Squeals of excitement erupt from the chorus of children who are pointing their fingers at a fading rainbow overhead.

“Do you see it?!” 

The rainbow momentarily stopped outdoor play for the children and staff of the Campus Center for Young Children (CCYC). 

CYC is an early childhood program devoted to meeting the needs of families from Goshen College, College Mennonite Church and the larger Goshen community. Currently, 53 children ranging from ages 1 to 5 are enrolled at CCYC.

The children usually arrive at 8 a.m. and spend the next hour or so outside on the playground. 

On this particular September morning, rain from the night before has left the sand in the pit compact and heavy; the puddles are perfect for play.

The conditions are ideal for a delicacy known as “stinky cake.” Hans, 4,  shares their recipe for stinky cake: “Tire mulch with grass and gooey things — it doesn’t smell good.” 

Elliot, 4, notes the exclusivity of the dish: “We are only letting visitors eat it.”

One student goes fishing with nothing but a random rope, a nearby branch and a whole lot of imagination. Despite never having actually fished in his life, his technique is masterful — once he secures his target, he reels it in by tugging on the rope so hard that he hits the ground.

Meanwhile, by the paved corner of the playground, Clara and Eliana, who is 3, and Logan, who is 4, have a heated debate about the proximity of winter.

“No, I don’t think it’s gonna be winter,” Logan says. “No, I don’t.”

“My dad and mom told me it’s gonna be winter tomorrow,” Clara says.

“When it’s snow time, I like to eat the snow,” says Eliana.

Clara, however, says the problem of eating yellow snow does not pertain to her: “I have zero pets.”

But, if she could have any pet in the world, she says, she would want “a cat and a medium dog.”

Elsewhere, Hudson and Natalie, who are both 4,  give a tour of the playhouse, noting that their least favorite part of the CCYC is that “the house is too small.”

Hudson, wearing a Yoda zip-up, observes his shadow on the wall, with the sun hitting his pointy elongated fabric ears and casting him as his beloved character.

Around 9:30, the children gather for snack time at the outdoor picnic tables. Each child is served a mandarin orange, a pile of cornflakes and a cup of white milk.

The white milk was satisfactory for most, but Roy, 4, says he wanted chocolate milk. This sparks a conversation about milk, ending with Natalie suggesting broccoli-flavored milk—an idea that prompts giggles from the group. 

Natalie sports a pink and white polka dot zip-up, a blue beanie and white fingerless gloves that could be converted into mittens. She later reveals the mitten part held a secret stash of cornflakes.

After their snack and a thorough clean-up session on the playground, the children gather at the gate.

While waiting, Hudson discovers sap on a nearby tree; carrying the stickiness on his finger, he shows it to his friends. 

After looking left and then right, the children make their way across the train track to the KMY lawn.

 Once the children find a spot to sit away from a “talking buddy,” they are led in song: “We’ve been waiting to come to this place. Wherever you’re from we’re glad that you’ve come.”

The class moves into sharing time, using a wooden picture frame as their “talking stick.” If their name is drawn, they have the opportunity to share something with the class.

Roy points the frame up, looking up at the tree the group is sitting under: “The leaves are gonna turn colors soon!”

Jude, 4, points the frame down, saying, “I stubbed my toe.”

Next is the reassignment of classroom jobs. A rainbow-patterned job wheel spins and stops, revealing that today Natalie is entrusted with lunch cleanup. She expresses her disapproval quietly: “No, it’s gross.”

The CCYC is accredited by the National Association for the Education of Young Children, a status that is achieved by less than 10% of early childhood programs nationally.

Isabella Staltari, a co-lead teacher for the 4-year-olds cohort, speaks to this aspect of their program: “Children aren’t forced into academics or ‘school-like’ schedules and routines before they are mentally ready, which is something I believe to be increasingly difficult to find in early childhood programs.” 

“Current early childhood research shows us that play-based learning is the developmentally appropriate practice for young children,” she added.

Siblings of presently enrolled students; children of GC students, faculty, staff; and College Mennonite Church members are given priority enrollment at the CCYC.

Abby Nafziger, the head of technical services, subscriptions and systems at Good Library, has two children enrolled. 

“Both my kids are almost always filthy when I pick them up — lots of sand and dirt from all their fun play outside and on the CCYC playground is all over them,” Nafziger said.

“While I don’t love all the extra baths,” she continued, “I love how this demonstrates the fun they had during the day digging in dirt, jumping off of things and exploring their world.”