January 11, 2023 By Glenn Mangurian with insight from his daughter, Laura Wells
Let’s face it, life is full of challenges that can easily get us down and can often make us feel isolated. As adults we develop coping tools or draw on our support network in times of need. But how do children learn and build effective tools to include and support each other?
The Buddy Bench
I recently became aware of the Buddy Bench at the South School playground. (I understand that the Foster School was awarded a mini-grant from the Hingham Second Parish Church for a similar bench.)
The school playground can be a lonely place for a child if they don’t have anyone to play with. Children who need a friend to play with (for whatever reason) can sit on the bench during recess and other students are encouraged to invite those they see sitting on the bench to play with them. What a simple but powerful opportunity to learn empathy and inclusivity, and to foster a caring environment. A little Google research revealed that the Buddy Bench is not unique to Hingham or even the United States. Also known as friendship benches, these pieces of playground furniture have been around for a while, in various countries.
Two Children’s Perspective
I wanted to learn more about the South School Buddy Bench. First, I asked my two grandchildren, Jack (2nd grade) and Izzy (kindergarten) if they knew about the Buddy Bench. “Of course we do”, replied Jack.
“Everyone does.” Isabelle chimed in, “Last week my ‘job’ was to be the ‘playground helper’. If I see someone without anyone to play with, I ask them if they want to play.”
My Visit to the South School
I took the opportunity to meet with South School Principal Mary Eastwood to learn more about the history and current use of the bench. Mary explained the bench was a gift of 5th grade parents several years ago. I asked if teachers instruct children about the purpose of the bench. She explained that the learning is organic. Evidently, the children learn from their peers and that creates a positive impression. I took a tour of the playground during recess. Although there was no one sitting on the Buddy Bench that day, I did see many children with smiles on their faces having fun.
Today’s Lesson for Adults
I’m reminded of Robert Fulghum’s bestselling book, “All I Really Need to Know I Learned in Kindergarten”. As adults, there is much we can learn from children. There are times when your friends or even strangers may feel alone and in need of support. It could be as simple as opening a door, helping someone across the street or listening with authentic empathy. Keep your eye out for those in need and remember the metaphor of the Buddy Bench because “Everyone Deserves a Buddy”.