After-School Programs Offer Kids Creative Freedom

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For some kids, after-school activities begin and end with sports. Some kids, however, need an artistic outlet. With music and arts on the curricular chopping block at many schools, local after-school programs fill that need.

Beyond the Natural Foundation is a nonprofit group created, according to Founding Executive Director Robert Levine III, “to empower the youth of our community through music.” For four years, the group has provided free music after-school classes to schools and community centers. Now, they’ve opened a studio in Southwest Baltimore, offering after-school classes to all ages.

Levine said the “drum experience” class “is a fun way for kids who have that desire to be rhythmically engaged” to “go on an interesting journey through playing different types of drums.” These include West African djembes, acoustic drum sets, drum pad machines and more. Piano lessons allow kids to play “basic pop songs” to order to master melody and harmony. In songwriting and production class, “95 percent of the children that come into that room, their first session they leave with their first song in their hand,” Levine said. “It blows me away. Kids have so much creativity. All you have to do is provide them with the tools.”

This fall, Beyond the Natural Foundation is offering its first theme-focused course: Caribbean Experience. “Over four weeks,” said Levine, kids will learn “songwriting, piano, drumming — all with Caribbean theme music.” This includes “reggae, soca, all the music that’s about celebrating summertime,” said Levine.

Even though school will be back in session, Levine hopes kids will get the feeling that “summer is still with you. You just have to create it musically now.”

Rather than approaching creativity through a specific skill, PRISM Inner Harbor Wellness engages kids aged 6-12 in creative activities that all come together to “teach children about mindfulness,” said PRISM’s Robin Williams.

PRISM’s “creative, holistic, sensory” programs address “the exploration of abstract ideas through concrete experiences,” Williams said.

Offered two days a week from 4 to 6 p.m. in 10-week sessions, kids participate in art, yoga, dance, music, reading, games and more, said Williams. “The activities are organized to express and reinforce a particular theme or idea. Themes in the past have been breath, balance, struggle, kindness, sense perception, humor, visualization and the seasons.”

Williams said the program gives kids “increased awareness of their experience, tools and options to navigate difficult emotions, problem solving and decision making, and increased confidence in their creativity and ability to be kind towards others.”

Williams said their classes are structured to find “balance between activity and reflection, movement and stillness, awareness of self and others, visual and auditory, structure and openness. Each class ends with sharing and a particular practice to take home and teach their parents.”

“One of our favorite ‘breaks’ is to go outside, walk barefoot in the grass and enjoy the sensations of rolling down a large hill,” Williams said. “Recently, a mother informed me that she could hear her son in bed at night counting his breaths to help settle his mind and body for sleep.”

For kids who dream of dancing, B Funk Dance Company offers hip-hop, ballet, jazz, tap and contemporary dance classes five evenings a week for kids aged 3 to 18.

One of our favorite ‘breaks’ is to go outside, walk barefoot in the grass and enjoy the sensations of rolling down a large hill. — Robin Williams, PRISM Inner Harbor Wellness

And dance, according to studio manager Karen Filipowicz, can even be a team sport.

Although the studio offers beginner, intermediate and advanced options, it also has two competitive teams for pre-professional dancers.

“Competitive teams are called Company and Crew,” said Filipowicz. “Company focuses on traditional dance styles” such as ballet, jazz, tap and contemporary. “Crew is all hip-hop.” Team dancers audition annually and train intensively from September through May.

“We compete around the East Coast and receive top scores and awards,” Filipowicz said. “Several of our competitive team dancers have been selected to be in movies, commercials and featured at dance conventions.”

Even at the beginning levels of dance, “children get exercise while learning dance and discipline,” said Filipowicz. “We believe it also helps build confidence and allows children to develop new friendships.” It’s all about “dance confidence and fun!”

Erica Rimlinger is a local freelance reporter.

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