The global pandemic disrupted schools everywhere in 2020. According to UNESCO‘s data, approximately 6,643,213 children in Canada were affected due to the impact of COVID 19 in comparison to 153 countries globally. When schools were closed, lockdowns and stay-at-home orders were enforced, Sensei Michael Hirchberg, Owner of Karate College for Kids, started Zoom Kids Karate, an online platform to teach martial arts students. Training kids from ages four and onwards, Zoom Kids Karate is a one-stop place for children to learn life’s lessons using martial arts.
Tell us something about Zoom Kids Karate. How did you start this?
When the pandemic struck us, physical distancing became the new norm. And honestly, close contact sports got the biggest hit, as kids cannot come within 6ft unless they belong to the same family. All of a sudden, all schools moved to virtual medium, other business types that can afford virtual work moved into the same, the world changed altogether from then on. From running a physical business, owners had to find ways to continue their work fighting the new norm. I was not an exception. As Karate College for Kids’ owner, I was then left with no other choice but to stop physical classes.
I had to think of innovative ways to continue this close-contact sport while maintaining the highest education standards. Hence, the birth of ZoomKidsKarate.com. Here children practice their moves with their parents and siblings. I used social media to promote my classes to parents in an even greater area than I usually market to earlier. I initially ran some free classes, spiked up the kids’ interest and got them signed in for long-term classes.
How big is your team?
I lead all our classes, and currently, I do not have a team. Initially, there were no students, and I had to grow it from scratch. Since then, we have filled many classes.
What is one thing that you like most about teaching kids virtually?
The best thing about online Karate class is the closeness of the family experience, which is a byproduct of at-home learning. Earlier, children hardly had quality time to bond with their parents. Kids were off to do their extra-curricular classes, returned home, had their dinner, and off to bed to continue preparing for the next day! Now, in this classroom, the kids bond with their parents or siblings through my online classes. The one-hour session is fully packed with high-quality interactive learning beneficial for their overall physical well-being and psychological growth.
The other advantage is the convenience of kids learning from their own space. After a busy day at school or work, parents do not have to rush out of the door to do some activity with their kids. It is all in the convenience of their home. Virtual learning is a win-win for both, especially during this pandemic when mental health, overall well-being, and safety are important aspects of our day-to-day lives.
How difficult or easy is to grab children’s attention, especially for a subject like teaching martial arts virtually?
In comparison to a physical class, virtual classes are better at keeping the kids attentive. In-person classes with a room full of kids lead to many distractions. I came up with some fun, creative ways to engage the children and required parents’ direct involvement to ensure the highest quality experience. Kids are learning at least three times faster at home.
If there is no COVID, will you still prefer the virtual mode or move into your school?
Both virtual, as well as physical classes have their benefits. So I plan to do both virtual and live classes once restrictions are lifted. Many students live far away from my physical school address; hence, keeping the virtual sessions running will help those children continue the class as usual. Moreover, it’s a personal choice for families to attend physical in-classroom sessions or virtual lessons, so I will leave it to them to make a choice and join accordingly.
How easy/difficult was it to source children who are interested?
The pandemic has taught us numerous lessons. We have learned that we can effectively market to a broader audience, irrespective of locality borders. We learned that digital advertising is essential to promote your business. Pamphlets or other forms of marketing have ceased for us now. Everything is at a distance, managed virtually!
What help do you think you would need to grow your business in this pandemic?
I have not turned to the government for support but instead worked hard to build up my student enrollment. I worked hard to provide an experience that is beyond the expectations of the families who enrolled. Satisfied families, in turn, helped me reach out to many more families and grew my network. I intend to keep this activity alive and transform many more lives of children around me. Martial arts is not just a normal education.
It helps kids improve their self-esteem and confidence, get them into a goal-setting atmosphere, learn about conflict resolution, learn respect and listening skills, encourage teamwork, and help them stay safe in any environment. I am happy that I can shape these minds towards betterment.
Any advice/tips to the entrepreneurs around you.
All activities that kids were doing pre-pandemic are still in demand. People always want to be busy even though they are confined mostly at home. Quality time is still essential. We cannot let go of the fact that kids need quality activities. I believe this is not the time to give up. Be innovative in finding ways to help families around you and work hard in your businesses.
Zoom Kids Karate offers some special family programs in martial arts, where a parent gets free training with a participating child aged four to six. Also as part of another family program, if there are two participants from the same family the third one gets a free position. Sensei Michael Hirchberg holds a Masters in Martial Arts trained in Karate and Judo, with over 30 years of experience working with kids of different ages. He has represented Canada in the Maccabi Games twice and coached three times at the Junior Games.
Author: Debarati Mukherjee, for The Onside Media, Toronto, Canada. If you have any stories or comments, kindly email: – [email protected]