Individual counseling with kindergarteners is anything but simple. They may not be able to understand some concepts, have limited vocabulary and experiences, and are still developing self-regulation skills. Plus, if they are coming to counseling, they are most likely missing some key skills that their peers have. Oh, and you are probably doing this at lunch.
Tips for Counseling Kindergarteners
Develop a consistent routine that you can use every time a student comes to see you for counseling. First, they do a feelings check-in, then you introduce a new skill paired with a short activity, and then you end with some calming strategy practice.
When students know what to expect, it will save you time and make them feel comfortable. Sessions with kindergarteners also tend to be short. Routines will help you save any wasted time explaining what to do next.
REFLECT: What consistent structure can you have for your individual counseling sessions? How would you adjust this for counseling with kindergarteners?
Check out this post on How I Started Counseling Sessions.
Pair Your Words
At this young age, many kindergarteners can not process lots of verbal information, especially with how fast most adults talk. It is essential that we partner our words with visuals, music, or movement for counseling with kindergarteners.
- If your session is on matching a calming strategy to a feeling, have visuals for feelings and for the calming strategy.
- Maybe there is a short jingle/song that can go along with a new skill.
- They may be learning a new calming strategy such as deep breathing. It's a great opportunity to partner the instruction and concept with a pinwheel or bubbles.
REFLECT: Where can I pair words with visuals? How can I add movement to make a concept clearer?
There is nothing better than camouflaging learning in games. They will keep a student's attention and practice a learned skill. I wouldn't recommend using games to teach a new skill, but they are perfect for practicing.
Creating a game is simple too. Use a game play you already know (i.e., Jenga, Uno, Apples to Apples, Bingo) and create situation or question cards to pair with the game.
- Every time you remove a Jenga block, you have to answer a question.
- Play Go Fish with feelings cards.
- Play Apples to Apples with feelings cards and calming strategies.
REFLECT: When would you use a game to practice a learned skill? How could you collect some simple data while playing to show what the student has learned? What games do your students love? Can you start to create card decks for each grade level?
As soon as students start to wiggle, minds start to wander. It is great to build in opportunities to move within activities or between them. This will keep students engaged and focused on the activities.
This is also an excellent opportunity to teach students about self regulation. When they notice their bodies feeling wiggly, it tells them it's a good time for a quick stretch or some chair push-ups.
REFLECT: When can you build in movement into your session? Can it be part of activities or does it work better between activities?
Children's books are a perfect tool for counseling with kindergarteners. They often have messages that align perfectly with our students' goals. I find students identify readily with the characters and connect to the main message.
Make sure the books are appropriate for kindergarten and are not too wordy or too abstract.
REFLECT: What books are students using in their classroom that you can use in counseling? What books align with your student's goals?
READY TO GO RESOURCES: The Color Monster and In My Heart are perfect for helping students identify and understand their feelings.
I Do, We Do, You Do
At the beginning of this post, I mentioned having a consistent routine for sessions. Within in those sessions, I like to introduce new skills in the same way. A 3-step session plan (I Do, We Do, You Do) should look familiar because it is how many teachers structure their lesson plans. First, you introduce the skill, then practice with them, and finally have them try on their own.
In real life this looks like a "mini-lesson" (5 minutes). We then move onto a guided activity where they start to explore and show the skill (7 minutes). Last, they complete a more independent activity to show their newly learned skills (10 minutes).
For sessions that are less skill-based, I try to incorporate a feelings check-in, a coping strategy practice, and something with dolls/sand tray to explore the presenting problem.
The simple routine for the meat of our session helps students know what to expect and streamlines your planning.
There are six tips that will make counseling with kindergarteners easier and more effective:
- Consistent Routines
- Pair Your Words
- I Do, We Do, You Do Sessions
What tips do you have to make counseling with kindergarteners easier and more effective?
Looking for more? Check out this post on how to use In My Heart for Counseling or How to Teach Apologies.