Buddy Programs for Elementary Schools
By Leah Davies, M.Ed.
consist of upper-grade students reading and/or completing
activities or projects with younger children. Older
students are paired with younger children from their
buddy class and the most effective programs have
at least two grade levels between students. The experience
provides children with stimulating opportunities
for learning and skill development.
especially enjoy the one-to-one attention they receive
from their older buddy. 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." Teachers
report that participation in buddy programs enhances
children`s cooperative learning behaviors such as
taking turns, listening, sharing knowledge, praising
another`s effort, 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 the teacher, they
are motivated to do their best. They also 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 thirty to forty minutes together. 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
Buddy programs promote a favorable school atmosphere.
In some cases, the students sit with their buddy
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
If the 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.They typically take
turns planning the sessions. If possible the two
classes of children meet once or twice before buddies
are paired. Playing "Getting Acquainted Games" (see
Getting to Know Each Other Activities Parts 1, 2,
and 3) can be beneficial.Then, if the teachers want
input from their students in deciding matches, they
ask the children to write down three names of 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 their 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 make-up
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.
Guidelines for a successful program, such as no "put-downs" and
how to model enjoyment of learning, can be emphasized.
If buddies are matched up by the teachers in advance,
the first meeting can include a short interview,
a game or an activity. The older students can read
to their new friend and/or listen to the younger
child read. The session can include a snack and be
held in either classroom, outdoors or anywhere it
Activities that buddies can do together vary widely
and are only limited by the imagination of the teachers,
the age of the students, and the boundaries provided
by the administration. They can 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 can be presented to other students
and/or displayed in the library, hallway, or classroom.
Providing guidance in a computer lab is another
way buddy programs function. Computer activities
provide an opportunity for older students to show
what they know. As a result, computer skills are
fostered by both partners. Since the younger children
look up to the older students, the older buddies
try hard to be of assistance and their feelings of
self-worth are enhanced.
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 are English language learners benefit from
having a buddy assigned to them. For example, students entering a school for
the first time, or moving to a new school district need help to make a successful
transition. A buddy can be an older student or a classmate who assists them
in finding their way around and 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 that 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 the
students involved. The form they take is varied and flexible. A program may
begin by a principal asking 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."