Do you know of any good “third teachers”?

Nichole Leigh-MostyCurriculum

When I first learned I was pregnant I looked around my home and thought to myself, “oops this is no environment to raise a child in!” Of course my first thoughts regarded safety and comfort. You know practical things from changing our den into a nursery, switching out the glass-top living room table and the coarse wool rug, to covering light sockets and putting safety latches on cupboards and cabinets. My second thoughts regarded everything I have learned and worked with in early childhood education regarding how children learn from their environments. In fact we are taught, in early childhood education that the environment should always be considered the “third teacher”, after parents and educators. I was actually pretty excited about employing the tricks I had learned to mindfully transform our home environment into a place where my child could explore and learn.
Our brains are complex organs that are constantly physically changing themselves. Throughout our lives, the brain re-wires itself based on new experiences and different environments. Creating rich environments in the early years, when development is taking place at a rapid pace, is very important. There is a sort of layering effect going on where children are not only learning new things in new environments, but their brains are constantly applying knowledge of past experiences to newer ones. I, for example, am raising bilingual children and from the day they were born I have always placed in their bedrooms and throughout our home, objects which connect to both the English and Icelandic languages, in addition to cultural objects related to their American and Icelandic experiences and interests.
My son when visiting Grandma Vickie in Michigan two summers ago, watched something on the History channel which piqued his interest about U.S. Presidents. You will find in his room today books, puzzles, posters and even a couple of bobble head POTUS replicas. My daughter on the other hand is a creative soul and her room is filled with books about Michel Basquiat, Erró, Matisse and Frida Kahlo. Her walls are covered with prints from artists and self-portraits by her own hand. She has drawers filled with crayons, colored pencils, glue, scissors, paints and she even has a tiny sewing machine where she is always creating new looks for Barbie and her pals.
Let me now bring this line of thought back to what we are doing at ScuttleBugs. As I have mentioned in all of my blogs thus far, we have been working on curriculum revisions. The classroom environment has been a very important component in my thoughts and how I have designed the process for implementing those revisions. Every curriculum domain has goals and objectives for development and learning. In turn every classroom is implementing Learning Centers where children are provided with the opportunity to learn and develop new skills related to those domains. For example a writing corner related to literacy objectives where children can explore working with letters and numbers while practicing skills related to learning to write. A sensory area where our youngest children freely explore different stimulating sensory related toys and objects which support the development of both gross and fine motor skills.

In a Reggio Emilia inspired classroom careful attention is placed on the look and feel of the learning environments within a school. By objectively considering how materials are displayed in addition to ensuring that children have access to those materials, one fosters creative exploration and engagement. Items, objects and resources related to the subjects and objectives we are working with are arranged in enticing, imaginative, inviting, and/or thoughtful ways. The environment will not feel cluttered or institutional, it will feel naturally inspiring. In such an environment children are provided with the opportunity not only to achieve learning and development goals but they also have the opportunity to explore even further on their own subjects we are working with. We aim to provide children with the space and resources to engage subjects and skills as often and from as many angles as possible across the various curriculum domains.

For example, let’s say we’re working with the theme “travel”. You should notice travel related games, puzzles, pictures, books and even hear travel related songs popping up in our classrooms. Our outdoor garden might be transformed into a raceway on a Thursday and on the following Friday into a harbor with cardboard ships sailing merrily to faraway lands. You might see various stories of your travels retold by your children accompanying their artwork hung on our walls because, in a classroom rich learning environment, documentation also has a very important role to play. Through documenting our learning with displays, we create an atmosphere that will foster creative reflection while also demonstrating respect for children’s work and learning.

For this reason alone we choose not to employ the concept of using learning spaces simply as a background for learning, but instead to create responsive environments that generate interactive experiences, which are crucial to early learning. You might just think about that at home when your child shows an interest, for example, in counting. How can you employ your home environment to take on the ever important “third teacher” role?