The oven is pre-heating, the flour mix is being stirred, the cupcake holders are laid out and a team of diminutive chefs, in white hats and flowered smocks, are running amok.
Except this is no ordinary baking session: for the cake mix is made of white clay, the oven is a handmade cardboard creation and the icing is a messy melange of glitter and foam.
Not to forget the chefs — or more precisely, the excited gang of young toddlers who are refining their creative skills in an art workshop at Kspace, an international preschool and children’s play space in Tokyo’s Shirokanedai neighborhood.
The class is one of a dizzying collection of activities on offer at Kspace, which was initially opened in 2001 by its British founder and principal Juliet Rogove as a space for mothers and children to enjoy. Today, the colorful venue buzzes daily with activity: there is a thriving preschool and kindergarten, daily mother-and-child classes, numerous after-school programs, Saturday School, seasonal camps and private tutorials.
Drumming, art, phonics, music, ballet, chess, cooking and sewing are among the eclectic array of extracurricular activities on offer, as taught by a team of 25 teachers to 300-plus children ranging in age from 3 months to 11 years.
Describing the concept following a tour of the bright facilities, Rogove explains: “Our school is a home-from-home for our children. We support families with children at many stages of development, from babies to tweens. Our approach involves nurturing skills for the little explorer, artist, musician and investigative learner in every child. We provide daily educational and emotional guidance, motivation and challenges, resulting in academic excellence.”
Rogove, who spent two years developing the curriculum with child psychologists before opening the space, adds: “We draw together a range of pedagogies including elements of educational philosophies like Reggio Emilia, Steiner Waldorf and Montessori and apply them in practical ways that work well in today’s environment.”
The school — designed in collaboration with Klein Dytham architecture — is located on a quiet leafy lane and spans four floors of classrooms that includes a soft gym bursting with rainbow-colored plush furnishings and children’s artworks, plus a spacious rooftop play space with treetop views.
It’s a warm Friday afternoon when I visit with my 2-year-old daughter to attend one of their 60-minute Fabulous Friday mother-and-child workshops, which have monthly themes such as cooking, music, science and mini-movie making.
It’s all about art when we visit — in the context of an imaginary cake-baking session. The class begins with the children sitting on low chairs as the charismatic teacher, Simon, sings welcome songs and a guitar is strummed in the background.
As is often the case in the Kspace classes, the children are first acquainted with the school mascot — a colorful furry creature from outer space named Kokomo — with each child handed their own small furry puppet version.
At first, my daughter is not at all seduced by Kokomo and hangs back shyly — and it is reassuring to observe how sensitively the teacher handles this, as he continues to include her in the action by name without forcing her to participate.
After the sing-a-long introductions, the cake baking begins, with various paper ingredients — from eggs and flour to butter — mixed in a large bowl to make an imaginary cake mix.
Then, the real fun (and mess) begins: Children are ushered over to a low table, where they put on their flowery aprons and white chef hats, before spreading out soft clay with rolling pins, placing portions into cup-cake holders and sprinkling them with sparkly glitter.
The cake-making extravaganza continues at another nearby table, where each child paints a large cardboard cupcake cutout before covering it with glue and, to my daughter’s now unbridled delight, messily dunk it in trays of fabric confetti.
But the icing on the cake is, quite literally, yet to come: A large handmade cardboard oven is dramatically opened by the teachers to reveal several massive cupcakes that easily eclipse the size of an average toddler.
The children are then given oversized icing squeezers containing what appears to be some kind of foam — and are let loose squeezing it all over the cakes. The end result? A fantastic mess and squeals of delight all round from the children.
Bearing in mind toddlers’ near universal love of all things cake-related (a passion definitively embraced by my daughter), it’s a cleverly themed class. Best of all? My daughter enjoyed it so much that she didn’t seem to notice that there were no actual cakes to eat — it was baking without the dreaded sugar rush.
Kspace: 5-13-39 Shirokanedai, Minato-ku, Tokyo; 03-3446-3478. For more information background, schedules and costs, visit www.kspacetokyo.org. Free trial classes are available for first time visits to Mother & Child or Saturday School programs. Japan Times readers can also enjoy a free trial for any class, including the international school.
IN FIVE EASY PIECES WITH TAKE 5