A Different Spin On Reading Buddies

On Thursday, it was pouring rain, and so the school had an indoor recess. We have three lunchroom monitors, and while they usually only come to the classroom for the last 20 minutes of each break, when it rains, they come for the entire 40 minutes. Our students do not observe the nutrition breaks though. We have a snack table where children go to eat twice a day. They decide when they’re hungry, and that’s when they stop to eat. Some children need more support with this than others, but overall, students have gotten a lot better at listening to their bodies and breaking at the time that works best for them. There’s an important connection to self-regulation here, and we love that our Kindergarten students can demonstrate this independence. This meant that when the lunchroom monitors came on Thursday, many children were playing, and our new Beauty Salon was especially popular. 

I was out of the classroom at the time for nutrition break (I do stop on these two breaks), but my teaching partner, Paula, was in the room, and what she captured was amazing. These three Grade 6 boys decided to go and play in the salon with our students. They did all of this without direction from Paula, and what they added to the play was truly incredible. Here are the PicCollages that Paula created to document this salon learning.

These Grade 6’s left our classroom beaming, and they left us smiling as well. Even yesterday, Paula and I could not stop talking about what happened here. While one of us usually joins this dramatic play at different points during the day, Paula didn’t during this time on Thursday. She mentioned that she considered it, but she decided to stay back, observe, listen, and document instead. I said, “I wonder if this actually led to richer play.” She thought it did, and I agree. Adults socialize differently with children, even when, as educators, we try not to. Sometimes we become too focused on the program expectations we want to address or we become too quick to question. Sometimes our questions may connect to expectations, but not necessarily extend the play. But kids don’t think like this, and when older students genuinely become involved in younger students’ play, their conversations are different, their questions seem more natural, and children respond differently to their extension ideas. These three boys changed up the salon play by unknowingly doing three new things.

  • They made name tags for their hairdresser characters. All hairdressers have name tags. (This provides a purposeful reason to write, explore letter-names and sounds, and blend sounds to read words.)
  • They made money to pay for their salon services. They obviously really liked their salon treatment, and explored money amounts with children up to $100. (This provides a meaningful way to review numbers, print numerals, and explore addition and subtraction.)
  • They added times to the schedule. Our students have really enjoyed the Monday-Friday whiteboard that we put in the salon, but up until Thursday, they just wrote down the names for scheduled appointments. These boys taught our students about digital time to the hour and half-hour. (This provides another meaningful way to review numbers, print numerals, explore the passage of time, understand how a clock works, and learn how to read and write digital times.)

The great thing is that after they left, the children continued to play with the new ideas that these older children added to the salon. 

These three boys were teachers, and actually gave me a new appreciation for buddy time. I’ll admit that I’m not a big fan of reading buddies.

  • I find that there are often too many children in the room, it’s hard for many children to concentrate, and the break in the flow of the day often leads to more issues either during the buddy time or after it.
  • Even when splitting into two locations, I find that there’s rarely enough space for positive interactions between buddies.
  • Some Kindergarten children are too scared to interact with unknown, older peers, and there’s almost like a pressure to interact because of the format of reading buddies.
  • We also never expect all students to do the same thing at the same time, and this is almost what seems to happen during reading buddies. 

But with these boys, the buddy time was different.

  • Children have developed a relationship with these three Grade 6’s, so they were comfortable with them entering play.
  • The interactions were genuine. The Grade 6’s were not thinking about how to increase literacy and math skills, but by entering a dramatic play space that had these elements embedded within it, they naturally extended this learning. 
  • The small number of older students did not negatively impact on the calm classroom environment. When we bring in too many additional children, the noise often becomes dysregulating and increases behaviour, but this was not the case with just three Grade 6’s. 

Maybe we don’t need to have buddy time, but instead, capitalize on our classroom environment that does not include a sit-down lunchtime, and continue to support our buddies in entering play when they come in each day. I wonder what kind of impact this might have on our students and their learning. I think it could be time to take a different spin on reading buddies. What do you think? What have you tried? A special “thank you” to Michelle Fawcett‘s three Grade 6 boys that have shown Paula and I the “awesome” that is possible!


4 thoughts on “A Different Spin On Reading Buddies

  1. Aviva, this reminds me of the rich experiences that occurs when families have larger gaps in age betweeen the birth of their children. The older children have a different relationship with the younger child and engage with them in a play that often stretches the younger child’s developmental zone of proximity. This non threatening approach makes the younger child eager to attempt to meet the challenge demand. Alternatively the older child is co-creating with the younger child, but not only that, they are negotiating their own level of response to the younger child’s needs. In my observation, they are flexible, and empathic to the child’s readiness to learn and provide support to ensure their younger ‘buddys’ success. It’s a magical relationship that adults cannot emulate in the same way! Love this reflection! Looking forward to hearing more about this experience!

    • Thanks for your comment, Sarah! I actually had an aha moment when reading your words. I wonder if you’ve actually — possibly even unknowingly — identified what makes the other buddy situations so different: we’re dictating the play/interactions. In Thursday’s experience, the Grade 6’s responded naturally to the environment and to the Kindergaten children. We didn’t dictate what the children had to say or do, and by driving their own play, they got to this incredible level of richness. With reading buddies, educators tend to outline the plan. The conversations are determined more by us, and with a plan to follow, I wonder if you can get this same kind of “play approach.” Maybe more flexible, open-ended interaction opportunities between younger and older students would help. I’m definitely hoping that we have more experiences as we did on Thursday.


  2. We have a “reading buddy” classroom, but only about 4 or 5 of my students go down each day. There are a core group of “regulars” who go if they are having a good day, but then sometimes I will send one or two different people who want/need/deserve a break or change of pace. The incoming classroom is flexible and knows that there will be different numbers each day. If it is a day where I know I will be sending different people, I try to give them a heads up. It gives some of my struggling students a chance to be a leader and shine while practising their skills, while it gives some of their students, usually the struggling ones as well, a chance for one-on-one practice and instruction in reading. So far, it seems to be going well. I like that it doesn’t take out the entire class for an activity that doesn’t benefit all, but still provides many of the benefits of reading buddies.

    • Thanks for sharing what you do, Melanie! I love how this seems to be a successful option for all without it necessarily being a full-class activity. I tried something similar last year with a class of Grade 3 students. Timing was sometimes an issue, but I definitely found it preferable to a full-class reading buddy option. I think there’s often value in creative options!


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