As we explored throughout the classrooms of Summerhill International School, the sound of laughter emanated from every brightly colored corner. On a summer morning we had the opportunity to participate in a tour of the international school in the heart of Moto Azabu similar to the one offered to prospective parents.
Moving through the three-story facility, we witnessed an engaging learning environment full of warm, flowing colors and objet d’art that awaken the imagination. We saw kids engaging in water play at the school’s outdoor play area. In a second-floor classroom one curly-haired girl, grinning from ear to ear, proudly demonstrated for us her handmade toy, twirling the cardboard cut-out on a string “like a yo-yo.”
As we reached the third floor, we saw evidence of extensive projects completed by the older students. An elaborate art piece made from recycled PET bottles hung from the ceiling. A massive map detailing a city plan devised by the students was tacked to the wall. As a means of empowering independent thought, the teachers facilitated the students with the parameters of the project, allowing the students to determine the direction and ultimate outcome.
The third-floor library was lined wall-to-wall with enough children’s books to make even Hogwarts’ librarian Irma Prince smile. An activity area comes complete with a ballet pole and tumbling mats used for after-school activities.
We followed the sound of laughter to a pastel-colored classroom for the K2 class (ages 2–3) on the first floor where Summerhill School Director Anita Sutton sat at a knee-high table surrounded by puzzles, a green plastic bin labeled “kitchen tools” and a display titled “squishy art.”
“Learning is a journey for both the teacher and the child,” says Sutton, a native Australian who taught refugee children in the UK and helped open an international school in Dubai among other achievements prior to her arrival at Summerhill last year. “Children come to see their friends, and over time these friendships are the foundation for children feeling happy and comfortable in their learning environment. When children are happy, they are engaged and want to learn.”
Summerhill International School is an official International Baccalaureate (IB) World School offering the Primary Years Programme (PYP) for early years. The five fun-filled preschool classes (plus an after-school program) support activities for children from ages 15 months to 6 years old, focusing on the learning concept STEAM – Science, Technology, Engineering, Art and Mathematics.
Younger children in the Sun classes (ages 15 months to 3 years old) tend to be experiencing time away from their parents for the first time, so the results-oriented activities encourage interaction with other children to develop social skills. As a preparation for the PYP Programme of Inquiry, kids are exposed to ways of learning that promote creativity through the process of trial and error, rather than filling out a worksheet.
Using a unique mixture of paint, shaving cream and glue, children make sprinkled ice cream cone artwork, exploring textures and their five senses at the same time. In another exercise children explore problem-solving and creativity by painting using yarn.
In the Sunset class, the 2- to 3-year-olds were asked to make a vehicle that could operate on land, water and air. One boy made a boat out of paper, that immediately sank. As a result, he searched the classroom testing every material, finally building a new boat with a mast made from plastic.
“He was on this learning journey that I didn’t have to dictate,” says Sutton, adding that open-ended exploration allows student to connect learning to real-life experience. “He did it all by himself.”
As we completed our own journey of Summerhill International School, watching kids from a wide range of nationalities and abilities happily engaged in active learning, it was easy to smile about their bright futures ahead.
Summerhill International School
Address: 2-13-8 Moto-Azabu, Minato-ku, Tokyo