Goodman Community Center | Staff Spotlight: Ms. Judy

Staff Spotlight: Ms. Judy

Volunteering, clowns and a classroom built for growing minds: get to know Purple House's Ms. Judy.

October 27, 2023 |
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Ilana Natasha Photography

How long have you been working at Goodman, and what brought you to the center?

“I’ve been working here for four and a half years after the center that I worked at for 20 years shut down after 45 years. I’ve always worked in nonprofit childcare and Goodman fit the model that I was accustomed to and had experience working with. I work with three-year-olds now, but I’ve worked with kids as young as three days old to 12 years old, in a childcare capacity anyway."

What’s your favorite time in your classroom?

"Free choice play time. You can just sit down, let the kids take the lead and support their play. You get to see their creativity and their individuality shine. They’re doing what they do best. Our room has a housekeeping area, blocks, a science area, our eating area doubles as an art area, we have a sensory table with sand—and I really love a sensory table!"

What other ‘zones’ do you have in Purple Room?

"Our rooms use conscious discipline as a curriculum, so besides play spaces we have a safe space for kids that are upset, need to be alone or need a quiet place to calm down.

The room also has an active calming zone with nine steps. It starts out with ‘stomp your feet,’ then ‘push the wall.’ Then there’s stretching, and it goes from large ‘got to get stuff out’ movement to practicing finer skills, like cross body movement. There are steps to help with deep breathing and yoga poses. Easy poses, of course! It’s not really about the yoga, but about trying the movement.

We spend a lot of time practicing the steps they go through in the Calming Zone. We try to turn all the actions into muscle memory. Last year, we had all the kids make dinosaur feet to practice stomping. We put their individual handprints on the wall so they can practice pushing against their own hands. We have special breaths that we use—we use A LOT of breathing in the classroom. We teach kids how to utilize those actions so when they do get to the point where they’re deep into an upset, they’ll be successful using those techniques. We do the same thing with our feelings table. We scaffold the emotions. We start with big feelings they have experienced and kind sort of identify, like ‘happy’ or sad, then build to more complicated emotions, like ‘disappointed’ or ‘confused.’

People think we just play all day, but it’s what the kids get out of play. In each of the zones I’ve posted a graphic to show what’s in the area and then what the kids are learning when they’re, say, building with blocks, or whatever they’re playing with. These are all skills that they’re building. Those visuals not only inform people in the room, but when I’m sharing photos of the kids with parents or families, they can see that, yes, we’re having fun, but this is why the play is important. It’s about helping kids navigate their days better. Anytime we see an area that the kids are struggling to grasp, we’ll do something that reinforces that concept in a different way. It’s really an ongoing process."

What has your experience been with volunteers and volunteering?

"I have a fond place in my heart for volunteers. I was raised in a family of servants. And we were a 4-H family. We also had a huge part in developing and opening a community center in the small town that I lived in, which is still operating today.

My parents were — well my whole family was — clowns. Like the kind with the red noses and the wigs. It was just something they were drawn to. They were involved in a clown group, and we would do parades. Now, a lot a people are afraid of clowns, so we developed a program where we would volunteer and bring a ton of clown costumes with us to help transform kids into clowns. They got to go through and feel that process of transformation, and it really helped alleviate some of their fears. So somewhere in the basement there are suitcases full of children’s clown costumes that we had made just to do this program. Back when Goodman was the Atwood Community Center, we would offer our services as clowns, so I have a long history of being part of this community in different ways — and I always end up back on Madison's east side. I love this community. It's diverse, and it feels like home.

As an adult, I also came into the childcare field as a volunteer and was recognized by the director of that program for the skills that I had to offer. Through that job I had a chance to get some educational background to get where I am today. I came into childcare for two years as a volunteer, and then it became my life. I’ve also spent a lot of time supervising volunteers. Everything from high school students to Grandmas that want to read books to the kids. Interacting with the UW students has been a new avenue that’s been really interesting. I’ve worked with the Madison College childcare and supervising students’ practicums. Volunteering goes way deep in my world.

Volunteers are invaluable. Many of the things we do at Goodman wouldn’t be possible without volunteers. The volunteers that come into our classroom, thankfully, are usually really young and energetic—I left young and energetic quite some time ago! It’s nice to be able to have people that can literally chase the kids around or sit with them so I can do other things that need to be done. When I have volunteers in the classroom for the first time I always tell them 'When you're not sure what to do, just sit down and play. The kids will take care of the rest!'"

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