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Have you noticed a change in your primary students’ ability to socialize and cope with big emotions? The upheaval from the pandemic might be to blame. Teachers are sounding off about a universal need for social-emotional learning in tandem with academics. And since our students have faced a lack of peer interaction due to social distancing and remote learning, that makes a lot of sense. As we return to business as usual at most of our schools, it’s a great time to bring back a long-held tradition that schools have participated in for years for some much-needed extra support.

Buddy programs (pairing younger students up with older students to work on activities and projects together) are a great solution to accelerate the social skillset for both sets of kids. In our education system, little ones have long participated in buddy programs with older children for good reason— Because they WORK! 

Traditionally, classes have paired up as reading buddies, but the concept is so flexible that teachers can incorporate much more than that! With a little bit of planning, preparation, and supervision on the teacher’s part, a buddy program covers a lot of ground. It can help boost student performance, confidence, and positive peer interactions. If you’re ready to incorporate buddy learning but are either new to it or could use a refresher, you’ve come to the right place. Let’s break it all down into manageable steps:

Plan your buddy program with school goals in mind

Your school likely has some predetermined universal expectations for students. Whether you participate in a schoolwide program like PBIS or simply have a mission and vision statement to help all students succeed, it’s always helpful to include those expectations in an accessible way when planning your buddy program. 

Approaching your buddy program with language and practices aligned with your school’s mission will reinforce expectations and help students connect to how their behavior and choices affect and reflect the group. For little ones, this helps immerse them in the application and practice of schoolwide norms. Older students have the opportunity to reflect and think critically about how their participation affects others and come up with positive solutions as they take on a leadership role.

Practice makes perfect, and giving students a concrete opportunity to practice positive peer interactions based on school values is a great way to build skills and make lasting improvements.

Preparation is KEY to a successful buddy program.

We want to be careful going into this practice that we aren’t just pairing up kids who will always easily get along. Matching kids by gender, personality, or other commonalities may prevent essential lessons and social skill development. The kids who benefit the most from the opportunity to practice positive peer interactions are often the students who initially find it challenging to connect with their buddies. 

There are many ways to manage this to ensure success. For instance, if you have a timid older student, consider having two older buddies work with a younger child for a small period of time to model positive interactions. If you have a socially immature little one, pick a small, achievable goal to start with and then build on that.

Share tools with older students to empathize with and help lead the younger students. We can always scaffold how a buddy program looks in the beginning, and slowly give students more independent responsibility as they get more comfortable and successful. We can also check in with our students to share expectations, what went well, and what we can work on going forward.

Buddy Programs are Innately Flexible

Buddy Reading is the most common kind of paired event. And often, it’s a great place to start. It builds academic skills for both younger and older students, and it gives lots of extra practice time for reading. However, buddy programs can be super flexible because our learning standards tend to build on each other across the board.  You can also be flexible with the environment. Bring it outdoors if you can so students can get those wiggles out and volume control is less of a concern. 

Consider integrating some of the following activities into your program for an academic boost:

STEM Activities

Center Activities

Craft Projects

Coding Activities

Interactive Games

The options are limited only by your resources. Click the links above to find some of my favorites, and make sure you search the All StudentsCan Shine TPT Store if there is something else you are looking for that can be adapted into a buddy activity.

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