11 Ways to Fund Your School Counseling Program When You Don’t Have a Budget

11 Ways to Fund Your School Counseling Program When You Don’t Have a Budget

Years ago, when I started a new school counseling job, I stood in my new office, looking around at 40 years worth of counseling materials left behind from the counselor before me. Trash bags filled with old felt puppets, stacks of outdated curriculum and college textbooks from the 70s, bins of transparencies, binders of lesson plans penciled in cursive writing smeared from years of use. The only technology in the cinderblock annex was an old cassette tape player, which doubled as a tape recorder. A career’s worth of materials and I didn’t know their context.

It was frustrating, especially as a new counselor, to begin a year without a counseling budget or with limited funding. You see so many amazing ideas and book reviews on Pinterest, Instagram, and Facebook, and you want to implement everything all at once. Today I’m sharing 11 ways to think outside the box to find extra funding for your school counseling program needs.

  1. Create and share an Amazon teacher wishlist. I named mine “Ashley Bartley – SEL and Trauma-Informed Resources.” My friends and family purchased 21/29 of the items on my list! I wrote a small caption with each item explaining how I would use the item in my program and posted my wishlist on Facebook. Each time I received an item from my list, I not only sent a thank you note, but also took a picture of the item and tagged the donor on a new Facebook post, and linked my wishlist each time. It seemed like every time I posted, a new person would see the post and purchase an item. Many people asked me for the link. I also paid it forward by purchasing items for my friends off their teacher wishlists. It was so fun to look through their lists! My list is here if you need ideas (not an affiliate link).
  2. If your school has a PTO or PTA, consider presenting a written request for your specific program needs, or attend a board meeting when they discuss budgets. Price up exactly what you need, where to find it, and how you will use it, and write up a small proposal with all this information. I was able to get a SmartBoard for my room and some much-needed hygiene supplies for students this way. If you are running a club or leadership group, the PTO/PTA might be happy to support your efforts, like footing the bill for a pizza party for your 5th grade helpers!
  3. If you have a school counseling supervisor, or someone you report to at the division-wide level, check with him/her about access to funds for your program. Present specific requests and how you will use them. Share what you’ve already done to secure some of the funds. Sometimes conference money is available at the division-wide level. Vendors at conferences often discount their items 10% for conference attendees, and you may be able to use school purchase orders if you ask your school in advance.
  4. Before your school submits its annual budget, put in your own requests for large items. Do you need a piece of furniture or large-ticket item, such as a Cozy Cube, dollhouse, or sand tray?* Or a large classroom counseling lesson plan bundle? Your principal might be able to honor large-ticket requests in the school’s budget, especially if you don’t have a counseling budget of your own. It can’t hurt to ask — one year, right before I purchased a yearlong curriculum from Counselor Keri, I submitted a request to my principal, and she approved my request! I saved myself over a hundred dollars just by asking.
  5. Form school-family-community partnerships to meet the needs of your school. Check out this post about 12 school-family-partnership ideas and this one for supporting your students and their families during the winter holidays.
  6. Look into attending conferences that might provide technology incentives. Recently, many of my coworkers acquired Chromebooks after completing a Google course. I was able to get a document camera and iPod from attending an NTTI conference and completing a small project over the summer.
  7. Partner with a local high school. I was able to get clothes for our clothing closet and Red Ribbon Week materials by partnering with my vertical teams at the middle school and high school level, which freed up my money for other things.
  8. Apply for a local grant! Many times, there aren’t as many applications as you would think, so check them out! Attend a grant-writing workshop or online course, come up with a fabulous idea, and go from there! Conduct a needs assessment and use the data to justify your request.
  9. Check with your school librarian or technology resource teacher. My library had a technology budget for the school, and I was able to purchase a bluetooth speaker* for traveling to classrooms with this money. Your local library may also have many of the books you need. If not, check with your school librarian to see if he/she can purchase the books you need for the school, then check them out!
  10. Raise your own funds in creative ways. The counselor before me always held a plant sale to raise money for her Career Day budget. My co-counselor has a jewelry business where she donates 10% of the proceeds from the sales of her beautiful earrings and mask necklace chains back to our school to help children read and succeed.
  11. Lastly, don’t forget to write off up to $250 of your own money you spend on materials when you do your taxes. Keep receipts organized in a folder along with a spreadsheet to make things easier when you enter your deductions during tax season. When you spend your own money, shop at thrift stores and yard sales to find great deals on books and games you can use. I found The Sneaky Snacky Squirrel Game at Goodwill for 99 cents, individual Play-doh tubs on clearance after Halloween, and many children’s books from a retiring counselor. Just be careful when purchasing games used, such as Jenga – check the pieces carefully, or you may just end up with an adult version of Jenga!

Remember that it doesn’t happen all at once. You may get a few things here and there, and over time, you’ll find creative ways to fill in the gaps. What other funding ideas would you add to my list? I’d love to hear your ideas in the comments below!

*Amazon Associates Program affiliate link

Strategies for Working with a Child with Selective Mutism

According to the Child Mind Institute, Selective Mutism, or “SM,” is “an anxiety disorder in which a child is unable to speak in certain settings or to certain people.” They outline some of the specific challenges faced by children with selective mutism: showing what they know, initiating conversations or play with peers, asking to use the restroom, and, in some cases, even being hesitant to use nonverbal communication. 

While your first instinct might be to contact a speech therapist, you’ll want to consider the underlying anxiety or discomfort that could be causing the selective mutism. I’ve compiled a list of strategies to try, involving teachers, peers, school counselors, caregivers, and outside resources. Disclaimer: I am not a psychologist, psychiatrist, or medical doctor, but these are strategies I’ve come across during my 13 years as a school counselor.

Strategies in the classroom

Strategies in the classroom may include: 

  • Asking the student to write or draw pictures in order to communicate responses.
  • Encouraging the student to whisper-speak (to you, to peers, or to a puppet).
  • Providing individual dry erase boards* to all children in the classroom.
  • Allowing wait time for verbal responses without “rescuing” the student or repeating the question. 
  • Allowing for nonverbal means of responding (pointing to answers, thumbs up/down, etc.)
  • Allowing the child to point to a feelings scale to indicate how he/she is feeling.
  • Using positive reinforcement to encourage and reward desired behaviors.
  • Offering a visual schedule or First/Then chart to provide visuals for the day to alleviate any anxiety over what comes next in the schedule.
  • Providing a response spinner tool for simple answers to questions (Yes, no, I need to use the bathroom, I don’t understand this yet,” etc. 
  • Encouraging the student to write/draw in a journal or notebook.
  • Asking the student what is/isn’t comfortable about their day at school.
  • Offering choices or asking questions to elicit open-ended responses instead of yes-or-no responses.
  • Echoing what the child says so the class or group can hear and the student feels like a participant in class.
Student response spinners, response printables, and feelings scale

Around the school

Involve other school staff members by: 

  • Encouraging your student to say his/her name (or student number)  in the lunch line.
  • Greeting staff members in the office.
  • Offering to be a helper to a specialist, such as in the gym, library, music room, or art studio.

Incorporating peers

  • Playing the telephone game with a group.
  • Allowing the child to choose a peer buddy to communicate with during the school day.
  • Including peers to help support the student (without speaking for him/her), start with whispering, then moving on to conversations.

Collaborating with caregivers

  • Recording assignments at home to send in.
  • Participating in brief phone conversations with the teacher (from home).
  • Offering incentives at home if the child speaks at school.
  • Visiting the home to hear the child speak at home.
  • Allowing the student to send a video of himself talking (at home) to the teacher, and you send a video back.
  • Reminding the caregiver not to rescue the child by providing answers for him/her.

Offering school resources

  • Consulting with the speech therapist
  • Collaborating with school counselor

Referring to community resources

Referral to outside counseling or a psychologist

Counseling strategies

  • Sand tray
  • Small goals: eye contact with specials teacher, waving to specials teacher, saying hi to teacher)
  • Practice with counselor and then add peers to the session
  • Teach coping strategies
  • Positive self-talk
  • Playing games like checkers or UNO
  • Motivational rewards (interest inventory)
  • Coping strategies to deal with the anxiety behind the selective mutism

Helpful resources

4 Ideas to Close Out the Year for Elementary School Counselors

It’s hard to believe, but my district finishes up with school this Thursday! (We started in July!)

My counseling office is packed up and closed out for the year, and I’ve picked up my kids’ materials (sad day!), so now we just have some fun drive-by closing celebrations and preschool graduation photos later this week. I’ve turned in my report cards and SMARTGoal data, which was a little tricky this year, not having finished the last nine weeks in person. As you plan your end of the year, here are some fun lessons and close-out activities!

1. PROMOTING PERSONAL SAFETY

Emphasizing personal safety is so important for your students, especially this summer. My best-selling Stranger Danger lesson will help students identify three types of strangers so they know which ones can be helpful and which ones to avoid.  

Another fun lesson is about Summer Safety, teaching students how to be safe during many different summer activities, from camping to swimming.

2. TRANSITIONING TO MIDDLE SCHOOL

I use these six middle school transition activities in getting my fifth graders excited and less-nervous for the transition to middle school. (Usually we would have gone for a visit by now!)

3. CELEBRATING MILESTONES

I just couldn’t resist designing these fun “Last Day of Distance Learning” photo-op signs for my kids, so I wanted to offer them to you all as well! The set includes Preschool and PreK through 12th grade “First Day of Distance Learning” and “Last Day of Distance Learning” signs. 

4. WELCOMING YOUR NEWEST STUDENTS: KINDERGARTEN ORIENTATION

If your school is putting together welcome packets or an orientation for incoming Kindergarten students, consider tucking a welcome newsletter from the school counselor into the packet or mailing so your families will know who you are and your role in the school before they arrive! Check out my EDITABLE Kindergarten Welcome Letter! (Grab the entire bundle here!). If you can, plan to attend future kindergarten orientations and back-to-school nights to introduce yourself to your new families. You can read more about planning for Open Houses and Back to School nights on my post here!

Last but not least, I just have to share my BIG NEWS!

My first children’s book is releasing THIS SUMMER with Boys Town Press on July 14, 2020!

Diamond Rattle Loves to Tattle by Ashley Bartley

Diamond Rattle Loves to Tattle” helps children learn the difference between tattling and reporting and will be such a fun addition to your counseling or school library. It’s already available for pre-order on Amazon* now. Boys Town Press will also be offering book companion lesson plans and activities on their website. I hope you will check it out and share it with your colleagues!

I hope you have a healthy, happy, and smooth end to your school year… what a year it has been!

*affiliate link

School Counseling During Distance Learning

If you’re like me, you’re trying to navigate this new territory as school counselors all around the world are adjusting to distance learning and new routines. Here are some ways I’ve been helping to serve in my community while juggling my three little boys and their own distance learning from home and figuring out my next steps for providing connection for my students.

NEIGHBORHOOD AND COMMUNITY BEAR HUNT

Many communities are organizing community-wide bear hunts based on the children’s book by Michael Rosen, We’re Going on a Bear Hunt. My own boys (ages 3, 5, and 7) loved walking around our neighborhood searching for plush bears in windows, on porches, and even in front yards and mailboxes! They were excited to be featured in our local newspaper when they shared the story. We used these fun free printables to keep track of how many bears they spotted, and they walked three miles without complaint! My resource includes printable badges and printable bears for residents to tape to windows in lieu of stuffed bears. I always try to think of how I can help, and making this freebie for my neighbors was so rewarding and fun!

MEALS FOR STUDENTS

It’s been tricky to find ways to volunteer at my school because I have little ones at home who obviously can’t come in the school building with me, but when my husband was home during spring break I was able to help distribute meals to students. Some teachers rode buses, and others gave out bags from the school cafeteria.

CONNECTING WITH STUDENTS

In the meantime, I’ve used Loom to make videos to feel more connected with my students. We also waved to teachers from our local elementary school parade through my neighborhood, which I know provided some closure to such an abrupt end to our school year. My own school’s parade has been postponed because of the governor’s orders to stay home, but I’m hopeful we can make it happen! I’ve also had lots of meetings using Zoom, and our teachers put together learning at home packets for students for continuity of learning. When I call students, I dial *67 before 1 and the area code to keep my personal number private. I keep a communication log on a shared drive with my administrators and staff.

DISTANCE LEARNING

During all of this, I’ve been working with my boys using many of the free resources that are out there. It’s OVERWHELMING how many free educational sites are out there, from websites, to virtual tours, to Facebook Live events, but I’m trying not to fill all of our time with screens and making sure to go outside as much as we can to balance our online appointments and classes. I’m using these homeschool/distance learning pages to keep track of what we do each day. I’ve found that if I plan out what we’re doing the night before, it goes so much more smoothly and doesn’t feel so much like playing Whack-a-Mole! You can download these pages here!

EMOTIONAL SUPPORT

I’m also looking out for how I can best support my students who are adjusting to a new normal and the losses associated with school ending for the year without warning. So many of you have been using my Hoping and Coping Feelings Journal already, and I hope they are helping students process their feelings during distance learning and school closures. I’ve included letter templates for writing to teachers, friends, and more.

I know my activities will continue to evolve as we navigate this new territory, but I’m proud at how my community has already worked (from a distance) to support each other. Check out ASCA for more updates and information about our profession. They have been updating FAQs throughout this process and providing recommendations on ethics. How are you finding that your role as a school counselor has changed? What is a new platform you’ve learned? Are you journaling during this time? I’d love to hear in the comments below!

Counseling Lessons: 8 Tips for Traveling to Classrooms

In 14 years of teaching classroom counseling lessons, I’ve had every combination of circumstances: splitting grade levels, sharing grade levels, teaching in the specials rotation, teaching out of the specials rotation, teaching in my own classroom, and traveling to classrooms to teach. I’ve put together 8 ways you can make the most out of traveling to your students’ classrooms if you do not have one of your own!

THE POSITIVES OF TRAVELING

  • Students are already in their own classroom. For many, it’s a safe place where they feel comfortable. 
  • Students have their desks, cubbies, or lockers nearby and have access to their own school supplies, which minimizes what you need to carry into the room. 
  • Teachers have most likely already seated students strategically to minimize disruptions or conflict and maximize positive relationship-building.
  • The classroom teacher might be in and out of the room and may catch parts, if not all, of your lesson to be able to reiterate with the students at a later time.

POTENTIAL CHALLENGES OF TRAVELING

  • Each classroom has a different setup to learn and may even have different technology to navigate. 
  • Sometimes younger students are confused and will ask, “Where is my teacher? Why can’t I eat my snack right now?” 
  • If students have desks, they are tempted to pull out a book or other supplies and then fidget with them. 
  • You are still reliant on the teacher to return so you can get to your next class/appointment. 

TIPS FOR MAKING THE MOST OUT OF TRAVELING

Set your own rules and expectations from Day 1 and remind your students frequently.
  1. ESTABLISH YOUR OWN RULES AND EXPECTATIONS

I find that students sometimes have a hard time separating classroom time from “specials” time when I am in their room. To avoid confusion, set your own rules and expectations from Day 1 and remind your students frequently. I bring this set of colorful classroom rules posters on the first day of class and allow students to vote on their top three rules. I write their three choices on the top of my attendance roster and remind them of their classroom expectations for each other each time I visit. They love having ownership over their rules! I usually add, “If you don’t bring it with you to your other specials classes, such as PE, Library, Music, Art, or Computer, don’t take it out during our time together, either.”

  1. CARRY CLASS ROSTERS AND TAKE ATTENDANCE

I carry a class roster with all medical notes and accommodations on my clipboard and take attendance for each class. Even if the teacher tells me who is absent or elsewhere, I make a point to take attendance. This helps me learn names, track attendance for report cards and emergencies, and make connections with my students. I usually ask a “Question of the Day” for students to answer when I call their names for roll.

  1. TRAVEL WITH EXTRA ACTIVITIES

Bring extra activities in case you finish early or the technology in the classroom doesn’t work. Keep a small ball in your bag, like a thumbball or Koosh ball* for simple energizers such as Name Juggling. I have had times where the power went out or the technology was unavailable/not working and I had to improvise. I usually bring a storybook related to the lesson for if we have extra time. Movement activities to recap your lesson are also great ways to fill time! The teachers always appreciate when I return their students back in a calm state, so I keep a ring of laminated mindful moment cards to open and close our time together. (I got mine from Counselor Keri.)

  1. FAMILIARIZE YOURSELF WITH EACH ROOM’S EMERGENCY PROCEDURES

Learn crisis procedures: how to do all drills in that room, locate evacuation routes, and carry class lists with you (there are apps for this). Along these lines, leave this information any time you have a substitute teaching your class. Keep emergency sub plans updated with a map or list of room numbers and emergency procedures.

  1. FAMILIARIZE YOURSELF WITH THE CLASSROOM’S TECHNOLOGY

Travel with your Chromebook or jumpdrive for quickly accessing your files. If you can, email teachers in advance if you’re going to be using their computers/presenters — as a courtesy.

  1. TRANSPORTING MATERIALS

Carry your materials in a roller case, shoulder bag, or even the cardboard lid from a ream of paper box as a makeshift desk. I loved my IKEA 3-tiered cart (similar available at Michaels and Amazon*), which I used at a pod school, but now that I’m in a two-story building, I try to avoid relying on the elevator. I stick with a tote bag, roller case, or paper box lid, depending on how much I need to tote for each lesson.

Ready for a 1st grade classroom counseling lesson!
  1. WEAR COMFY SHOES!

Wear comfortable shoes for walking all over the school, especially if your classes are back-to-back! For ladies’ shoes, I love my Rothy’s (save $20 with my referral link here!). Side note – I also love my bronze Tieks, but my feet are completely flat and my Rothy’s accommodate for my custom orthotics so my lower back doesn’t ache all day! (Gentlemen — feel free to weigh in with your comfy shoe suggestions in the comments below!)

  1. MOVE, MOVE, MOVE!

Get students up and out of their seats, especially since they aren’t traveling for their specials time. Invest in a small portable bluetooth speaker* for music, an instant energizer. I bring a class set of 30 colorful rubber spots and we do all kinds of games with music and movement.

Music is an instant energizer!*

With these tips, you can make the most out of traveling to classrooms and may even prefer it to having your own space! I love being able to see students in their everyday classroom environment, and I’m able to interact so much more with the teachers by coming to their rooms. Have you traveled to classrooms? What suggestions would you add to this list?

*Counselor Station is a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for us to earn fees by linking to Amazon.com and affiliated sites.Thank you for supporting the blog!

Advocacy during National School Counseling Week (and Beyond)

Hi friends! Happy National School Counseling Week! This week is an excellent time to advocate for the hard work you do as a school counselor. Here are my suggestions for advocating for your role! If you already follow me on Teachers Pay Teachers, I just sent you this info! Be sure to follow me there for monthly updates!

Highlight your program to your school community through newsletters!

I post about recent and upcoming programs and partnerships, and I always list what we are learning in each grade level. I also provide contact information for parents to reach me at school.

Host a family event to introduce yourself and your program! 

I host “Donuts with Grownups” in conjunction with our school’s book fair in the spring. It’s always a huge success!

Place student self-referral counseling request notes in teachers’ boxes now for the spring. Students are more likely to request to see you when they know how to go about it! This also cuts down on referrals in the hallway — I can never remember those requests! 

Coming up!

My 5th graders are gearing up for our Middle School Transition unit! 

Career Day will be here before we know it! Here’s a fun time-filler for an open block, or a fun game as part of a career exploration unit: 

I hope you have a wonderful week! Make sure to carve out time for yourself to fill your tank. I’m outside on my patio enjoying the unseasonal 65-degree weather while my boys play basketball, now that we’re all home from school!

Ashley

5 Ways to Ease Your Students’ Worries about Middle School

Students may hear all sorts of stories about middle school from older siblings and friends, whether they are well-meaning or intending to scare. Help them to know their own experience will be unique and to keep an open mind about the transition. They may hit it off with that teacher everyone warns them about, or they may find their own niche in a new activity. I’m sharing five ways you can help ease your students’ worries about their transition to middle school.

  1. Visit your local middle school(s). 

Plan a field trip (or walk, if close enough to campus) for your rising middle schoolers to visit the middle school they will attend. Coordinate with the middle school to select a time when your students will be able to visit areas throughout the building and actually see students in class (but not the locker rooms — if your timing is off by just a minute, it could get awkward, trust me!) If your students feed into multiple schools, make separate trips if possible so students can see the actual school they’ll be attending.

If possible, request that older students, especially your own former students and/or older siblings of your current rising middle schoolers be the tour group leaders (e.g., 8th grade ambassadors). Ask that they be available to greet the buses as they arrive.

Make plans to tour the gym, locker room, cafeteria, music room, exploratory/elective classes, and other important areas of the building. It’s always fun to hear a demonstration from the band and to listen to different instruments. Our band director hosts a “band night” in conjunction with Parent Night, where students have a chance to try out all the different instruments.

Pro tip: While you’re there, take a picture of a bank of lockers so that you can show next year’s students what they will look like. My students always want to know how big the lockers are (and whether someone will try to stuff them inside!)

  1. Invite the middle school counselors to visit your school. 

In addition to visiting the middle school, the middle school counselors make a special trip to our school to talk with our students about electives, exploratories, and band options. They also help them register on-the-spot, in the comfort of their own classrooms, after they’ve had a change to talk with their families about their decisions.

  1. Normalize their questions and worries. 

It’s so helpful for students to hear their peers express the same worries and questions they have about middle school. I’ve compiled lists of commonly-asked questions by 5th graders and sorted them into categories in this helpful presentation we explore during my middle school transition unit. Before the presentation, I also gauge their feelings about middle school with these short writing prompts.

  1. Practice opening combination locks. 

My fifth graders’ favorite classroom lesson each year is when I bring a class set of combination locks to practice opening. Pay attention to their efforts, and if you notice students struggling with opening a combination lock, suggest purchasing one to practice over the summer, or offer time during their lunch when they can practice in a small group with you. While middle schools typically provide the combination locks, the basic steps to open them will be the same, so they will build up muscle memory by practicing with you or at home.

Reassure your students that it may take a few days to get it, and that faculty will most likely be available to assist, especially at the beginning of the year and after extended breaks. I bring a class set of locks, purchased on Amazon and from Wal-Mart, and I use this Opening a Combination Lock presentation to facilitate a discussion about lockers, show directions for opening the locks, and even play a game at the end of class! 

  1. Involve the entire family.

Look into whether the middle school will offer a Parent Night or Open House in the spring/summer for your students and their families. It helps for a student to picture themselves in the school and begin to recognize faces of teachers and faculty there.

Don’t forget to collect data from your students before they head off to middle school! I do this by giving exit interviews to them on our final class together. I also ask for their advice for rising 5th graders, and videotape their messages to share to next year’s group the following August, when we return to school. You can find many of the activities I mentioned, as well as a few others, in my Middle School Transition Bundle available in my store, Counselor Station.

Organizing Your School Counseling Program in 2020

Happy 2020!

Last night, on the eve of a new year, I went through my school counselor planner and listed what worked in 2019 and what didn’t work, and I added to my gratitude list. I am so grateful for you and this counseling community!

Whether you are a seasoned counselor or just finding your rhythm, now is a great time to reflect on your program mission and goals. Moving into 20202, what are your school counseling program goals? What worked for you? What didn’t work? Is there a program you’d like to implement? Do you want to work on better communication with teachers and parents? Is there something you need to let go of so that you can take on something else, or just have space to breathe?

Here is a quick roundup of resources to help you kickoff an amazing semester!

GETTING ORGANIZED – The beginning of a new semester is a great time to reset. My planner is editable and undated and comes with soooo many different forms you can use for planning your program, from goal sheets to follow-up logs to small group planning! Print it all, or print what you need for a customized option! Are you in need of newsletter templates to send to parents or to include in your schoolwide newsletter? Fresh new intake notes forms? I have you covered!

 WINTER-THEMED LESSONS: My students love these engaging winter lessons! Divide students into groups for a challenging escape room, where they learn to discern the size of a problem, or split them into teams for a fun snowball toss game, where they learn to identify their preferred coping skills!

MIDDLE SCHOOL TRANSITION RESOURCES: This semester, I’ll take my rising 6th graders to the middle school for a visit, and I do an entire middle school unit leading up to their visit. We talk about our questions and worried, they share what they’re most excited about, we compare and contrast elementary and middle school, and they even practice opening combination locks! Check out my unit here: Middle School Transition Bundle.

I hope you have a fantastic start to 2020! 

Ashley

8 Partnership Ideas to Support Families During the Winter Holidays

Do you coordinate holiday assistance for families at your school? Here are some quick partnership ideas for the holidays! These are all partnerships I’ve done in the past with my local communities.

  1. Toy Lift: When I worked at a middle school, we had a local “Toy Lift” to collect toys and gifts for families in need. With permission from families, we gathered lists with sizes and interests and went to a giant warehouse to shop for presents! The organization delivered the gifts to our school, and we distributed them to families in time for them to wrap for Christmas.
  2. Marine Corps Toys for Tots: Consider organizing a toy drive at your school with your SCA officers to collect toys for Toys for Tots. I also coordinated with Toys for Tots to provide gifts for students in need at my school. 
  3. Salvation Army Angel Tree: We partner with our local Salvation Army to invite families to participate in their annual Angel Tree program. Because we send home food bags with many of our families, we sent the flyer home in a food bag for several weeks in a row. Later, I collaborated with them to check our lists to ensure we were not duplicating families when we offered our “Giving Tree” to families at our school. 
  4. United Way: Our local United Way is always a great resource for school supplies through their “Stuff the Bus” program. I have also coordinated with them for purchasing gifts for families. 
  5. Partnering with local law enforcement and fire/rescue stations: We have partnered with local agencies to provide warm coats (“Operation Warm”) and bikes for our families in need over the holidays. We even got our firefighters to deliver the coats to the school on ladder trucks, which was very exciting!
  6. Giving Tree: We offer our own Giving Tree to students at our school. I send a survey to all faculty and staff members asking about who might want to sponsor a child over the holidays, and gauge how many students we can sponsor. Consider whether you will shop for all siblings, or just the ones who attend your school. We double-check with other local groups to make sure we are not duplicating resources, and invite families to participate by filling out an information page and a wishlist with sizes and interests. Check out my full 57-page resource here!
  7. Thanksgiving dinners/meals: I offer information about local organizations who serve community Thanksgiving dinners or who offer tickets to pick up a free turkey and food box and distribute that information to families who may benefit. 
  8. Consider resources and partnerships you can create within your own school division with your school’s PTO/PTA, school social workers, community groups, etc. 

Another tip: Keep track of your partnerships from year to year and the students/families you are able to help. These lists will help you when you start to screen your lists next year. For example, if you invite a family and they opt not to participate, denote it and keep it in mind the following year. Thank you for all you do to support your students and families during the holidays and throughout the year! You are making a difference.

Coordinate your school’s holiday assistance program with all the information, forms, and helpful tips you need from start to finish!

Six Fall-Themed Activities for Elementary School Counselors

Happy October! October is by far my favorite month, but also my busiest, both at home and school! From family programs, to community partnerships, Red Ribbon Week, schoolwide programs and assemblies, fundraisers, and preparing for holiday assistance programs, my co-counselor and I stay busy! Can I just add how grateful I am for our local coffee truck that parks right outside of our building with delicious pumpkin roll lattes a few times a month? Here are some of my favorite fall-themed counseling ideas to save you some time and give you some inspiration!

PUMPKIN PATCH FALL-THEMED ACTIVITIES

  1. By now, I’m sure you and your teachers have started to identify students who may need some extra support with friendship skills. Check out my fun pumpkin-themed Pumpkin Patch Friendship lesson for use in classroom instruction, small groups, or even individual sessions. 
  2. Introduce a Pumpkin Patch Breathing Board for a fun, mindful breathing exercise to open and close your classroom lessons and counseling sessions this fall!

PEER PRESSURE AND HEALTHY CHOICES

  • 3. Red Ribbon Week is coming up Oct. 23-31, and I recently wrote a blog post about how I teach “Peer Pressure and Healthy Choices” concepts to my 5th graders using my Peer Pressure and Healthy Choices lesson and a the generosity of a few community partnerships. This year I’m passing out bracelets, pencils, and bookmarks as my flash prizes throughout the lesson.

FAMILY EVENTS

  • 4. It’s also book fair season, which we pair with Donuts with Grownups and other breakfast events — such fun, easy ways to encourage family involvement in your school! I have so many editable flyers for all sorts of creative breakfast events!

NATIONAL BULLYING PREVENTION MONTH

  • 5. National Bullying Prevention Month coincides with a unit I teach 5th grade using Trudy Ludwig’s books, “My Secret Bully” and “Confessions of a Former Bully.” I love how Trudy provides 8 responses beyond simply “just ignore it,” and I’ve created a fun Response to Bullying Scoot Game to practice similar phrases. 

ATTENDANCE

As always, thank you so much for supporting Counselor Station. Feel free to check out more ideas and posts here on my blog, Counselor Station, and on social media (Instagram, Facebook, and Pinterest).

Happy fall, friends!