Founders’ message

We are a new school but we are dedicated to making it the best school for preschool children. To do that, we have drawn on our international teaching experience in three countries and extensive knowledge of early years education best practice globally, to create an innovative style ideally suited to the needs of both children and parents.

Our five teachers care for all eighteen students at the same time. This collaborative approach is at the heart of all we do because, in any field, through discussion, team-building, reflection, and ongoing training, great things happen. 

We aim to plant a seed of confidence and happiness that will help develop our students into confident, independent, and compassionate children who care about others. With students of varying ages interacting together, we encourage them to grow in a natural way, learning social skills from each other as one would in a large, extended family. 

We see beauty in the Japanese education system and have incorporated its best elements into our school. We instill our students with a sense of responsibility for themselves and others, a respect for their environment, and an appreciation of beauty. 

We founded Tokyo Children’s Garden to offer the best preschool education. We believe that every child has amazing potential and should have access to a great education; our dream is that our approach can bring about change in the wider education system.

In the critical early years period, children’s education does not stop or even slow down once children leave the classroom. That’s the reason we equip our students with the skills to learn for themselves as they step out into the world.

-Hisao Ihara and Ann Nishigaya, co-founders


 

Mission & Ethos

Our mission is to empower children to fulfill their unique potential. We want them to see, feel, and appreciate the beauty around them, and be inspired to make a difference in the world.  

Empowering

Instilling a love of learning from an early age enables children to learn the skills they need to find passion, happiness, determination, and fulfillment throughout their lives. 

Through child-centered education, we give them confidence to explore and express their creativity, while giving them time to reflect on their learning, thereby developing them into lifelong learners. By encouraging independence and ensuring that they know they are trusted to make their own decisions, children develop critical-thinking and problem-solving skills. As we do not know what our world will be like in the next 20 years, we equip children with the skills they need to drive innovation.

      Nurturing

      When children feel safe, they can investigate things in a way that develops their determination. We believe that trial and error is an important part of a child’s development as it nurtures their willingness to persevere even in frustrating or difficult situations. Tokyo Children’s Garden provides a warm, safe environment where children can try and try again until they are happy with the outcome.

      Global

      We want our students to grow into compassionate and open-minded global citizens. Our diverse student body come from a variety of backgrounds and we encourage the sharing of cultures, languages, and opinions. We provide an opportunity for children to develop both Japanese and English language skills in a natural, bilingual environment.


       

      Team

      Hisao Ihara, co-founder and director

      As director of the Association of International Early Childhood Education, which provides workshops and seminars on early childhood education, and the Japanese representative of the World Forum Foundation, which promotes global exchange about services for young children, Hisao is passionate about preschool education. 

      He was born and raised in Japan but has spent more than 20 years in the United States. After earning a Master of Fine Arts degree in Digital Art from New York State University, he became a professional digital artist, specializing in video installations. He has showed his artwork and given lectures across the US.

      On returning to Japan with his wife in 2013, 46-year-old Hisao pursued his passion for early childhood education and served as principal of a preschool in Hokkaido. 

      Hisao’s passion for education came partly from his family; his mother is an early years educator who raised six children single-handedly. But he was equally inspired by the values of creativity, confidence, and originality he imbibed in the United States. He believes in taking the best from Japanese education—good manners, self-reliance, and teamwork—and combining it with a nurturing, child-centred approach that celebrates each child’s individuality. 


      Ann Nishigaya, co-founder and principal

      Ann has more than 20 years of experience working with children. Born and raised in the United States, she holds a BA from the University of Washington and a MA in Early Childhood Education from the University of Sheffield in the UK.  

      Ann spent nine years teaching in early years education in London before moving to Tokyo in 2006 where she was a lead teacher and education director at Willowbrook International School in Tokyo for nine years. 

      With experience in inquiry-based learning in three countries as well as grounding in the International Baccalaureate program, Ann co-founded Tokyo Children’s Garden so that each child could be introduced to learning in a way that specifically caters to his or her needs and interests. At the preschool, children learn together in a family atmosphere that encourages mentoring, bonding, and social skills.  

      Ann believes that changes in the world start in the classroom—and that this is equally true for teachers. She is passionate about professional development and runs teacher training workshops nationwide. 

      Ann is also a long-standing board director at the Tokyo Association of International Preschools, an organization dedicated to the professional development and promotion of international schools in Japan. 


      Vickie Robbins, teacher

      Born and raised in the UK, Vickie has always embodied a strong passion for early childhood education. 

      After gaining a Cache Level 3 diploma in Childcare and Education and a BA (hons) in Early Years Education from the University of Essex in the UK, Vickie worked with children aged 0–8 years in British preschool and elementary school settings for five years. 

      She moved to Japan in 2015, aspiring to further pursue her passion while gaining experience teaching abroad. Since her arrival she has taught English at elementary and junior high school level before joining Tokyo Children’s Garden.

      Vickie believes that children learn best in a child-centered educational environment, with teachers providing activities and resources that build upon, and extend, their existing interests, knowledge, and ability. She sees the value in long-term projects, such as those carried out in Reggio Emilia-inspired schools, because children are given a lot of time to revisit ideas and build upon existing knowledge, over an extended period of time. She believes that, by having a scaffolding approach to education, teachers can observe the children and consider next steps, as well as what activities, resources, or support can be provided to help the children reach them.

      Vickie’s hobbies are photography, art, music, and walking.


      Katie Kostell, teacher

      Growing up in the United States, Katie loved singing, dancing, and acting with her three sisters. She did Irish dancing competitively for eight years and fell in love with musical theater in high school. She graduated from Wheelock College in Massachusetts with a double major in Special Education and a license to teach the levels of preschool to eighth grade, as well as history. 

      Her teaching experiences began in college while working as a corps member in Jumpstart, an AmeriCorps program designed to give individual attention to children from disadvantaged communities in order to prepare them for kindergarten. Later, she worked in a first grade inclusion classroom and a language resource room for students with disabilities in grades third, fourth, and fifth. 

      Deeply influenced by the work of education philosopher Paulo Freire, Katie believes that all students should have the power in their classroom to create their own learning experiences with the guidance and support of teachers. She hopes to help provide that environment at Tokyo Children’s Garden.


      Sue Quach, teacher

      Born and raised in Melbourne, Australia, Sue was surrounded by sport from an early age. On the weekend, the television showed nothing but sport, whether it was Australian football, tennis, soccer, or basketball. The viewing helped her Vietnamese-born parents learn English and it filled Sue with a love of sport. 

      In her late twenties, she was inspired to change careers by her younger sister, who would regale her of the fun she was having with her teachers. She studied early childhood education at Queensland University of Technology, driven by a desire to bring joy to young children.

      She first moved to Tokyo with her husband and dog in March 2013 and returned in 2015 after a short spell in Australia left them homesick for Japan. 

      Sue taught kindergarten and lower elementary levels in Australia and preschool level at an international school in Tokyo before joining Tokyo Children’s Garden. Being able to help children discover new and exciting experiences continues to be Sue’s source of inspiration and motivation. 


      Felicity new.jpg

      Felicity Crawford, advisor

      An associate professor of Special Education in the Integrated Elementary and Special Education Department at Wheelock College, Boston, Felicity has taught in a variety of international classroom settings, from preschool to university level.

      Her research interests include teacher ideology, the social context of urban special education, and examining the experiences of students from diverse racial, cultural, and linguistic backgrounds in urban special education classrooms. Her most recent study focuses on the academic experiences of adults with dyslexia who are enrolled in higher education institutions in the Eastern Caribbean.


      Makiko Hamase, advisor
      As corporate director and head of global human resources at LIXIL Corporation, Makiko leads approximately 130 HR staff in an organization of 80,000. Previously she worked for Sony Corporation both in Japan and New York as a general manager and director of human resources for more than 15 years. While covering Sony’s overall human resources and organizational development in areas such as HR strategy, talent management, executive development, and diversity management both domestically and globally, one of her core roles was to establish Sony University in 2000, to help develop tomorrow’s leaders. 

      Makiko is an experienced and appointed board member of National University; an auditor of business schools for the Japan University Accreditation Association; and a member of various committees at the Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry and Ministry of Education, Culture, Sports, Science and Technology. Her aim is to help develop future global leaders, enhance diversity and the acceptance of global people in Japan, and make robust the HR management mechanism. She gives lectures and seminars at universities, companies, and public bodies including prefectural governments.


      Junko Cancemi, advisor

      Born in Tokyo and educated in Japan, Australia, and Indonesia. Junko has more than 30 years of experience as a teacher and leader in international schools in Japan. She holds a BA from Japan’s Sophia University, a MA in Education from Michigan State University in the United States, and a Doctorate in Education from the University of Bath in the UK. She is fluent in Japanese and English.

      On several occasions she has visited Reggio Emilia in Italy, the city from where the child-centered educational philosophy takes its name, and continues to deepen her understanding of the philosophy, which prioritizes active engagement with students.

      She is a regular speaker at global Reggio Emilia conferences and workshops, and was early learning center director at a leading international school in Yokohama for seventeen years. 

      Her research interests are in early years learning through collaboration and interaction with peers, teachers, and parents. She advises Tokyo Children’s Garden on implementing pedagogical policies to maximize children’s creative potential. 


      mary Nobuoka 1.jpg

      Mary Nobuoka, advisor

      Since coming to Japan in 1994, Mary has taught English at every proficiency level, and from age two to eighty-two. She was editor of the children’s resource column for the Bilingualism Japan newsletter. Between 2011 and 2015, she was an executive board member of the Japan Association of Language Teachers and served as coordinator of its Bilingualism Special Interest Group. She also coordinated English language playgroups.  

      Mary currently teaches various courses at Gakushuin University, Waseda University, and Keio University. In addition, she teaches literacy skills to bilingual elementary and junior high school students. She also holds a teacher’s license from the Sogetsu School of Ikebana and sometimes offers Ikebana courses in English.

      In her free time she enjoys gardening and cooking for her husband and 14-year-old bilingual son. She has two cats. She serves as a volunteer at Kohoku-ku Public Library, reading children's books in English. 

      Mary’s most recent research focused on student perspectives of teachers using presentation software in the classroom. 

       
      20106960_10155678781344575_380660746_o.jpg
       

      Marianne Valentine, advisor

      Originally from Scotland, Marianne trained first as a classical dancer. An interest into children's creativity then led Marianne to become an early years and elementary teacher. After working in Edinburgh for some years in Edinburgh private schools Marianne moved to Reggio Emilia in Italy, where she has been living with her family for over twenty years. The educational experience of this small Italian town captured Marianne and completely changed her thinking on children, their potential, how we see them and how they learn. Marianne has been collaborating within the school system of Reggio Emilia from pre school to elementary as a parent, an educator and a researcher in different ways throughout this time. Four years ago Marianne moved into the International school system where she now works as 'pedagogista' for the International School of Europe group of IB schools. Marianne now also consults internationally on co-constructivist learning within the international and intercultural school system.