The early years are crucial in a child’s education. Inspiring a love of learning at this age creates a foundation for a great academic future. One place where curiosity is nurtured in an internationally minded environment is Summerhill International School.
Known for its high-quality learning approaches, Summerhill, which is based in Azabu-juban, teaches children aged 15 months to five years. Stressing the importance of children’s formative years, Anita Sutton, director of Summerhill, spoke about how the school guides children toward a lifetime of learning.
Summerhill focuses on basic skills to prepare students for International Baccalaureate (IB) programmes. Sutton explained: “In our junior infants’ classes, we have a big focus on physical development, which is in line with international research as an area that is lacking in children under the age of three. To be able to read and write for extended periods of time, children need time to develop their fine motor and gross motor skills, and to be a part of environments that encourage their curiosity”.
Summerhill children and their parents can expect the same type of challenging approaches to learning that would be offered in other countries. As Sutton said: “We do not make up a pretend curriculum. We understand developmentally appropriate practices in the early years and ensure that our children have the best start to meaningful development in their early years—the most formative years of their life”. At the school, children aged 15 months to three years do not receive an official IB accreditation. However, the learning methods are inspired by IB techniques, which are practiced around the world and encourage a collaborative approach. “The teachers are not teachers—they are seen as facilitators in the children’s learning,” Sutton explained.
Children have a natural disposition towards science, which they express through their sense of curiosity and creativity. Summerhill has incorporated science, technology, engineering, arts and mathematics (STEAM) approaches into all of their classes. As Sutton pointed out: “STEAM is just as relevant in the junior infant classes as it is in the older classes. Following natural research, it makes sense to implement these concepts in the younger years. STEAM, however, is not delivered in set-out ‘lessons’. Our approach to learning and exploration of STEAM concepts is through play, throughout the day.
“Mixing colours is a scientific approach to experimentation, because children are watching and trying to process what is happening. They don’t have to know what the names of the colours are, they just know that something happens when you mix two chemicals together. It is science—we just do it in a childlike way that is safe and that they’re able to understand”.
Sutton strongly believes in the importance of looking at young children’s education with a long view in mind: “Childhood is not a race. It is a small window to explore the world in wonder, at your own pace”. Summerhill, which encourages children to “learn how to learn” and grow into globally minded individuals, is a school that takes this spirit to heart with every student.