Clarence International School: Where Art Blends with Learning
Clarence International School | the education magazine

When art touches the human mind, it catalyzes a union of creativity and the normal.

Contemporary education has always been an open ground for experimentation and progressive innovation. Inclusion and implementation of various reformative teaching techniques and learning methods, which of course don’t completely defy the norms of traditional education, have been evident and significant.

Art based learning is one of the aforementioned methods, laden with benefits for students and teachers likewise. It delivers innovative education with enhanced effectiveness in contrast to the traditional norms, improves classroom atmosphere, enriches quality of teaching, escalates interests and motivation, and develops imagination and creativity.

Clarence International School (CIS), Omotesando, Tokyo, is a prominent name amongst a plethoric number of schools which have adopted art based learning. The school was established in 2016 by two founders Ayahi Suda and Fei Fei Hu, both of whom have a background in the arts and international education. Their key inspiration came from the charity work of HRH Prince Charles, whom they were fortunate to know through Fei Fei’s close work with him in assisting with international outreach programmes.

The founders aimed of creating a unique arts based curriculum combined with the key fundamentals of British education and the inspiration from the initiatives of ‘Children and the Arts’ (CATA) and thus CIS was born.

The Learning Ground

At Clarence, students from the ages of 18 months up to 6 years take their first steps in education. The school’s programme focuses on developing and enriching children’s academic experience by using art based activities to develop a freedom of expression and a passion for the classroom. The school curriculum is authored with input and ideas from its teaching and management but also benefits from its very own Clarence Lab – a team of curriculum developers who work to give lessons a completely personalised approach.

CIS is in a very fortunate position of having a truly unique style in how they teach and the creative flexibility to design the lessons around its diverse monthly class themes. The school’s curriculum also benefits from following the British Early Years foundation stage, meaning that it is one of the very few schools in Japan which are able to offer students the opportunity of an arts focused learning experience with the foundation of a British education.

At the Helm of Progress

CIS was evidently the brainchild of Ayahi and Fei Fei, both of whom have a background in the arts and international education. Ayahi originally studied Art in London. She previously spearheaded a highly successful preschool and kindergarten in Tokyo for several years. The success of this establishment could be seen not just in the number of students who attended the school but also in the fact that pupils leaving the school were confident, independent learners, prepared for the challenges of the modern world. Her visionary input led to the development of CIS’s educational system of putting music, art and even poetry at the heart of learning, whereby children are taught through games and play.

Meanwhile, Fei Fei is a renowned British-Chinese entrepreneur, whose love of learning has been fostered by a personal and wide-ranging experience of education, culminating in studying for a degree in Anthropology at Waseda University, Tokyo followed by postgraduate studies at Oxford University. Once Fei Fei moved to London he was able to develop his love of the Arts by working on the Prince’s Charity Foundation as assistant to Prince Charles.

The founders have a deep commitment to the artistic expression of their educational credo and a personal interest as parents in the day-to-day functioning of CIS. Their daily presence and careful scrutiny testifies to a great personal investment in the school’s successful operation.

A Day in School

A day in the life of a pupil at Clarence International School begins at 9 a.m. During the course of the day the students embark on a journey where they are immersed in the activities of the monthly theme, from topics as diverse as ‘The Ocean’, ‘My Body’ and ‘Dinosaurs’.

To give an example of the life of one of CIS’s ‘Little Stars’ (children from 18 months to 3 years): At 9.00 they are welcomed into class. The morning starts with a class circle time where the children enjoy singing nursery rhymes, seasonal songs and take part in a variety of warm up activities. Students then take part in the school’s art based activities, where they are allowed to express their own inventiveness and produce something to take home to parents.

Outdoor play is also a key element of CIS’s curriculum as it believes fresh air is tantamount to good health. Students are encouraged to immerse themselves in nature, and develop an understanding of the beauty of their surroundings.

After lunch break, comes the afternoon activity where children are introduced, in an exciting and stimulating way, to numeracy and vocabulary – exciting and stimulating because these themes are expressed through dance, movement, drama and stories. The day then concludes, with a final goodbye circle time at the end of the day after relaxation, with a story. All of CIS’s students find the school, a nurturing and friendly environment where every member of staff is focused on their well-being and academic and personal development.

Epitomising Distinction

One of Clarence International School’s main areas of exploration is the engagement of every child’s creativity. To that end, the school embraces innovative programmes such as its live music lessons with trained musicians and the introduction of Bee-bot robots. CIS also does not place heavy emphasis on using iPads in the classroom as it believes, contrary to many mainstream schools, that technology can stifle the imagination of children.

“We are innovators in the field of harnessing a child’s natural talent and attributes before we turn to machines: there is plenty of time for that in later life!”

CIS’s main channel of expression is harvesting every child’s imaginative capacity. Thus the school believes it is immaterial what cultural, national or indeed linguistic background the children may be from. To date CIS has a body of students of 32 different nationalities and they all contribute to a harmonious and artistic atmosphere. Parents approach CIS in search of a holistic education and appreciating the wholesome learning environment it provides.

Going the Extra Mile

Clarence International School is aware of the need for those special experiences, and to cater to this need, it offers a full range of trips and activities for its young alumni. These range from trips to zoos and aquariums, to visits to some of Tokyo’s many parks and greenspaces for a synaesthetic exploration of life.

The school’s children are well supervised and all their needs are tended to during these educational voyages. CIS also feels that it’s vital to involve the entire school body including parents at school events and thus it hosts a number of family events throughout the course of the school year including sports day and Christmas and Summer gatherings.

In addition to this, CIS offers other activities and classes for students. The list includes Japanese lessons and extra-curricular English lessons which can be taken by children or by children from other learning environments, and annual holiday school programmes during summer, winter and spring where a full programme of artistic, linguistic and environmental activities are offered.

Assuring Excellence

“Having visited more than 30 international schools, we couldn’t find anything that suited, until we found Clarence. After the first trial lesson, we decided to sign up immediately; our daughter had previously refused to go to her pre-school for months, but here she had fun from the very first day. We’re very fortunate to have found a school which meets all of our expectations. It’s based on a brilliant educational concept, and in a rich school environment, with top-class teachers. My daughter is now attending summer school, and we’re looking forward to her full-time enrolment in September.”

“At her previous pre-school, our daughter took 6 months to stop crying, and a year to smile when saying ‘goodbye’ each morning. She’s a sweet and shy girl, so we thought it would be hard for her to move to a new environment. From the first day, she was smiling, singing and dancing with the teachers; we were surprised and thrilled to see her so delighted and enjoying the class so much. The teachers truly care about the children and clearly enjoy teaching! The classrooms are very well designed – inspiring, even! We look forward to seeing our daughter grow up in this school.”

In conclusion, Clarence International School’s ethos is evident in its belief that art develops the individual. In the words of Edward de Bono: Creativity involves breaking out of established patterns in order to look at things in a different way’.

“We believe we are educating children for the future and flexibility of thought and creativity lie at the very heart of our future.”

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