A Day in the Life of Kara Koepplin, LMSW, a TOP Mental Health Specialist
My name is Kara Koepplin and I am a Licensed Master Social Worker (LMSW). I started working at Rainbows in January of 2019. My role at Rainbows is a Mental Health Specialist working at a community childcare center, TOP Early Learning Center North.
As a Mental Health Specialist, my day-to-day work varies. Each semester, I work in three different classrooms in the center and I conduct individual therapeutic pull-out work.
The time I’m in the classrooms changes throughout the day. For example, I conduct a social-emotional circle time in the morning. The goal of a social-emotional circle time is to enhance the classroom’s social-emotional skills and knowledge. I do this by reading a book or playing a game that helps to identify and work through emotions.
A previous lesson during circle time that I’ve conducted is reading a book called Should I Share My Ice Cream? This book talks about how sharing with friends is kind and when someone doesn’t share, it can make the other person feel sad or mad. Then as a group we talk about how if they get sad or mad, to stop, take a deep breath, and use our words to ask for the toy to be shared. With this book there is an activity where I print off paper ice cream cones and we pass around a squishy ball with the cones to practice sharing with each other. The children had a great time and it helped them realize that it’s okay to share with each other and it can be fun to play together.
When the circle time comes to an end, I have a child choose a type of breathing technique they would like to use. Once it’s chosen, then the whole classroom and myself take those deep breaths to help calm our bodies down to prepare for the rest of the day. I then leave the classroom and come back at a later time to offer general support. General support includes helping the classroom during a tough transition, working through difficult behaviors, talking with the teacher about any concerns, and getting down on the child’s level and playing with them while also modeling appropriate interactions.
When working with the teachers through a difficult situation, I coach them, model for them, and give ideas on how they could have a positive result. In the toddler room I served last semester, there were a few children that would run around the room. I helped the teacher through these behaviors by modeling redirection. When the children would run, I would go up to them, take their hand and remind them that we walk in the classroom and then walk with them around the room. While I walk with them, I explain that running in the classroom is unsafe and that we could hurt ourselves or others. The teacher saw the positive outcome and then was able to implement it, instead of saying “stop running.” The teacher and I then checked-in with one another on the progress of the classroom.
When I’m not in the classrooms, I am conducting individual therapeutic pull-out work. I work one-on-one with these children who have been identified throughout the center and from the classrooms I serve. Each child that I work with has an Individual Support Plan (ISP) that is created with the teacher and myself. The goals that are chosen are from an assessment that the teacher fills out on the child that shows me what areas of need I should focus the therapeutic work on. The assessment looks at between three and five (depending on the child’s age) different social-emotional skills.
Much like being in the classrooms, individual therapeutic pull-out work focuses on increasing the child’s social-emotional skills with games, social stories, books, and activities geared toward identifying emotions and learning to work through them. A social story is a story that is created specifically for a child to help them with a behavior/tough time. Last semester, I created a social story for a child that would be read to him by myself and the teacher, detailing the timeline of his day. He struggled with transitions, so he was able to look at his social story and read and look at pictures about what would be happening next. He began to understand his routine better and knew what was going to take place.
Each semester I have between around 15 children that I see weekly. I typically work with the children that are on the Mental Health caseload for a semester, but if the teacher or myself still have concerns, that child will stay on the caseload through the next semester.
During an individual therapeutic session, I work one-on-one with the child. We review an emotion wheel (consisting of eight emotions) and talk about each one. Then I ask them how they are feeling that day and what made them feel that way. Next, depending on their needs, we play a social-emotional game like Friends with Neighbors. During this game, there are different scenarios that the child has to help the character with. For instance, a character may have knocked down a glass of milk so that child will find the token piece with the paper towel and put it on the character’s square. Then we talk about how the character was feeling before (frustrated) and how helping made them feel after (happy).
It’s great to work with these children and see how much they improve throughout the semester. In fact, last semester I was working with a girl that was heading off to kindergarten in the Fall. When her pre-assessment was scored at the start of the semester, it showed she had a “need” in two out of five areas. Throughout the semester we worked on her recognizing what makes her feel mad/sad and how she can work through big emotions to appropriately self-regulate during tough situations. At the end of the semester, when the post-assessment was scored, she showed “significant improvement” in four out of five areas. Not only did the “need” scores improve, but so did two of the “typical” scores, which improved up to a “strength” level.
When I see scores improve and am able to see the progress made by the child in person, it makes this position feel much more rewarding and fulfilling. There’s nothing like building a bond with a whole classroom and/or an individual over the semester, especially when I walk down the hallway and hear “Hi Ms. Kara!” with a big wave and a smile. It makes any tough days worth it.
The Early Childhood Mental Health program is such an impactful program for early intervention at Rainbows and community childcare centers. I’m so thankful to be a part of it.
Read more about Kara here.