Summer Intentions – Environment as Third Teacher through Photography

This summer at Preschool of the Arts, each classroom has chosen one of five Reggio Emilia principles as their summer intention.

The Rainbow Room is going to explore the environment as the third teacher. How do different environments affect the children’s level of calmness, ability to focus, and how may it help them address their rights as part of the community. We will explore this fundamental principle of the Reggio Emilia approach both outside and inside the classroom.

Through conscious use of space, color, natural light, displays of children’s work, and attention to nature and detail, the environment serves as another teacher. The environment is an invitation to enter and participate. The set-up of a school is like that of an excellent, experiential museum for children. Commitment and creativity of teachers and parents are reflected in the attention to detail and design. Intrigue and curiosity result from careful placement of materials and products. Color, light, mirrors, shadows, recyclable materials and natural artifacts including plants are used to enhance the environment and provoke discovery opportunities. In addition to the layout of the physical space, creating a welcoming and supportive environment for whoever enters the schools sets the stage for positive and thoughtful encounters, communication and relationships. As suggested by Reggio teachers and other researchers, “children learn more effectively” when they are able to use a wide variety of materials in a wide range of activities and in cooperation with adults who help them ask good questions.

With this Reggio principle in mind, we are wondering how the city looks through the eyes of our children. What the children notice? How they observe the city, their friends, and their teachers? We let the children use cameras as the language of photography provides an opportunity for the Rainbow Room children to look closely at those elements in their surroundings which seem to most resonate with them as individuals. Their perspectives and ideas and interests are observable through their photographs, and we as teachers, are able to gain a deeper understanding of what is most important to them.walking trip to Garner park 062IMG_9163Kira Monona 6 (18)

It is interesting what the children choose to focus on when photographing their environment; some children are attracted to capturing their friends- both, their movements and through portraiture.

“I like to take pictures when people say ‘CHEESE’!”Seylah Monona 6 (5)

When the children were asked the question “How do you know what to take a picture of?” their answers were as poetic and individual as the photographs themselves.

“Sometimes, it’s something I like to do … like, go on the slide. Sometimes, something seems like it should want a picture taken of it.”

“It’s like when you take a picture, you take something with you when you leave.”

Other children seem to use the camera as a way to document their experience by way of visual narrative. One student, for example, chose to photograph his way as he moved through the park’s playground and play-structure. Still, other children captured the images of things they found funny or interesting or beautiful.

Seylah Garner Park 6 (64)
A child’s perspective of the park.


Mary Garner 6 (2)
A close up of an insect on a friends arm, taken by a student.

One student looked for colors and shapes. Most of his photos were taken from a distance.

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Distant photos of colorful objects.

Another student was very detail oriented. He took a close look at objects. He started with a close up approach to the object and then took a few steps back.olaf 2olaf

Children pick up on those things that go unnoticed by adults- they are not confined to the same supposed ideas or restrictions about what would make a “good photograph”. The results are often something that is more creative and free.Laila Garner Park 6 (9)

One students photographs convey a sense of expansiveness. She had many pictures of the mown lines of grass, different kinds of leaves, and the sky.

One child’s expansive photos.

The perspective of most of another student’s photos were her looking up or looking down. She took pictures of different kinds of floors and shoes.

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One child photographs mainly feet.

One student has a very clear vision, “I love taking pictures of what my friends are doing.”

One child’s photos follow the activities of his friends.

In thinking about these children and their photographs, their teachers are left to wonder about what might be seen in their process and photography in the different environments they inhabit, and how could this budding interest of theirs be supported. More to come!

Reflection by Kelly Blondin (Art Specialist) and Nati Israeli and Sierdje den Daas (Rainbow Room Co-Teachers)

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