Thursday, April 5, 2012

The "Third" Teacher

The classroom environment is a major focus within the Kindergarten team at our school. We have gone through a very deep process of reflection to understand how the learning environment impacts classroom values, attitudes and learning.
We have come to believe that carefully setting up our classroom environments encourages children to truly explore and investigate on new levels. A classroom should provide children with endless opportunities to express themselves. A classroom should not be restrictive with manipulative and materials that restrict student thinking.

I started my journey in Kindergarten with brightly coloured walls, bright plastic containers, busy bulletin boards, distracting boarders, and more manipulatives available than were necessary. Slowly but surely last year I learned about the classroom being seen as a “third teacher”. I learned that children need a classroom environment that is calm (free of busy walls and too much to everything). I peeled my walls apart, changed my baskets from plastic to natural materials and brought a lot more nature into the classroom. The environment quickly became more attractive, more child focused, and much more creative.

I noticed a change in the students behaviour almost immediately. The children felt very valued and important. They became calmer and more focused, it was so true that LESS is MORE!

I still think back to the amazing discussion with someone named Brenda in our book club about the busy walls in all of our classrooms that really sparked our classroom transformations. My partner Sarah invited me last year to a Reggio-inspired book club to share with our team the passion she was bringing for the classroom environment.

When Brenda walked into some of the rooms you could see her body tense up. We talked about what it may feel like as a student to be in a room that is covered from floor to ceiling. We discussed what it may feel like as a child to have far too many toys and manipulatives on the shelves and not know what to pick. When we looked at our classrooms from children’s perspective it truly opened our eyes.

The changes are monumental. This is coming from someone who thought her classroom was beautiful when the bulletin boards were covered in expensive fabric and store bought borders. What I once thought and valued as beautiful has shifted so much that it is hard to believe I ever thought my old room was well suited for children at all.

My change in thinking definitely didn’t happen overnight. I am a very reflective person and it took me quite some time to understand and embrace the philosophy of the classroom being the third teacher. I wish I could put into words how much I love my classroom environment and my new way of thinking, but I think the best way to look at it is that not only did we transform our learning environment but also our way of thinking.



  1. I know I as well as others would love to see an example of YOUR walls and surroundings!

  2. The above photo is from our learning environment a couple of years ago. My goal next year as we move to a new learning space is to document and share our process of setting up our new space.

  3. Our goal for the upcoming school year is to have a more relaxed and calm environment. I already started collecting natural materials for my room. Which Reggio inspired book were you reading? There are so many!

  4. Always a burning question - I have more books on my shelf than i have read as I always get inspired and buy tons of beautiful books!

    Currently I am reviewing Project Approach (Lilian Katz). Also Beautiful Stuff - as I would like to bring this project in somehow this year!

  5. I'm just curious as to how you and your students keep things organized using natural baskets instead of bins? I love your post and have made many of the same changes in my classroom, with the exception of the bins. I find having picture labels on my bins REALLY helps my friends tidy up in an efficient and organized manner. How does it work with the baskets? I would really like to make the change (I've even started purchasing the baskets!) but I am hesitant that chaos might ensue! Your insight is appreciated!