Today’s discussion will revolve around the classroom as a “third teacher”. Having a preschool that is inspired by the Reggio Emilia approach to education, I have reflected and enjoyed the many years of learning how the classroom is like a third teacher. If any of you have ideas, thoughts, and experiences around this topic please join in the discussion! 🙂 Also keep in mind that large spaces and small spaces will have some things in common, yet many other things that are not common.
Obviously as a teacher I was trained and have years of experience setting up classrooms and using those spaces to support learning. However, it wasn’t until I started learning more about the Reggio Emilia approach that I really took a good hard look at the teaching spaces both students and myself occupied. Once I really observed and set about reorganizing and shifting these spaces I was able to understand how the classroom itself could be another teacher supporting the learning of children. Trial and error is the best way to put it really. I spent a lot of time moving furniture and creating spaces for the children to engage in. After seeing the children function in those areas I would know what to keep the same or change. You’re right if you are thinking I changed more than kept the same. Our adult minds can only plan so far in advance for how children will respond to the learning environment, so the absolutely best way is to pay close attention to how the room set up works with and for the children. When I would see things not working for them and spaces not being used or cutting off inquiry and exploration, I would take all the information I’d gathered from observing the children at play and make some functional changes.
Creating my own preschool has allowed me to put to practice what I’ve been developing in my mind all these years. I am happy that my classroom will change with each group of children that comes through. My environment is a “third teacher” because I love putting the children’s learning needs ahead of my own desire for how the room should be. I change or keep things the same based on the patterns of play. If the room is not being fully used I change the provocations, move some of the materials to different interest areas and of course keep things the same for spaces that have been working for the children. Fortunately, the materials are very clear to see and easily accessible for children to find and use, so the classroom does get used in its entirety.
Another aspect of the classroom being a third teacher falls under the category of too many materials and wall decor contributing to overstimulation, while less is not as overwhelming and more conducive to learning. I have found that children do much better in clean, well organized, and aesthetically pleasing environments than they do in clutter-filled rooms with way too many materials and wall decor. So I’ve made sure to keep the materials that are out and available to children at a minimal so that they do not get as overwhelmed as they normally would in a more traditional program with bright primary colors everywhere. (I don’t know about you, but when I go outdoors, shopping or am at home, I am not bombarded with primary colors in all directions like most traditional preschools and elementary schools.)
Keep in mind that when young children come to school for the first time or change school environments the entire process can be very overwhelming for young minds. It does take a couple of weeks for some personalities to adjust to any learning environment. The first thought most of us teachers have when we see a child overwhelmed and not able to choose a space and engage in that area for long enough to actually go through the inquiry and investigation process, is to guide that child and in essence tell them where they should explore first, second and so on. Basically, control how they assimilate the new information they have been hit with. Yet that would be awful for that child because that child needs time to explore in the only way a young developing mind can. Young children are not adults and they operate differently than we do. They have energy!! They have the capacity to assimilate quite a bit of information by moving quickly through new spaces and trying out everything they want. It is through this process that they are able to learn how to plan, make decisions, question, explore and engage in projects and interact with peers. A young child’s mind needs a couple of weeks of consistent class time to allow their brain to transform from the assimilation of new information. Once the child has been through this haphazard approach he/ she is able to slow themselves and become more engrossed in the areas of interst each choses. So we can gain a lot from each other!
The environment as a third teacher is very helpful when children are becoming accustomed to new situations. As I’ve observed children in the beginning phase of taking in this new space, I have been able to gain information about those children’s interests, believe it or not, so I can set up provocations the next day that may entice each to spend a little more time in certain areas than they would have during this period of time in which they were acquiring new knowledge. Last school year I had a little student become super energized and excited to explore every inch of the classroom, but once this child gained all the knowledge from rapid explorations she settled right into planning the areas she enjoyed engaging in first , second and so forth. And as a teacher inspired by the Reggio Emilia process, I was so happy to learn from her as she went through this journey. I have observed many other children during this assimilation phase being treated as though they have either a learning disability or behavioral issue. And that makes me so frustrated because this phase is normal development and most of the human population actually did go through this either at home, a friends house, at school and most definitely if they moved to a new city. The duration in which children go through this phase of rapid and haphazard assimilation is different for each child, but please know this is absolutely normal and perfectly okay!
How has your teaching or understanding of children changed since using your classroom as a third teacher? How has your perception’s of your children changed as parents using your home as a third teacher? Please comment, like and share! Let’s keep these conversations going! 🙂
Heidi Scott, BA & MIT
The Marigold School of Early Learning! 🙂