Even though (physically-distanced) school is back, extracurriculars and co-curriculars for your kids are few and far between due to COVID-19. If you’re finding that you’re searching for ways to keep your kids entertained after school and on the weekend (especially as the colder weather rolls around), check out these virtual, online class offerings from around the GTA that might spark a new interest.
Avenue Road Arts School
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Liana Del Mastro, executive director of Avenue Road Arts School, says that once the pandemic hit, she and her team had to “quickly change gears” to figure out how they were going to survive. The result was a virtual hub offering free online art lessons and some video content to keep people occupied at first. Del Mastro says they then started to incorporate live classes on Zoom. In April, the school offered around 12 classes for kids and adults, but as popularity grew, the offering built up to what now is more than 80 classes.
“We offer quite a wide range, and we try to keep the numbers low so that there’s a lot of one-on-one attention,” Del Mastro says. “Every class is assigned its own administrator so that there’s a very personal approach to the class itself.”
Avenue Road Arts School’s fall classes are offered in seven-week sessions, and cover all types of art, including watercolour, architecture, mixed media and Chinese brush painting. Del Mastro says input from students is an important part of each of their classes.
“I think that’s a big part of what has made us popular as an organization; we know that the process of creating art is very important to us and it’s not just about the product. It’s about the experience that the child has with us,” she says. “They feel empowered to explore their own creativity and their own choices, so we like to ignite the imagination and be there to support the student as they create their work.”
Del Mastro says for the winter term, they’re looking to coordinate with specific schools to work with their curriculum. Currently, they’re partnered with the arts access fund in order to provide scholarship funds to students who can’t afford their classes.
Rooks to Cooks
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Rooks to Cooks offers cooking classes for ages seven and up, with classes based on skill level. Shai Mandel, founder and CEO, says a major priority of hers from the start with their class offerings was to incorporate Ontario curriculum into the lessons for the students.
“I try to apply it in a way that kids are going to be engaged by it and excited by it, so that it makes sense to them,” Mandel says. “I want them to think, ‘Oh, that’s what the math was all about in class, or that’s what science is all about.’ ”
They offer a baking class that focuses on applying math and science to baking and a Foods of the World class that explores geography and history. Classes are offered for rooks — kids hoping to learn all the basics of cooking and baking, and cooks — kids with some experience looking to enhance their skills.
Mandel says that knowing that the void many families might be looking to fill for their children during COVID-19 is a social one, she wanted to build an environment in her classes that would encourage confidence and socialization for students. “What can you do at home? You can’t play soccer, you can’t dance with friends, but with cooking, it’s not only a necessary skill, but they’re learning to cook in their own kitchens,” she says.
The silver lining in these virtual classes, Mandel says, is that kids are getting comfortable using their own tools in their own kitchen space. One of their classes is called Delectable Dinners, in which students make a complete, three-component dinner for their families, ready at the table at 6:30 p.m. “Now parents are seeing with their own eyes that their kid is mature enough to take on new skills, and so classes are going to have these longterm effects that we’ve always wanted them to have, which is great,” she explains.
“A big theme for us is equipping kids with the skills, the knowledge, but also helping them become more independent, self-sufficient and confident so that they can go on in the world and feel empowered by their abilities,” Mandel says. “That’s really what we’re all about.”
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For children who are looking to learn something a little more special outside of school, a virtual language class is perfect. Beatriz Tejedor, founder of Magic Languages, says the team was considering online classes since before the pandemic, but once COVID hit, they quickly made arrangements to be able to continue their classes online.
Tejedor says they’ve continued to incorporate music as a major component of their lessons, along with games and activities. “We have a curriculum of subjects, and every two weeks there’s one subject that is presented in a very interesting way for them,” she says.
Students might learn about animals by exploring the subject of animals in Canada, or learn the words for different foods by learning about food in Paris or Spain.
Tejedor notes that an important part of learning a language is learning about the culture as well, and so they’ve taken the time to emphasize that in their lessons as well. “Culture is a really essential part of our curriculum. We want children to be familiar with the idea that we are learning a language because it’s not just a way of talking, it involves everything to do with the language, the culture behind it, the opportunity to travel and meet new people,” she says.
Classes are no more than five people to ensure students have one-on-one attention with their teachers, and they offer additional online resources throughout the week so that students can practise.
“The most important part of teaching online is that children really have fun, and they don’t feel like they are in a class,” she says. “It’s more like they are having a wonderful time in a different language.”