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When it Comes to Helping Kids, MISD Counselors aren’t Playing Around

Press Release|
Shane Mauldin|
Wednesday, November 9, 2022
Press Elementary Counselor Susan Washa and Finch Elementary Counselor Sara Gonzales talk about how they might use puppets with students to help them understand emotions, solve problems or solve conflicts at school.

Press Elementary Counselor Susan Washa and Finch Elementary Counselor Sara Gonzales talk about how they might use puppets with students to help them understand emotions, solve problems or solve conflicts at school.

McKinney, Texas – Conducting a meaningful conversation with a puppet on one’s hand seems…a bit odd, perhaps, to adults.

But, not to kids.

Counselors have long used various forms of play therapy as a way to connect with children and help them work through emotions and behaviors in a setting that feels comfortable and non-threatening. In the pursuit of play—and play therapy—puppets can be a useful tool.

three female counselors talking with puppets on hands

(L-R) Counselors Shiela De Leon from McGowen Elementary, Mandy Biros from Eddins and Teri Morgan from Wilmeth discuss the use of puppets during play therapy.

Students arrive at school each morning toting an incredible assortment of experiences and emotions. And, the way they deal with all of it can impact not only their emotional and social well-being but their academic success as well.

That’s where McKinney ISD school counselors offer help. The 63 women and men who make up the district’s Guidance and Counseling Department are a resource to MISD’s more than 24,000 students and their families, providing a comprehensive spectrum of services that ranges from academic planning to crisis intervention.

On a Friday in October, MISD counselors gathered at the Collin College Higher Education Center to explore different ways to connect with and help the students at their schools. On the elementary end of the spectrum, they revisited play therapy, and in particular, the use of puppets in play therapy.

Dr. Candace Chuyou Campbell talking at front of classroom

Dr. Candace Chuyou Campbell leads a workshop on the use of puppets during counseling with younger students. Campbell is a faculty member at Texas A&M University-Commerce and director of the Harold Murphy Counseling Center, which is part of a partnership between McKinney ISD and the university.

“This is a bit of a throwback to a counseling technique that uses a physical representation that allows kids to use their imagination and their play to learn new concepts and to practice their social skills and their interactions,” explained MISD Senior Director of Guidance and Counseling Jennifer Akins.

Dr. Candace Chuyou Campbell, clinical director of the Harold Murphy Counseling Center, led the session on puppets with MISD Counseling Coordinator Errin French. Campbell and a volunteer modeled the use of puppets in a therapeutic setting, and the department provided puppets to each of the elementary counselors, along with themed picture books that focus on emotional or behavioral topics aimed at helping students succeed at school.

Errin French holding up puppets in front of presentation screen

McKinney ISD Counseling Coordinator Errin French gives an overview of the new puppet/play therapy materials available to McKinney ISD counselors.

Among the puppets, there was a shark, a hedgehog and a dragon. In one book, Clark the Shark learns to share. In another, Harry the Hedgehog deals with anxiety—stories reflecting the struggles that elementary students deal with day to day.

“Play is natural to children, and play is how they learn to interact with their environment,” explained French. “They solve problems; they work out conflicts. Fred Rogers said, ‘Play is often talked about as if it were a relief from serious learning, but for children, play is serious learning. Play is really the work of childhood.’ So, today, we gave our elementary counselors books and sensory tools so that they can help children understand their emotions, solve problems, solve conflicts and exercise some creativity. That’s what we hope that they will take away because all of that adds to learning in the classroom.”

Dawn Jones working at table on puppet

McNeil Elementary Counselor Dawn Jones gets creative with her “Worry Bug” puppet. Creating their own puppets gives young students a chance to talk and learn about specific emotions.

The counselors also created their own puppets, using the tried and true brown paper bag approach, that could be used to help students talk about specific emotions such as sadness, anger, joy and anxiety.

“This book, ‘Don’t Feed the Worry Bug,’ has a lot of application for my kiddos who are struggling with testing or anxiety,” said Dawn Jones, counselor at McNeil Elementary. “I would have them create their own Worry Bug out of a paper sack, and then they can write down their worries and maybe eat the worries with the puppet…so that the worries are in the Worry Bug and not with the student.”

Group of counselors with puppets on hands

McKinney ISD’s elementary school counselors with their emotion-themed puppets.

Cricket Tarrant is a counselor at McClure Elementary. “I’m excited to take back the things that we learned in today’s training about how to use puppets as we work with kids who have experienced trauma,” she said. “[Using the puppet] seems so much less threatening than trying to process those experiences without the puppet.”

So, perhaps Harry the Hedgehog and Clark the Shark and the Worry Bug can help MISD counselors reach kids through play. And, if that’s the case—they are pretty serious about that.

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If you need additional assistance with the content on this page, please contact MISD Communications Department team member Shane Mauldin by phone at 469-302-4007 or by email here .

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