Despite staff and parents making every effort to ensure school is a welcoming, stimulating and exciting environment for all pupils, school can be a lonely place for a child without a friend to play with and talk to. If this child’s communication skills are not at the same level as their peers’, initiating conversations and making friends may be a challenge that is too difficult to manage alone.

At break times this challenge is heightened. We all have seen the child standing by themselves, watching a group play together and desperately trying to act as though they are happy on their own. Another child spoils others’ games by not behaving appropriately and is then ostracised by their peers. A shy child may be ‘invisible’ to children and, sadly, some staff too or perhaps the child has given up trying to be included by the other pupils and spends every break time clinging to the adults on playground duty. Is it any wonder that, for some children, these feelings of isolation and not fitting in can lead to more serious difficulties affecting mental health, attendance and behaviour?

With young people communicating more and more through their smart phones and tablets, it couldn’t be timelier to remind all pupils of the value of communicating with their peers without these devices. A way of doing this is to create a designated place for communication; a space where face to face communication is demonstrated and supported.

An existing bench in a quiet location in the playground is an inexpensive option for schools. Perhaps the bench could be painted in bright colours so that children feel good using it. The ‘communication’ bench is not a new concept – we had one at the junior school I worked at. We had to be mindful that the bench didn’t become known as a place where ‘kids who haven’t got any friends sit’. We had a week of assemblies focussed on introducing and promoting the bench to the school and in PSHE we explored feelings around friendships and why communication is such an important part of making a friend.

So how can a communication/buddy bench be successful?

Here are some ideas that may help your communication-friendly safe place become somewhere that your most vulnerable pupils will feel comfortable visiting -hopefully helping them develop new friendships along the way!

Monitor – a key staff member and buddies ensure that it is being used appropriately and help facilitate communication

Limit – avoid having too many pupils using the space at any one time so that it is not too overwhelming and pupils who need support are not ignored

Choose – allow pupils to book a time when they would like to use the bench – perhaps a post box in the hall where they can make a request?

Invite – pupils who have been identified

Explore – different ways of communicating through music, dance, signing, different languages, shared reading and of course, talking

Allocate – sessions so that pupils get a fair opportunity to visit the bench – perhaps each day of the week is set aside for a particular year group or class

Think – about an alternative space to use when it is wet play and cover staff who will take over if the regular member of staff is not in school.

Sustain – most importantly ensure enthusiasm doesn’t tail off. Some children will be waiting for their turn…

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