Goodman Community Center | Serious about play

Serious about play

Social emotional learning gives little ones at Goodman a solid foundation for learning and life

December 29, 2022 |
ilana natasha photography

More than mere child's play

By Kristin Groth, Eastside News

After visiting Ms. Judy and Miss Patience’s room with 10 busy 3- and 4-year-olds at Goodman, you would never make the mistake of thinking early childhood education is “babysitting.” Oh no. They are in the business of teaching children how to learn. And it’s a successful business.

When Abby started at Goodman, she was a tornado of emotions, sweeping everything off shelves and running out of the room screaming. But with calm and consistency, our teachers gave her language and tools to manage her emotions. Before long, she felt safe, settled in, and was ready to play.

Judy, who has taught for 40 years, explained:

“We focus on recognizing and managing emotions so they’re ready for cognitive learning in 4K. Right now, they’re learning how to play cooperatively, to find solutions to problems and to be independent. They learn it all through play.”

Goodman teachers are masters of breaking down tasks into incremental steps so children can learn the things we adults do automatically. And they always build on what the kiddos already know. Patience, who has been teaching 23 years, shared, “At conferences this fall, I shared all the things the kiddos have learned to do independently. One mom laughed and said, “My son can put his shoes on by himself?! He’s been holding out on me!”

Goodman kiddos are happy and fun to be around. (Most of the time.) Every family should be so lucky.

Explore the photos and stories below to discover how 3- and 4-year-olds learn while they play.

Encourage self sufficiency

Meals are always served family style. Kids serve themselves using pitchers and bowls made for little hands. You’ll hear lots of “please and thank yous” around the table. Their independence can surprise their families. Like one night when Laylah finished her dinner, excused herself, scraped her plate into their kitchen garbage and then went to the bathroom and rinsed her plate — as she does at Goodman. (Except the bathroom part.)

Build skills

While little ones use building blocks to make a fort or a hilly and curvy track for dinosaur races, they’re learning sizes and shapes, small and large muscle control, problem solving, sharing and taking turns, and cause and effect. Playing with Play-Doh helps their little fingers build the muscles that will later help them hold a pencil and write letters. Four times a year, each child’s skills are assessed, and teachers design fun activities to help them keep growing.

Learn step-by-step

Judy and Patience invented the Sharing Ice Cream game to teach the language of sharing. Each child has a paper ice cream cone with a BIG pompom “ice cream scoop.” They take turns saying, “Please may I have some ice cream?” and “Thank you” to the friend who shares. It’s a fave and is one of many games designed to build skill and confidence.

Be creative. Try new things.

Noah’s mom wasn’t so sure he would ever take to West African drum and dance with Mr. Mandjou because Noah’s on the autism spectrum. Loud noises are hard for him. But every week teachers sent her video of Noah. The first couple sessions, he opted to wear sound-softening headphones and watched his friends play, but by Week 3, his mom said he was “going to town on that drum.” Many things felt possible after that!

Taking it on the road

Year round, the kiddos go on field trips to parks, pools, museums, the public library and more. They get to experience something new, expand their vocabularies, practice being respectful and cooperative, and learn how to be safe in public places. All while having a good time playing — together.

What’s that feeling?

Teachers help kids name their feelings. They also discuss all kinds of feelings — more than mad, sad, glad — they’re constantly adding words like frustrated, comfortable or discombobulated. They have fun making faces of each emotion, too. That helps them express themselves and recognize how people around them are feeling. If a kiddo is feeling overwhelmed by any emotion, they can always step into the room’s safe space. There a child can talk with a teacher or calm themselves down with tools like pillows, books, and fidget things. Or follow pictures with steps showing how to calm themselves.

Art for learning’s sake

The kids are using scissors to cut out numbered penguins and then glue them onto their igloos in order — only backwards (!). Then they get to decorate their igloos. They don’t know it, but they’re building their hand strength with scissors, developing hand-eye coordination, learning their numbers and being creative.

Playing family

That’s one of the children’s favorite games. In one class, Matilda is often the one who assigns family roles to her friends. When one boy in the class told her he didn’t want to be the dog — he preferred to be the mom, he was practicing how to speak up for himself. When Matilda agreed that there could indeed be three moms in this family, she was learning negotiating and problem-solving. Below, Matilda is getting ready to leave her baby with a babysitter so she can go to a Goodman Family Fun Night.

Learning from each other

Maeve’s mom saw that in action one day. “Maeve was throwing a tantrum. I was getting frustrated, so I told her I needed to take a break to breathe. She paused and then offered to show me how to do the balloon breath. (Which she learned at Goodman.) After I tried it once, she told me to do it two more times … because her teachers said science shows you need three breaths for it to work. In the end, both of us were feeling a lot better,” she said. Here’s Maeve’s friend Jersei doing the balloon breath.

Families who play together …

Stay together! So occasionally they have a game day where they get to play board games. The kids get better at taking turns, encouraging one another and being a good sport — even when they don’t win.

Nurturing a love of nature

And science! Thanks to a partnership with Aldo Leopold Nature Center, Goodman preschoolers were treated to weekly visits by the Nature Nuts all summer and fall. The kids think they’re just getting to see cool critters, pretending to be birds or exploring what they can find when they lift up a rock. But, they’re really learning observation skills, problem solving, new words — foundational science concepts.

Cleaning up!

Kids are encouraged to help clean up and keep the classroom neat and tidy. Everthing goes back where they got it, and there are kid-sized cleaning supplies. No surprise — they don’t always love this, but they are learning some invaluable life skills. And, their parents are big fans. “This is one of the 10,000 reasons we’re happy to partner our parenting with Goodman,” Matilda’s mom said.

Get outside!

Kids are hard-wired to need nature, so kids at Goodman get outside every day. Whether they’re playing games like Mr. Fox, the Floor is Lava, or playing good old Duck, Duck Goose, they’re learning about taking turns, leadership and following directions. Fun outside builds their bodies, brains and their spirits.

Some names were changed to protect privacy.

Previous Next

East Side News Celebrates Its Thirteenth Birthday

April 19, 2024

From the archives: Article from December, 1937 issue 

Eastside News Stories, Eastside News Centennial

What is your plan for retirement?

The emotional impact retirement can cause

April 1, 2024

Retirement can be an exciting time. However, when the reality arrives, one can feel anxious by the loss of routine and direction in life

Older Adults, Eastside News Stories