Buddy Bench

In an age of all-digital, all-the-time, technology overload, it is encouraging to see a boards-and-bolts approach to encouraging children to build their social networks. Phillips Elementary School’s installation of a buddy bench is a fantastic solution to the age-old problem of schoolyard loneliness and isolation.

At a cost of only about $100, children now have an easy way to let others know they are looking for someone to play with – or to identify someone who might need a new friend. Second grade teacher Nicole Maxon did a wonderful thing in bringing the concept to her school’s playground, after noticing lots of kids who were spending their recess time bored or in search of someone with whom to play.

One seven-year-old explained how helpful such a tool can be. “It really helps, I think. Because you can make new friends,” the girl said. “When I came here for second grade I hardly had any friends, so I know it can be hard.”

Another young lady who described herself as “shy” was grateful for the opportunity to give the buddy bench a try. “Today I did ask my one friend to play, so I know it will help,” she said.

Our world has reached the point where technology companies are marketing smartphones to elementary school students. Cyberbullying is as real to these kids as the face-to-face variety.

Bravo, then, to Maxon and Phillips’ Principal Joe Finley for realizing the value of this simple, tangible fixture to bring children together in a way that fosters friendships that might well carry them through the rest of their school years. There is no gadget or piece of software in the world that could give them that gift.