Whether at home or school, parents want their children to know they are loved and welcomed in their environment. In today’s world, parents can feel more assured that their children are loved and welcomed while they are learning, exploring, and interacting at school when the school embeds character education strategies into academic curriculum to encourage children to develop empathy, show respect, practice responsibility, and spread kindness on a regular basis. One method we use at The Children’s School is the buddy bench!
The big and little buddy system is a long-standing tradition in The Children’s School’s history. Embedded within our Building Character and Community (BCC) program, the buddy system creates a culture of mutual respect, social/emotional learning, and community engagement across all grade levels. This teaches our children not only how to take responsibility for their feelings, thoughts, and actions, but to ultimately become empathy-driven problem solvers.
With this in mind, TCS Counselor Natalie Grubbs expanded our big and little buddy system by introducing buddy benches in 2015. It started out as an all hands-on deck community project involving parents who helped build the benches, teachers who taught students how to apply different artistic methods, and students who painted the benches. Once the benches were constructed, big and little buddies worked together to create their own designs, which is why the benches across campus are so unique. Each paired classroom decorated two benches – one was kept at school and one was donated to the annual TCS Auction.
Students were introduced to the buddy bench method by Natalie with prompts such as: “Have you ever not known who to play with? Had a conflict on the playground?” Buddy benches offer a place for kids to sit and signal to everyone else that they need someone to talk to, that they don’t know how to enter into play, or that they don’t know who to play with. When you walk around our campus, you’ll notice one bench intentionally place in every outdoor playspace.
Through our BCC program, kids learn how to recognize this signal and initiate communication with the student who is having a not-so-good time. Kids walk over to the other kid on the bench to talk and play, while adults supervise to remind kids to walk over to check on children. This creates a shared learning experience — allowing the child who is initiating to have compassion and take responsibility for their shared play environment and the child who is sitting on the bench to use their voice and practice self-advocacy skills. An inclusive moment turns into a win-win for the entire playground and helps spread more compassion throughout our entire school!