The third teacher

In Reggio Emilia, the environment is recognised for its potential to inspire children, where every material is considered for its purpose and every corner evolves to encourage children to delve deeper into their interests, constructing their own learning. For this reason, the environment is regarded as being the “third teacher”. The first teacher is the parent and the second teacher is the child’s educator. However, a teacher’s role is never one of superiority or dominance, they listen and guide. It is the child’s own curiosity which drives them to learn through social collaboration and communication. It is a continual process where rather than the child asking a question and the adult offering the answers, the search is undertaken together.

The Statesman Edmund Burke once said “the first and simplest emotion which we discover in the human mind is curiosity”.

We regularly remark about the curious nature of children, they have no concept of ownership, everything within their reach is theirs to explore, to touch and to pick up. As soon as they are able, children begin to add questions to the way they build an understanding of the world around them: “What is that? Who is that? What is that sound? What is that smell? What is that for?” A child’s interest in their environment is limitless and natural and without this driving curiosity, children would not thrive or learn.

Each child’s approach to exploring the world is different.

  • Independent exploration – a child tests their own theories
  • Exploring in collaboration with their friends – a group endeavour to test the possibilities of open ended resources
  • Supported by a prop or tool – which might provide a child with confidence to push boundaries

Children also explore in a physical way, often literally immersing themselves in their environment by trying to get into the smallest of spaces and seemingly needing to explore a material or space incredibly closely.

Each child will choose their own path towards making sense of the world around them however we need to support this curiosity and encourage every child to have belief in themselves, to be aware of their potential and to develop the confidence to take that leap of faith in the next step of their learning.


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