Buddy programs consist of upper-grade students paired with younger children for projects and other interaction. The experience provides benefits for both students involved, providing children with stimulating opportunities for learning, skill development and social support.
by Leah Davies, M.Ed. www.kellybear.com
Regular contributor to the Gazette
June 1, 2009
Buddy programs consist of upper-grade students reading and/or completing activities or projects with younger children. Older students are paired with younger children from their buddy class and the most effective programs have at least two grade levels between students. The experience provides children with stimulating opportunities for learning and skill development.
Younger children especially enjoy the one-to-one attention they receive from their older buddy. They make comments such as, “He makes me feel special;he says nice things to me!” and”We do lots of fun things together. She‘s my friend.” Teachers report that participation in buddy programs enhances children‘s cooperative learning behaviors such as taking turns, listening, sharing knowledge, praising another‘s effort, helping one another, and completing a task. Due to the extra attention and assistance, the younger children‘s work often improves. As the older students assume the role of the teacher, they are motivated to do their best. They also experience pride in their ability to be helpful. The younger children bond with the older buddy and friendships flourish as the year progresses.
Buddy classes start each fall and meet weekly, bi-monthly, or monthly throughout the year. The children usually spend between thirty to forty minutes together. Some buddy programs include special education students. A teacher may pair older children with preschool or elementary age children in special education classes to read together or participate in activities. (Information on Best Buddies, an International Buddy Program for people with intellectual disabilities, can be found at www.bestbuddies.org).
Buddy programs promote a favorable school atmosphere. In some cases, the students sit with their buddy during lunch or have time together on the playground. Some younger students make posters and cheer for their older buddies who are on sports teams. Treats are sometimes shared for holiday celebrations and students may exchange notes or cards for special occasions.
If the students are to meet often, it is helpful if the two participating teachers have similar teaching styles. The schedules can be flexible since there are only two teachers involved. They typically take turns planning the sessions. If possible the two classes of children meet once or twice before buddies are paired. Playing “Getting Acquainted Games” (see Getting to Know Each Other Activities Parts 1, 2, and 3) can be beneficial. Then, if the teachers want input from their students in deciding matches, they ask the children to write down three names of students they would like as their buddy. The teachers match the children by considering the requests as well as the academic, emotional, and social development of their students. They may partner children who both have reading difficulties, a shy child with an outgoing one, or a calm child with an active one.
Depending on the age of the students and make-up of the classes, student genders may be mixed—but usually they are not. Also, if there are more children in the older class than the younger one, a child may have two buddies. Pairing older students who are good friends is not recommended since they may pay more attention to each other than to their buddy.
Leah Davies received her Master's Degree from the Department of Counseling and Counseling Psychology, Auburn University. She has been dedicated to the well-being of children for 44 years as a certified teacher, counselor, prevention specialist, parent, and grandparent. Her professional experience includes teaching, counseling, consulting, instructing at Auburn University, and directing educational and prevention services at a mental health agency.
Besides the Kelly Bear materials, Leah has written articles that have appeared in The American School Counseling Association Counselor, The School Counselor, Elementary School Guidance and Counseling Journal, Early Childhood News, and National Head Start Association Journal. She has presented workshops at the following national professional meetings: American School Counselor Association; Association for Childhood Education International; National Association for the Education of Young Children; National Child Care Association; National Head Start Association; National School-Age Child Care Alliance Conference.