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Testing out three virtual franchise classes during COVID-19


Published:

FT Undercover

 Left to right: Young Rembrandts, School of Rock and TheCoderSchool shift to virtual classes to connect with students while units are closed.


Channeling my inner Pam Beesly, I carefully drew vertical and horizontal guidelines on my blank sheet of paper, then sketched out a nose, two eyes and a mouth. What was I drawing? Why, a cartoon monster with instructor Bette from Young Rembrandts, of course. The after-school art class franchise is offering virtual lessons, which means kids can pause the video if the instructor is going too quickly. “Cartooning is all about exaggerating features in order to show emotion,” Bette explained as we drew a scared monster, then a confused monster. After we outlined our sketches in permanent marker, Bette instructed us on the Young Rembrandts marker coloring method, a technique where you outline or color a “fence” around what you’re drawing first, then fill in the shape with broad marker strokes in the same direction. I improvised with crayon and found I needed to pause the video a lot more than I thought I would. “Don’t get sloppy with the lines—turn your paper to get around the curves,” Bette instructed. Within a 40-minute video, I had two cartoon monsters worthy of the fridge.

The upshot: Professing to help children improve fine motor skills, visual-spatial organization skills and even increased self-esteem, a Young Rembrandts lesson costs about $10, and families can pay for six- to 10-week seasons’ worth of classes. —CE


Phil X, who plays for Bon Jovi, was talking creativity from his living room in a live Zoom session with School of Rock students in late March. “Oh hey, I’m Phil X. I play guitar and sing and scream a lot, actually,” he said. “I’m going to start playing, right? Should I get my fingers limbered up,” and he starts shredding so hard for a minute that when he’s done he has to blow on his fingers. “Ow,” he said with a laugh. School of Rock’s premier subscriptions cost from $300 to $400 a month, and students do not pay extra for the artist sessions. Phil X had advice for would-be YouTube stars. “There are too many people out there just sitting on a chair in their pajamas and playing the solo to ‘Stairway to Heaven’ note for note. I just have to go out on a limb here and say I don’t give a crap about that,” he said. “Music is so passionate and everybody’s playing like robots lately, so don’t do that. Put a little personality in your videos.”

The upshot: The coolest virtual offering born from the pandemic is School of Rock’s live sessions with real-life guitar heroes. — BE


The knowledge is good, the patience: priceless. Learning to code gets a bit boring for everyone, but when it’s a rambunctious child at the other end of a Zoom call, things get even harder. Judging by a few recorded sessions of TheCoderSchool, teachers with the code education concept are bringing as much patience to their lessons as actual knowledge. As the lessons moved online, that seems more important than ever. In one session, a particularly high-spirited student said he wanted to turn the black button he and the teacher were working on into a spiraling rainbow of all colors. The teacher was able to redirect that as a reason to pay attention to the fundamentals. Instead of a formulaic information download, the teachers prompted the kids to think about what they wanted to achieve, how they should do it and asked them what to do next. That made the lessons fun and interactive, and before long, one could see the little “ah-ha” moments that are so vital to early-childhood education.

The upshot: With monthly subscriptions ranging from $119 to $250, students will retain problem-solving skills necessary to become fluent in any coding language. Now if only these same patient teachers could help my parents use their phones. —NU

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