The only way to have a friend is to be one.” (Ralph Waldo Emerson)
In order for learning to take place, it is crucial that children feel happy and safe at school. One way for this to happen is by developing a culture of community and friendship throughout the entire school, from the pre-kindergarten children, just starting out on their school careers, right through to the grade 6 students at the top of the school. I believe this sense of community is a real strength of SIS Winterthur, and one of the strategies we use to help reinforce this is our buddy system. Every child is paired up with another child from a different age group. A great deal of thought goes into creating successful pairings, and the buddies change from time to time, once or twice throughout the year.
There are various opportunities during the school year for buddies to work together, for example during book week and on sports day, but the main chance for buddy interaction is on Thursday lunchtimes, when we have our weekly buddy lunch. On this day, rather than arriving in the lunchroom as a class with their teachers, the older buddies collect their younger buddies, help them get their lunch, and sit together while they eat, chatting and strengthening their relationships. There is always a lively and exciting atmosphere, and it is a highlight of the week for many children.
We as teachers know what we want the buddy system to achieve, but, in a bid to find out what the children themselves think of it, I joined them at a buddy lunch, to find out firstly, what they like about the buddy system, and secondly, what it has taught them. Some of the younger students reported that they like how their older buddies help them and care for them. They also like to play outside and do fun things with them during playtimes.
The older students enjoy the opportunity to have friends from classes other than their own, which they may not otherwise have. One buddy told me that she likes that her buddy always tries to cheer her up when she gets hurt.
A student in grade 3 mentioned that the buddy system has taught him about respect for other people. A fifth grader said that it has taught him about how to play with smaller people, and what sort of games and activities younger children enjoy, which are different from those of his same-age friends. A student in grade 4 has even learnt that her kindergarten buddy loses her teeth very fast! A child in kindergarten 2 told me that his buddy has taught him tips on how to run faster when playing catch, while another kindergartener is delighted that his older buddy has taught him some hard maths like 10 × 10 and 100 × 100! The overriding message that came through however, was that the buddy system has led to a greater understanding of different people, that they would not otherwise have experienced.
The buddy system at SIS Winterthur has certainly been a successful initiative, which has promoted learning, empathy and community spirit. It has taught us about friendship and respect for people outside our immediate classroom environment, which is a great life skill for our students to carry with them into the future.
Article by Liz Coupland, Teacher Kindergarten and Primary School