I don’t know if you’ve heard about “buddy benches” but apparently this is a new thing at elementary schools. It’s a well-intentioned idea, as many ideas are, but I fear it’s not giving kids the actual skills they need to be socially adept in the future.
The basic idea is there’s a bench on the side of the playground, and a child who feels lonely or who has no one to play with can sit on the “Buddy Bench” – and the other children will spot them, and eventually someone will invite them to play.
Warm fuzzies all around.
Like I said, good intentions. The best of intentions! But let’s talk about what this method actually teaches children – to sit passively and wait for someone else to come and solve their problem instead of solving it themselves.
There are no buddy benches in the real world, folks. If you are feeling lonely or left out, or you would like to join some group, then you have to approach someone and ask to take part.
That’s being an active problem solver, and that’s how it works in reality. Kids need these social skills.
And what about teaching compassion in the other kids? Again, that’s a good intention. But we need to teach those kids to be proactive, too, and help them learn to recognize the social cues of someone feeling left out without the glaringly obvious buddy bench.
“See that boy over there, staring longingly at you kids playing tag? That’s a sign that he’d like to play with you, too. It would be a great thing if you go over there and invite him to join you. Or hey, just wave him over. He’ll understand the invitation.”
Good intentions are one thing. Good lessons are better. Let’s give kids the tools they really need to be successful in life.
What do you think? Am I way off-base here and buddy benches are the new best thing ever? Or is there some merit to my thought that kids sitting around, waiting to have their problems solved by someone else probably isn’t the best lesson we want them to learn? Can’t we teach kids how to include their peers another way?
Susan Gable is the Executive Director at izzit.org. She holds a BA in Psychology from Douglas College/Rutgers University and is a certified elementary teacher in 3 states with 10 years of classroom experience. She’s also a multi-published award-winning author, and has presented numerous public speaking events & workshops for writers, readers, teachers and parents.