Trying to decide what you really need for your elementary school office? It can take some time to figure out what works best for you, but there are some items most social workers and counselors agree on. Below is a list of 10 elementary must-haves and favorites intended for 1st-5th. This list includes my personal recommendations as well as common ones I hear from others. Need help with other grade levels? Check out this list for Prek-K!
Books are essential to any social work or counseling office! They are a great tool for introducing or reviewing a topic and often include many relatable examples. When building up your office library, purchase the books you will use the most, first. Check out what is already there and make a list of any core topics that seem to be missing. Once you have a good collection, then start adding books that are more specific or would benefit a particular student. I always ask myself “what books can I make it through this year without and which ones can’t wait?” You can download a copy of my book library list here or read this post for my top 10 favorites.
Games are a great way for students to practice social skills like taking turns, patience, good sportsmanship, and more. But you can even incorporate different topics by adding social-emotional task cards for students to complete with each turn. I recommend having a large variety of games but the ones pictured above are the most popular in my office!
Must-Have: Functional Posters
How big is your office? Usually, our offices are on the smaller side making it important to make the most of our wall space. I recommend mostly buying posters that can be referred to in your sessions as an aid. One of my favorites is a set I made myself. It gives visuals for problem and reaction sizes and helps students compare the two next to each other. Every few years I change out some of my posters, but I always have one that includes different coping skills, one with anger rules, and one with different feelings.
Must-Have: Calm Corner
Designate an area of your office for self-regulating known as a calm corner. Most calm corners tend to include fidgets, sensory tools, stuffed animals, and visuals or cards that help students work through their emotions and regulate. You can set the items up on the floor, at a table, or even in a tent. I love using a tent for my calm corner because it creates a darker, enclosed space that some of my students prefer. If you decide to go this route, make sure to buy a tent and not a teepee. As mental health professionals we need to create a safe, unbiased environment in our offices, and using a teepee in this way is not culturally appropriate.
Must-Have: Coloring Supplies
Most students love to color and draw and it can be used in many ways. You can use it as an icebreaker, a distraction activity when a student is nervous, or a tool to help students express how they are feeling when they can’t verbalize it. Plain paper and coloring pages are both great to have.
Favorite Authors: Julia Cook & Bryan Smith
Julia Cook has many books I have found to be useful – I think I have more books written by her than any other author. Her writing style is unique in that it meets students where they’re at along with metaphors and rhymes to make strategies memorable. She also used to be a school counselor and a teacher. Some of her books can be a little wordy, but they are easy to modify.
Bryan Smith has also worked as an elementary school counselor. I love his books because they are easy to follow and relatable. He has a large collection about executive functioning skills which can be hard to find at the elementary level.
Favorite Curriculum: Superflex & Sanford Harmony
My students love Superflex. It is incredibly engaging and different. Superflex is about an average kid who becomes a superhero. His job is to defeat different characters to keep Social Town safe. Each character represents a skill like flexibility, self-regulation, focus, etc. Superflex teaches strategies to defeat each character and encourages students to be their own superheroes.
I have only used this curriculum individually and in small groups, and don’t think it would be sufficient enough for classroom lessons or an SEL program. If you are looking for a year-long program to use in classrooms, Sanford Harmony is free and a good place to start. You can always supplement with your own lessons to make sure every SEL competency has been met entirely. I have tried using Steps to Respect and Second Step, and while they have good material, both are very outdated.
Favorite Fidgets & Sensory Tools
There are so many different fidgets and sensory tools out there that I couldn’t choose just one. My elementary students tend to choose fidgets that can stretch or have a texture like stretchy characters (found in the Target dollar spot), spiky balls, stress balls, bendy sticks, and textured animals. I have also cut up textured scrapbook paper to tape to their desk. Search around on Amazon and add a few different kinds to your collection each year.
Sensory tools are more specific to the student. I have used noise-canceling headphones, body socks, weighted lap pads and vests (check with OT on this because sometimes it has to be written into the IEP), sensory bins, wiggle seats, and chair bands. There are different types of chair bands, but I recommend Bouncy Bands. They are more expensive, but also more durable. Noise-canceling headphones can be helpful for students who are triggered by noise but also work well for students who have trouble focusing on their work.
Favorite Websites: GoNoodle & We Do Listen Foundation
GoNoodle is a great resource for brain breaks and calming tools. I often use the Flow channel at the end of a lesson for relaxation and various other channels when a student needs a break. They have many videos that help students get out extra wiggles or silly videos to help them get their minds off of work for a minute. Brain breaks are great for helping students refocus.
The We Do Listen Foundation has several lessons for Prek-2nd. They are engaging and most lessons include a quiz and a song. Some I wouldn’t recommend depending on your student population, so be sure to watch through first. My top favorites are Howard B. Wigglebottom Learns to Listen and Howard B. Wigglebottom Learns It’s Ok to Back Away.
Favorite Management Tool: Sand Timers
This is another tool that can be used in many ways. They are great for helping students know when an activity is ending or for students who like timers to help them regulate.
Other elementary must-haves you might want to consider include apps for breathing and calming like Rain Rain and iBreathe, different lighting options, materials for calm jars, and plenty of documentation tools to take and assess data. What other elementary must-haves or favorites would you add to the list?