When a Child Feels Alone at School, Maybe a Buddy Bench Will Help

It was lunch recess and the playground was filled with happy kids running, jumping, sliding, swinging, and asking me every five minutes if it was lunchtime yet when  I noticed a first grade girl digging her toes in the sawdust. Her head was down and her shoulders were shaking a bit. I watched her for a few minutes waiting for a friend to run up to her and ask her to play.  But no one did. That's when I introduced myself.

     "Hi, my name is Sherry. Those are great digging shoes you have. I wish I had a pair like them."

Her blonde head tilted to the side for a second, and then she looked up exposing cheeks streaked with tears. After wiping her face with her sleeve, she told me her name was Kelsey (not her real name). Then she told me something that struck my heart.

     "I'm all alone. I don't have any friends, and nobody will play with me."

Kelsey's problem was easy to fix. My grand daughter's class was on the playground, too. All I had to do was point her and her friends in Kelsey's direction, and within minutes all the girls were laughing and playing together. No one cared that Kelsey was a first grader and they were third and fourth graders. The only thing that mattered was that they had all found a new friend.

But Kelsey's sadness at feeling alone made me wonder how many other kids are in the same position. How many feel left out, or that no one will play with them, or need help with something that is bothering them, or just need to know that someone cares? How can they let other kids and parents and teachers know that a friend is needed? Then I remembered an article I found a while back on a second grader who created a "buddy bench" with his class.

The buddy bench is a seat on the playground where a child can sit when they feel alone, left out, are in need of a friend, or need help of some kind. The bench is always placed in the open which makes it easy to spot a child who uses it. It can be created as part of a school anti-bullying campaign, so that all the kids understand why it is there and what to do when they see someone sitting on it. In order to really make it important to the kids, the kids design and paint it themselves. Then, it is up to teachers to reiterate to their classes the purpose of the buddy bench, and to make sue that every new student knows why it is there.

I have found that kids have an inexhaustible capacity for kindness. True there are some who have not developed the art of kindness. And, we all know that bullies exist. But when given the chance, most kids are more than willing to reach out to someone when they know they need it.

The key, however, is recognizing the need. Young kids, especially in the lower grades, are busy expending pent up energy during recess. They don't see the little girl standing off to the side alone. But if there was a buddy bench, they would know immediately that someone was feeling alone.

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