Cole Burdick, a teacher at the Music Playhouse of Chicago, leads one of its virtual classes for children up to six years old. Credit: The Music Playhouse of Chicago

LAKEVIEW — The Music Playhouse had just started its spring session of classes when the early-childhood music school was forced to close its doors.

“We were worried about the business and devastated by the idea of closing and not being able to see our kids singing and dancing every week,” owner Erin Watts said.

Like many Chicago entrepreneurs affected by the coronavirus pandemic, Watts had to pivot her business model. Determined to deliver on the spring session, Watts started offering interactive music classes online through Zoom within a couple weeks.

Children up to six years old can sign up for the 30-minute group classes filled with singing, dancing and other musical activities led by one of the school’s five teachers.

“It’s interactive. So we ask the kids things like their favorite food, color or animal and then we’ll do a song incorporating their choices,” Watts said. “Or we’ll teach them a short melody or rhythm pattern and have them repeat it back.”

Watts said the online classes encourage the children to think resourcefully by creating their own instruments using at-home items, like a set of keys or a container filled with rice as maracas.

“Music has healing properties, so we’re doing everything we can to share that gift with families during this time of need,” Watts said.

Elizabeth Stanish, of Lakeview, said the virtual classes give her two-year-old son “some much-needed normalcy during this chaotic time.”

“This pandemic is hard on small businesses too, so it’s great for them to keep contact with families and for us to stay active during this time,” Stanish said.

Classes cost $12 a session or $40 for a monthly membership allowing access to unlimited classes, which are held daily.

The Music Playhouse, 3829 N. Southport Ave., is offering a free virtual class at 5 p.m. Tuesday for families who want to try the program but can’t pay the full fee. 

A second, pay-what-you-can class will be held at 11:30 a.m. Friday raising money for the Lakeview Pantry.

“Lots of people might not be in a position to pay for classes right now but still want a fun activity for their kids to stay engaged while everything’s closed. We want to provide that,” Watts said.

For some families, the virtual music classes have become a part of their daily routine during the state’s stay-at-home orders.

Erica Sharon, of Lakeview, said her two sons have attended the classes every day since they went online in March.

“It’s funny because we had only been able to make it to one or two classes before this, but now it’s part of our routine and structure while staying at home,” Sharon said.

Linnea Boulger, of Albany Park, said the classes allow her son to release some energy while cooped up all day.

“He’s two-and-a-half years old and very active, so we need to tire him out every day,” Boulger said. “Staying at home had me worried about that, but these classes have helped.”

Jake Wittich is a Report for America corps member covering Lakeview, Boystown and Lincoln Park for Block Club Chicago.

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