The Environment as the “Third Teacher”




The environment being the “third teacher” in Reggio schools is something I really take to heart in my own classroom. For those of you who are unfamiliar with the term, it basically means that the classroom space, school and outdoor areas are also a teacher; they have a lot to say about how we view the children, what children are encouraged to do, and what we should value as a school community. So how should educators structure their “third teacher” so that it best facilitates learning, growth and exploration?

  • Accessible materials: children should have direct access to the vast majority of toys and materials offered; they should be able to make choices as to what they want to engage in and be able to retrieve desired materials themselves. A smorgasboard of open-ended natural, artificial and found materials in various sizes and textures that lend themselves to the development of different skills is key. Keeping Malaguzzi’s 100 languages in mind, children should be provoked to express themselves in as many ways as they can, from clay to construction, to paints to music.


  • Consider the child’s height: Visible documentation should be at the child’s level so that they can examine themselves and their work in a comfortable and leisurely way; this enables children to recall past experiences and reflect on their learning. Sinks and toilets should be short enough that children can use them by themselves, facilitating self-help skills and growing self-confidence. Large windows ensure that children can see out of them - and have the added benefit of bathing a room in beautiful natural light. A classroom is a room for children, and everything from the framework to the decor should reflect that fact.


  • Environments should be consistently evolving: Indoor and outdoor environments should be as static and unchanging as the people who use them - in short, not at all! Components of a space should be frequently rearranged to draw on their aesthetic aspects, and serve the present needs and interests of the learners therein. Are walkers becoming climbers? Were children who were formerly building houses now constructing cities? Is there sufficient space for children who require quiet?

One final note: good environments are invaluable - but they are the third tier. A well-funded, stocked, beautifully-arranged, full-of-natural-light classroom can’t compare to a passionate, attentive educator who delights in her children and is excited about learning and inquiry. An environment may be the third teacher - but educators are the first! 

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