Laura Blanchard's Kindermusik program is at in but Blanchard lives more than 6,376 miles away in Tokyo.
That hasn't stopped her from running the business, however.
She has been operating her Fenton business from overseas despite a 13-hour time difference, all made possible by Kindermusik teacher Shelly Gillett-Behrens, and their iPhones with FaceTime, she said.
Blanchard, owner of Blanchard Music Studio, and her family are living in Japan while husband, Rob Blanchard, a manager in sheet metals, works on two global cars for Nissan. Rob Blanchard began his two-year assignment in Japan on April 1, the beginning of the school and work calendar for the Japanese. Laura and their daughters, Molly, 8, and Julia, 6, finished the school year in Fenton, enjoyed some summer fun with their friends and moved to Japan in late July.
Gillett-Behrens said she and Blanchard use e-mail sometimes and they both have iPhones, which they use to text messages to each other. They also set up times to use FaceTime to talk online with web cameras. Because of the time difference, what is evening for Blanchard is early morning for Gillett-Behrens.
"We're always tired when we're talking on the phone," Gillett-Behrens said.
But working together on the Kindermusik program has gone very smoothly so far, they both agree.
"We're a very good team," Blanchard said.
She maintains the website from Tokyo and handles business issues, while Gillett-Behrens teaches in Fenton.
"She's doing a great job, and I'm thrilled to have found someone that can be 'me' while I'm gone," Blanchard said.
For their big move, she and her family went from Fenton, population 11,654, to Tokyo, population 13 million-plus.
"It's been a bit of an adjustment, but we all are enjoying it," Laura Blanchard said. "Obviously, we're in the minority here."
Julia, who has very blond hair, attracts the most attention.
"Japanese people are totally enthralled with her," Laura Blanchard said. "She gets stares and people talk to her and they want to touch her head. If we're on the train, I'll just look around and everyone is watching her.
She likes the attention. She's fine with it."
The train stations they frequent include the busiest train station in the world, and another of the busiest ones. Despite being heavily populated, Tokyo is a very safe city, and the Blanchards feel very secure there, she said.
They have a car, but it's much more convenient to take public transportation, Blanchard added. This includes walking, riding trains or using buses.
While Blanchard is navigating Tokyo, Gillett-Behrens is enjoying being a Kindermusik instructor again, she said. Her daughter, Marissa, now a senior at once took Kindermusik lessons. Gillett-Behrens' son, Gibson, also had Kindermusik lessons as a youngster. Now he's in eighth grade at and like Marissa, is in his school's band program.
Gillett-Behrens owned her own Kindermusik business several years ago. In April, Blanchard contacted her about the opportunity to teach Kindermusik lessons at Transfiguration Lutheran Church, 14176 North Fenton Rd., Fenton Township.
She loves the curriculum and the chance to work with children and their families, Gillett-Behrens said. So she became re-licensed and classes will begin next week.
The Blanchards daughters attend the American School in Japan, one of the few Japanese schools that have bus transportation. Usually, students ride a train to school or walk, she said.
Molly and Julia have Japanese language lessons three days a week in school, and Rob Blanchard has been taking Japanese through Nissan. Laura Blanchard studied Japanese as well before leaving Fenton and plans to start more lessons soon. Even knowing a few phrases helps a lot, she said.
In addition, their family lives in a duplex in a residential area. They are very fortunate, Laura Blanchard said, because their home, at 1,900 square feet, is much larger than the typical Japanese living area. And they have a basement, which is practically unheard of in Tokyo, she said.
"It's like a palace," she said.
Blanchard said her husband's two-year assignment in Japan could be extended, but she believes three years would be the maximum. When she returns, she and Gillett-Behrens hope to expand the Kindermusik studio by offering more days and times for lessons.
"We're a very good team, and I can see when I get back there, we could work together to build the program into something very, very special," she said.
"It's been a great experience to be here," Blanchard added. "I miss all of those little ones that I used to get to spend my days with teaching Kindermusik, but they're in very good hands with Shelly."
More about Kindermusik
- Lessons are divided by age and are for babies to age 7. There are classes for babies, toddlers, preschool-age and kindergarten through first grade.
- Kindermusik incorporates brain research, music and movement to improve a child's total development. It's about developing skills in the whole child -- cognitive, physical, social, emotional, language and musical.
- Every Kindermusik semester includes At Home Materials -- a book, CD, age appropriate instrument and an activity book or journal. Families continue the classroom learning at home as they read, do activities or listen to music.