In primary school, your child is not only learning language and mathematics; he is also acquiring valuable skills on how to socially interact with other children his age. Unlike knowledge that can be studied alone, social skills need to be practised with others.
Teaching children to deal with people is important, as this prepares them for future interactions later in life. It will influence how they function as members of society.
Apart from the few who are socially gifted, children don’t make friends that easily. One strategy that has become very popular these days for developing kids’ ability to connect with each other is the buddy bench.
Building social skills with a buddy bench
A buddy bench is a special bench that is commonly placed in the school playground. Whenever a student is feeling lonely or in need of someone to play with during recess, he sits on the buddy bench. When others on the playground notice someone on the bench, they come over and invite him to play.
During playtime or recess, a student usually sits on the buddy bench if:
- He is new in the school
- His friends did not show up in school for that day
- He wants to find new friends
- He wants to play a different game than what his other friends are playing
Schools are starting to see the benefits that buddy benches bring, and the most notable is that it develops the social skills of children. There are many ways that a buddy bench can improve a child’s sociability.
- Fosters inclusion
Every child knows what a struggle it is to join others who are playing. Even young school kids form cliques. When recess time comes, they are too preoccupied with their own groups to pay attention to others. Those who don’t have anyone to play with are also too timid to ask if they can join, and they end up feeling lonely because no one asked them.
A buddy bench in the playground is a visible reminder to everyone that no one should be left out. For the kid who needs a friend, sitting on the bench is much easier than going over to a group and asking to be included in a game. For the student who wants to help, he simply has to check if the bench is occupied. If it is, he can quickly go over and make friends.
The bench has also proven to benefit children with special needs. Many of these kids have been put into regular classrooms to encourage them to develop to their fullest potential. But then, they usually end up being socially isolated because of their physical and mental limitations. Because of the environment of inclusion created by the buddy bench, children can be taught to be more accepting of others with different abilities.
- Promotes friendship
Buddy benches are places where friendships are formed. Some schools even call them friendship benches for playgrounds & schools or a friendship stop. It is where students can sit when they are lonely, sad, and in need of companionship. At the same time, it is a place where others can respond to that need.
While the bench is made for those in isolation, the ultimate goal is to transform it into a seat of congregation.
- Discourages bullying
Bullying can be very damaging to a child, and the damage is not limited to the one who’s bullied. The act can also affect the bully. However, victims are the ones who suffer the most, as they experience feelings of loneliness and depression. They lose interest in going to school and, in severe cases, stop attending classes altogether.
A buddy bench encourages a child to be a buddy, not a bully. For shy, socially challenged kids who are prone to be bullied, sitting on the bench is an easy way to make friends. Besides, when a child feels that he belongs, he is less likely to get involved in a bullying incident, whether as the perpetrator or the victim.
- Boosts self-esteem
A kid who doesn’t know how to express his loneliness or his desire for a new friend can say it with a buddy bench. Once he makes a friend, he will then have the opportunity to practice his social skills. As his circle of friends grows, he becomes more confident and self-assured.
- Teaches social strategy
A child who plans to sit on the bench thinks about what he’ll do once he’s on it. His mind will run through different scenarios like what how he’s going to say “hello” to a classmate who approaches.
He also learns to observe the playground more carefully, to look for other kids he can make friends with. If someone else happens to sit on the bench at the same time as him, he can strike up a conversation and, in the process, gain a new friend.
- Develops empathy
Empathy is the ability to put oneself in another person’s shoes. At their young age, children tend to think of themselves only. A buddy bench, though, can train their young minds to be considerate of others as well. It can be an avenue by which a student can demonstrate his kindness and that he cares.
Because schools are the ones implementing buddy bench programs, students are made more aware of the value of emotional connection. Aside from the bench and what it represents, this compassionate environment within the school bolsters the children’s desire to practice empathy. This skill, when developed at a young age, is likely to be carried on to adulthood.
- Builds good character
Skills like confidence and empathy that children acquire through the buddy bench can be stepping stones on which others qualities can be cultivated. When they get older, they will learn to cooperate and collaborate, traits that are immensely useful when they start building a career for themselves.
A buddy bench is not just a place to sit. In school, it teaches students essential life lessons that are not found in books. And if students are encouraged and guided to take these lessons to heart, there will come a time when buddy benches will no longer be needed because every child will have a place to belong.