Summer vacation is when children spend more time at home. Benesse has held the ‘Summer Challenge for All Elementary School Students: “Making the Future” Contest’ annually since 2004, as a way to give children more opportunities to develop independent thinking and problem-solving skills. As the COVID-19 pandemic continues to affect our way of life, more time is spent in the home, and opportunities for hands-on learning experiences in the outside world are limited. In this climate, what is the reason behind continuing to hold this contest? As the contest approaches its nineteenth year, we spoke to the team organizing the contest, to find out why it continues to be held, and the guiding principle behind it.

A contest that uses the summer vacation as an opportunity to for learn outside of school and in the home

‘Summer Challenge for All Elementary School Students: “Making the Future” Contest’ has four entry categories: Essay, Independent Research, Poster, and Environment. The winning entries are selected from works that demonstrate a unique awareness or idea from a child’s perspective. Every year, entries are submitted from all over the world, with over 28,000 entries accepted last year.
The contest is organized by the project team which includes Mr. Hiroyuki Kurose, Ms. Chiaki Nagata and Mr. Yoichi Kubokawa - normally involved in editing educational materials for Shinkenzemi elementary school courses.
As the contest nears twenty years since its initial launch, we spoke to the team to find out more about the aims of the contest, and hear the response of families who had participated.

“In Japan, independent research projects have been a summer homework tradition for decades. However, with the contest, the independent research section wants children to go beyond a simple homework assignment. By placing it in the home, a familiar environment, the aim is to encourage and challenge children to think deeply about everyday problems, and develop their own independent perspectives and ideas.” (Kurose)

“Every year, we ask participating families to fill in a customer survey. We received comments such as, “Even though we had never talked about the theme at home, our child had a clear idea about how to approach the topic, and design a poster as an elementary student. We were really impressed.”, “Our child decided on their own to take part. Watching them at their desk working so hard on the project made me realize how much they had grown. It was a proud moment for me as a parent.” Seeing their child work hard at a project is a way for parents to discover a new side of their children, and to notice how they are growing as individuals.” (Kubokawa)

An opportunity for children and parents to think, learn and grow together in the comfort of their home

What opportunities are there for learning and hands-on experiences during the pandemic? Looking through the eyes of a child. Finding research topics in everyday life.

Although the contest has been running for nearly two decades, the category themes have remained the same. And yet, there appears to have been a change in the entries that have been submitted in recent years.

“Partly due to the effects of the pandemic, we have seen an increase in the number of entries which investigate issues or topics inside the home, as opposed to those on the outside world. The themes vary from how to prevent sibling arguments, questions about the difference between the red and white flesh of fish prepared for dinner, to the most effective way to ventilate the home, and reveal the influence that spending more time in the house has had on children and their interests.” (Kurose)

“We’ve also noticed that it has become more common for family members to be the starting point and motivation for research. For example, in one of the winning entries from last year, the birth of a baby sister prompted the entrant to become interested in baby food, and this led to researching baby foods across the globe. In another, one entrant decided to pick up their father’s 37-year-old research project about a local river, and continue it with their own updated perspective.” (Kubokawa)
Grand Prize Winner of the Independent Research Section (3rd Grade), “Baby Foods Around The World”, used an English survey to question people in 20 countries about their country’s baby food.
“As the opportunity to take part in workshops and events decreases, we’ve seen a trend of people making the most of being at home, and trying to take advantage of that situation. We’ve also noticed that as society in general becomes more environmentally conscious, this theme is becoming more approachable and familiar for children too. For example, “how to reduce waste” was approached in a variety of ways with entries like “Ways to help your mom” and “Using a point system to get the whole family involved.” We have seen an increase in entries that show children thinking of environmental issues as their responsibility, and thinking of what they, as a child, can do to solve it.” (Nagata)

Nearly 20 years on, the importance of encouraging children to think for themselves is still a guiding principle of the contest

In recent years, changing trends in contest entries reflect the changing times and society, and our approaches to and ways of learning are also changing. Among these changes, Kurose and his team spoke about the importance of not changing - the importance of keeping the guiding principle of the contest the same.

“This contest is about encouraging children to think for themselves, to support them in finding solutions to problems. If we chose to, we could make the themes easier or more approachable, or give them more concrete examples. But this contest is about valuing the ideas that come from within, encouraging children to try and come up with something on their own. So it’s important that adults don’t give them too much help.” (Kurose)

“The contest has always been about encouraging independent thinking in children. The recent rise of interest in SDGs has meant that there are even more ways to approach the environment theme, and I can see a lot of originality in the entries. If an adult gives too much direction, it can narrow the field of vision for a child. But a small suggestion or hint can be just what they need to discover a whole new path of investigation, or come up with a fresh idea. It’s important that children are given the freedom and support to come to their own realizations about how their surroundings are connected to wider issues like the environment, and then formulate their own ideas.” (Nagata)

“As we are assessing the contest entries, seeing how inventive, imaginative, and unique each child’s perception is, is truly inspiring and motivating. All of the entries, whether chosen for an award or not, have been put together with great effort and intent. Having as many people as possible see these entries is how we can give the children the credit that they deserve.” (Kubokawa)

“Recently, there have been requests to add programming, speech making or other new categories to the contest. While we may update the contest where needed, and are fully aware of the diversification of learning, we don’t intend to be swayed by trends. Instead, we will continue to be committed to focusing on what we can do right now toward “Making the Future” for children.” (Kurose)

It has been almost 20 years since the contest was launched. In an era of great change and equally great unpredictability, this contest is one that continues to put an emphasis on giving children the opportunity to reach their potential. This year, until early September, we are once again accepting projects from children filled with their thoughts for making a future.

Article cooperation

Mr. Hiroyuki Kurose, Ms. Chiaki Nagata, Mr. Yoichi Kubokawa.

Benesse Corporation
The 19th Summer Challenge for All Elementary School Students: ‘Making the Future’ Contest
(From the left) Mr. Hiroyuki Kurose, Ms. Chiaki Nagata, Mr. Yoichi Kubokawa.
Responsible for the organization of contest, the team members are normally involved in editing educational materials for Shinkenzemi elementary school courses.


The 19th Summer Challenge for All Elementary School Students: ‘Making the Future’ Contest
Main Sponsor: Benesse Educational Research and Development Institute
Cosponsors: Shinkenzemi elementary school courses, Benesse Grimm School, UP Inc., Benesse Gakudou Club
Supporters: Ministry of Education, Culture, Sports, Science and Technology, Ministry of the Environment (Government of Japan), Tokyo Metropolitan Board of Education, Japan Elementary School Science and Research Association, National Federation of Educational Policy Research Institutes, Environmental Education Promote Association, Japan Federation of Prefectural Education Boards, Public Interest Incorporated Association PTA of Japan.
In co-operation with: Teijin Frontier Co., Ltd.
For more information on the contest (in Japanese only):