Okay.... confession: I am a hoarder! I admit it and I'm actually okay with it because it helps me do my job. I have MANY "extras" in my office. (Most of which have a purpose and for the things that don't have a purpose.... I'll find one! I can get very creative!) Much of the "extras" in my office are there to help me to connect with students.
Middle school students can be hesitant to just talk to an adult. Building connections with them is key, but even then when it comes to sensitive, emotion-filled topics sometimes you need those "extras" to help with the talking part. So I have a wide variety of items that can help put my students more at ease when it is time to share and open up.
First, what I've learned about my "extras" is this:
1) not everything works for every student so variety in the "extras" is important .
2) you never know which student is going to respond to which "extra," so make them all available to everyone.
3) the right "extra" can create a wonderfully safe and comfortable space for your students and that makes all the difference in connecting with them.
Here are a few of my favorite "extras" and why...
Fidgets. I have several different fidgets in a basket that students love to dig through and play with while we talk. It helps with the nervousness they may feel when sharing or having difficult conversations. The basket includes the fidgets pictured above plus a tiny lego set, koosh balls, slinkies, stress balls, bubbles, a pinwheel, etc. The tangle fidget above on the left was found at the Therapy Shoppe (link at the bottom) but I have also found some smaller ones recently at Walmart. The other fidget above, I found in a plastic version in the Walmart toy section.
Art Supplies. I have a tray in the middle of my table that includes markers and colored pencils as well as blank paper (nothing fancy). A lot of my students love to draw. Sometimes it helps them calm down. Sometimes it helps them communicate. Sometimes it helps them process and problem solve what is going on. I can relate to that last one especially. Doodling helps me process, problem solve, plan, and make sense of all the ideas running through my brain.
Coloring Pages. Coloring pages have become all the rage lately and I LOVE IT! I have never stopped coloring since I was young. I always had coloring books and crayons in high school, college, and still do. You know the old school soft grey pages of cartoon characters type of color books. I love the mandalas and abstract "adult" coloring books that are everywhere now. My students seem to like them too. It helps calm them. It helps distract them. It helps them open up and share.
Buddha Board. I discovered the Buddha Board at the beginning of this school year and immediately knew that my co-counselor and I each needed one in our offices. (We both have used them frequently this year). The Buddha Board has been especially helpful for my students with anxious feelings who need the time to clam down and process before they can talk. The Buddha Board tray holds water that you dip the brush in and use to "paint" on the board. After a few minutes what was "painted" disappears. It's also a great to have students "paint" their worries and fears and let them fade away. You can order from their website (link at the bottom) or another site that sells them like Amazon or Barnes and Noble, but you should at least check out their website for the calming graphics and sounds!
Puffer Balls and Emoji Pillows. I have several emoji "extras" in my office because middle school students love and speak emoji. Four of those emoji "extras" are emoji pillows. Middle school students also love a puffer ball! (They love it way more than I ever could have imagined, actually). Both of these extras work like giant stress balls for my students. They squeeze them. They hug them. They don't want to let them ago. They occasionally try to sneak them out of my office. It helps them feel secure and when they feel secure they open up.
Mermaid Pillows. Speaking of pillows...If you don't have one of these in your office, you are missing out! Students and staff alike love these pillows. I love these pillows! (To be fair, I love anything that sparkles though.) Students stop by just to rub their hand across the pillow providing me spontaneous chances to check in and connect. Some students actually leave messages for me in the pillows. I watched a student one day in my office, who is diagnosed with ADHD, standing there hugging one of my mermaid pillows just strumming the sequins back and forth like a guitar while we talked. I don't even think he noticed he was doing it but he was focused and present in our whole conversation. These pillow are all over but I found mine at Walmart.
Connect Four. I have only a couple of games in my office. (Connect Four & Jenga. I used to have others as an elementary school counselor, like Candy Land). Connect Four is my go-to. This game has actually worked really well for some of my students with anxious feelings. It provides a distraction for them from their worry or fear. (They have to think to play but it's not over complicated or stress-inducing). A few years ago I had a student who had a lot of anxious feelings. That student and I explored many different things to help cope with the anxious feelings. And although the student was receiving counseling outside of school and the student's parents were exploring medication, the reality was that the student still needed support at school. We finally discovered that several games of Connect Four provided the perfect distraction. Over a little time, it only had to be one or maybe two games. Other staff members that saw the student frequently like our clinic worker were told about what we discovered and were able to come borrow the game and use with the student if I wasn't available.
Nerf Basketball. I have always had a Nerf basketball set in my counseling office in elementary school and middle school. Some of my students need to be active to feel comfortable and this "extra" is very helpful with that. Many of my students start opening up while making shots and chasing the Nerf ball all over my office. They especially love (and by love I mean they find it hilarious) when I show them my (lack of ) basketball skills. I did have to add a "no dunking" sign though.... I just was tired of replacing the goal that was ripped off the wall. For my students who are avid basketball or sports players, I love using this to talk about their strengths in sports and how those strengths can be used to be successful in other places like academics or relationships....strengths like patience, problem-solving, growth mindset, responding to feedback, teamwork., etc.
Blank Books and Journals. Some of my students are writers. They write poems, stories, raps, and more. It's a great way for them to express their thoughts and feelings. It's a great way for them to problem solve a situation. It's a great way for them to gain perspective about what is going on in their world. I always have a supply of small journals/notebooks and blank books. Sometimes I suggest writing as a coping tool for students so I want to be able to supply them with the tool I am suggesting. I find blank books at the Target Dollar Spot at the end of each summer and journals at the dollar tree.
Wire Fidget Rings and Zipper Bracelets. I practice a lot of coping strategies with my students who self injure. (and of course I am in communication with parents and recommending outside treatment, etc.) Some of my students still feel urges to self injure even when at school. They want (and need) some sort of replacement behavior to help them calm a bit so that they can use their other coping strategies. I shy away from suggesting popping a rubber band on their wrists because for some students this becomes another self injury behavior. They pop the rubber band so hard it leaves huge welts on their wrists. I offer zipper bracelets for students to wear because it mimics the behavior some students do when they cut their wrists without actually injuring themselves. It helps to soothe them and then we talk about what coping strategy to use next. I have had several students love the wire fidget rings because again it gives them a behavior to help soothe and the wire rings feel rough on their hands so it gives some of that sensation they desire but again without injuring themselves. These tools have helped me connect with my students who self injure because I think it helps them feel understood by me and then they are more open to other coping strategies. I found both of these "extras" at the Therapy Shoppe (link below).
I found most of my "extras" at Walmart, Target, or the Dollar Tree. A few of the things like the Buddha Board, Tangle fidget, wire fidget rings and zipper bracelets, I found at other websites. These websites are listed below.
Buddha Board: http://www.buddhaboard.com/
Tangle Fidget, Wire Fidget Rings, Zipper Bracelets: https://therapyshoppe.com/