Reggio Emilia and “The Environment as the Third Teacher”

by: Ann Gadzikowski

Preschool of the Arts

At Preschool of the Arts, a Reggio Emilia-inspired early childhood program in Madison, Wisconsin, we often speak of the environment as “a third teacher.” We know that parents or guardians are the child’s first teacher and that early childhood educators are often the next teaching adults to make an impact on a young child’s life. To think of the learning environment as a “third teacher” means we acknowledge the significance of the materials, space, and mood of the classroom (or other places designated for learning) in the child’s education.

Louise Boyd Cadwell, in her book Bringing Reggio Emilia Home, beautifully describes the environment as the third teacher. She writes, “The design and use of space encourage encounters, communication, and relationships. There is an underlying order and beauty in the design and organization of all the space in a school and the equipment and materials in it. Every corner of every space has an identity and a purpose, is rich in potential to engage and to communicate, and is valued and cared for by children and adults.” At Preschool of the Arts, we strive to create order and beauty in the ways we intentionally prepare the classrooms for the children. For example, we maximize the use of natural light and we incorporate natural materials, living plants, and muted, calming colors throughout our school.

Preschool of the Arts has partnered with Kodo Virtual Learning to offer an online workshop titled “An Introduction to Reggio Emilia.” This course explores many of the core ideas behind a Reggio-inspired approach including the concept of the environment as the third teacher, the image of the child, making learning visible, and the hundred languages of children.

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