November 21, 2017

What Makes You Fintastic?

I love activities that help boost students’ self-esteem. There is nothing better than the smile kids get while they explain something that makes them awesome.

This activity was designed to help students explain what makes them “fintastic”. I may have been shark week when I came up with this idea. 

It is super easy, students answer the questions,cut out the shape, 
and fold it up to make their very own shark fin. 
there are a ton of different question templates for differentiated instruction. It was so fun making these and even more fun seeing the kids enjoying it. 

Download your own copy here!


November 17, 2017

Playful vs. Mean Teases (Tease Monster)

Enduring some teasing is a part of growing up. We all had to go through it and all have had teasing that was meant to hurt as well as teasing that was done in good fun. The mean teasing is easy to identify, it hurts us and leaves a lasting impact. Playful teasing can lighten the mood, or it can be misconceived and seen as rude. It is all about who says it, and how it is said.

Kids are sensitive and sometimes what is meant to be friendly, light teasing, can really hurt their feelings. I’ve been noticing that a lot with my third graders this year. They are so quick to say that they feel someone is being mean or that they are being bullied, when in reality there is just a bit of teasing going on. I decided to teach my kids the difference between mean teases and playful teases in hopes of cutting down my peer conflict and bullying requests.

The main question I wanted them to ask themselves before visiting the complaint department (aka my office) is: Are they laughing at me or laughing with me? To accomplish this, I taught a thirty minute lesson to each class where we read Tease Monster by Julia Cook, reviewed key terms, played a fun sort game and completed an independent activity sheet.   


We started by reading Tease Monster by Julia Cook. I absolutely love her books, but they can be a bit wordy. I skipped a few parts but made sure the message was still clear. In third grade, most teachers don’t have comfy rocking chairs and reading mats, I displayed the book on the overhead and made sure all students could see.

After we read the book, I used these posters to review the difference between mean teases and playful teases. 


We talked about laughing with and how it is different than laughing at. We reviewed the mirror test and talked about how before we tease think of how we would feel if someone said it to us.


We then “feed” the monsters. I’ve got to tell you, the kids were cracking up at this part. Using two paper bags, I created two situation sort containers. One was for mean teases, the other for friendly teases.


Students pick a card, read it out loud, and then drop into the mouth of the appropriate monster depending on if they think the situation describes a friendly tease or a mean tease.


Some of the situations could be taken as mean or friendly, depending how the person it was said to, takes it. In these situations, I had all of the students give me a thumbs up if they would perceive the tease as friendly and a thumbs down if they would take it as a mean tease. This showed the class how sometimes what we mean to be friendly can really hurt someone’s feelings. It was a good visual to show that we have to be careful of the words we use.


After we finished with our sort, I passed out the activity sheets as a way to check for understanding and ensure all students were not only listening, but understand the concepts. There are two different versions of the activity sheets so I was able to differentiate instruction to an extent.


I have to admit, my third graders have been understanding each other a little bit better since I did this with their grade level. I definitely have had less kids in my office telling me about teasing. 

Download your own copy here!




October 17, 2017

Emotions Sliders (Empathy Builders)

Teaching empathy to kids can be tricky. Our little ones in particular have a tough time putting themselves in other people’s shoes and thinking about how other people feel from their point of view. Emotion sliders are a fun and interactive way to help teach little kids about other people’s big emotions.

With my small groups, I start by discussing each emotion in depth. We use these posters and chart as a guide.


We go over each emotion, one at a time, describing how the emotion feels and providing examples of situations that may make us feel that way.


Once we have a clear understanding of each feeling, we move into the “What Emotion Do You See” card game.


I place all the cards upside down in a pile and give each student their own sunglasses sliders template, allowing them to choice the color sunglasses they wish to use.


I always have to give the kids a moment to play with the sliders before I can start the game. They are fascinated with manipulating the slider piece and playing with the sunglasses cards.
Once students get playing with the templates out of their systems, we start our empathy builder game. Taking turns, students pick a card, read it out loud and then show how that situation would make them feel using the emotions slider. They move the slider until the emotion they think the person would feel is displayed in the middle of the sunglasses.


It is such a fun way to get kids thinking about how others feel. The conversations that follow and the reactions to the sunglasses sliders are truly interesting.

Download your own copy here!

October 10, 2017

I Survived, Group Processing of Hurricane Irma

Irma hit us hard. It created chaos not only in our personal lives but our school lives and schedules. We had barely started school before we were on a two and a half week break to recover and rebuild our lives after the storm.

My co-counselor and I wanted to assess all of the student’s need as quickly as possible that first day back. In order to do that, we had to get help from the teachers. After welcoming their class back, they passed out these “I Survived Irma” screeners. One version was for kinder through second and the other was for third through fifth. 


After each student completed it, the teacher reviewed the screener sheets so that they knew each student’s situation. They then sent the screener sheets to us counselors, flagging the ones that caused them concern. It was such a time saver. It allowed us to identify and create a list of students in need within the first two hours of the school day.


We were relieved to see from the sheets that the majority of our students adapted well to the chaos and confusion.  Many had evacuated and were spared from seeing the destruction unfold in real time. Their parents did a really great job covering up what had actually happened and making it seem like it was just a fun vacation time. They came back after the electricity was back on and had their homes fixed before they returned. I was really happy that so many kids were shielded and had no idea what exactly went down.


Others were not so lucky. I found out quite a few of the kids were still living in shelters even though it had been so many days since Irma struck. A handful of kids lost their homes and quite a few were really hungry. That was the part that hit me the hardest; the kids were so hungry. We didn’t know when they ate their last real meal. My heart broke for them.  

We decided to do a big group meeting that afternoon so we could cover some of their basic needs quickly. All the kids we were concerned about met us in the library. We had about 50 or 60 kids show up. During that time we gave out new backpacks, personal hygiene products, school uniforms as well as necessary school supplies that were lost during the storm. We are so fortunate to have such a great community and so many resources to pull from so we can help these kids when they really need it.

What really warmed my heart, was that the cafeteria staff prepared meals for the kids to take home and share with their families. You should have seen how happy they were when they were given those meals. I am so proud that I have a job where I can coordinate efforts that give students that kid of joy.

The vast majority of the students were fine after that meeting. They just needed to know that everything was okay and regain a sense of normalcy. Other students (like the ones who lost their homes) needed a bit more in order to cope with their loss.

With those handful of students, we had them work through their feelings using this handy flipbook. It was really nice for them to get their emotions out on paper and connect with other students in similar situations.



It seemed to help quite a bit.

I am so glad that school is back in session. I like being able to have my eyes on my babies and love that we are able to help in any way we can.  

Download your own copy of "I Survived" for free HERE
Download a copy of "I Survived a Natural Disaster" HERE 

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September 30, 2017

Friendship Fence (Buddy Bench on a Budget)


For most students, recess is the best part of their day. After sitting and thinking all day, they are finally able to run free and unstructured. They love the care free wiggle time where they can focus on being a kid and enjoy playing with their friends.

Some students aren’t as lucky. They do not see recess as a whirlwind of fun, they see it as a source of stress and anxiety. They may not have anyone to play with and do not know how to ask people if they can join in the games.

Do you have students who are having issues making friends at recess? Do you see kids who want to be included but do not know how to make the first move? A friendship fence may be perfect for you!

It is so easy to create a friendship fence. Print the signs, laminate and attach to a fence. Presto you now have your very own friendship fence! Students who do not have anyone to play with can now stand by the signs signaling to other students that they need a friend to play with. Kids will see them standing there and then will (hopefully) come up and ask them to join in on the fun. Think of it as a buddy bench on a budget!


My students are having so much more fun at recess now that we have a friendship fence. I have only been able to put up one so far because of Hurricane Irma and the flooding we have been having here in southwest Florida. I plan to put up four more so that there is one at all of our recess zones. Stay tuned for more pictures and updates on how my friendship fences are doing!

September 20, 2017

Hurricane Irma - School Family Reunion

It is really tough around here.

We’re going on day 12 without power. It is so hot outside. Our houses are 89 degrees with all the doors and windows open. People are hot, sticky and crabby. They’ve been eating canned food and tuna for almost two weeks. Our grocery stores shelves are empty. Restaurants and fast food are closed. There isn’t enough gas to go around. We haven’t had school for a week and a half and kids are driving their parents up the wall. Tensions are high in these parts of Florida.

Before Irma, we had only been in school three weeks. We are missing 12 full school days because Irma decided to throw a hissy fit and slam into us head on. We are pretty much starting the year over again.

I’ve been through hurricanes before, they are usually no big deal. I’ve never seen anything like this one. Irma was one of a kind.

There was so much build up to this storm that people were terrified even before we knew for sure it was going to hit us. She was supposed to hit us Monday. School was cancelled the prior Thursday and Friday so that we had time to prepare. Many people left that Wednesday immediately after school and drove out of state. Many waiting in some serious traffic since there are only a few roads that lead out of Florida. People were really scared and it caused some chaos.

I have never been scared during a hurricane. This time was different. I own a home this time. I have a five month old this time. I was terrified. Figuring out what to do to best protect baby, securing our home, removing everything from outside, packing up everything that is irreplaceable; it was hectic. 

We were as ready as we could be. We packed up, said goodbye to the house and headed to my parents a few days before my area was under orders for mandatory evacuations.
To make a long story short. My husband, four month old, our dog and I bounced around to five different locations over the course of two weeks. Once we left our home, it was 14 days before we were able to come back again. My street did not have power for 12 full days. It was traumatic.  

I was traumatized as a grown adult I cannot even imagine how my students are feeling. What they’ve been through? What have they seen and experienced? Did they have damage? Where are they living? Are they eating?

It’s been rough around here. Are they okay?

I am so thankful that I have a principal who is asking herself the same questions. Today, she invited all the kids to come to school for a Welcome Back Bash (Wednesday, school starts Monday). People could come by check out the school, ease their worries and know it is going to be okay. Also they could escape the heat for a bit since school had full power already and many homes still did not.

We had a few different stations set up around school. There was a supplies station where we passed out uniforms and backpacks to anyone that had damage and needed them. That way everyone would be ready to move forward and just focusing on getting back to normal on Monday.

There was a free books station where everyone could take home a book or two and a games/crafts station where everyone could just have fun and hang out together in the cool AC.

My co-counselor and I passed out tips to parents that will help them to talk to their kids about the hurricane. We were able to talk to a few parents and identify a few kids who are having a tough time dealing with Irma’s aftermath and really need some help.

It was really great to see those kids. It was really great to see their smiles as they showed off their new books and backpacks and became energized about coming back.

It was really great to come together and have a big school family reunion. Man I love those kids. I am really thankful I had the opportunity to see them and know they are safe. I am really glad that I have a principal who does too.
  

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August 29, 2017

Career Countdown 2016


It can be difficult to get our little of students thinking about careers. Adulthood and job choices are so far away for elementary school students. 

We have to take the opportunity while they are young to get kids thinking about what they like and what their interests may lead to. They need to be challenged to think about what qualities make for a good employee. We’ve got to get them thinking about their futures. My kids deserve to be exposed to this information. Who knows what it might inspire.

I wanted to make thinking about careers interactive and fun. I also wanted to get the most bang for my buck and reach as many kids as possible. I enlisted the help of a very good friend of mine, who is amazing at bulletin boards, to make this top 12 careers of 2016 bulletin board for me. I plan to ask her to pretty please work her magic on another countdown after Christmas break for the top 12 careers of 2017.


We do a school wide weekly career countdown. Every Thursday I send the next career out to the teachers. My hope is that they will take 5-10 minutes on Friday to talk about that career. I hope that by the teacher creating an open forum for discussion students will ask questions and think about careers in ways they had not before.  

Here’s where we are in the countdown so far.






I’ll keep you posted!

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Kid's Career Choices Packet  
Top 12 Career Posters included in packet and are updated yearly.  

August 26, 2017

Friendship Chain (Kinder, Round 2)

I really like getting our littlest of students to realize they are part of a something bigger than themselves. I like when it clicks for them that it isn’t all about them as an individual and that what they do can affect the great majority. They have the power to connect with and either help or hurt their fellow classmates. That’s a big concept for a five year old to understand! Letting them know that they are part of a team and have responsibilities they must uphold as a responsible team member is really rewarding to me.

To help the students understand that they are all connected and that what they do affects and connects to others in the class, for the second year in a row, we made a friendship chain throughout all of kindergarten. We started by reading the book “Rainbow Fish.” We did quite a few activities surrounding this book and built on the idea that sharing and making connections with others is a good way to make a friend. 

At the end of the lesson, we created the friendship chain aka the connection chain. After everyone had a chance to color their friendship link, I had each student come up one at a time and blow the class’s minds as I connected all of the links. I stapled the links together because it was quick and easy. At the end of the lesson I hung the chain high in their classroom for the rest of our time together.

At the end, I took the friendship chain with me and at the end of my kinder rotation I attached all the chains together and hung the full chain at the front of the kinder wing. The teachers told me the kiddos were so excited to see their creation and to see how their class fit within their grade level and mixed seamlessly with all the other classes.

It was seriously so much fun.  


Download your own FREE template of the Friendship Chain HERE!


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Check out how I did it the first year by clicking HERE

July 20, 2017

Whoooo's the School Counselor (kinder and first)

At the elementary age, it is especially important for School Counselors to introduce ourselves to all students. They need to know from kindergarten forward, who we are and how I we can help them. If we let kids know from an early age that we are here for them, they are much more likely to seek us out when they are older or have an issue.

To lay the foundation of my counseling program, I start with counselor introductions the second week of school. I try to get into every class and let them know who I am and what I do. I start with kindergarten and first grade, there is a high chance that the majority of these students will not know who I am or what a School Counselor does. I like to spend a lot of time there and answer any and all questions. I then move to second-fifth grade and visit classes as everyone schedule allows. By the end of august (our first month of school), I make it my goal to have visited every class at least once.

Kindergarten is always the most fun. I start by telling them my name and that I am the School Counselor. I then ask what they think a School Counselor does. Many of them have not been to school before and have some very creative answers to this question. My favorite being, “why don’t you cancel school more often?” it took me a minute to realize she thought I was the school canceller.

After I talk about myself for a little bit, I ask what other type of people work at school? They list many different positions. “As you can see, there are a lot of different people that work here at school that can help you when need help. We are going to talk about those people today.”

I then pass out the career cubes. 


I give one cube per group of 2-4 people. I let them take turns rolling the cube and then giving an example of something that the person they landed on could help them with. For example, if someone landed on librarian, the example they could give would be,” the librarian could help me pick out books.”  The next person would then take their turn.

After they have time to discuss the jobs on the cubes (bus driver, librarian, school counselor, teacher, coach, resource officer, parents, school nurse, custodian, or principal) I direct their attention back up to the front. I display the posters use them to help me explain my specific roles and responsibilities as the School Counselor. 


I like to take a lot of time on this part to make sure they fully understand my role and have all of their questions answered. 

After that, I move into the “Who Would You Go To?” sliders game. I make the game ahead of time to prepare for the lesson. I print, laminate and cut apart all of the cards and sliders templates. This way, they are ready to go and are durable enough for kindergarten fingers.


I pick out which cards I want to use (some are too hard/too easy for kinder) and place them all upside down in a pile on the table. I then pick up one card at a time, read it out loud and have students answer the question using their slider. It is seriously so much fun.


When we are done, I have them complete one of the activity sheets as I walk around mingling with the kids. I like to check and see if I can identify any students who I should be working with more closely.


Once I finish my rounds in kinder and first, I move onto second through fifth grade where I introduce my School Counselor Superpowers. 

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May 21, 2017

Friends Turned Fenemy

I’m sure we’ve all been there. A girl or two is in our office crying their eyes out because of their “friend(s)” hurting their feelings in some way or another. Lets face it, girls can be really mean. If its a group of repeat offenders, it can make you feel really helpless as a counselor. 
Sometimes it really is an innocent squabble between true friends that will figure itself out by the end of the day. That is best case scenario. You lend an empathetic ear knowing that they just need to get it all out and then they will feel better. Other times, it seems as if it is a constant dramatic battle that will only end when all parties involved decide to no longer be friends. That is worst case scenario. You are offering rock solid advice that seems to only temporarily help the situation. The Band-Aid you place on their friendship only keeps the peace for a day or two before some other friendship shattering argument takes place. The delicate balance between friendship and full blown diva style meltdowns can make a counselor who is expected to have all the answers want to pull their hair out.

So why do some groups of friends behave this way? One word; frenemies.

Some “friends” do hold true to the definition of this word through their actions.
Friend: a person whom one knows and with whom one has a bond of mutual affection.
The piece that is missing in these volatile friendship groups is the mutual affection component. These groups that find their way to our offices normally contain frenemies, not true friends.

Frenemy: a person with whom one is friendly despite a fundamental dislike or rivalry.
These friendship groups are full of girls who are secretly in competition with each other, girls who are not looking out for each other’s well-being or want to see their “friends” succeed.

Frenemies are girls who act like they are friends but through their actions it is obvious they want to hurt or bring their friends down in order to feel better about themselves at their “friends” expense.

How can we teach our young girls to spot a frenemy? How can we teach them to deal with frenemies or break up with toxic friends? As School Counselors it can feel like a helpless situation, how can we help?

Here are six signs that can help you spot if a “friend” is actually a frenemy.
1.      They are untrustworthy.
They do not keep true to their word or keep your secrets safe. You can never be sure if they are loyal to you or have your best interest in mind.

2.     They do not seem to care about your feelings.
They do not listen to what you have to say, hurt your feelings often or aren’t there for you when you are hurting.

3.     They are hurtful behind your back
When you are not around, they are not a true friend. This could include talking about you, spreading rumors, laughing at your expense or not standing up for you.  

4.     They are not there for you when you need them.
When it really counts and you truly need their time or support, they are nowhere to be found. When you really need a true friend to be there for you, there are not there.

5.     They discourage you and bring you down.
When good things are happening in your life or you need a supportive shoulder to lean on, they do not shower you in positivity.  

6.     They are unfriendly a lot of the time.
Your feelings are often hurt, you’re doubting yourself frequently, and you aren’t happy around this person. When you really sit down and think about it, they just aren’t that nice to you.

Here are five steps to dealing with a toxic frenemy:
1.      Recognize that the friendship isn’t working out. Take time to decide if this person is a friend or a frenemy. Look back at the six statements above and decide if your friend meets those six criteria. If they are a true friend, try to solve the problem that is making the friendship not work, if they are a frenemy, move forward with these steps.

2.     Think about if you want to end the friendship. Is there just a temporary problem? Are you happy in this friendship? Do you want to continue this friendship? If you answered no to these questions then you may want to seriously consider ending the friendship because it isn’t good for you.

3.     If you do decide that you may want to end the friendship, talk to the person directly. Tell them exactly how you feel about their actions towards you. Be true and tell them exactly what isn’t working for you in this friendship. Either give them a chance to change and work on how they are in your friendship or be honest about wanting to end the relationship.

4.     Prepare yourself for them to not take the news very well. It is hard to hear that you aren’t being the best friend or that someone doesn’t want to hang out with you anymore. Be ready for them to say something that isn’t the nicest.

5.     Once you’ve said what you have to say and have dealt with their reactions, move forward with life and try to find new people to form healthy friendships with.

As School Counselors, the best thing we can do is be there to listen to our students and hear their concerns. At times it may seem like trivial problems, however to the kids these problems are their entire world at the moment. We have to take them seriously. We should listen, be compassionate, try to help them problem solve on their own and know when to remove ourselves from the situation. Unfortunately, sometimes there is nothing we can do with girl group drama. We can’t help those that don’t want to help themselves. We can do peer mediation, small groups, guidance classes, individual counseling; sometimes even that isn’t enough. After we’ve done all that we can, if the girls aren’t willing to/can’t work out their differences but still want to be friends, as School Counselors we have to let them figure it out on their own. After a certain point, we have to empower them to make their own choices and deal with their interpersonal issues as they see necessary.

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