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  • Skribentens bildSuzanne Axelsson

How is your Third Teacher teaching?

Over the years I have had the great fortune to visit many setting in many different countries... and this always makes me think of the the Third Teacher and how it interacts with the children and the educators.

The educators of Reggio Emilia view the setting as an integral part of the learning process, a place of interactions with the children, the teachers, and the parents. The third teacher lets the children know about how they can use the room - and sometimes it's not always in accordance with what the human teachers are thinking... this means you have to work with the third teacher so that you are working together to support the children in their play and development.

Part of the course I hold at Stockholm University is getting the trainee teachers to look at museums through the lens of the Third teacher... how is the space working with and against you as an educator, what adaptations do you as a teacher need to make in order for the space to work, since in a museum you do not have the opportunity to change the space. The preschool needs to feel welcoming so that the children and adults feel a part of the preschool community - being beautiful is not enough if the preschool is to belong to the children and the educators working there... it has to meet practical needs of both children and adults, there has to be space for play in all its forms, there has to be space for the educators to create and to store and to be a part of the process and for the adults who drop off and pick up their child/ren - how do parents fit into the arrangement of the preschool, are they also included?

Boulder Journey School - a welcoming little corner, a place to feel safe when you are small, but not cut off - windows onto the corridor to see who is coming and a window into another groups to see what they are up to - and yet the space is still open to their own room to invite interactions with their group.

If children feel they are welcome they will feel safe. Children who feel safe can get on with their play. Children who are playing are learning and discovering. Look round your setting... what parts of your environment are welcoming... for the children, staff, parents? Is there anything that needs to be changed to include ALL the participants in your learning community? Don't forget to get down to the child's height. What feels welcoming to you as an adult can be experienced very differently from the height of a child. So take photos from your height and the child's and make comparisons.

This image from Garden Gate Child Development Center, Martha's Vineyard, shows the adult perspective to the left and the child perspective to the right

What about celebrating each child's uniqueness, each family and educators identity? If we are to make everyone feel welcome then we also need to communicate the importance of acceptance. By including cultural elements in the setting layout we allow opportunities for the children to take pride in their own sense of identity. A sense of identity leads to a greater self-esteem which is essential for learning - not only about themselves and where they are, but about others - the known and unknown, allowing the children to develop understanding, empathy, respect and acceptance.

seeing children's ideas on the wall supports their sense of identity too... inspired by the story "Oh, the place you'll go!" the children of Acorn School shared their ideas with each other.

INTERACTIONS are also important. How is the setting allowing the children to interact with each other? Is it supporting the children to work collaboratively and create a spirit of community? Does it allow the children to feel competent and feel responsibility? Does the setting allow the children to see their ideas being taken seriously? Can others tell what the children are interested in, working on, playing - what their current theories are when walking into the setting? Does it allow children to interact beyond the stereotype... ie are boys and girls playing together, or all children being included, if it is a multi-lingual programme do the children interact across languages?

Setting up provocations - not just to allow the children to interact with new materials, or revisit old materials in a new way - but also to allow children to interact with each other - sharing their experience and learning from each other's processes. BJS

If you are setting up provocations, are you leaving space for the children's ideas? Are there empty tables and areas where there is no educator decided provocation or activity so that the children can make decisions too?

What materials and resources have you chosen to make available to the children? Are they just there on the shelves? or are they chosen and positioned to allow the children to deepen their learning through play... is everything that is made available to the children there to just play with, or is it a reflection of how the children are playing and learning and their interests and is added to in order to EXTEND or CHALLENGE their play... as well as opportunities of provocation.

Are the resources open-ended or do they have a specific goal? How does this affect how the children play and learn? Have you provided a variety of play/learning opportunities for children to experience a projects using their different languages? For instance if you are learning about the forest do you have images of the forest up, stories about the forest, role-play opportunites about the forest, art opportunities, building opportunities etc - as well as going out into the forest - so that all learning styles are given the opportunity to discover the project. Is there a mix of materials for the children to explore - texture, weight, size, colour, smell - even wonder...?

an opportunity to experiment... a variety of materials on a table with paint - the provocation to try and recreate the colour of the objects. This is an extension of the children's interest in colour and paint. This provocation was set up for us teachers attending the conference - so we were given other challenges - to see the mathematics in this activity for example. This comes back to creativity... creativity is not just art... creativity is our approach to the everyday... BJS

Are you allowing the children to experience sensory activities - to use all their body - all their senses? Are you including smell, sound, touch, sight and taste into the design of your setting?

a feast for the eyes... there was also a fan directed at this - so it was in constant movement... provoking thought and understanding. BJS

How is creativity supported in your setting? Is it just in the atelier/art studio? or are you providing materials throughout the setting that will allow the children's creativity to bloom? Have you discussed what is creativity? Understanding what we mean with this word can be a good place to start if we are to try and support children to be creative. Children can be artistically creative, socially creative, play creative, construction creative, story-telling creative, math creative etc etc... how do you meet all these creative needs?

reflection room - a room for teachers to use to sit and reflect alone or in groups - also a room to reflect together with small groups of children. BJS

Of course all of these ideas need to be appealing to the eye... as sight is one of our senses. A sense of aesthetic can awaken wonder. Beauty is in the eye of the beholder... what is beautiful to an adult might not always be beautiful for a child and vice-versa. Having well organised materials at the setting can instil a sense of security... the children knowing where things are, where to return to continue with play. It also allows the educators to introduce new elements within the familiar.

when we are planning our setting it is not enough to just make each area aesthetically pleasing but to create a complete picture... that the small spaces for contruction, role-play, drawing etc also create a whole. BJS

Lighting is also an important aspect to think about, the use of natural light, and how lighting can enhance and change the mood of a setting.

the use of natural light at BJS

playing with light BJS

Also think about light and shadows - the movement and complexity of natural shadows (especially trees) is positively stimulating for the brain. Not only supporting brain development, but is also a great way to support rest and sleep... the brain is properly tired. A post about this will be coming shortly. So do not just have block shade, think complex shade.

And finally - nature... I am a big believer in the soothing properties of nature - indoors and outdoors. Bring elements of nature indoors - for all the senses.

Ekudden Preschool, Uppsala

plants, wooden blocks, the wooden floor all add to the natural effect. There was also plenty of access to othe natural materials too. BJS

room for the teachers... a early years learning centre/preschool is not JUST about the children ... it is also about the adults that surround them... educators need to be continuously learning together WITH the children and for the children and for their own development. BJS

allowing children to experiment with familiar materials in a new way. BJS

creating space for play that is attractive - to adults and children. Displaying images of the children to make their learning through play visible to the children and parents. To allow the children to feel valued for who they are and what they are doing. BJS

Paper Atelier - for children and teachers to visit and to be inspired. To experience materials in new ways BJS

Think about the furniture - are the children allowed to move it to create their play, or must the play be in certain areas? Filosofiska.

Are children allowed to stand on chairs and tables and use the third teacher in innovative ways. Is some furniture not suitable for this, do the children know? How do they know?

The outdoors is a part of the third teacher too... how does your outdoor third teacher work? Is it a space to play bigger and messier than inside?

The ground/floor surface is also an important part of the third teacher... and actually tells the children much more than you would have thought. I have observed over the years how the floor/ground surface impacts the children's play... so mats, taping shapes, using photos, and different surface structures and colours can impact the children's interaction with each other and the space. (BJS)

if you are lucky enough to have a huge space like the above (Överby Preschool) then you might have to start thinking like your indoor space... creating small areas for children to feel safe in, or play in small groups, have different areas for different kinds of play, areas for construction, role-play and areas for sensory play.. like a barefoot path...

creating spaces within spaces can be a technique to help children understand how a space can be used safely - most of the time a big open space is an invitation to run and be loud - so making smaller spaces can ensure that those who are building do not have their constructions demolished by running children... this does not mean that big open spaces should be avoided indoors, if you have the space why not invite them to big play indoors too, with music, dance, BIG boxes to build with etc.

Ceilings can be an underused space... many thinking that everything should be at the height of a child... my theory is that we should be using the entire space (not the same as filling the entire space) to encourage the children to look up, behind, under... to be curious.

Also by having things hanging from the ceiling it makes the room smaller, and makes the child feel bigger. I do have to say that I have had my fair share of bruises on my head from low hanging things from the ceiling... the downside of being tall! I am also aware that not all places are allowed to have things hanging from the ceilings dues to fire risk... and I have learned that we should not be hanging fabric over fluorescent lighting tubes - as they can sometimes spark and the fabric can then catch fire.

So now you have had words and images to trigger some thought processes of your own. Return to your setting and see what interactions are available there and if there is anything you feel you need to add to/change... But I believe that as children grow and develop so the setting has to reflect this... its NEVER a fixed feature... just as the children learn and grow, and we adults learn and grow - so does the third teacher need to learn and grow... But change for the sake of change is not always a good thing either. Change if there is a need, change to inspire if things have come to a standstill, change if things are not working, change if a new project has started... not all changes are big... it can be just a few materials or moving a few pieces of furniture. When the third teacher is familiar then there is also security - when the children are safe there is learning and play - so really reflect on the change - the whys and the why nots before you do.

Also think about your third teacher from a sustainable point of view... do not just buy and get materials - think about whether they are really needed, think about the environmental, social and economic impact of purchases - are they sustainable? How is your third teacher teaching the children?

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