Running Free: Child’s Play for Better Learning

Published on October 17, 2017

Takaharu Tezuka — Fuji Kindergarten

Architect Takaharu Tezuka’s iconoclastic Fuji Kindergarten in Tokyo does not just break down walls, it does away with them, allowing children to leave the classroom if they wish and return when they wish. In this school, there are no teachers shouting “Quiet!” Noise is not only tolerated but encouraged, since children feel more comfortable in a noisy environment. To top it all off, the flat, oval-shaped roof offers the kids a playground like no other — with no equipment — where they can run free and climb up and down on the three trees growing through the roof.  

When the gate is opened in the morning, they start running around the rooftop like sheep.

Inclusive Design 

Built in 2007, the Montessori preschool has won numerous awards, including one from the Royal Architectural Institute of Canada, given to a project that is “transformative within its societal context and promotes the values of social justice, equality, and inclusiveness.” 

The freedom offered by the seemingly simple structure encourages physical activity, since children spontaneously want to race around the track formed by the rooftop, even those who won’t usually run. “The children don’t have to be told what do,” said Tezuka. “When the gate is opened in the morning, they start running around the rooftop like sheep.” On average, each child runs 4,000 meters when in the building, making them more physically fit than most kindergartners. 

Comfort for Autistic Children 

Another fascinating aspect of the school is that autistic children do not exhibit their usual symptoms when they are in the school, presumably because they feel more comfortable in this wall-free environment where noise is accepted and ceilings are scaled for children and lower than the Japanese standard of three meters.  

A separate play structure, five meters high with seven levels, is a circular staircase that might make some parents blanch with fear for their little ones. “These days, kids need a small dose of danger,” said Tezuka. “They learn from it. If they don’t get small injuries when they are young, they will get serious ones when they grow up.”