Arts Programs for Kids Near Annapolis, Baltimore and Washington, DC

rsz_istock_000008814074smallThe arts -- activities like painting, dance and theater can offer something special for children who may not fit into athlete role

By Lisa Snowden-McCray

Susan Kobren says her son, Sam, endured eight years of torment in school before he found a place where he could be himself -- onstage.

“Everybody just completely accepted him. They respected his talent.”

She says that he wasn’t accepted by the other kids at school; he was teased. Sam was miserable until, at the age of 13, he found the Children’s Theatre of Annapolis.

Sports like soccer, football and baseball are often the go-to activities when parents are looking for something extra for their kids to get into. But the arts -- activities like painting, dance and theater can offer something special for children who may not fit into the role of athlete. That’s what Kobren discovered.

A Chance for Change

“It was life-changing for him,” she says about her now-17-year-old son. “He found a place where he could be himself. When that happened, the teasing stopped at school because he didn’t care anymore.”

Although she lives in Howard County, Kobren says she gladly made the 80-mile round trip to Annapolis because theatre helped her son in a way nothing else could. She says acting gives him a chance to show a different side of himself.

“At school, he wants to be invisible, wants people to leave him alone,” she says.  However, “there is nothing he won’t do onstage.”

Kobren’s younger son Danny is 15 and is also involved in theater. He was drawn to it after he saw Sam participate. Each boy is different, so each gets something different out of his participation. Danny was always more social than Sam. Although he didn’t need the outside peer group the way Sam did, he has still embraced it. Both boys, she said, have thoroughly enjoyed their time performing. It gave her more athletically-inclined husband a chance to expand his horizons, too.

Not only did theater give Sam confidence -- it gave him an activity that could grow as he did.  Sam is too old now to perform in productions with the Theatre, but helps out as a teacher.  He also hopes to take his theatre experience with him into adulthood. A junior in high school, he’s looking into theatre programs for college.

There’s evidence that Sam and Danny’s experiences aren’t anomalies. A 1999 study conducted by arts advocacy group The Arts Education Partnership and the President’s Committee on Arts and Humanities found a few things that apply to their story: that the arts reach students in a way they are not being reached otherwise, and that arts provide new challenges for students already considered successful, just to name a few.

...Read More: The Arts and Education

The Arts and Education

The benefits aren’t just social. The study found that involvement in the arts does amazing things for young minds just learning about the world. Arts can reach beyond the scope of lines or language or color into helping students better understand seemingly-opposite courses of study like science and math.

“Through engagement with the arts, young people can better begin lifelong journeys of developing their capabilities and contributing to the world around them. The arts teach young people how to learn by giving them the first step: the desire to learn,” wrote then-U.S. Secretary of Education Richard Riley.

Because of those findings, Executive Director of Arts Education in Maryland Schools, John Seschini says he makes it his business to make sure Maryland’s kids are getting some exposure to arts. He says the arts are more than just extracurricular activities -- they are just as important as any other part of a child’s education. The group works with teachers, school administrators and lawmakers to ensure that arts integrated into the curriculum at schools all across the state.

“It’s not arts or academics. Arts are an essential part of the curriculum -- another way for students to learn,” he says.

“We emphasize arts integration,” he says. That means, they examine the curriculum and look for places where art can naturally fit in. “We want the arts to be an essential part of every curriculum. Showing relationships is where we’ve had success.”

He said his organization has worked with school systems in Baltimore City, Prince George’s County, Anne Arundel County Wicomico County and Harford County.

Seschini is former principal - he has worked at nationally-recognized arts integration schools Rockedge Elementary in Prince George’s County and Kensington Parkwood Elementary School in Montgomery County. He says he’s seen for himself that using arts to educate works.

“No matter what kind of learning style, it gives them an opportunity,” he says. “Some kids can only learn through the arts. It’s critical for them to have that opportunity.”

A “Life Changing Place”

None of this would surprise Kathy Swekel, the executive director for the Children’s Theatre. She says she’s seen for herself what art does for kids and what it does in conjunction with education.

“For some kids, this is a life changing place. The reason is, they don’t fit in anywhere else.”

The Theatre was established in 1959 - making it, Swekel says, one of Annapolis’ oldest nonprofits. Each year, around 7,500 families attend classes, see performances or are involved in theatrical productions. The company also takes performances to local schools. There, they help illustrate the lessons children learn in the classroom by linking performances to the curriculum - through history, language or literature. Swekel says that she has seen how the theatre changes kids lives and expands their horizons.

“We have no notions that people are going to be professional actors. That’s not what we’re about. We’re about giving young people a broad sense of the world.”

She says they are able to reach kids where they are -- whether the child is the homecoming queen or just a homebody.

“Some of the kids that come here are already outstanding in school. This gives them additional tools. For other kids, this is the place that they first discover that they have ability.”

Theatre, Swekel says, also helps kids begin to shape the qualities that will make them successful adults. “They give up their time. It takes a lot of dedication to do that...they also become supporters of the arts as they get older.”

She says the arts are extremely important to every community.

“It really is the cement in the community to have artistic expression and support that.  A community that has no art, I can tell you, is no community.”

...Read more: Beyond the Classroom

Beyond the Classroom

Anna Roberts Ostroff could be considered a successful finished product of exposure to the arts. She grew up performing in the Children’s Theatre of Annapolis and now she works in New York as a professional performer and producer. She and her husband have also founded Infinity Theatre Company -- a group that brings professional New York theater performances to Annapolis.

“I grew up doing theater with CTA. I really feel like they helped me build a foundation.” She says her mother remembers what an impact the theatre had on her as an 11-year-old performing in her first production (The Emporer’s New Clothes). She says her mom remembers the little girl turning to her and saying “mom, I love to be on stage.”

Roberts Ostroff found a way to make a living out of the passion she discovered then.  She studied musical theater at New York University as has traveled all over the country performing. She says she knows her involvement in the arts as a child made her into the person she is today.

“If you have a child who is ready to express themselves through any artistic form, getting those kids in classes a great way for them to have such a positive, creative outlet.  The arts are a place for kids to express themselves in a safe and fun way.  I would be a totally different person if the arts were not in my life.”

The Maryland Hall for the Creative Arts in Annapolis specializes in all kinds of artistic options for the creatively inclined.  Maryland Hall offers classes for every age -- including a wide range of classes just for kids.

Annapolis mother Sheila Norman says she has her daughter, five-year-old Mallory, enrolled in Debra Soreff’s art class because the art she creates is more intensive than anything she’d produce in school. She says it’s the difference between true, creative artwork, and a simple learning project that a teacher with no background in art would have the whole class do.

Soreff says that is what she tries to do. She says she wants to help the kids she teaches understand their potential. She says what she’s teaching are actually complex theories of art and designs, but she breaks them down so that little ones can wrap their heads around it.

“It’s amazing what they can do when it’s done in small increments.”

Norman says her daughter has flourished under Soreff’s tutelage. She says she has learned to express herself and use her imagination - and create really good pieces of art.

“I frame her artwork because I like it -- not just because she’s my daughter.”

As lawmakers look to tighten budgets everywhere, the arts can sometimes take a backseat to reading, writing and literature at school. That doesn’t mean your child has to suffer. Take a look at some of the places you can go to start your kid’s cultural education early.

Lisa Snowden-McCray is a freelance writer and mother of two who lives in Baltimore. She writes about work, her family and everything in between at


Annapolis Area

*Arts in Motion- Odenton- 410-674-7001,
*Artworks Studio - Severna Park - 410-271-3343 or online at
*The Chesapeake Children’s Museum - Annapolis - 410-990-1993 or online at
*The Children’s Theatre of Annapolis - Annapolis - 410-757-2281 or online at
*The Maryland Hall for the Creative Arts - Annapolis - 410-263-5544 or online at
*Music Together Chesapeake - Annapolis - 301-262-9538 or online at

Baltimore Area
*Abrakadoodle Art Classes, Camps and Parties - Baltimore City and Baltimore County - 410-561-9220 or online at
*Euebie Blake National Jazz Institute and Cultural Center - Baltimore City -  410-225-3130 or online at
*Staub Art Studio - Catonsville, Md. - 410-744-9001 or online at
*Walters Art Gallery’s Art Tots and Art Kids Preschool Program - Baltimore City - 410-547-9000 X325 or online at
Washington, D.C. Area
*Glen Echo Park - Glen Echo, Md. - 301-634-2260 or online at
*Music Together Montgomery - Montgomery County - 301-879-6988 or online at
*Town Hall Arts and Recreation Campus - Washington, D.C. - 202-889-5901 or online at
*The Washington Performing Arts Society - Washington, D.C. - 202-785-9727 or online at