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Leah Davies
The Teacher Counselor

Buddy Programs
For Elementary Schools


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Many schools employ "buddy programs" in which upper-grade students read and/or complete activities or projects with younger children. The most effective programs join groups of students at least two grade levels apart; each older student is paired with a young child in their buddy class. Buddy programs provide children with stimulating opportunities for learning and skill development.

Younger children especially enjoy the one-to-one attention they receive from their older buddies. 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."

[content block] Teachers report that participation in buddy programs enhances children`s cooperative learning behaviors such as taking turns, listening, sharing knowledge, praising others' efforts, 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 teacher, they are motivated to do their best. They 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 30 to 40 minutes together.

Buddy programs promote a favorable school atmosphere. In some cases, students sit with their buddies 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.

SETTING UP A BUDDY PROGRAM

If the buddy 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. Typically, the teachers take turns planning the sessions. If possible, the two classes of children meet once or twice before buddies are paired. These times might be spent playing "getting acquainted games" (see Getting to Know Each Other Activities). Some teachers invite input from their students as they create buddy matches; they might ask children to write down names of three 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 the 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 makeup 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.

A training session is sometimes held for the older children before a program begins. Team-building exercises and role-plays can be included to provide students with listening and non-judgmental responding skills. The training might also emphasize guidelines for a successful program -- such as no "put-downs" -- and how to model enjoyment of learning can be emphasized.

BUDDY ACTIVITIES

If teachers match up buddies in advance, the first meeting can include a short interview, a game, or an activity. Older students might read to their buddies and/or listen to the younger child read. The session can include a snack. It might be held in either classroom, outdoors, or any other convenient place.

Activities that buddies do together vary widely and are limited only by the imaginations of the teachers, the age of the students, and boundaries provided by the administration. Buddies might read books, write stories, plan skits, do science experiments, play math games, cook, sing songs, go on scavenger hunts, complete art projects, or go on field trips. In some schools, young children dictate stories to the upper-grade students who write everything down in a Buddy Journal. Projects completed by buddies might be shared with other students and/or displayed in the library, hallway, or classroom.

Providing guidance in a computer lab is another popular activity for buddy programs. Computer activities provide an opportunity for older students to show what they know. As a result, both buddies' computer skills are fostered. Since younger children look up to older students, the older buddies try hard to be of assistance, and their feelings of self-worth are enhanced.

Special Ed
Buddies

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.

Teachers may allow time for the children to reflect on how the program is working. If a student is not relating well to his or her buddy, teachers need to offer guidance, support, and possibly make changes. The program can also include a mix of small group work as well as partner projects. For example, if the students decide to present a play at the end of the year, they could write it, assign parts, practice lines, paint scenery, make costumes, and perform it for faculty, students, and/or parents.

Students who are new to a school or English-language learners benefit from having a buddy assigned to them. Buddies can help these students make successful transitions. In these cases, buddies might be older students or classmates who assist them in finding their way around and by answering their questions. A student who speaks the newcomer`s language is a great asset to the learner.

A peer-tutoring program is similar to a buddy program. However, it only includes children in need of academic assistance. An older student is paired with a child he or she tutors once or twice a week before or after school or during school hours. Some programs are coordinated by an elementary school counselor or by a school librarian.

Teacher comments confirm that buddy programs have a positive influence on students involved. The form they take is varied and flexible. A program might begin when a principal asks two interested teachers to establish a partnership. As Sue Gruber, a kindergarten teacher whose class buddies with a sixth-grade class wrote, "It is wonderful to see the bonds that form.... It really brings out the best in the kids."

Article by Leah Davies, M.Ed.
Reprinted with permission from the
Kelly Bear Web site,
www.kellybear.com

08/18/2008