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Bubbles, music and paint as babies learn to create

by Danielle Demetriou

For a moment, I wonder if I’ve accidentally strayed onto the set of a children’s TV programme. Center stage are three grown men in matching T-shirts singing at the top of their voices in a Technicolor-bright toy-filled room more dazzling than Joseph’s dreamcoat.

Beneath a sparkly disco ball, one man is strumming a guitar, another is pounding a keyboard and a third is energetically painting a rainbow onto a white wall with a dripping brush.

And in the middle of it all? Not an NHK camera crew — but my frowning 1-year-old Kiko Blossom, who is sitting on the floor in frozen wonder attempting to absorb the sensory overload around her.

This colorful scene recently unfolded on an otherwise gray Monday morning at Tokyo Creators, a new school on a quiet lane between Tokyo’s Shibuya and Daikanyama shopping districts, which is offering an array of creative classes in music, arts and crafts to babies, toddlers and young children.

The school was set up by American cousins Skip Swanson and Isaac Schulz, who have lived in Japan for decades, with the goal of creating a space where young Tokyoites can freely express their creativity.

Arriving at a specially-arranged trial baby class — which turns out to be a private session after another mama friend cancels — the space is kids TV-show perfect.

A colorful circular silk sheet that brings to mind a parachute, has been laid on the floor, with an array of toys neatly filling different segments — from giant Lego and felt monsters to plastic cake slices.

Despite what is clearly baby-toy heaven, Kiko is cautious. Possibly wondering where on earth her mama has taken her now, she hesitates on the fringes, observing rather than touching the pretty arrangements — before they are tidied away for the class to begin.

Class kicks off with the three men — Skip, Isaac and fellow teacher Masa — launching into an enthusiastic “Hello” song, complete with clapping and waving hands, while an unusually stationary Kiko sits quietly on the fringes.

But she slowly starts to warm up as the class continues with introductions to various characters on the walls around her — from a bright “rainbow box” and a yellow smiling sun face to a quirkily hand-painted portrait of Ringo Starr.

Next, it’s time to paint a rainbow. Skip jumps up onto the keyboards and Masa strums his guitar while Isaac reaches for paint brushes to daub arcs of color one by one — all the while singing a rainbow song.

It is hypnotic stuff for babies: from the live music all around to the bright dripping colors that appear as if from nowhere on the large white sheet of paper hanging on the wall.

The hour-long class continues with a similarly colorful array of songs and entertainment, involving among other things, a large furry brown bear, butterfly puppets on fingers and — Kiko’s favorite — a bubble-blowing session.

At this point, the lights dim and the focus of the class switches to the hallowed hand-painted portrait of mustachioed Ringo on the wall, while strains of The Beatles’ “Across the Universe” start to waft across the space.

Everyone is then handed a bubble-blower — and the space is soon filled with industrial quantities of gently floating bubbles with a delighted baby sitting in the center.

There is also a breather in the middle of the class for some free playtime for the potentially over-stimulated babies — a moment when mothers are able to stop to chat and get to know one another, according to Skip.

“All the teachers here are artists and musicians,” he explains. “The idea of this space is somewhere for children to express themselves freely.

“We also want to make a social network between people in the city for parents and their children. We find it works well to have some unstructured playtime during class so parents can interact and get to know each other.”

Kiko is one student who does not need convincing that this is a good idea. Maybe it’s because of the epic toy collection or maybe she too feels as though she’s playing on a children’s TV set — either way, by the end of class, she is not only relaxed and smiling but also new best friends with each of the three men.

Tokyo Creators (104 Royal Palace Shibuya, 15-10 Uguisudani-cho, Shibuya-ku) offers an array of music, arts and craft classes at its Kids Creative School. The classes are split into the age groups: 10 months to 2 years and 3 to 5 years (although there is some flexibility if slightly younger or older). Parents purchase monthly blocks of four one- or two-hour classes, with monthly prices from ¥12,000 for babies and ¥18,000 for 3- to 5-year-olds. They also run a Saturday School for five hours every weekend for 3- to 5-year-olds, for ¥40,000 for a month. For more information, visit www.tokyocreators.com or contact 03-6416-3371.