Designing Our Learning Environment in PYP 5

The first day of school. Electric.

Envision a classroom. The furniture is a pile in the middle of the room. The walls are bare.

What will you create?

PYP 5 students began the first day of school with a provocation for inquiry: “We all know what we want school to be.”

We began with the concrete: Our physical learning environment. The center of the classroom was a mountain of rectangles. Books piled randomly. Desks haphazard, asking to be moved. The fifth graders took to their task with ease and vigor, talking and laughing, trying out bean bags, finding the ideal desk to sit and stare at the still-large pile, standing again to engage with friends. First day jitters found calm in action and mutual purpose, working to find agreement in a look.

“There are three teachers of children: adults, other children, and the physical environment.” -Loris Malaguzzi

Loris Malaguzzi is the developer of the Reggio Emilia approach, “the child-centered early educational philosophy that hinges on the belief that children are powerful and capable individuals, with the ability and desire to construct their own knowledge” (“Who Is Loris Malaguzzi?”).

PYP 5 learners are inquiring into the 79 design principles found in The Third Teacher, a book “intended to ignite a blaze of discussion and initiative about environment as an essential element of learning” (“The Third Teacher”). Through the principles, the young learners are finding new ways to mold their learning environment to best learn and discovering their power in doing just that.

Talking about a book on the floor is fun, and skill-conferencing is enhanced in a comfortable space chosen by the learner. We meet learners where learners learn.

Our conversation about our third teacher – our learning environment – is far from over. Students have organized into seven groups: safety, technology, corridor, displays, furniture, comfort, and stationary. Near-term plans include procuring options for adaptive seating, including carpet squares for the floor, continuing to provoke inquiry into how we best learn individually. Long-term plans include the moon and beyond.

As we redesign at school, parents and children can redesign at home. PYP 5 students read 60 minutes at home each day, and a friendly reading environment is essential. Here are a few ideas:

  • Family Reading Hour: Choose one consistent hour of time each night when the family drops everything to read. Devices turn off and… Magic.
  • Personalize a space: Empower young learners to choose a space, lighting, and furniture to create a reading space all their own. Comfort is in the details.
  • Take-out: Discover fun and friendly places outside the home to read. Bookshops, libraries, coffee shops, and parks offer many choices.
  • What’s in your hand?: Surround the family with everything literary: books, art, and book-movies. Building a dynamic, ever-changing home library of 50-100 “just right” books for each family member is a powerful goal. Because what is in your hand is what is on your mind.

What do we know? We know we enjoy our large windows, the bountiful sunlight, and the field views to dream dreams of games. We know a move to the outdoor learning area to discuss and debate is a good move. And we know we are not done yet.

Works Cited

“The Third Teacher.” The Third Teacher,

“Who Is Loris Malaguzzi?” The Compass School, 12 Dec. 2017,