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Ever wonder what an elementary school counselor does? In this lesson, we will look into counseling at an elementary school, including types of counseling and strategies used in the process.

Elementary School Counselors

If you are interested in the possibility of becoming a counselor and you love kids, you may want to consider working at a school. School counselors get to do a variety of counseling, like individual and small group, while also getting to teach mental health classes on topics like self-esteem, bullying, and conflict resolution.

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They also get to help out with academic issues, like study skills and goal setting.Meet elementary school counselor, Whitney. Today, we will get an idea of Whitney’s job by shadowing her as she provides individual sessions, a group session, and a class seminar.

Types of School Counseling

Individual Sessions

Whitney offers individual sessions when she meets with one student at a time. The sessions could be about an issue the student is having, emotionally or academically, or it could be a time to check in about old issues.

Eight-year-old Bobby comes for a meeting with Whitney at 10 a.m. in order to talk about his anger issues regarding his mother’s remarriage. Whitney helps him draw out his feelings and thoughts and learn ways to handle his anger outside of sessions.

Small Group Sessions

Whitney also offers small group sessions, which means she meets with a group of about 5-8 students at a time and encourages them to share with each other. Every fall, winter, and spring, she offers a certain kind of small group and topic. They include family issues, making friendships, handling bullying, coping skills, and more. Right now she is leading a group that discusses self-esteem.She brings in questions for kids to answer about how they see themselves and what they like about themselves and each other. As some kids start opening up more fully, the other kids learn that it is okay to share their feelings. They also learn how to appreciate the views of others and that they are not alone in what they feel or think.

Class Seminars

Lastly, Whitney ends the school day with a class that she offers to the 4th and 5th graders. She teaches them a different set of academic skills during each class. Today she is teaching them good test-taking skills, like how to study well for a test and remain calm and focused while taking it.

On other days, she teaches things like how to set goals and work toward them.Individual and group sessions are great times for kids to communicate with Whitney and each other. But sometimes kids just don’t want to verbalize what they are feeling, and sometimes they don’t know how. Those are the times when Whitney uses different strategies to meet kids where they are. These strategies are common to many counselors that work with children and include: play therapy, art therapy, and games.

Strategies for Elementary Counseling

Art Therapy

Art therapy is the use of art to express and move through emotional issues.

Nine-year-old Abigail is in an individual session with Whitney, but she doesn’t want to talk about what’s going on in her life. She answers Whitney with one word answers but often just shrugs and remains silent.Whitney then takes out a basket of paints and paintbrushes and gives her a big sheet of paper. ‘Why don’t you draw a picture, Abigail?’ she says. ‘Anything you want.’ Abigail says she doesn’t know what to draw, so Whitney offers some suggestions.

‘You could draw your family, your friends, yourself at home with your pets.’Abigail slowly takes the paints, and she starts creating her friends at school. She draws friends in a circle and labels their names but then puts herself outside the circle. The drawing gave Abigail the chance to express her inner thoughts, without having to say them out loud.

Whitney can then ask questions that help her understand the situation more clearly. Besides painting, art therapy can include any number of artistic modalities, like drawing, creating with Play-Doh, scrapbooking, and more.

Play Therapy

Another technique counselors use to help children express and move through emotional issues is called, play therapy. This technique uses various kinds of play to draw information and help students heal. Whitney, for example, has a basketball hoop in her office and sometimes incorporates it into her individual or group sessions.For example, during one of her small group sessions, she tells her kids that when they share a feeling, they get to take a shot at the hoop. The one who has the most shots at the end of the day gets a candy bar.

Whitney also has a sand tray in her office and likes to watch the kids play independently with it. Sandra likes to play with the sand tray on her own, and Whitney observes as she puts certain objects in the sand and displays what is going on in her life. Whitney also brings dolls into her small group sessions and divides the group into three smaller groups, asking them to play with each other.Like art therapy, play therapy cannot only display a child’s issues but also be used to help them process through those issues and heal. The more they can play in therapeutic ways, the more they are releasing the burdens of hidden emotions.


Games are a great way to help kids share and learn while having fun.

Whitney is pretty creative and can come up with all sorts of games to get her kids talking. But she doesn’t always have to come up with her own ideas for activities. There are also many types of games that counselors can buy that are designed for helping children open up in ways that are fun for them.There are posters that display different emotions that children can circle or point to, stickers they can choose that have happy and sad faces, and any number of signs that help kids verbalize their feelings. Sometimes Whitney uses a few different therapeutic board games, like the board game called the ‘Don’t Stress Game.

‘ There’s also the ‘Stop, Relax, and Think Workbook’ or ‘The Talking, Feeling and Doing Game.’ These types of games are created by therapists and guide the player in certain actions that reveal problems and teach tools to deal with them.

Lesson Summary

Let’s review. Counselors at elementary schools get to take part in a variety of counseling, including individual sessions, where they meet with students one on one; small groups, where they facilitate discussions with about 5-8 students at a time; and class seminars, where they teach and guide a classroom of students. Topics that are addressed include but are not limited to: family issues, bullying, self-esteem, making friends, coping skills, and academic topics, like studying skills.Counselors use certain strategies in sessions to bring out students’ emotions and thoughts as well as help them go through them.

These include art therapy, which has students do art activities; play therapy, which has students play with various objects; and game therapy, where counselors come up with or purchase games specific to the topic of discussion.

Learning Outcome

After watching this lesson, you should be able to identify and describe the different types of counseling and strategies a counselor might implement at an elementary school.

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