindfulness on her website joreerose.com/tools-for-living This book could be used in a class lesson, in a small group, or with an individual student to explain the value of being mindful. Order a copy of this flexible resource from youthlight.com

Sunday, March 5, 2017

Suicide Prevention Resource

"Tell Me More"
Tell me more... are 3 hard words to say but extremely important in assessing a student who has talked about committing suicide. Check out all the valuable resources at www.sptsusa.org

Saturday, March 4, 2017

Books for Social Problem Solving

Our theme this month for classroom lessons is social problem solving using the 4 STEPs from Second Step. The Committee for Children has great video clips but in case technology fails I always take a book into classes. I can do the lesson with the poster and a book. These are some of the ones I use in groups to reinforce problem solving and as back up teaching tools in classes.

Arthur’s Eyes by Brown
But It’s Not My Fault by Cook
A Chair for My Mother by Williams
The Doorbell Rang by Hutchins
I Did It, I’m Sorry by Buehner
I Have a Little Problem, Said the Bear by Janisch
It Wasn’t My Fault by Lester
Ladybug Girl and Bumblebee Boy by Davis & Soman
Prudy’s Problem and How She Solved It by Armstrong-Ellis
Stuck by Jeffers
Swimmy by Lionni
Talk and Work It Out by Meiners
What to Do With a Problem? by Yamada & Besom

Friday, March 3, 2017


Every child has a unique way of feeling, thinking, and interacting with others. I often start groups with one of these books to get to know more about one another. "I like myself! I’m glad I’m me. There’s no one else I’d rather be"... Karen Beaumont's words send kids a powerful message. After reading her rhyming book I Like Myself  to kindergarten or first graders I usually have the last line "I like myself because I'm ME!" on a paper and have students draw and right what they like about themselves. Odd Velvet by Mary Witcomb is a great book for second grade to encourage celebrating being yourself. (It can also be used for name-calling.) In a small group you can do a round and have each student say something unique or special about yourself then keep going around until all members can recall everyone's name and something special about them. Self-portraits are also a good activity for most of these books,

Thursday, March 2, 2017

Self-Regulation Books

One of my favorite books on self-regulation is Listening to My Body by Gabi Garcia a school counselor. It is available in English and Spanish and learn more about the author at listeningtomybody.com/  This engaging picture book introduces children to the practice of listening to their bodies which is the first step to developing self-regulation. My students love the "horse lips" strategy where you take a deep breath in through your nose and blow out through your lips like a horse. It can change someones brain from being mad to silly in a few seconds. It is loaded with ideas so I frequently use it in 2 sessions in both individual and small group sessions. It will be one you use frequently!

Wednesday, March 1, 2017

Problem Solving Theme

We use Second Step for Tier 1 and Tier 2 lessons and groups. The Problem-Solving Steps are taught at every grade level and social problem solving is our theme for March. This poster hangs in my office most of the second semester because I like to reinforce these steps in groups and some individual sessions as well where appropriate. Second Step teaches a 4-step problem-solving procedure (see poster) for social problems: 1) Say the problem without blame; 2) Think about solutions that are safe and respectful; 3) Think about what could happen if I do this - explore consequences; and 4) Pick the best solution and make your plan. We teach the problem solving steps by role playing different scenarios to help children understand and use this process. In kindergarten the 4 steps are mentioned but the focus is on the first 2 steps. Mini versions of the poster are kept in the grade 1-5 classrooms so students can refer to the steps frequently during daily interactions.