Classroom Coping Skills - Calm Down Box - Lesson Plan

Tuesday, August 22, 2017

Two years ago, my co-counselor and I were given money in the school budget to create calm down boxes for each homeroom. We were JAZZED about this. We spend copious amounts of time finding approved vendors, DIYing our glitter jars, and trying to master Boardmaker. The first week of school we gave them to the teachers and gave some suggestions on how they could introduce them to their students. Cut to the end of the year: the boxes were never really used. We found them on high shelves behind teachers' desks. We found them hidden behind things on the floor. We went into rooms we couldn't find them at all. We talked to students who looked at us like we were crazy when we asked about them. It was a total fail. At first I was angry; then I realized I was to blame.

Where did we go wrong?
1) We gave them to teachers the first week of school and expected them to hear and remember the words coming out of our mouths. In our excitement for students to have these tools (and, admittedly, excitement to have the boxes out of our already cramped and tiny offices), we forgot to think strategically about the timing of their release.
2) We asked our teachers to teach the students how to use the calm down box because we didn't want to use up one of our lessons for it. This was silly because a) this is really in the counseling wheelhouse and b) it's not good practice to add to teachers' plates unless absolutely necessary.

This year we remedied our mistake by planning for our first lesson in 2nd-4th grade to be about classroom coping skills where we would teach and practice use of the calm down box.

I had originally planned a few read alouds to kick off the lesson: Mouse Was Mad for 2nd grade, Moody Cow Meditates for 3rd, and Even Superheroes Have Bad Days for 4th. I didn't end up having enough time to do this for my 45 minute lessons, but if I had a whole 60, I would have gone for it.

Once I got a better sense of how long the rotations part of the lesson was going to go, I instead starting with a short discussion with the class about feeling super upset (mad, worried, sad) and how sometimes those feelings make it hard for our brain to learn. Then I introduce the calm down box - a set of tools or strategies you can use to help yourself feel better so your brain can go back to learning

After explaining that we'd be practicing the strategies in rotations, I explicitly teach and model how to use each of them. For example, I show and explain that the stress ball will always stay in our hands (not the floor, our desks, or the air) and that we squeeze the ball super tight for 5 seconds, relax our hand and arm muscles for 5 seconds, and then repeat. As I teach each tool, I have a volunteer place the rotation directions and practice tools on top of a table or desk grouping. 

For 3rd and 4th grade, we practiced 6 tools and had 6 rotations: mandala, 'My Happy Place', deep breathing, glitter jar (or visual timer), stress ball, and 'Hug an Animal'. With 2nd grade I narrowed it down to just 'My Happy Place', mandala, visual timer, and deep breathing. Last year we didn't have stuffed animals in the boxes, but both my co-counselor and I witnessed the power of the stuffed animal in our offices and decided to include them. 

*Side note - my mind jar recipe as as follows: 1 part glycerin to 3-4 parts water, 4 drops dish soap, 3 drops food coloring, and glitter

They really only needed 2 to 3 minutes per rotation which was a surprise. I used my phone timer in the upper grades because we needed to stay on track to get through all six stations, and used my chime in 2nd grade where I could just gauge their readiness before rotating them. Big kids also scored each rotation as they went to show how helpful each strategy was for them.

In rooms where we had extra time (i.e. rooms that managed the logistics of the lesson without us needing to stop and review expectations), students completed exit tickets. I really loved this piece because I find that students do excellent when learning coping skills but they struggle with using them in the moment - this exit ticket helps them anticipate when they'll need to use the calm down box.

In high need rooms, I also introduced the visual communication board. Each year, I have a number of students whose emotional dysregulation results in a total shut down. I used a similar board the last couple of years and found that many of these students respond really well to being able to identify their emotion and need non-verbally like this.

I love how this lesson turned out (I experimented with coping skills rotations a few years ago) but, as always, I have a "next time I do this..." for it. This could be even more powerful if I broke it up into two lessons. The first would be a focus on identifying strong emotions in themselves, including the physical clues of the feelings. The second would just be the rotations and exit ticket.

If you want the materials for this lesson, you can find them in my TpT store - just click the image below!

Back to School Greatness on TpT

Wednesday, July 12, 2017
Hey y'all! I am part of a collaborative of counselors on TpT. We just released this ebook, hosted on Counselor Keri's store, that includes the best resources from several counselors (and a freebie from each!). It's a great way to learn about what counselor-authors are out there that might help you build up your program. Click the image below to get to the page.

Five Year Reflection

Thursday, July 6, 2017
School Counseling 5 Year Reflection

     The closing of this past school year marks FIVE years that I have been an elementary school counselor - and all five in the same school, too! In the spirit of the self-reflection that I encourage with my students, I'm using this milestone as a reason to process my top five thoughts and feelings about the job. While I normally process best out loud, I didn't want to subject my husband to this (our talking time together is limited since the birth of #2) so here I am writing it all out.

1. I still love school counseling. 

I'm feeling incredibly grateful that, instead of becoming burned out as time has gone on, I've become even more passionate. Some things I think have lead to that:

  • When I started, there was no real counseling program at my school and faculty didn't understand the role of the counselor or value school counseling services. It took time, but through 1)advocating for the SEL development of my students and 2) teachers seeing what happens when students and classes receive services, minds and hearts began to open and change. This means I'm given the freedom to develop a comprehensive school counseling program and I (usually) feel very supported by others.

  • Blogging. Yup. Blogging myself as well as reading other counseling blogs continues to light my fire. New ideas, new perspectives, pushing myself to be creative and to grow, etc. The same goes for selling on TpT. I thrive on 'bigger and better' and these venues provide me with that push.

Must Have Books - Shyness and Worry

Sunday, July 2, 2017
This is Part 5 in my must have book series. You can read Part 1 here, Part 2 here, Part 3 here, and Part 4 here!
Part 5: Shyness and Worry

In my first position as well as in all of my internships, anger was the biggest emotion the kiddos had trouble regulating. For the past few years however, we've seen a large number of our students experiencing a significant amount of shyness. And like the rest of the America, we are seeing increasing anxiety issues as well. While it's easy to find books about fear and phobias, books that describe worry/anxiety are a bit harder to come by.

From North to South/Del Norte al Sur Review

Tuesday, June 20, 2017
In the five years I've been at my school, I've had a handful of students face the deportation of a parent or sibling and even more who had loved ones that didn't 'have papers' AKA they were undocumented and thus at risk of deportation.

From a counseling level (and a human level!), I could feel their pain and help them process the situation. Though each situation is unique, there almost always seems to be some combination of trauma/grief/loss/stigma/financial instability. Despite these understandings, I really wanted to find some specific resources to use with my students on the topic.

Imagine my excitement then when I stumbled upon the book From North to South/Del Norte al Sur, about a boy whose mom is deported! I've debated whether or not to write about it however, because it is not a slam dunk by any means. On the one hand, I don't want to post about things negatively. On the other hand, I do want to prevent people wasting their money on things they are disappointed by because I know most counselors/teachers/therapists have very limited budgets.

Pros: Each page is filled with beautiful illustrations, the text is also in Spanish, and the existence of the book (as well as it's treatment of deportation) can remove the stigma from this scary situation.

Cons: The child gets to go visit his mom!!! Perhaps in TX or CA this is more common, but in my experience, the most my students can hope for is FaceTime or a phone call. For me, this makes the book less of a candidate for bibliotherapy. While the first part is relatable, the whole piece about the boy going to see his mom doesn't feel realistic and may bring false hope. It also doesn't delve into the emotional and social experience the main character faces either which was a major bummer.

The Verdict: Good book, would be great to have in school libraries...but not great bibliotherapy for deportation and not a must have for counselors.
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