Yesterday a member of the Facebook group Elementary School Counselor Exchange (an awesome group, and well worth joining if you're on FB) shared a pin from Vermont artist Cynthia Emerlye showing her "Instant Comfort Boxes." As it happens, I had come across this gem of an idea from Cynthia last month and absolutely fallen in love.
The idea is simple. You ask your student to think of a feeling they often need help with like anger, anxiety, grief, or jealousy. They write the word on the outside of a small matchbox, and decorate it however they'd like. Inside they write a word or phrase that they can take a peek at whenever they're having that feeling, like "breathe" or "you are enough."
I stocked up on matchboxes (at Target or the grocery store they're about $1 for a package of 12), and two weeks ago tried this activity with my 4th grade boys' anxiety group, a Kindergartener who's looking for an adoptive home, and a 1st grader who lost her mom a year ago.
Every one of those kids LOVED the project, even the boys who are not terribly crafty or artistic. One of them has pulled his out of his pocket every time I've seen him since. He wants to make another for when he's feeling angry.
I'm sorry I didn't take pictures of any of the kid-created ones. The photo above is the box I made for my Kindergartener in foster care. You can see I added a tactile element---a tiny felt heart that she can rub with her fingertip. We wrote down the names of people who love her on a small piece of paper and folded it up to place inside as well. Foster mom reports that she reads it to herself every morning before school and every night before bed.
The first grader wrote, "Mom is with me" inside hers. She keeps it in her desk.
I love love LOVE this! Try it with your kiddos. It packs quite a therapeutic punch for something so small. Let me know if you come up with any other ideas of how to make them even more awesome!
Last spring when I started at my new school, I was given the previous counselor's office. Since he didn't see groups (what the what?) or have any materials other than about a dozen versions of Uno, he had been fine in a very VERY small space. With no windows. While it was certainly cozy, and the custodian had painted it a lovely periwinkle blue the weekend before I started, it wasn't conducive to working with groups or, you know, breathing.
Also, for an hour after my 4th grade boys' group left, it always smelled like feet.
So my awesome new principal (without me even asking because I'm no diva, people) assigned me a big, beautiful room---with windows!---overlooking the playground for this year. I've spent a lot of the summer working on it. My Pinterest addiction has come in mighty handy, let me tell you. Also, I've been clicking around to a bunch of other school counselors' websites to see what ideas I can steal. I mean "borrow." Here are the results:
My door. I have the obligatory "Where Am I?" thingy (which is an excellent question on so many levels), a couple of cool quotes, and mini appointment request forms with a "mail" basket to leave them in. This should work out well since the kids have to walk past my door on their way out to recess. On the other hand, they also have to pass right by on their way in AFTER recess. Uh-oh.
My "dealing with feelings" wall. It's mostly visuals re: anger management and Zones of Regulation. My daughter painted the "Surf the Angry Sea" canvas, which is a CBT idea. On top of the cabinets to the right of the sink I have boxes with my reference books sorted by topic (e.g., Service Learning, Self Expression, CBT). In the cabinets below are much bigger bins for the topics I use extensively. In those I have all my reference books, worksheets, and activity materials for Social Thinking, Zones of Regulation, Anger Management, Personal Space Camp, Bullies to Buddies, and Conflict Resolution. And yes, I'm so anal that I spray-painted office labels with chalkboard paint and stuck them on the doors. I admit I may have a problem.
I'm using the beach as a theme for helping kids learn multiple ways to calm down. There's the hula hoop-and-shower curtain hideaway, a table containing various calming activities (and under which there's a little rug, a yoga mat, and a basket of small stuffed animals for comfort). Not visible: a box of yoga cards with suggested poses, and "muscle-builders"---empty laundry detergent bottles weighted with sand. I also have made a play-list of calming music as well as one of upbeat songs for "Ms. Mendoza's Dance Party," which is one of the get-the-energy-out strategies. She's super freaky, yeow!
Book shelf. The Container Store really should give me a kick-back. Here are all my kids' books, also organized by topic. That's Mr. Squishy on the chair. He's WAAAAAAY more popular than I am! But he doesn't have his own website, so take that, Mr. Squishy!
My desk, which will never be clean again until June. I haven't decided yet how to decorate or use the space on the front of it, but I will.
My bulletin board (being photo-bombed by a corner of the file cabinet).
I'll update the photo when the board is complete (see update below). The first week or two I'm going to have kids trace their hands and arms onto big pieces of bright construction paper. They'll write a personal goal on the hand (I'm going to review my IEP goals with some of them as part of this process). Then on the arm they'll draw a ladder where they'll write the steps they'll need to follow to achieve their goal. It'll be a good way to monitor progress and keep us all on track. Love you, Pinterest! Mwuh!
Oh yeah, I HAVE STORAGE CABINETS! I'm using the outside space to put up some of my Social Thinking visuals, like the Thought Bubble vs. Speech Bubble and the Be a Social Detective graphics. I actually made up both of those on my own without Pinterest!.
Huh. I'm just noticing how gross that chair is. We'll have to do something about that...
The "word wall" (or "word tree" if you want to get technical) and the blackboard I'm going to use---or have the kids use---to write positive things about the day. At the top it says "Today's good thing..." and at the bottom it says "Every day may not be good, but there's something good in every day." As part of my campaign to foster resilience, we're going to spend at least a little of every session accentuating the positive.
The back of my door is the "Worry Board" since I ran out of wall space for a Worry Wall. There's nothing on it yet, of course, since school hasn't started. This is another great way of visually tracking how kids are doing from week to week. Click on the above link for details.
The imagination station. I'll use this stuff mostly for individual work. That dollhouse was the best $5 I ever spent (I got it at my church fair). In the plastic bin by the puppet theater are all the little puppets kids have made over the years out of card stock and popsicle sticks. Some of them are 20 years old!
Hope you enjoyed the tour!
*** Update ***
Here's my bulletin board after we did our personal goals. They ranged from "Get a pet" to "Earn a Chief's Award" (a big deal at my school) to "Stay off punishment at home." The kids did a terrific job.