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Children’s Hour celebrates 29 years of entertaining, educating at MSBA Annual Meeting

At the Maryland State Bar Association’s Annual Meeting, the daily educational sessions teach about law in various ways, from presentations to discussion panels — and even vivid children’s stories told by a pirate.

This last technique, of course, is mainly of interest to the children of the MSBA’s attorneys and judges, who vary in age from toddlers to middle school students.

“A good story is a good story,” said Jane Anders, who facilitates the Children’s Hour program each year. “It’s for all ages.”

In the ever-changing agenda of the MSBA Annual Meeting, the Children’s Hour program has been a fixture for 29 years, teaching lessons about the law and ethics with the help of children’s literature.

About 25 to 30 children and up to a dozen of the MSBA’s attorneys and judges attend each year, said Rick Miller, executive director of the Citizenship Law-Related Education Program, who helps to plan the Children’s Hour.

Anders, an elementary school media specialist from Anne Arundel County, has led the program since the beginning. She does not simply read the books, but dresses up and acts out the stories for the children, leading discussions on how the stories relate to real-life lessons in decision making and conflict resolution.

This year, for example, Anders will use “The Wump World” by Bill Peet to discuss ecological decisions, “Dr. De Soto” by William Steig to teach about ethical dilemmas, and “Where the Wild Things Are” by Maurice Sendak to contemplate power and problem solving. She will do all of this dressed as the Story Pirate, using props and visuals to engage the children.

“There were some magical moments and you sort of forgot you were an adult for a moment,” said Prince George’s County Circuit Judge Larnzell Martin, who attended the Children’s Hour several years ago. “It was extremely engaging and she made the law … entirely enjoyable for the kids.”

The Children’s Hour is the offspring of the Citizenship Law-Related Education Program, which runs programs, often with MSBA, to educate children about law and ethics.

While law and ethics are the main focus of the hour, “we’re also really into getting young people to read,” said Miller, adding that another goal is to “highlight to the young people and parents all the programs we do to increase the understanding of the law and legal system.”

Other programs include the MSBA High School Mock Trial Competition, the Law Links high school internship program, Baltimore City Teen Court, and law-related teacher trainings.

This year’s session runs from 11 o’clock to noon on Friday. And while the Children’s Hour is only one hour, Anders says she sends some materials home with the children and parents so they can extend the fun and learning, and that some of the children stay after her presentation to read the books and play with the props.

“If you were to ask me, ‘Does this work?’ I would say absolutely,” said Anders, “or I would not have continued to do it for 29 years.”