The “Buddy Bench” is a tool to help kids feel included during playground games
There are few things sadder for a parent to contemplate than their child feeling lonely and left out among their peers. Navigating the elementary school social landscape can be difficult at times for even the most outgoing kids and it’s easy for a misunderstanding to turn into hurt feelings. That’s why this school’s “Buddy Bench” is one of the best things to happen to recess in ages. Every school should have one.
Willowgrove School in Saskatoon, Saskatchewan, Canada instituted the “Buddy Bench” to very encouraging results. The green bench on their playground is meant for any child to sit on during recess when he or she needs a friend to play with.
7-year-old Matthew Henkelman tells CBC News of the process behind the bench. “If you can’t find your best friends, and you don’t know where to go play, you sit on the buddy bench, and somebody will come and find you.” Once a kid sits on the bench, it’s like sending out a silent signal that they need to be included. When asked if he’d ever used the bench, Henkelman said he had and that it only took “a minute” before someone came over and invited him to play.
A little girl tells the CBC reporter, “You can find friends easily when you’re lonely and you don’t have anyone to play with at recess.” Another child says, “Since we installed them, before I seen [sic] people walking around by themselves and since we got these I seen a lot more people with friends to play with.”
The thing is, kids being left out isn’t always intentional. Much like adults, kids get distracted and possibly don’t even notice if someone needs a friend or is hanging out by themselves. A quiet or introverted child can easily be lost in the shuffle if they’re not brave enough to speak up and say they want to play too. Hence, the genius of the bench. It makes kids aware of those in need without anyone having to verbalize that need. This is an incredible thing for a shy kid who just wants someone to play with.
As hard as it can be for an adult to admit they’re lonely and need a friend, it can be that much harder for a child. This bench is such a fantastic idea because it gives them a voice without having to say a word. And children, bless their sweet hearts, typically love to help when they know someone is in need. In this age of anti-bullying campaigns, we have kids only too happy to include someone who’s left out, but that can be hard to do if they don’t even realize their classmate is lonely and wanting to play too.
It can be tough sending our kids out into the world without us there to shepherd them around and make sure they have friends to play with. When they’re little and going on play-dates, it’s easy to ensure they have someone to hang out with. Of course, it’s not realistic to think we could manage their social interactions as they enter school, but the pit in your stomach when you imagine your child being left out is not fun. Knowing there are ways for them to feel included when you’re not there to help would be a great comfort to all parents.
A Buddy Bench would be such a simple thing for all schools to implement and would encourage a culture of inclusion and friendliness. Hopefully, other schools will see this story and decide to try it out.