There is extensive research that examines the effect of the classroom space on students’ learning processes. In Reggio language, the physical environment is referred to as The Third Teacher as it has the capacity to engage the child as if it were a live teacher.
Our spaces feel homey and evoke a sense of calm, filled with natural light, order and beauty. They are filled with novel furniture scaled to children’s size, cozy nooks and crannies, along with spaces that encourage social interaction, problem solving, creative play, storytelling, and the sharing of ideas. These areas, when woven together, provide the necessary backdrop for the child to grow across all areas of his being.
The materials we bring into the classroom are carefully considered for their purpose, and are ever-evolving to encourage children to delve deeper and deeper into their interests. The design is organized and free of distracting clutter so that our children can fully engage their space and maintain its order without adult mediation.
Loris Malaguzzi (the founder of the Reggio Emilia Approach) talks of environments which speak and ones which are silent. Our spaces – the classrooms, the playroom, even the corridors – have a clear voice. They announce to the child: You are active and capable. Come, learn and grow.
Through careful attention to spaces, the environment becomes a teacher in its own right.
Our children spend quality time outdoors nearly every day. This integral part of our program affords the children fresh air, engagement with the seasonal changes in nature, along with the opportunities for large muscle exercise.
THE OUTDOOR CLASSROOM
An extension to the indoor classroom, this outdoor space offers all of the learning centers typical to the indoors: An art center, an exploration workshop, two-tiered sandbox, mud and water center, a reading nook and a science center. Of course, the Outdoor Classroom provides large areas for exercising our large-muscles, with a bike path and fields for running.
Our garden is planned and cared for by the children. Even the youngest children are part of the decision-making as to which vegetables, herbs and flowers to plant; we then reap the benefits through the summer and fall. We collect rainwater to irrigate our plants. A compost station teaches the value of recycling, allowing us to see the cycles of growth and decay.
Zimmer School sits on 7.5 acres, with the Passaic River at its rear property line. We take frequent walks through the woods exploring nature's rugged beauty and her seasonal changes, getting an intimate look at the interactive relationship between animals, insects and plant life, a sensory familiarity of rocks in the earth and the river landscape. A direct relationship with the outdoors allows us to experience the interconnectedness of all living things and develop a sharper perspective regarding the effects that our actions - or inactions - have on our environment.