Opening in April 2016, Sunnyside International Kindergarten plans to offer a program that puts children’s natural learning potential in the spotlight.
Although you wouldn’t think of a kindergarten program as a place where revolutions in education might be born, Sunnyside International Kindergarten, which will be opening in April of 2016, has grown out of a desire to reform Japanese education from the ground up.
It has been many years in the making. Sunnyside is the latest project spearheaded by Jun Saito, a former member of Japan’s House of Representatives and a former professor at Yale University. Growing up in a small town in Yamagata Prefecture, Saito found that his opportunities for learning English were severely limited. He taught himself comprehension and pronunciation by listening to shortwave radio broadcasts, watching movies, and translating for visiting foreign students. As he told the Asahi Shimbun, he launched J Prep, an after-school facility in Jiyugaoka, in order to help Japanese students prepare to engage with the world beyond their borders—without the need for a long and circuitous path of self-education.
He launched his first program in 2012—initially a cram school for high schoolers who were hoping to study overseas—but it was clear that programs for early English education were needed, both for students attending Japanese elementary schools and those going to international schools. So far, these J Prep and J Prep Kids programs have proved a hit, growing quickly in the past three years.
Sunnyside School Director Trevor Root had a similar experience with the limited nature of English language education in Japan, but on the teaching side. Root, who has more than a decade’s worth of teaching experience in early education, was first struck by this while giving a lesson to elementary school children in Ginza: “Even for a class of second and third graders, there was a lot of sitting and listening instead of active learning. I was really amazed by the differences in the educational systems in the U.S. and systems in Japan, and I held on to that feeling for some time. I had the conviction that there has to be a better way to introduce children to language learning.” Root adds, “Quite simply, children don’t fit into a mold of ‘one size fits all’ as far as education goes, and when given the opportunity, children are truly capable of great things.”
It is with this idea in mind that Sunnyside is being developed. The school’s curriculum combines several concepts from some of the most respected teaching methods in early education: The International Baccalaurate’s Early Years Programme, Montessori, and Reggio Emilia. Multi-modal lessons, making use of music and movement, science, and the arts, all provide rich opportunities for inquiry-based learning, making for an approach that allows young learners to develop a healthy curiosity and a love of learning.
Of course, given that the school has its origins in providing students with a strong foundation in English, one of the most important elements in the upcoming curriculum is a strong literacy program. It’s designed to help young students cultivate reading and writing skills that will remain a valuable asset throughout their education.
And although the J Prep program was initially developed for Japanese students, Sunnyside hopes to have a 50–50 balance between Japanese and native English students. Root adds that—thanks to a team of highly trained, dedicated instructors and a 4:1 student-teacher ratio—Sunnyside offers English-speaking kids “a program that is equal to, or above, what they would receive at a kindergarten in the States.”
Doors will be opening next April, but information sessions are already being offered. Root sums up the mood for the new endeavor: “We have our sights set on quality education. I believe our strong focus on instilling independence and creativity in young learners is unique among schools here in Japan.”
Sunnyside International Kindergarten
A new international kindergarten program opening in Jiyugaoka
Opening in April 2016, accepting Pre-K and K–1 students (ages 2–3 and 3–4)
Sunnyside will be holding information sessions from 10:30 am to 12:00 pm on 11/14, as well as a Halloween parade from 10:30 am to 11:30 am on 10/31. Apply via email to [email protected]. For more information about Sunnyside International Kindergarten, visit http://sunnyside.jprep.jp/