The Journal The Authority on Global Business in Japan

For any parent, choosing a school for their child is a big decision. But when it concerns the very start of their education, it is even more so—and any preschool will need to tick a number of boxes.

“It’s probably one of the most important levels in education, because everything starts here—absolutely every­thing,” said Kathryne Imabayashi, director of Summerhill International School in leafy Moto-Azabu. “If you have a strong, solid foundation, when you have a small child that understands at a very early age their own power in steering their education, then that’s something they’ll have their whole life. If they have this positive attitude of success and joy at learning, they’ll carry that with them.”

But to do that, a preschool must have the right philosophy and a curriculum built around it. “Children here are treated with a sense of respect, with an understanding that they are very capable and competent at each developmental level.”

For many parents and teachers, there is an under­standable focus on preparing children for the next stage in their edu­cation. But Imabayashi firmly believes that is best achieved by concentrating on where the child is at the moment.

In part, that is about creating an environment where they can act on their natural curiosity and we can target these interests. And, with that, the child will develop their skills and knowl­edge while also building their creativity, self-esteem, and understanding of the importance of asking questions—not just seeking answers.

“If the focus is on valuing each of the developmental levels that a child is going through, they will always be prepared for whatever comes next, but they will also be fully in the current moment,” she said.

The importance of setting the right environment applies on a physical level, too. Walking around Summerhill, it is hard not to be struck by the large, bright classrooms.

“The environment is a crucial part of edu­cation,” said Imabayashi. “It influences learning—some educational philosophies refer to it as the third teacher. Our rooms are set up so that children have some individual choice and power over what their learning is going to look like.”

Summerhill’s environment is aesthetically beautiful, she added, pointing to little things around the school that just create a sense of awe.

Summerhill is also looking ahead in other ways, and this year has seen the creation of two new areas at the school. The first of these is a light room, which creates a “magical” environ­ment where children can explore lights and shadows—as well as reflections and prisms—enabling learners to ex­pand their thinking.

The second is in the school’s outdoor play space—usually used by one- and two-year-olds—where a wall has been divided into three sections based on themes of sound, movement and writing, and painting. These encourage exploration and experimentation.

As part of the Business Breakthrough Inc. (BBT) group, Summerhill plans to use the company’s strengths to improve its offering further, for example by collaborating with BBT’s other educational institutions when it comes to teacher training.

Parents touring the school often remark on its warmth and friendly atmosphere, and for Imabayashi this community spirit is one of Summerhill’s distinguishing features. Many families at the school live in the neighborhood, adding to this sense of cohesion.

“For teachers, it’s not just a job. For parents, it’s not just a place to send their children,” said Imabayashi. “It’s somewhere that we’re all working together to make the very best experience for the children, and there is a great deal of love.”