A School Counselor's Bag of Tricks
All educators can remember the craze with fidget spinners last year. They came in all colors, in different weights, and in glow in the dark. I even encountered students who pursued their “inner entrepreneur” as they started their own “business” of trading and selling! In less than a month, fidget spinners took over schools across the nation. This awesome tool, which is beneficial for students who need assistance with self-regulation, began to be used as a toy by many, and was banned by schools as quickly as the craze began.
Think about that kiddo who asks to use the restroom right after arriving to your class. After coming back, he then sharpens his pencil. Less than a minute later he gets up again to get a tissue, and before the period ends he asks to use the restroom yet again. Although seen as toys, fidget tools were indeed TOOLS to assist these types of kids with a lot of energy, sensory issues, cognitive issues, etc. Now change gears and think of your introverted kiddos. This student may barely make eye contact, may not have a lot to say out loud, but perhaps uses writing, music or art as her outlet to express herself. Whether either of the two extremes or students who fall somewhere in between, students experiencing a difficult time focusing, or students who are overcome by emotion, may have a difficult time sharing their innermost feelings with adults, sometimes even with their school counselors. This is where a school counselor's bag of tricks come into play.
When students come into my office right next to where they usually sit, I have a bowl filled with what they call toys, but I know these toys have the power to calm their minds and change their overall demeanor. The one which usually attracts the most attention is the Hoberman Sphere. It is sold on Amazon anywhere between $7-$24; I happened to purchase mine at a fair for only $5. Kids just think it is cool-looking and a lot of fun; however, it is a great instrument to use when a student is crying uncontrollably. As the sphere opens you take a slow deep breath in, hold the breath for a moment at the top, and slowly breathe out as the sphere gently closes. This process of mindful breathing calms the heart rate and the mind.
Stress balls are a given. They are now sold in many shapes, sizes and different textures, and filled with air, beans, or even liquid (be careful, the liquid ones can pop if squeezed tight enough!). When kids are having a rough time, I lend them a small stress ball and they are great about returning it at the end of the day. After a period filled with sadness, anger, or anxiety, it is surprising the calming magic a stress ball can exude from the pocket of a hoodie.
Pinterest offers endless ways on how to make glitter jars with kids. You can also purchase a “glitter wand” or “wonder tube” for anywhere between $5 and $18. The wands and tubes are usually filled with different shaped confetti. Asking a crying child to find a silver colored heart, for example, naturally leads them to stop crying, and through mindfulness, consequently calms their breath.
A fairly newer hit has been what I call “talking tangles.” Amazon, Walmart and Target all carry Tangles in different colors and textures. The round-and-round motion tangles release have a calming effect, which can also increase focus. Interestingly enough, a row of magnets works similarly, as they push and pull against and towards each other. Any other sensory toy such as Play-Doh, a slinky, balls made of string, etc., may also have the same effect.
After having a misunderstanding with a teacher, a verbal argument with a friend, or if overcome by uncontrollable emotions, connecting these tools with short mindfulness exercises does wonders! I am often pleasantly surprised by the number of teachers who also explore the gadgets during a serious conversation (after I assure them they are periodically cleaned with Lysol!). The tools are usually easy to find, are not too expensive, or can be a fun DIY project to create your own. I am sure you will find similar success in using these tools with whatever population with which you work. Of course when all fails, the Easy Button "fixes" most things too!
Vanessa De Jesus Guzman is an Educator and Licensed Professional Counselor with nearly two decades of experience in working with children and families. She is the CEO of Free to Be Mindful - located in Ridgefield, NJ - which provides counseling and mindfulness education for kids, parents and educators.
Vanessa has been featured on the Today Show and is passionate about helping others Learn, Grow & Inspire… all with mindfulness in mind.