Being a buddy or having a buddy are effective strategies for promoting pro-social behavior and creating warm fuzzy feelings (!) when working with special needs students.
Students who make good buddy candidates are those with adequate verbal skills, some academic skill that places them “above” a younger child, and a need for affirmation. Most of the kids I’ve picked to buddy or “tutor” younger students are struggling with self-esteem and anger management issues. They are often high functioning kids on the autism spectrum (PDD). Other good candidates have been students with behavioral and emotional disabilities. Kids in both of these categories typically lag in social skills so they can connect quite easily to younger kids. These buddies need a boost in school, some place to shine. Using them as buddies, tutors, or tech helpers is a perfect fit.
Tip #1: If you are a resource teacher, you can usually arrange a time for the buddy to work with younger kids a couple of times a week. Based on the student’s profile, I typically assign them to one of following roles: buddy, tutor, tech helper, reader, teacher helper, classroom organizer. You must be able to oversee their interactions, of course. That’s easy in a resource room, but requires an adult to accompany them to another class.
Tip #2: Provide your buddies with sufficient support to be successful. I “train” my buddies in handling younger kids, again depending upon their skill set. Some buddies need prompting to focus on their little buddy, while others are too helpful and try to do the younger student’s work. I use role playing prior to their official start and provide rubrics for them to evaluate their performance.
Tip #3: Enjoy the wonderful moments that these buddy pairings can produce. I’ve been near tears, witnessing the gentleness and patience of my buddies, knowing that just prior to their arrival they were struggling in their own classrooms. And the younger kids are absolutely thrilled to have the attention of a big buddy. These relationships are precious.
Some of my students have been greatly supported by having a big buddy themselves. It can be challenging to find appropriate buddies for older kids (as well as the under-socialized younger ones), and usually involves team work.
Tip #1: Your family specialist or guidance counselor may have access to lists of “official” big buddies who have volunteered and been screened by your district, an agency, or university. Since this kind of buddy most typically does something with students after school, parents must also be on board. Since special needs kids are sometimes easy prey, someone must ensure that the big buddy is well-screened and supervised.
Tip #2: Some students with emotional disabilities qualify for after school therapeutic support through a mental health program. Check with your family specialist or counselor for assistance. Parents may already be aware of this resource.
Tip #3: Be a big buddy or mentor to one or two of your students. I typically do this for at least one student a year. Have lunch, provide extra instruction, plan outings, visit the student’s classroom during special events, etc. Again, you are going to collaborate with the child’s family at this level.
Tip #3: Work with a school-based mentoring program which may have been set up by the counselor or family specialist. This kind of program may provide events for all the buddies and/or encourage the types of activities mentioned in #2.
Tip #4: As a teacher of a self-contained classroom, I worked with a regular 5th grade classroom teacher to provide buddies for each of my students. The other teacher selected kids who were interested and would be a good fit for this kind of relationship. Their parents signed a permission slip to allow their children to participate. After an orientation for the big buddies, we had a wide range of buddy events, usually related to our current theme of instruction. I also filmed these events for the little buddies (and me) to enjoy a second time.