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The environment as the third teacher


If you have followed Reggio Emilia Philosophy at all you have undoubtedly heard that the environment acts as the third teacher.  But what does that mean?   I think this quote I found says it perfectly:

“In order to act as an educator for the child,

the environment has to be flexible: it must

undergo frequent modification by the

children and the teachers in order to remain

up-to-date and responsive to their needs to

be protagonists in constructing their


                     Lella Gandini

We know that the classroom should be child friendly.  Most classrooms I have walked into have had child sized furniture, low shelving with play materials on it, bright colors and art work plastered on the walls or bulletin boards.  There is much more to the third teacher than child furniture and toys.  Making the classroom feel like home, make the children feel welcomes and safe; the classroom should reflect the children in it and their personalities and interests.

I agree with having low, open shelves to display materials and having them arranged to section room off into areas of interest.  But along with these ideas I always try to bring nature into the class whether it is in center materials or as decorative elements.  Someone walking into my classroom would see lots of recycled/reused items as manipulatives or decorations, along with family photos and documentation of our children.  Soft elements such as lamps, rugs and pillows make the environment feel home-like.

Bringing authentic materials and supplies into the classroom is a must; the classroom should be somewhat of an “exploratory lab” for the children and they learn to respect the environment they grow up in.  Having glass items for the children to use or organize supplies, is not uncommon.

I think it helps when trying to re-create your environment is to look at some ideas in books or online for inspiration; I LOVE Pinterest for this!  You can search anything on there or in books too.  Once you have a vision, think about how that will work with your current children or get input and ideas from the children themselves.  Most of the time our rooms have too much furniture and materials in it, see what you can remove, what do the children not utilize?, or what could be repurposed for another use? Doing the whole room at once may be overwhelming to you; rearrange the furniture or first and then work on one area or center at a time, adding manipulatives and decorative elements.  It may take longer, but will be worth the wait when you and the children get to view and explore in an inspiring environment!          

“First we shape our buildings. Thereafter they shape our lives.”

  Winston Churchill


“Every person needs a place that is furnished with hope.

Maya Angelou

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