‘Buddy bench’ made for kids who need a pal

Phillips Elementary is now the proud owner of a buddy bench, its own installment of a national movement to combat loneliness on the playground.

The decoratively painted bench that sits on the school’s playground made its first appearance Wednesday afternoon during first and second grade recess.

Developed for the school by second grade teacher Nicole Maxon, the bench is part of a national and international network of benches that is designed to build friendships and help children who might not have a friend to play with.

“When I’m on recess duty, I get a lot of kids that run up and tell me they’re bored and have no one to play with,” Maxon said. “I thought this would be a great way to help fix that.”

The concept is simple, as students are taught that they can go sit on the bench if they do not have anyone to play with or to reach out to children on the bench and offer to start up a game or activity.

The bench was built with a cost of only about $100 by a volunteer, a cost that the Phillips PTO fully reimbursed.

“It’s here to help kids foster new friendships,” Maxon said. “We want everyone to have a positive playground experience.”

Maxon painted the bright orange, blue and green bench herself.

The buddy bench concept unofficially came to the U.S. when a young boy from York, Pa. whose family was researching schools in the German region where they planned to move saw the bench in one of the school’s playground pictures.

On the official buddybench.org website, pinpoints on a map of North America show just more than 150 schools across the U.S. and Canada who have buddy benches.

“When I saw it on the news, I knew it would be a great thing to bring to Phillips,” Maxon said.

Student Molly Cline, 8, said she was excited about the new edition to the playground.

“If you don’t have anyone to play with you can sit and someone can ask you if you want to play, or if you’re both on the bench, you can play together,” Cline said.

Maxon said though she originally developed the bench with her second graders in mind, she has informed all other teachers about the project and hopes other students will grasp the concept too.

“It really helps I think, because you can make new friends,” said Emily Damron, 7. “When I came here for second grade I hardly had any friends, so I know it can be hard.”

On the first day, Maxon said many children were just resting on the bench, but learned from teachers and friends quickly what the idea was, and caught on fast.

“Some teachers have actually been practicing how to use it in their classes,” Maxon said. “We’ll start with this one, and if we need another we’ll get it.”

The buddy bench also comes on the coattails of Phillips’ bully prevention program, a result of a parent survey asking to create a more positive climate at school.

“All kids have different interests, and for some, recess isn’t always as pleasurable because some kids are less outgoing and more reluctant to seek out people to play,” said Phillips Principal Joe Finley. “This is a safe way to do it so students don’t have to do it all themselves.”

Aundrea Wilson, 8, said though she is shy, she would be willing to give it a try.

“Today I did ask my one friend to play, so I know it will help,” she said. “And I really think other schools should get one.”