It’s Wednesday afternoon and our home is oddly quiet. The usual self-isolation soundtrack of my two young daughters shouting, singing, arguing and laughing as they hula hoop, skip, jump, dance and hop from sunrise to nightfall has been muted.
Instead, the girls, ages 5 and 7, are sitting in silence at a table, creating their very own Joan Miro-inspired paintings during a live online art class — one of a string of virtual activities currently available to children stuck at home due to the coronavirus pandemic.
Such a moment of calm is as precious as it is unusual in the current “#stayhome” climate of Tokyo — in our household at least. As in countless countries across the globe, it’s a mammoth challenge for many families in Japan to adjust to the closure of schools and nurseries, without the children getting bored, going crazy or turning feral (not to mention the sanity of the grown ups).
Our moment of fleeting calm came courtesy of Kodomo Edu International School, one particularly creative school specializing in Reggio Emilia-style English and art lessons in Tokyo’s Nakameguro district. While my girls normally attend in person, classes have now switched online and are available to children across the country.
Offering advice to parents with restless young ones at home, Yoshimi Ueda, founder and producer of Kodomo Edu, says: “Don’t worry about having them studying the academic side too much. Now is the best time for children to pursue their own interests. So listen to their real voice and provide an environment they can explore.
“Through exploring art materials and creating work in collaboration with peers, children will be able to nurture their own creativity, develop the confidence to express their ideas and find their own voices.”
And there are plenty of ways to do this. From painting to dancing to science, a raft of innovative online classes have cropped up in recent weeks. Not forgetting the countless free DIY activities and ideas found online (tip: don’t throw away old Amazon packaging or toilet rolls). Here’s my pick of some of the best.
English and art
Fun, fresh and creative, Kodomo Edu International School has temporarily switched to an online program, with Zoom classes in English and art for children between the ages of 5 and 9. English is taught by friendly, smart native speakers (levels range from beginner to bilingual) with an interactive, playful edge (my youngest daughter loved running around the house counting all the light bulbs in one exercise). Art is a big highlight: the school’s lead art teacher, Fernando Saiki (whose work was recently exhibited at Maison Hermes in Tokyo), gently guides children to create their very own masterpieces in a different style each lesson, with inspirations ranging from Joan Miro and Yayoi Kusama to Chiharu Shiota.
Classes available weekdays from 10 a.m. to noon. School enrollment fees currently waived. Classes cost ¥5,000 plus tax for one hour of English and one hour of art; or four-class tickets for English and art at ¥19,800. Alternatively, four-class tickets for art cost ¥11,900.
Hip-hop and Broadway dancing
The challenge of children exercising while staying at home is well-documented — yet there are perhaps few more fun ways to keep kids in shape than by joining an online dance class at Kspace International Pre-school and Kindergarten in Tokyo’s Shirokanedai neighborhood. Children ages 3 to 10 can join Zoom dance classes from Monday to Saturday — from Broadway dance and hip-hop to Steve’s dance classes (a mix of jazz and tap). Those who attend classes regularly will star in a special “Wizard of Oz”-inspired video performance in mid-May. One-to-one dance classes (plus private tuition in a range of subjects) are also available online. Other group Zoom classes now on offer include science, art and phonics plus parent-and-child music circle classes, suitable for babies from 3 months to 4-year-olds.
No membership payments required in April and May. One-hour Zoom classes cost ¥3,000 to ¥4,000; with discounts for blocks of 10 classes, check the schedule for details. Pricing varies depending on subject and age group. For more information on Kspace, read “If the kids get bored, let them bake cake.”
Problem solving, creativity and sequential thinking are among a roll call of qualities that go hand in hand with kids coding — a new generation skill dubbed by some as the “new literacy.” Coding Lab Japan normally offers in-person kids coding lessons in English at its Yoyogi and Shirokanedai schools, with a curriculum inspired by the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. Last month, it launched a new online program (which it plans to keep alongside regular classes post-pandemic). Twenty-plus classes are available for children ages 7 to 18, taught by friendly, on-the-ball teachers — so it’s a good option for teens interested in more advanced programming as well as beginners. Plus, there are plans to offer Mommy & Me Junior Coder classes online, for children ages 4 to 6, in the near future.
Enrollment fees are currently waived. Single-day two-hour classes start at ¥6,600. Five-day classes from ¥33,500. Free online trials are available. For more information, read “Programming: A code for fun and games.”
Paint a masterpiece
ArtBar Tokyo has long been loved among kids for its relaxed weekend painting classes at its Daikanyama and Sendagaya venues. Friendly bilingual teachers talk children through themed painting classes, using easels and paint palettes to make a very grown-up canvas they can take home at the end of the class. ArtBar Tokyo has now launched online art classes, for adults and kids alike. Children’s 90-minute painting and drawing classes, live streamed on Zoom, are scheduled for weekends and Golden Week, with themes ranging from Paw Prints to Aurora Galaxy in watercolors.
Classes cost ¥2,000 a child. Parents are given a simple list of materials to prepare in advance. For more information on ArtBar, read “Encourage the little Van Goghs of the family.”
Some free DIY tips
It’s hard not to feel overwhelmed by the wealth of resources available online, so here are a few ideas to help give parents a breather (or at least enough time to finish a cup of tea).
Japan-inspired toilet roll crafts: Keen to make the most of toilet paper being back in supermarkets? Easy. Turn used toilet rolls into a maneki-neko or koinobori carp streamers in time for Children’s Day on May 5. These are among a number of Japan-themed creations kids can make on the Japan page of DLTK’s Crafts for Kids, one of dozens of different country pages.
Cooking clubs: Get the children started early in the kitchen and let them join a kids online cooking club so they can follow easy video instructions in order to rustle up child-friendly treats. One example is Taste Buds Kitchen, which is free to join, with new cooking videos for kids released every Tuesday and Thursday. Recipes range from soft pretzels and quiche au fromage to lasagna cupcakes.
Kids yoga: Inhale, exhale and, at the end of a long day, get the kids to calm down. One way to do this is to tune into popular Cosmic Kids Yoga, which offers story-based yoga for young children. Harry Potter, The Twits, Moana: each colorful episode is based on a well-known story, told through a series of yoga poses, all cleverly adapted for little people with short concentration spans (perhaps best for kids up to around 8).