Step Ahead Teacher with children

The Third Teacher – What does this look like?

“We believe that our environment is the third teacher, inviting active investigation, exploration, creativity, independence, leadership and helping to develop a sense of social awareness and interaction with others.”

At Step Ahead several different philosophies inspire our practice; Reggio Emilia, Steiner, Montessori and Froebel being some. We believe that our children deserve the best, ie respect, challenges, beauty, open ended resources and each day we set the scene as an invitation for our children to feel welcome, explore, be independent, investigate, work and play. We talk of our environment as the “third teacher”, but what does this mean and what does this look like at Step Ahead?

The learning environment of the Reggio Emilia philosophy is referred to as the ‘third teacher’. The Reggio Emilia philosophy believes that children learn readily from their environment, therefore the environment is the ‘third teacher’, with teachers/parents and the child themselves being the first and second teachers.

We believe that our environment should support our children to continue to grow as capable and competent learners, constructors of their own knowledge. We present materials in a way that invites our children to interact with them, fostering curiosity, engagement and innovation. We consciously position the materials in small, well-defined spaces that invite greater engagement, concentration and investigation. Our task as teachers is to invent, arrange, manipulate or create the context and then the children will want to learn (Lubawy, 2009, p.135).

“What children learn does not follow as an automatic result from what is taught. Rather it is in a large part due to the children’s own doing as a consequence of their activities and our resources” (Malaguzzi, 1998, p.67).

At Step Ahead we can see that our environment is acting as the third teacher as our children work in and explore the environment confidently and independently. They are independently able to find, use and return materials that they chose themselves. Both children and their whanau are comfortable in our environment. Our children work collaboratively on shared interests. 

“The greatest sign of success for a teacher … is to be able to say, ‘The children are now working as if I did not exist’” (Maria Montessori)

Laura Stevens
Head Teacher
Step Ahead


Step Ahead (2017). Philosophy.
Lubawy, J. (2009). Visions of creativity in early childhood. Castle Hill: Pademelon Press.
Malaguzzi L. (1998). History ideas and basic philosophy: An interview with Lella Gandini. In Edwards, C., Gandini, L. and Farman, G. (Eds.), The hundred languages of children: The Reggio Emilia approach, advanced reflections. Greenwich: Ablex Publishing.