Wednesday, November 28, 2012

Popcorn-y Goodbyes

Today was the last session of my first grade emotions/anger management group. Sad face... although without a doubt I haven't seen the last of those kiddos!

At the close of our previous session, the boys got to choose the treat that I would bring to our last group session, and the overwhelming choice was popcorn. Really? This was over cupcakes and ice cream sandwiches? Cool! (and since I was out sick this week and actually almost forgot, it's a good thing, since I had popcorn in the cabinet and didn't need to run to the store :) )

I brought Candy Land with me to play while we munched on our popcorn, and while fun and games it was, we were also learning! I'm sure I've said it 42 times, but I really enjoy playing simple board games with young kiddos to work on good sportsmanship, coping with losing, turn-taking, and other general social skills, plus counting/adding/subtracting, color recognition, etc for these little guys. With scaffolding and explicit modeling from me, it went really well. You can't help but feel silly saying, "G, it's now your turn, please pick your card. Everyone, what card did G draw? What color? How many? Let's count together, one purple, two purple. Great job, G please hand me your card. Okay, D, it's now your turn, please pick your card. Gentlemen, what card did D draw? ..." while playing Candy Land with four 6-7 year olds, but the continual, constant prompting and reminders really do help.

Hard to believe 8 weeks is over already! I'm going to buckle down and get some CSE work done before Christmas, with perhaps more group planning for the new year. Right now, my other colleagues are heading their own groups (4th and 5th grade girls groups focusing on bullying, 6th grade 6:1+1 group focusing on anger management and self-expression, and more!), so I'll take a breather and get my test on.

Don't forget to check out and "Like" my Facebook page!

Thursday, November 22, 2012

The Tale of Peter Rabbit

Our group lesson this week was a continuation of problem solving with a touch of "accepting consequences," and once again, I dipped into Skillstreaming for my outline and ideas. The lesson was almost torn asunder by the fact that our library didn't have the picture book I needed, but my social worker came through in the 7th hour like a trooper.

I read The Tale of Peter Rabbit to prime the lesson, which, side note, I had no idea was written over 100 years ago. The more you know. Also, I really need to use bibliotherapy more in my counseling endeavours. Anyway, the boys were a little squirmy (surprised?), but it's amazing how fast the wiggliest of kiddos calms when a story is being read to them. Peter Rabbit is a great story about what happens when we make poor decisions. Peter's mother tells him not to go in Mr. MacGregor's garden, but that rascally rabbit does it anyway, and gets the fright of his life as a consequence.

After we finished the story, I took the opportunity to practice some reading comprehension with the boys. We reviewed that story in sequence and also answered literal "wh" questions, to make sure they had a grasp on the details. We also discussed the choice that Peter made (going into Mr. MacGregor's garden), why it was a poor choice, and what the consequences were for his decision. We talked about the choices he could have made instead that would have been better (i.e. going only where his mom said, playing with his three siblings, staying home, etc) and what the consequences of those might have been. Not a lot of "text to self" connections, but in this isolated story, the boys were spot on!

This was out last "teaching" session of group. Next time, we'll have a little party, but of course I'll bring some skills into it as well. The plan is, amongst our popcorn chomping and cupcake licking, to play some board games to work on social skills, turn-taking, sharing, and good sportsmanship. Every opportunity is one to learn something!

Don't forget to check out and "Like" my Facebook page!

Sunday, November 18, 2012

Homeless, but not Helpless

Regardless of the kind of area you work in, homelessness is probably a bigger problem than you think. In urban settings, it's even more pronounced. I recently attended a training on the McKinney-Vento Homeless Assistance Act and the services available to families experiencing homelessness, and it was so informative and helpful. It was one of those trainings where I could use the information immediately the next day-- and did.

The biggest misconception about homeless is that the family is living on the streets, but it's actually living without a permanent home (specifically, a fixed, regular, and adequate nighttime residence). "Homelessness," per the McKinney-Vento Act, can look like one of the following:
  • Sharing housing.
  • Living in a motel, hotel, trailer with wheels, or campground.
  • Emergency or transitional shelters.
  • Awaiting a foster care placement.
  • Cars, parks, public spaces, abandoned buildings, standard housing, bus or train stations.
  • A nighttime residence not ordinarily used as a regular sleeping accommodation (i.e. park bench).
The biggest qualifier I see in my school is families sharing housing. It's actually astounding the amount of my kiddos who would qualify for McKinney-Vento now that I know this is considered a form of homelessness, because they do not have their own permanent residence. We also see a lot of families living in hotels.

How do you know if a family might be homeless? Watch the students closely. Are they wearing the same clothes every day, or don't have clothing appropriate to the weather conditions? Do they hoard food, ask for seconds, etc? Do they have working telephone numbers? Are they evasive about their living situation when asked? 

The McKinney-Vento removes the barriers impeding homeless children from attending school. It ensures homeless children transportation to and from school free of charge, allowing them to attend their school of origin (the last school they were enrolled at or the school they attended at their last permanent residence), regardless of what district the family resides in. It also requires schools to register homeless children immediately, even if they lack normally required documents, such as immunization records or proof of residence. Even after finding permanent housing, a family can access McKinney-Vento services for a year afterwards.

One thing that concerned me was how little I knew about the McKinney-Vento act. As an educator, I didn't know about a vital act that ensures proper education for disadvantaged students? And if I didn't know much about these resources, what about the parents?

Just a few days after the training, we were notified of a family who had experienced a house fire and has been living in a hotel for the past two months. The five kiddos in the family were wearing the same clothes every day, didn't have coats (good ol' Western NY weather is unkind), and always seemed hungry. Mom came into school looking for support, and we were able to provide her with quite a lot immediately. We gave the students extra uniform pants and shirts and also enrolled them in our school's Backpack Program, which provides a backpack of nonperishable food from the local food bank to students for the weekend. I also notified our district's McKinney-Vento liaison, who will contact mom for further support.

As school psychologists, we may seem to be primarily responsible for the appropriate education of special education students. However, we need to be mindful of the resources and tools that will lead to the proper instruction of ALL students. Investigate the McKinney-Vento act, find out who your district's liaison is, and refer families. You never know who might be in need. 

Here is the full text of the McKinney-Vento Homeless Asisstance Act, for those ambitious folks out there.

Don't forget to check out and "Like" my Facebook page!

Wednesday, November 14, 2012

A Day Without Accomplishing a Thing in Group is a Day Wasted

Today in group, the lesson was on problem-solving! Last time, we reviewed all the steps we've learned to identify how we're feeling, know how our body feels, and ways to calm down--all of which the kiddos have to do first before they can problem solve. Today's lesson was mostly based off of Skill #30 in Skillstreaming in Early Childhood. The boys would be thinking of different choices they could make in a certain situation, picking a "good" choice, then talking about how they would carry that out. Sounds great, right?

I felt like this, only with clothes and
without the sweet hat.
Wrong. Group was pretty much a waste.

Today was the class's first day with a new student who is going to be very challenging. He is brand new to our building and his grandma and mom came in before he arrived to let us know what a terror he is. Awesome, you know things are going to be stellar when you get the "he's terrible" talk two weeks before he arrives. Well, little L arrived in a wind storm of crazy, and swept all the other boys into his tornado of nuts.

Pretty much all we were able to accomplish today was talking out different choices we could make in the situations in the Skillstreaming book. L was so off-task and distracting (crawling on the floor, playing in the sink, pulling math manipulatives off the shelves, playing with a yard stick), the other munchkins couldn't focus for very long. We'll have to chock this one up to experience and work harder next time. To stay in line with School Psychology Awareness Week, my strength for today was knowing when to walk away.

And I did... really quickly.

Don't forget to check out and "Like" my Facebook page!

Wednesday, November 7, 2012

Putting the Group Pieces Together

Today's 1st grade group counseling session was very productive! I grabbed Mr. S, another colleague, to come up and assist, as I had role-plays planned and knew that one of me and four of them wouldn't be productive. Our lesson today was putting together the skills we've been learning, so that we can look towards problem-solving (that'll come next time).

We reviewed and reinforced ad nauseum how to identify a feeling and practiced showing with our bodies what different emotions looked like. We mostly focus on "anger" in this group, because that's what these little kiddos with Emotional Disturbances are most troubled by, but we also were able to work on "sad" and "excited," too. After we reviewed the emotional side of things, we reviewed all the different ways to relax when upset, and practiced a few all together, like deep breathing and counting backwards.

After we finished our review, Mr. S and I each took two kiddos to break up and work through scenarios from the Skillstreaming in Early Childhood manual, Skill #28. We gave each boy a scenario or two and had them go through the steps we've been learning:

  • Identify the feeling
  • Notice how the body feels
  • Relax and calm down
  • Stop
  • (next we'll add "Think" and "Problem Solve")

While they acted out the steps, Mr. S and I helped their partner identified each one. For instance, as each kiddo was modeling how their body felt, the partner pointed out different things the body was doing that meant they were angry or sad (i.e. growling, clenched hands, arms crossed, stomping feet, red face). Then as a trio, we would pick a calming down strategy and practice it together. J came up with a great strategy all on his own--singing the alphabet slowly. I praised him up and down for that good idea, and of course, we all sang it together (his teacher was also impressed, because the class is missing a lot of foundational skills needed for first grade, like letter recognition and sound-symbol correspondence). After we practiced in pairs, we came back to the large group and had J and D, the more put together kiddos of the day, model for everyone. 

The biggest challenge with these kiddos is getting them to sit after our activity or lesson to process. Even with Mr. S's help, the boys had a lot of trouble sitting back down on the rug and listening for a few minutes of talking about what we did today and what we learned. They were under tables, standing by bulletin boards, rolling/laying on the floor, etc. The processing at the end of a lesson is important to me to sum things up and set up the next lesson, but I feel like I leave group lately with things hanging unfinished. On the upside, this was a worthwhile lesson, and it seems like at least the kiddos are remembering what we talk about in group--even if they can't always practice it!

  Don't forget to check out and "Like" my Facebook page!

Sunday, November 4, 2012

Progressive Muscle Relaxation? Relax THIS, Lady!

My fourth first grade emotions/anger management group session was marred by the insanity that is November 1st. On this fateful day, the kiddos came to school all tweaked out on candy from Halloween the night before, ready to cause armageddon and other gleeful shenanigans. Enter 50 Shades of Cray.

Group was scheduled for 2:30pm, a nice way to end up the school day before dismissal starts at 3:10. Around 1:00pm, Miss R came down in a tizzy because one of the boys was throwing an Uber Tantrum and she needed help. Mr. S, my mental health counselor colleague, and I strapped on our sneakers and took off (and by sneakers, I mean high heels. Please, you know I didn't have no sneakers on :) ). There we found N, red-faced, scream-crying, face down on the floor, spitting, swimming like Ryan Lochte, only the hands and feet were for punching/kicking/scratching, not winning gold medals. He was not responding to Miss R, the classroom aide, or either of us, and the other students had been removed by the speech therapist, because N had partially destroyed the room.

Mr. S and I held N's hands and feet gently to keep him from hurting himself or one of us, and tried to calm him down, but N was having none of it. Mr. S was getting scratched on his wrists, I was getting kicked (by feet with no shoes or socks... I smelled like sweaty little boy feet for the rest of the day), and it was unproductive. It was one of those situations where you felt totally helpless, because nothing was working to help the kiddo. Mr. S recommended I call the district's crisis team, because this was more than just a tantrum. In the end, the crisis team recommended I call our school resource officer, who came quickly to assist Mr. S, and N's mom eventually came to take him home. We were pooped.

By the time 2:30 rolled around for group, I was worried that N's behavior had set the other 3 boys off and it wasn't going to be a productive session. I was told that it was fine to come up, so I settled myself on the rug with D, G, and J and we got down to business on the topic of "relaxation" (irony). Immediately, I knew that it was going to be a wash--they were much squirmier than normal, D and J kept posturing like they were going to punch each other, and where they normally respond to positive redirection and praising, it wasn't working. What an awesome day to try and do relaxation techniques!

J had to be removed to take a "cool down" walk, so with D and G we were able to discuss why it's important to calm down when you're upset, and ways to do so. With some teeth-pulling, we were able to get a good list (watch TV, sit by yourself, put your head down, go for a walk, deep breathing, counting backwards, etc). We also practiced some of the techniques where appropriate, like the deep breathing technique I call "Soup Breathing." Students visualize a bowl of their favorite soup in front of them, which is too hot to eat. They're excited to eat it, so they take a big sniff of how good it smells ("in through the nose"), then blow on it to cool it down ("out through the mouth").

I settled the boys into their tables and crossed my mental fingers that the progressive muscle relaxation activity I planned would be somewhat productive. It took a while to settle the boys down, but we were able to get through a few of the scripts with little trouble. J joined us halfway through and was able to participate appropriately. I used the script found here, with some minor modifications to the introduction and conclusion to shorten them. I also didn't do all the scripts, only "hands and arms," "arms and shoulders," "jaw," and "legs and feet." I liked the script because of the visualization, and while the kids got a little silly, they did exactly as instructed.

Once the muscle relaxation was over and I tried to process and get them talking about the activity, the squirminess was back. D and J were right back at each other, instigating a fight and getting in each other's faces. D went to hide under a table and J yelled and tried to push a chair at him. I went to try and calm J down, but for some reason, he had forgotten all the cool techniques he had just learned! With time and help from Miss R, the boys got settled back into their dismissal routine and I was able to skeddadle. Phew.

Don't forget to check out and "Like" my Facebook page!