“What are your middle school must-haves and favorites?” I hear and see this question all the time! Whether you’re in a new position, are looking for new items, or just have some extra money to spend, we all want to purchase the best tools. I’ve rounded up 10 personal and popular middle school must-haves and favorites. Need help with other grade levels? Check out this list for Prek-K and this one for elementary!
Must-Have: Coloring Supplies
Middle schoolers love to color. It’s a great tool to get students to open up and a great calming tool. I recommend a supply of plain paper, mandalas, and adult coloring pages with various coloring supplies. You can even create a booklet of coloring pages for them to use outside of your office when needed.
Must-Have: Sand Tray
A sand tray can be used similarly to coloring supplies. It’s another great busy activity when talking with a student but works well as a calming tool too. There are many sand tray kits out there with specific themes, but you can always buy a basic tray and add your own accessories. The one below is what I have.
Must-Have: Lined Notebooks or Journals
I always keep a stack of lined notebooks in my office. When a student needs to talk to me often or they are going through a hard time, I offer them a notebook. They can write in it throughout the day and bring it to our next session. Journals serve the same purpose but sometimes include prompts or tracking tools.
Must-Have: Comfy Seating Options
It’s good to have a few comfortable seating options. Mine are not set up at the main table but it depends what works best for you and your students. In my office, these options serve as their own calm corner and add a safe and cozy vibe. Walmart has many options around back to school that are cheap and can be wiped easily if needed.
Must-Have: Mindfulness Scripts
Mindfulness scripts can be something you read yourself or play from a video. YouTube has a ton of options but my favorite is Calm Classroom. They have a collection of scripts for elementary and middle school or high school that includes audio files and a book to read from. Mindfulness exercises help students take a break, refocus, and regulate. I use them in my classroom lessons and with students who struggle with anxiety.
Games are a great tool for students who might not want to be there or need something more engaging when learning and practicing a skill. They can be modified to teach any topic by adding task cards or question lists or used as a filler activity while talking. Using them with groups is also a great way to practice social skills.
Favorite Type of Lesson: Crafts
Crafts are a great way for middle schoolers to express themselves. They are also hands-on, making for an engaging lesson. Some examples include painting, crocheting, decorated shoe boxes, and calm jars. My favorite is decorating a feel-good box that students can use at home. We fill it with all kinds of things that help them feel better or regulate like funny pictures, jokes, positive affirmations, a favorite sensory item, etc.
Favorite Curriculum: Any Workbook
Workbooks are not for everyone because sometimes they can be dry, but I prefer to use them with middle schoolers. I like workbooks because each section builds off of each other and I can make sure I don’t miss any skills related to the topic I am teaching. What my students write gives me a good idea of their understanding and helps them think on a deeper level. Workbooks also last many sessions, giving me planned material for a longer period of time.
Favorite Fidgets & Sensory Tools
You really need to have a variety of fidgets and sensory tools at the middle school level. They are able to use them more appropriately than younger students and can figure out what would help them the best and why. Some of the popular choices in my office include liquid timers, squeeze beans, mochi squishies, sensory finger rings, mesh and marbles, stress balls, and flippy chains. I have a check-out system if they want to use a fidget in class and keep a bucket of fidgets on the table for sessions.
Favorite Therapy Tool: CBT Flowchart & Motivational Interviewing
CBT stands for Cognitive Behavioral Therapy. It is a type of treatment more commonly used in private practice and other mental health settings, but it can be used in the school setting to a smaller degree. CBT is a client-centered approach that focuses on thoughts, feelings, and actions. Put simply, everything starts with a thought. If you can change your thoughts, you can change your feelings and therefore your actions. I like using CBT with middle schoolers because it can be helpful for students who are anxious, struggle with a fixed mindset, or tend to make poor choices. If you are not familiar with CBT, I encourage you to research more about it before using it. In my sessions, we work through CBT with a flowchart. I list a situation and have my students come up with negative thoughts, feelings, and actions. Then we reframe starting with positive thoughts. Anita from Wholehearted School Counseling has several amazing resources for CBT as well.
Motivational interviewing is a technique you can use when talking with students. It is meant to help clients become motivated on their own to change their behaviors. To learn more about it and how to use it, I recommend Motivational Interviewing for School Counselors. It’s short and an easy read.
Some other middle school 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, mermaid pillows or frames, kinetic sand, and puzzles. I hope you found this list helpful!