The Role of the Environment 

- “the Third Teacher”


There are three teachers of children: adults, other children, and their physical environment. – Loris Malaguzzi


… the environment should act as a kind of aquarium which reflects the ideas, ethics, attitudes and cultures of the people who live in it. This is what we are working toward.  – Loris Malaguzzi


The learning environment, the physical setting where children learn and grow, has a tremendous capacity to influence and inspire children and adults. The space is a reflection of our core values. It reflects our identity and our purpose. It guides the encounters and engagement we have with people, objects, and ideas. It facilitates the creation of communication and positive relationships.


Our safe and spacious ever-evolving learning environment is cared for by the children and adults, and emulates a children’s museum. It is filled with natural light, plants, live animals, order and beauty. There are many photographs and exhibits of children’s project work accompanied by transcriptions of their descriptions - all interspersed with arrays of found objects and classroom materials. In each case, the environment informs and engages the viewer.


Throughout the space we utilize a variety of textures, authentic materials, books, plants, tools and equipment to encourage collaboration, communication, exploration, and investigation. There is ample space for supplies, frequently rearranged to draw attention to their aesthetic features.


Throughout the space we have designed opportunities for children to interact - social spaces to sit and chat appear in every room. Mirrors throughout the space capture the attention of both children and adults. We include special talking tubes, passageways and “fish eye” windows so children can communicate with, travel into, and peer into neighboring rooms – even the kitchen. Meals and snacks are served family style, so eating spaces encourage community-building.


Since we have limited this large 4000 square foot preschool to only 40 children, there is ample space for kids to learn with others without being stressed out by crowding and competition for resources.


The entire building surrounds a center exterior “Piazza” – an outdoor place with a proud and tall Ponderosa Pine tree, and a shaded patio where children can paint, play with water, engage in sensory exploration, and make a beautiful mess.


An entire room is designed to serve as a workshop, maker space, and art studio - our “atelier.”  We call it the Makery.  It is filled with materials such as clay, paint, wood, writing implements, fabrics, textures, and novelty items that can be repurposed as artistic elements. There are materials from nature so we can bring science and art together. Children use these materials to represent concepts that they are learning in a hands-on way.


An entire room is designed to serve as the Imagination Station – a place for dramatic play, fine-motor development, fantasy, creation, and imagination. This room features an actual stage and puppet theatre where children engage in their own storytelling. There are costumes and props that children use to expand their imaginations and inspire their ideas. There are ever-changing items for building and creating things like railroads, roller coasters, castles, and endless inventions.


An entire room is designed as an “Interior Piazza” or playground. The space is designed for exercise, burning calories, and developing of large motor skills. There are large foam building blocks and large foam pads and geometric shapes where kids can create things to climb on. There are safe climbing rocks on one wall. There is a dance space where kids can move and play with the rhythm of energizing music.


An entire room is designed to serve as the Exploratorium – a place to play with numbers, science, nature, and music. We bring the outside inside by including live animals and plants, and artifacts, pictures, books and materials for exploring science and nature. There are quiet spaces where kids can relax with a book or listen to music. There are spaces and materials for children to explore the art of science and the science of art. This room features a two-story loft where kids can see the environment and the neighboring classroom from different perspectives.


The learning environment is indeed the Third Teacher. It is an active space that actively participates in the educative process. It is a vehicle for children to build their understanding of the world. Like our other teachers, the adults and other children, the space will change and develop over time. We continually look at our space with fresh eyes and a questioning viewpoint.  Although our current environmental design is an example of best practices that exist today, our future design must evolve to redefine the environmental best practices of tomorrow!