As a daycare and preschool in Langley, Coquitlam and North Vancouver, we use a custom curriculum that draws from the best ideas of the most popular early childhood education theories out there. One popular theory is the Reggio Emilia approach to preschool learning. This theory, which started in Italy, emphasizes the importance of classrooms, and how they help children learn. The concept labels the classroom environment as the “third teacher.” So, what is the “third teacher” in preschool classrooms? We’ll explain below!
The “third teacher” in preschool classrooms is not just about objects and decor
To begin, it’s important to note that the “third teacher” is not just about the physical space of the classroom. Natural light and open spaces are definitely components of the “third teacher” environment. However, it is more-so about the social environment that is provided by opportunities in the way the classroom is arranged and functions.
For example, when we think of the “third teacher” in preschool classrooms, we are not just talking about using natural wood versus colourful plastic, nor making our own teaching materials versus buying commercial teaching materials.
The “third teacher” refers to the collective experiences that can be had throughout the day, thanks to the way the classroom, and the people in it, are interacted with.
In preschool, this can certainly mean ‘little people chairs’ and shelves with books and toys that are reachable for 4 and 5-year-olds. However, it can also mean that children have an opportunity to play together in small groups, or engage in learning as a whole classroom, based on the day’s schedule.
For example, sensory stations, art tables, ‘play kitchens’ and dramatic play corners can provide small-group learning opportunities.
Circle time can be an example of whole classroom engagement; it’s a designated space where the classroom can gather with the teacher for a collective activity.
The “third teacher” is fluid, and involves children’s input
The “third teacher” in preschool classrooms is not a set-in-stone list of rules that all teachers must follow. Rather, it is a set of ideas and principles by which teachers can manage and arrange their classrooms in the best interests of children. It requires a lot of observation and recording of childrens’ behaviours and needs. It involves the children by asking for their input.
And, it can be changed easily.
For example, even the furniture chosen should be able to ‘transform’ into new learning spaces. Tables and chairs may need to be easily put away to create a dance or preschool yoga space. Art tables should be able to transform into baking stations, and so on.
It should be easy for children to maneuver their way around the classroom, flowing from one activity to the other. It should also be easy for children to concentrate on something, such as a book in a reading nook.
Moreover, some learning materials can be added or even taken away if the early childhood educator feels it will help the needs of the children.
For example, art supplies like stencils may be considered too restrictive for some students, preventing them from learning writing skills. So the educator may take them away, forcing children to develop fine motor skills by drawing freehand shapes, which eventually lead to writing.
Or, some children may engage deeply with building blocks. The educator may introduce new shapes that are more difficult to build with, so that children can experiment with physics and geometry.
The “third teacher” display’s children’s work to inspire creativity and idea sharing
In a preschool environment, it’s important for children to be creators. The “third teacher” encourages displaying children’s work so they can not only celebrate their accomplishments, but observe them for further pondering. They can glean from others’ ideas, to become more creative. This process also allows for idea-sharing, which is a form of social education.
The “third teacher” reflects childrens’ identities and sense of community
It is crucial that teaching environments are open and inclusive, socially, culturally and in every other way.
Books and toys should reflect the diversity that is represented in the classroom. Lessons on race can be taught. Crayon colours should allow children to create different skin tones to represent drawings of people. Holidays of cultures around the world can be celebrated. Those with learning differences or disabilities should be accommodated.
In short: there should be no limitations to the needs and creative expression of every child in the classroom.
See more on our blog:
- Hosting a Little Fox Run at daycare – 3 preschool lessons, plus activity ideas
- 3 ways early childhood educators can help kids get along and feel included
- Community service learning ideas for early childhood education and daycare
The “third teacher” extends to the outdoors
Far from being an inside-only application, the concept of the “third teacher” in preschool classrooms extends to the outdoors. In fact, outdoor-learning is an all-important aspect of teaching.
It is thought that:
- Children these days don’t spend enough time in nature, which is causing physical and mental health issues.
- Natural environments provide several teachable moments in that they make children inquisitive by all their inherent ‘wonders.’
- Children learn to be stewards of the earth and responsible citizens by learning about environmental conservation. This leads to lessons on recycling and outdoor service projects.
Plus, playgrounds and woodlands also allow children to take reasonable risks, which is also important for their learning.
See on our blog:
- 4 Top benefits of outdoor education in early childhood
- How to teach playground safety at daycare
- Preschool activities to start, grow and maintain an edible classroom garden
- 5 Fun, purpose-driven walks to go on with daycare kids or preschoolers
The “third teacher” blends with other teaching concepts
To conclude, we can see above that, the “third teacher” often blends with other teaching concepts. It is a welcoming, flexible teaching method that allows for adaptability in the classroom, based on the teacher’s observations of what is needed. It is also child-focused and celebratory of the child’s ability to create. And, the “third-teacher” doesn’t have to stay indoors – the outside environment is definitely a part of it.
See more on our blog: