Not Forever But for Now – Talking with young children about the pandemic

Putting aside my excitement about being able to return to some in-person school this year, I really had to think about how to start my guidance lessons.

After all, it wasn’t a typical start to the school year. We hadn’t been together in person for almost six months, we were returning to smaller cohorts of students, and those students were expected to be physically distanced and masked. It would be different to say the least.

I wanted to be intentional about how I began guidance by addressing the elephant in the room so-to-speak: COVID-19. I hoped to give even my youngest learners a chance to acknowledge their feelings about all the changes – academically, socially, and emotionally.

After reading a few children’s books about the pandemic, I chose to read this one K-2 because I appreciate how it combines kid-friendly realities about the virus, feelings associated with all the changes, and relying on the comforts of familiarity to get through the hard moments.

I will admit I was a bit nervous to introduce conversation about the pandemic, given how heated and divided some of the discussions have been among adults. However, opening this up to my students was incredible – all of them had heard about the virus, knew why we had to wear masks, and connected over shared frustrations about our new rules.

In kindergarten and 1st grade, after reading the story, I allowed students to share any worries or hopes they had about this year. In 2nd grade, I gave each student A Worry and A Hope worksheet. Check out some of their responses below. There are definitely some themes!

Opening my guidance lessons this year in this way gave me an important reminder about validation and acknowledgement – when we feel heard, we can begin healing and moving forward.

And finally, I’ll leave you with this hope that I think we can all relate to! 🙂

Who’s the important person in the box?

Well, what a strange time we find ourselves in, folks. We’re home, trying to balance work and family, trying to figure out what working from home for school counselors even looks like (still figuring this one out), trying to limit our trips to the pantry for more snacks, all the while remembering that most of what’s going on around us is completely out of our control.

What is in my control is finding my moments of happy. Part of my happy is realizing that I actually have the time to update my blog! And the first update I want to do is share one of my most loved ‘feel good’ lessons.

This ‘feel good’ self-esteem lesson is one I usually do with kindergarten and 1st grade. I start with showing them the words self-esteem on a mini whiteboard and we briefly discuss that self-esteem is how we feel about ourselves, and basically, that it’s good to feel good about yourself!

In kindergarten, I read Be Who You Are by Todd Parr, which is always a delight! It’s all about loving and accepting yourself for who you are.

In 1st grade, I read I’m Gonna Like Me by Jamie Lee Curtis and Laura Cornell. Also a fantastic book about liking ourselves, even when we make mistakes or come in last.

Then comes the best part. I take out a small cardboard box and I tell my students that there is a picture of a very special, very important person inside the box. I tell them they will each get a chance to peek at the very important person, but first, I want them to guess who it could be.

The guessing part is HILARIOUS. I have heard guesses like:

  • Themselves (there’s always one kid)
  • Their teacher (proving their teacher is like gold for them)
  • The principal (brown-noser….kidding!)
  • The president (depending on which news network their parents watch)
  • Their mom or dad (aww)
  • God (thoughtful answer, really)
  • Their pet (pets rule all for kids)
  • Me (good call, kid)

Next, I invite each student up, one at a time, to take a peek inside the box to see who the very special, very important person is. I tell them this part of the activity is to be SILENT. Nobody gets to talk about who they saw until everyone has had their turn. If there are any students I know will struggle with this much self-control, I call them up towards the end and prompt their silence again right before they look – this helps them be successful with this activity.

You guys, when they peek inside the box and see the important person, their smiles are everything!

After everyone has seen their own reflection, I call on each student (who wants to answer) and ask them specifically, “WHO did you see?” When they each answer “Me!” I ask them how that could be possible – was it a picture of all of them? They gleefully tell me it was a mirror.

Then I follow it up with asking them why in the world they think I would put a mirror inside a box, bring it to their classroom, and ask them all to look inside to see an important person? I get several responses usually – “For fun,” “To trick us,” and finally, someone will say, “Because you want us to know that we’re all important!” Ding, ding ding!

We end by reviewing self-esteem, and sometimes they want me, their teacher, or any helpers in the room to look inside the box too. 🙂

This lesson is one I’ve repeated for several years, and it’s one that teachers and students usually remember because, well, it makes you feel good! I have found that even when I repeat this with 1st graders who remember it from kindergarten, they still enjoy it.

Have you done this lesson or one like it? I’d love to hear about it!

What we can learn from Sam

Five years ago (seriously can’t believe it’s been five years), I wrote about using the Weird Series by Erin Frankel. It’s one of my favorite units to do with students to teach about bullying, kindness, perspectives, problem-solving, self-esteem, self-care, etc.

This year, while reading the 3-part series, one of my second graders had a major breakthrough, and it seriously blew me away. While reading the last book from the character Sam’s perspective, one second grade boy raised his hand and said, “It’s like Sam is sad on the inside, but acting mad on the outside.”

Boom. Mind = blown. This, my friends, is why I absolutely love these books. Not only do students love them and become so engaged, the books help them understand pretty deep concepts in a kid-friendly way.

After hearing this second grader’s take on Sam’s feelings and behaviors, we discussed a little bit during that class. But I took his words with me and decided there was so much more we could do with this idea.

Enter my new wrap-up activity for the Weird Series! I sketched and colored a life-size Sam on paper and brought her with me to each second grade classroom, along with two separate colored post-its and markers.

I posed a couple of questions to each class. My first question was how Sam was acting on the outside, and I recorded several answers on the yellow post-its, and students got to stick the post-it somewhere on the outside of Sam’s body. My second question was how Sam was feeling on the inside. Again, I recorded their answers on pink post-its, and students got to stick the post-its on the inside of Sam’s body.

The yellow post-its around the outside of Sam say: dared others to be mean, told Jayla to be mean to Luisa, laughed when others were upset, bullying others, telling others what to do, acting cool, weird, mean, sabotage, mad, called names, and then nice/kind (after making some changes). The pink post-its inside Sam say: mad, guilty, happy, depressed, sad, good, jealous, embarrassed, and scared.

I was impressed with my second graders ability to dissect Sam’s character a little bit and talk about how she was feeling on the inside affected her actions on the outside. When we discussed why Sam may have been acting mean and why this may have felt safer than sharing her yucky feelings, I heard many students say that Sam might have been worried that others wouldn’t listen, or would make fun of her.

After this activity and discussion, students completed a worksheet all about self-care. They were able to circle activities or write in their own that would help them feel good if they ever felt how Sam did. Some activities on the worksheet included: reading a book, playing a game, spending time alone, talking to someone you trust, asking for a hug, going for a walk, and more.

What I’ve enjoyed most about doing this follow-up activity has been the long-lasting impact for my second graders. Later in the school year, we’ve used Sam’s character when trying to problem-solve peer conflict. When trying to understand why someone is doing what they’re doing, students have been able to exercise their empathy muscle and know that someone else’s behavior isn’t really about them; it’s about that person’s own feelings.

Instead of students immediately jumping to anger and retaliation when a peer does something mean, I see more students taking pause to ask themselves, “Why are they doing this? What’s going on for them?”

Isn’t that amazing? This is the kind of perspective and empathy that serves everyone! I’ll take it. 🙂

What kind of follow-up activities have you done with the Weird Series? Let me know in the comments!

Using stations to teach mindfulness

This is the first end of August in the last 10 years (aside from one summer I was on maternity leave)  that I am not preparing to return to school. I’m not creating my forms, planning out my scope and sequence for classroom lessons, or setting up my office. If you’re a regular to my blog, you know that about 7 months ago, I shared that I had resigned to stay home with my daughter.

Instead, I’m planning activities for my daughter and finding ways for myself to work and learn from home.

But, I did want to share a mindfulness lesson I taught last year to grades 4-6. I specifically want to share this lesson because I have taught mindfulness before, but this time I focused on hands-on experiences for the students. I didn’t just want to teach mindfulness and give them an opportunity to try one skill; I wanted them to be able to actually do it.

When planning this out for my older students, I had done some reading about school counselors using centers during their classroom lessons. I didn’t know if I could pull it off in the short time I had, but I decided to give it a try!


I brought a bag full of items that I placed in different areas of the classroom. As I walked to each area, I put down a piece of paper with instructions for that center and briefly described what it was. I put students in 7 groups (very small on purpose), and then directed them to their first station. As time allowed, each group rotated through each station after approximately 3 minutes (sometimes shorter depending on lots of things). We finished by coming back to our seats and I had each student fill out an “exit slip” to rate which station was their favorite and why (great data for me and their teachers!).

Now, here come my positives and negatives about this set up.


  • Fast-paced for students with short attention spans. They tried something new every few minutes. Great way to combat boredom!
  • Students were able to actually do each mindfulness skill. They got to bend their body into happy baby pose and find a mantra that helped them feel good inside.
  • In most classrooms, the stations created such a positive buzz! Students were excited to be up and moving around!
  • This was an excellent way to model for classroom teachers how to have students try mindfulness (and see how natural it can be).
  • Having the tools used in the classroom back in my office was a great tie-in to the lesson. Students would see the breathing ball or glitter bottle and remember the lesson! I also had students request more mandalas to color in their classroom.
  • There was enough variety that most students were able to find a mindfulness skill that worked best for them.


  • Be prepared to run non-stop from station to station! This is not an “oh, I have them set up and they can do it independently” kind of thing. It is hands on, constant redirection, modeling, explaining over and over again, and then modeling again. Keep in mind that students’ knowledge base and comfort level with mindfulness will be all over the map, so they will need your encouragement! (Tip: If you’re being observed by an administrator, don’t pick this lesson to showcase your superb teaching abilities. It might look like a total cluster to an outside person, even if there’s a method to your madness!)
  • Time. Each of these stations could have been at least a 10 minute exercise, so sometimes students felt rushed through when they only had 2 or 3 minutes.
  • I felt like I needed 5 of me to be at each station to help model and talk students through the instructions. My constant close proximity around the classroom had to suffice.
  • Some students just won’t participate in a positive way. They might think it’s “babyish” or “stupid.” You’ve got to be okay with this kind of feedback. And don’t let it deter you.

Here is my Google presentation that I printed to use as instructions in each station.

*Note: I decided not to use the bubble wrap or pinwheel as stations just for planning purposes.

If you have ever tried stations/centers in your classroom lessons, let me know in the comments! 🙂

Mindfulness: Simplicity and complexity in one lesson

When I returned to school after missing the first 8 weeks to take care of my nugget, I spent a lot of time trying to catch up. I’m still catching up. But one thing I couldn’t wait to get back into – visiting classrooms to do lessons! Still, I had to figure out how to start, since my beginning of the year wasn’t the beginning for everyone else (Does that even make sense? Sorry, I’ve got the mom brain).


Anyway, I landed on mindfulness. Why? I am often incorporating mindfulness techniques in my individual sessions with students, and even in some form during classroom lessons. Basically, my students need it! And I decided it was best to teach it more explicitly to 100% of my students.

Here’s what I did:

To keep things simple, I introduced the topic in all K-6 classrooms, and stuck to doing 3 basic mindfulness activities.

  1. Mindful moment – we practiced keeping our bodies still and quiet while we listened to silence. I called it a listening game that began with a chime sound, and challenged them to listen to the chime as long as they could hear it, and then to stay quiet for a while longer to listen to any sounds in the room. They shared what they heard after the game was over, and we discussed if staying still and quiet was hard for any of them, and it was!
  2. Deep breathing – I used my mini sphere ball to help with the inhale/exhale rhythm. I knew this was going to be difficult for some of my students to do without getting silly, so I instructed them to just bring their focus back to the ball and no one else.
  3. Relaxation – in the younger grades, I played relaxing music while they each colored their own mandala however they wished. In most classes, this was the activity that really seemed to bring their energy to a nice, calm state. In the older grades, I played relaxing music while I read a guided imagery exercise about a magic carpet. The students could sit or lay around the room however they were comfortable.

There were of course some variations in what I did depending on the grade level. In K-1, I had the students do belly breathing while laying flat on the floor and watch their hands rise and fall with each deep breath. In K-3, I read the very short story called Take the Time by Maude Roegiers to help us talk about how mindfulness can help themselves feel better.  And in grades 4-6, students completed a stressed vs mindful emotions worksheet, to help us discuss how mindfulness strategies can help them reduce stress and focus on what’s important.

Also in grades 4-6, I asked each student to do an “exit ticket” by writing on a post-it about how mindfulness can help them. This was a way to summarize the lesson, see what they learned (what “stuck” with them), and to use as evidence about why mindfulness is important for our students to learn and practice. I have been blown away by many of their thoughtful responses!

mindfulness post its2.jpg

mindfulness post its3.jpg

While I was a bit worried how the lessons would go; if students or teachers would think it was silly or a waste of time, I have been very impressed so far! Many students have thanked me for the lesson and said they wish they could do these things everyday (which I tell them they can, of course!), and many teachers have enjoyed the calmness of the lesson and asked for more mindfulness resources to continue to use with their students.

If you would like a copy of the lesson plans I created with ASCA standards and the purpose/skills listed, please click on each link below:

Mindfulness grades K-1

Mindfulness grades 2-3

Mindfulness grades 4, 5, 6

If you would like access to free mandalas to print and color, go here:

These lessons have been so much fun to teach, and leave me with a calm feeling too! Definitely a win-win! Hope you enjoyed reading and find these resources helpful. 🙂

A perfect combination: Mindsets and standardized tests

Ahh, testing. In education, you can usually count on at least one time of the year when the energy in your school shifts. As School Counselors, I think we are in a unique position to see and feel the shift in our students, staff, administrators, parents, etc.

In my experience, this energy shift usually occurs slightly before, during, and shortly after state testing. And it comes as no surprise. Almost everything changes when testing comes along – schedules, closed doors, seating arrangements, staff assignments, access to materials like laptops, and my personal favorite: voice level expectations – it seems like everyone goes around whispering, even when no longer near a testing environment.

This year, I had a few teachers reach out to me about doing a lesson to address their students’ concerns and anxieties regarding the state tests. I thought about doing simple test taking strategies or stress reduction techniques, but then my previous work with mindset seemed to make the most logical sense. After all, how we think about things greatly impacts our stress level and ability to perform on challenging tasks.

So, I put together a lesson for my 3rd-5th graders to talk about the upcoming testing and mindset. I let the students share their thoughts and feelings about the tests – many admitted to feeling stressed, pressured, nervous, and worried. We then shifted to talking about what they thought mindset is, and the difference between open and closed.

I wrote a couple of statements on the board to help them understand the difference. Under closed mindset, I wrote: “I can’t do this” and “This is too hard.” They told me someone who said those things to themselves wouldn’t learn or do very well on the tests. Under open mindset, I wrote: “This is hard, but I’m going to keep trying” and “I can’t do this…yet.” Comparing the two, students commented on how much better someone who said the last two statements would learn and perform on test.

Closed Mindset Statements

Next came the fun part. We formed a circle and I put a recycling bin in the middle. I gave one student at at time a slip of paper that had a closed mindset statement on it. After reading it out loud, I asked the class how we could change the words to make it open mindset. Once I was satisfied that we really changed the words to change the mindset, I instructed the student holding the slip of paper to crumple it up as tightly as they could and chuck it into the recycling bin. My students had a blast with this activity!

Crumpled Mindset Statements

To wrap up, we watched Rock This Test! The video is adorable and the tune (set to “Dynamite” by Taio Cruz) is super catchy! I asked students to be thinking about what kind of mindset the students in the video have, and I let them share their opinions and reasons why afterward.

I received great feedback from students and teachers alike about this lesson and how they could easily incorporate mindset for not only the state tests, but any challenge they ask of their students!

If you would like to access the mindset statements I used in this lesson, please click here.

I hope this gives you another tool to address testing anxieties in your own schools! And if your school has already completed state testing, I’m sending an online high-five your way! 🙂


The not so invisible boy

When I came across Trudy Ludwig’s book The Invisible Boy, I couldn’t wait to use it with my students. In the overly social environment that is most schools, the quiet kids tend to be overlooked. I know this because I was one of those quiet kids, and now I’m that quiet adult.


I absolutely love the way Brian, the “invisible” boy in the book, is shown through beautiful pictures existing among his classmates, but not really noticed by many. At the same time, the pages showcase Brian’s many talents and positive attitude, regardless of how he is treated. The use of black and white vs. color pictures draws the students in from beginning to end.

I ended up reading this book with grades 2nd-6th, as the messages inside are so varied that all ages enjoyed the story. Particularly, my students had great discussions about why Brian felt invisible and how he helped a new student feel welcome, even when he wasn’t feeling so welcome himself.

When we got to the page that posed the question, “Brian wondered which was worse, being laughed at or feeling invisible,” I polled the class for their thoughts. Their opinions were split pretty equally, in each class.

After we read the book, I prompted the students to use their creativity to write or draw three ways they could help a kid like Brian feel welcome in their classroom. Many of them had some pretty great ideas! These two are from a third grade class:

invisible boy pic1   invisible boy pic2I love it when the book I choose has enough depth that it takes up most of the lesson, while capturing students’ attention cover to cover. This book is one of those!! The topics it covers is vast – diversity in personality, appreciation of differences, celebrating talents, friendship, teasing/bullying, respect, kindness, and much more.

If you haven’t read The Invisible Boy, do yourself a favor and get a copy!

Being MEAN can leave lasting scars

My third grade classes this year have challenged me to try new interventions – whole class, small group, and individually. They are spirited to say the least, chatty, opinionated, and many of them have difficulty taking direction. As fun as they can be, they also cause their fair share of conflicts. Many of them will cry and tell when someone is mean to them, but won’t own up when they do the same mean thing to someone else.

I want to share one whole class intervention I tried with them a few weeks ago. This is my “keep in my back pocket” lesson that I pull out when nothing else seems to work.

To start, I asked them to raise their hands if they have seen each of the following things happen to them or their classmates:

-Someone give a mean look.

-Someone whisper about you.

-Someone tell a secret about you.

-Someone share a secret of yours and break your trust.

-Someone tell you that you can’t play.

-Someone tell you that you can’t sit next to them.

-Someone call you a mean name.

-Someone make fun of you.

-Someone laugh along when someone is making fun of you.

For each mean thing I read off, there were multiple hands in the air. I heard comments such as, “That happens to me a lot” and “I see others doing that.” After I read all of them, I told my third graders that all of these mean things are things that I see and hear happening in our community and it’s not okay.

Then, I introduced my friend. I hung up a life-size cutout of a person. I told them I was going to show them how hurtful their mean behaviors can be to someone. As I read each mean thing again, starting with “Every time YOU….” I cut off a part of the person and let it fall to the floor.

The first time I cut a piece off, you should have heard their gasps. A few of the boys got very silly about it (their usual), so I gave them my stern “take this seriously or else” speech, and we were good to go for the rest.

Green guy

Once we had only a head and shoulders left, I told them we needed to rebuild my friend with kindness. I asked for ideas of how we could help my friend feel better. For each kind idea they shared, I taped a piece of the person back on. Then, we talked about how the kind acts helped a lot, but the person doesn’t quite look the same as before.

There are scars. Scars from mean words and mean actions. My third graders told me that when someone is mean to you, you remember it, even after they’ve apologized. My friend with scars all over his body showed us how we can feel on the inside when someone is mean to us.

While the meanness hasn’t ceased completely, the visual left its mark on my students.

I hung up my scarred friend in my room for reminders to be nice, because no one likes to feel all cut up.

RAK, bingo, and secret missions

The week before Christmas vacation, I decided my school needed some help in being a little more kind. And I decided to find a fun way to incorporate random acts of kindness into my guidance lessons that week.

The result was outstanding!

RAK board

I came across a RAK Bingo Board featured on Confessions of a School Counselor. I loved it and decided to make my own. Using a similar format, I created a 4×4 Bingo Board with very simple acts of kindness that students would be able to do over and over again in their classrooms.

Click here for the RAK Bingo Board I made. I made four versions of my bingo board to allow for some variety while playing Bingo in classrooms.

To begin the lesson with my 2nd-5th graders, we had a discussion about what random acts of kindness are, allowed for some examples, and talked about why they matter. Specifically, we talked about RAK’s being anonymous; meaning, being kind isn’t about recognition, it’s about giving to someone else.

Then, we played Bingo. This was an immediate hit because kids love Bingo! As I read each act of kindness, the students were able to hear ideas that they could try themselves. We played until everyone had Bingo at least once on their board. Because the boards are small, this didn’t take long. In some classes, we played until everyone had blackout (their whole board was filled).

brown paper bag

Next came the REALLY fun part! I presented the class with a brown paper bag and asked a student to read the words I had written on it with marker: “Secret Mission Shhh!” We discussed that a secret mission is something you do and don’t tell anybody about it.


One by one, each student came to pick their secret mission from the bag. The secret missions were little folded cards that had the acts of kindness from the Bingo boards. All I did was cut up some of my Bingo boards, fold the squares, and pop them into the bag!

Once each student had their secret mission, I told them their challenge was to complete their secret mission before the week was over. To combat a few of the grumblers, I reminded them they would have a lot more fun if they kept a positive attitude! Plus, their secret missions were really easy and didn’t take a lot of time.

This lesson was not only fun, but it created a ripple effect of kindness throughout many classrooms and into the hallways of our school. My favorite part was having several students come up to me after the lesson and say, “I already did my secret mission. Can I have another one?” 🙂

Finally, I know the lesson made an impact because I received an anonymous card thanking me for the lesson. (One of the secret mission RAK’s was to make a card for your favorite teacher.)

The card said “To: A special someone, Merry Christmas. As you can see I hope you have a good Christmas and a happy new year. I really like you and I’m excited for today. I was happy that the class got to see you and I really liked the game and getting to pick the cards. All my love.

How kind is that? 🙂

Mindsets, mindsets everywhere

Since I spent most of my summer changing my own mindset after a rather trying school year, I decided I really needed to teach mindset to my students.

Here’s why: Teachers can teach, support staff can support, but a student’s mindset really controls what is learned and how successful each student becomes.

I came across a wonderful mindset lesson from Barbara’s blog, The Corner on Character. Barbara was kind enough to encourage me while I planned my own lessons, as I found myself having a closed mindset along the way (I’ll explain this later).

Well, I’ve completed almost all of them in grades 1-5, and I’m happy with how each turned out!

Here’s how my lessons went….

I introduced the word mindset and allowed students to guess what it meant. I got some great answers: “when your mind is set on something” and “how your mind thinks about things.”

Then, I told them about closed vs open mindset. Students paired up and were given a minute to discuss the difference. Again, I got some great answers: “open is when you’re thinking about things, closed is when you’re not” and “open is when you want to talk about something, closed is when you aren’t willing to talk about things.” 

I gave a few examples of what someone with a closed mindset would say: “This math is too hard,” “I can’t do this,” “I’m not going to try,” “I can’t make any friends,” and “No one here helps me.” I asked them how well someone with that kind of mindset would learn; they said not very well at all!

I gave a few examples of what someone with an open mindset would say: “This math is hard, but I’m going to keep trying,” “I can do this,” and “I don’t have any friends….yet.” Students told me someone with this kind of mindset would learn much better. We also discussed the power of yet – adding yet onto the end of a sentence can make all the difference!

We practiced the sign for each mindset:

(closed on the left, open on the right with fingers wiggling)

Hand fist     Hand open

Finally, we read this book to discuss the mindset of each character and how the mindset of little Vashti changed over the course of the story:

the dot


I was quite impressed with my students as they were able to show me, using the hand signals, when mindsets changed and why, as well as how Vashti was able to pass on the idea of an open mindset to a younger friend.

As mentioned above, I found myself having a closed mindset as I planned my lessons. The reason for this was I felt the idea of mindset, while important, might be over the heads of my younger students in grades 1 and 2. I had a vision of young faces staring up at me blankly, completely uninterested or unable to grasp the concept. With some support from Barbara and others in the Elementary Counselor Exchange group on FB, my mindset became open and my lessons were delivered with ease. My students not only got the concept, but they remember it. AND, some of my teachers are continuing to use the concept already! Perfect-o!

I will say that I chose to use open vs closed instead of growth vs fixed mindset, to help with understanding the concept. It worked!

I’ll end with this little story from one of my 4th grade classes: In the middle of my mindset lesson, a boy was attempting to untie his knotted shoelaces and retie them. As he did this, he was talking out loud, which disrupted others, but I let it go. After a while, another boy offered to do it for him, to which the boy replied, “No! I think I can do this myself!” I started applauding him and told him he had just modeled for everyone how to have an open mindset. He was beaming with pride!

Now that I’ve taught mindset, I find opportunities to reference it all the time with students. Examples of mindset are everywhere! Mindset is a powerful thing! 🙂