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Interactive achievement: From baking to self-defense to ballet, some extracurriculars are available online

by Kim Dishongh | April 27, 2020 at 1:54 a.m.
Kevin Mainard O'Connell, 9, keeps up his training with Unity Martial Arts by taking an online self-defense class April 21 with sensei Gaylan Lewallen. (Arkansas Democrat-Gazette/Celia Storey)

School has been moved online and many of the extracurricular activities that keep our kids motivated have shut down while we're all staying home.

Several sources, however, are throwing parents of bored kids a lifeline by moving online activities that are off-limits during social distancing. Instead of chauffeuring kids to and from activities, parents need only power up the computer or tablet and log in.

Virtual classes are allowing kids to continue some of the pastimes they love, and with hours of extra time on their hands, they may want to take the opportunity to explore interests they haven't been able to explore before. The options are almost endless.

1 Say "si" to learning a new language.

Tasha Moore of Little Rock, who works as a health program coordinator with El Zocalo Immigrant Resource Center, has been offering Spanish lessons to people of all ages and at varying levels of Spanish language proficiency since 2018 through her business, Tasha Teaches Spanish.

Moore moved her small group and one-on-one lessons and tutoring sessions to Zoom as the covid-19 pandemic began to affect the state, and she does a free storytime for kids most weekday mornings at 10 through Facebook Live on her business page.

For $25, she provides a self-paced instructional program, with flashcards, worksheets, song lyrics and a passcode to videos on her YouTube channel. And starting Tuesday, she began leading a live online group for families of 5- to 8-year-olds, featuring songs, games, activities and stories. The 45-minute group will meet at 9 a.m. Tuesdays and Thursdays; the cost is $30 per week.

Moore says she will mail worksheets to participants of the live online group beforehand.

"I know it can be on the computer, but I'm old school, and I like for my students to have something in their hands so this cost includes any materials like that," she says.

Muzzy, developed by the BBC, is another option for language-learning. Muzzy uses cartoons to teach German, Spanish, Italian, French, English, Korean and Chinese to children in preschool through high school. Muzzy is offering school closure specials, including half-off one- or two-year subscriptions — now $59 and $79, respectively.

2 Cuong Nhu (and more) for you

Unity Martial Arts in Little Rock moved classes online for students the weekend after social distancing began, one of the first of the tight-knit, though international, groups that practices the Coung Nhu style of martial arts to do so, according to Unity's owner Tanner Critz.

Several other Coung Nhu instructors saw what Unity had done asked to add their virtual classes to Unity's platform. Because many of the Coung Nhu teachers also teach yoga or tai chi or fitness classes, this has created some diversity on Unity's site.

"This has been really neat because now ... if you're a green belt or you want to do yoga or whatever, you go on and now there's a list by day of everybody everywhere in the world in our group that's doing something in that category," Critz says. "There are people in Paris that will have a noon class, and there's somebody in California will have one at a different time, and there are all these different people all over who are jumping in on your class, and you're getting to see faces from all over. You can go to their classes as well as the ones that we offer."

Most of the kids who have joined the online classes at Unity are the ones who were signed up for classes before the pandemic, but others can join as well, Critz says.

Unity also offers a history game, Adventure Quest.

"That's a program I created a long time ago that was supposed to try to push them in all the ways that we do with our martial arts but without rank and curriculum," Critz says. "They go on these 12-week pieces where they have to go back in history, and they do a time travel thing. And they have to learn about what was going on and figure out how it's being [affected], like, their enemies are messing with history, and they have to set it straight, and so they do mental and physical and social challenges to determine how successful they are with that. Then they also end up learning a ton about cool things in history."

The physical challenges — building forts and having battles and doing sprints and the like — that typically take place at Unity's center have required some adaptation for the at-home sessions, he adds.

Those who want to join Adventure Quest or other virtual classes through Unity Martial Arts can sign up through the website or email

3 Moving the moves online

Tippi Toes Dance in Rogers offers a free virtual dance class with a seven-day trial for kids 18 months to 8 years old, including six original Tippi Toes dances choreographed to original Tippi Toes music. The website promises "endless encouragement and unbounding silliness from Tippi Toes dance teachers," as well as "exciting moving dance steps that spur movement and exercise."

"We have worked very hard to create interactive, fun virtual classes for boys and girls," says Brooke Milam, Tippi Toes creative director. "Students who are not enrolled in regular Tippi Toes classes will enjoy our virtual classes just as much as regular students. These classes are easy to keep up with, interactive and feature original Tippi Toes music from our albums."

Dancers can view classes, released weekly, from computers, tablets, phones or televisions. The studio is offering a seven-day free trial for Tippi Toes dance classes. Classes continued after the trial period will be $19.99 a month.

"You can learn more at, and if parents have questions about classes with Tippi Toes NWA they can email," Milam says.

Shuffles and Ballet II in Little Rock has a digital dance schedule "that's a little bit of everything," says Allison Stodola Wilson, Shuffles' assistant director.

"Zoom classes, Facebook Live and Instagram Live ... Each one has different pros and cons so we are mixing it up. We also have set up a Google Drive with classroom technique as well as recital dances. We aren't charging our students for this as this is such a challenging time for all families. We hope to keep our dancers happy and help them stay ready for when we are back at the studio."

Dancers who aren't currently enrolled at Shuffles can follow along with the Instagram Live classes at no charge, Wilson says.

4 When you're out of school ...

Outschool, based in San Francisco, works with people from various professional backgrounds to provide online classes on a huge range of topics, like economics, yoga and figurative language as well as magic, web hacking, origami, pet care, criminology, weird laws and the history of chocolate and more. Some classes meet only once, some are short or semester-long and some are ongoing, and prices start at $5.

5 Can't go wrong with cookies

Art Is in Cakes bakery supply in Little Rock does virtual cookie decorating classes, and though young children often aren't included in classes at the bakery because they may lack the dexterity to complete complex decorating techniques, the at-home setting works well for all ages.

"Students attending from home can order kits for one or three people and parents can help the youngsters out a little more," Brittany Holm says. "I personally don't think anyone is too young to start learning. It just may take more time and more attempts before getting it right. So it's really up to the parents to make their best judgment on what they think their littles will appreciate the most and have the most fun doing."

The next available cookie-decorating class, "Tac-o-bout Cute Fiesta Cookies," is scheduled for Tuesday. The cost is $65.

Alexander Baking Co. in Rogers allows families to schedule virtual parties, with a minimum number of six participants, at $25-$35 per child. Cookie kits, customized for any theme, are available for curbside pickup the day before scheduled parties and include the cookies, icing bags and sprinkles.

6 What's the secret [to] code?

There are several free learn-to-code resources. Hour of Code (, Code Break ( and Scratch ( all use games to entertain kids while they learn computer programming skills.

For example, at Hour of Code there is a Grinch game that requires the maneuvering of a remote abduction drone around trees to pick up presents in the snow, and then go faster or slower or jump while "fastly moving over all threats" to pick up presents at the top of the mountain. Other game themes are Gumball, Barbie and Moana.

The pull of these sites is strong for kids who might not even realize they are honing skills.

"Owen keeps going to Hour of Code when he is supposed to be on ClassLink," says Becky Owens, mother of 8-year-old Owen, who prefers that site to the one used for his daily Alternate Method of Instruction for school. "He knows that YouTube will be shut down immediately by me, but I let Hour of Code slide."

Another site, Tynker ( requires a subscription but is offering free access to its premium coding courses during school closures. Tynker offers 40 self-guided coding courses in all, as well as coding puzzles and games, and independent coding opportunities.

Parents, of course, can benefit from most of these activities right along with their children. With all of these resources at the touch of a button and the oodles of free time available to some, maybe we can hope to come out of this pandemic more well-rounded — and not just from the cookies — than we were when we went in.

Style on 04/27/2020

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