The Buddy Bench has been in the news for a while, but if you missed it, here’s the gist. A special bench (the “Buddy Bench”) is designated on the playground for kids to sit on if they don’t have someone to play with. It is a signal to others that they should come and ask that child to play. I first heard about this idea on the news, when they picked up a story about a little boy named Christian (you can read his story HERE ) and his idea. There is an entire website (www.buddybench.org) with ideas, a teaching video and a buddy blog with stories of the benches around the world.
My school installed one of these benches on our playground, but I heard one of the students say that he sat there, but no one asked him to play. My heart hurt for him and I started thinking about why that may have happened. Many of my friends with social language impairments struggle with the unstructured time at recess. Too many hidden rules, social anxiety with initiating conversation or play, and the fast pace of social interaction outside are all hurdles that make it easier to wander around the periphery of the playground alone. And just like any new concept in school, the kids have to be taught the rule of how to use the bench.
It made me so happy to walk down the hall a few weeks later and see that our counselor, Christina, had made a bulletin board (see pictures below) to do just that! She had the kids make mini-posters of how to use the bench and even social scripts on what to say and do! The information that I read about the bench also encourages schools to designate peer mentors (aka play pals) who will watch for kids on the bench and actively include them. This is a strictly voluntary job, but oh how it warms my heart to see so many kids have empathy for others! In an increasingly academic focused environment, it is nice to see kindness and inclusion being fostered as well.
I love this teaching video and this one to share with a class, and prep the kids on how to use the Buddy Bench. These videos really function as social teaching stories (and can be shared at home with families for carryover). How great would these be in a public park to generalize a skill taught in school? If you’ll excuse me, I think I need to call our local Parks and Recreation department and invite our Mayor to propose we do just that!
Does your school have Buddy Benches and if so how are they being introduced?
I don’t know about you, but with two weeks of school left, we are all a bit squirrelly! You can feel the end is near and it’s making everyone a bit crazy and cranky, kids and adults alike. Recess is a saving grace and the promise of EXTRA recess will motivate even the most active kids to focus and work a little harder. I sit in a LOT of IEP meetings throughout the year, and recess comes up often for my friends with social language issues. Unstructured times, like recess, are often the wild west of hidden rules for these kiddos. You will either see them walking the perimeter of the playground on their own or trying to join in, but in unexpected and unwelcome ways.
I found several videos on Youtube that explain the rules of recess, from the teacher and student point of view. You can find them on my Youtube channel under social play modeling or on my social videos Pinterest board. Many schools have adopted PBIS (positive behavior intervention and supports) to address the “rules of the schools”. PBIS often addresses recess and playground behavior specifically, so how great would it be to make your own school video or school posters to talk about the rules of recess? You could brainstorm with your students about the rules (both spoken and hidden rules) of recess and then have them teach their peers through a video. Talk with your administration and media specialist about sharing the videos at school; we have morning announcements that show on TVs in all the classrooms. Bonus: it’s a great way to work on tone of voice, volume, orienting your body towards to camera, thinking with your eyes and more social concepts that your student may be working on, as you film them! Don’t forget to get parent permission first!
To further this concept, what about making videos to show how to join into games, ask other kids to play or even how to play certain games, like rock, paper, scissors ? Remember, our kids are not incidental learners, so breaking down the steps to play may seem too basic, but it’s often where we need to start! We also know there are students that could benefit from this visual support that don’t have IEPs , but still struggle socially at recess. I bet you could get a LOT of buy in from your counselor, other special education teachers and therapists in your school for a great project! Think about tapping into Donor’s Choose to apply for funds for a great video camera and editing software too.
How do you support your students at recess? Share here!