Q&A with Julie Browning: A Look Inside Ross Kindergarten

DSC_4571 Ross School kindergarten teacher Julie Browning has been helping children learn, develop, and discover their strengths for more than 20 years. She brings her wealth of experience and nurturing nature to the Lower School kindergarten classroom each day. In this post, School News talks with Julie about how she is helping the younger students develop a foundation for the future.

Describe your role as kindergarten teacher. It is my job to make every student feel safe, valued, and special. I want them to walk into the classroom and be excited about what each new day will bring. I also believe it is my job to help foster a love of learning and to help each student succeed and become a lifelong learner. I try to create exciting and interesting areas in the classroom with the students to promote discovery. It is important to me that the classroom takes into consideration each student’s needs and allows them to explore and be curious and creative. A large part of my job is helping children learn to navigate the classroom and understand their environment. It is important that students can gather the materials they need and learn to use the resources in the room independently.

What is your approach to teaching? Work hard and have fun. I believe in inquiry and project-based learning and its importance in creating critical thinkers. I also believe that children learn in different ways and that it is my job to adapt what is taught to meet their needs. Through patience and creativity, and with the use of technology, manipulatives, and a wide range of texts and materials, I try my best to make learning fun and enjoyable.

I look forward to coming to work every day, and I hope that my students do too. Five- and six-year-olds are hilarious; every day I laugh with the children or at myself. Who gets to read, dance, sing, play games, and watch children every day as they make new discoveries and gain confidence in themselves and their capabilities? I do—lucky me!

Kindergarten is a transition year. How do you work with the children to help them make the leap from the Early Childhood program? Every child comes to kindergarten with a different skill set and different social and emotional needs. Some students have been at Ross or another school since the age of two, while others may have only had a year of preschool. At the beginning of the year, we spend time helping students transition to a full-day program at school. The activities we plan are for shorter periods of time, and we try to go outside as much as we can to explore the campus and take advantage of the farm and peace garden. We play, sketch, read and count, and make every activity fun. After lunch we have story and rest. In September, several students will fall sound asleep on their blankets and pillows, but by November, they are wide awake and waiting for the next page of the story.

We begin each day with center time. We set up about four different centers on a daily basis, and students choose which activity they would like to do when they first enter the class in the morning. I think it is important that children be given some choice in the activities they do during the day. Our centers include blocks, Legos, puzzles, writing, the play corner, art activities, reading, math, and sight word games. As the year progresses, our centers become more structured. We will set the students’ challenges in the block corner, set up explorations in the math center, and ask the students to work on writing or sight word games. After center time, we have Morning Meeting. This is a time for us to come together as a class and greet each other and discuss the day’s schedule and activities. We then have reading, writing, math, cultural history, and other special classes for the rest of the day.

At Ross, we are lucky enough to be able to offer classes in science, wellness, Spanish, Mandarin, visual arts, performing arts, library, and music twice each week. The students travel to their different classes to make the most of each special’s teaching space. Another exciting part of the kindergarten day is lunch at the Ross Café. It amazes me how quickly the students learn to take responsibility in the Café. They learn to make healthy food choices and about portion control, food waste, and the importance of cleaning up after themselves and others. In the beginning of the year, it is one of the most exciting parts of their day.

What are the children learning? We are currently studying seasonal change and the effects of weather on humans and animals. Students are embarking upon their first independent study about animals that hibernate or migrate in the winter. Each student is researching a different animal. Some students have already created posterboards and books about the animals they are studying. It is really exciting.

We integrate reading, writing, and math into our cultural history studies. In writing, we will begin to write nonfiction books about our animal studies. In math, we are charting temperature and learning to measure time. We are lucky to have a fabulous library on our campus with a great array of books about our animal and winter studies, and in the classroom we have sets of books that children can read with support.

The play center in our classroom changes depending on what we are studying. At the moment, it is a weather station. It is a hive of activity most mornings as children dress up and pretend to be either out in a storm or on a sunny beach reporting the weather back to the KWS (kindergarten weather station) newsroom. Our Spanish teacher has been working with us, so we now have some bilingual weather reporters. Our five-day weather forecasts have been pretty accurate lately, especially recent predictions of snowfall.

Let’s switch to learning a bit about your background. What brought you to Ross School? I had previously worked for the Morris Center, and I stayed on after the transition. I like the cultural history–based curriculum and the flexibility I have in how to teach the material. The creative and interesting people I work with and beautiful campus also make Ross a special place.

I have been teaching for 20 years. From a young age, I knew I wanted to be a teacher, and I feel incredibly lucky to have a job doing what I love.

Tell us something people may not know about you. I don’t have an accent, so most people don’t know that I am from Scotland; most of my family members still live there. I moved to America 20 years ago after meeting my husband at the University of Edinburgh.