Berkshire Family Fun: Back-to-School in the Berkshires

Fall Into the Season with a BANG

2011-12 Football Season starts off with a BANG! (Photo credit: Kelly Bevan McIlquham)

The 2011-12 football season started off with a BANG at our house this year — literally — after my son, Max, attended a Labor Day football jamboree and saw stars (or a least a bright flash of light as he describes it) after being tackled by a 7-foot, 200-pound mammoth of a player. OK, according to Max the kid was not much bigger than his 5-foot, 85-pound frame, but he looked big and as my son jumped to intercept a pass this kid laid him out. Max got up a little slow and unsteady on his feet after the hit and headed to the sideline where he stayed for the remainder of the jamboree. We spent Tuesday morning at the doctor’s office, and until we can get an appointment with a neurologist to further explore the extent of the concussion Max is grounded — again, literally. No jumping, running, skipping, sneezing, video-game playing, eye-rolling, head shaking, brother teasing … Nada! “How bad can that be?” you say. I’ll let you know. I’m thinking this very active, ADHD child who thrives on football and activity is not going to fair too well with these restrictions, but I’ve been wrong before. Let’s just hope we’ve kept the brain rattling to a minimum.


Hopkins Observatory (courtesy photo)

You don’t need to suffer a concussion to see stars up close and personal in the Berkshires this fall. I promised you I’d find out more about the Milham Planetarium’s fall schedule (located in the Old Hopkins Observatory on the Williams College campus in Williamstown), and I have. According to the college’s website astronomy students at the college will host free shows for the public on select Friday evenings at 7:30 p.m. through Dec. 9. Dates are as follows: Sept. 16, 23 and 30; Oct. 14, 21 and 28; Nov. 4, 11 and 18; and Dec. 2 and 9.

During these evening shows audiences will be treated to shows from the high-precision Zeiss Skymaster ZKP3/B opto-mechanical planetarium projector, installed at the college in April 2005. The Zeiss Skymaster is capable of demonstrating phenomena including: retrograde motions of the planets, phases of the moon, the varying temperatures/colors of stars, locations of neighboring galaxies, the mythological figures and zodiacal signs ascribed to constellations, the Southern Hemisphere’s sky, comets, artificial satellites and much more. The Hopkins Observatory, built in 1836-1838 by the first professor of astronomy at Williams College, Albert Hopkins, is the oldest extant observatory in the United States. Shows will last about 50 minutes.

For reservations (recommended) contact Michele Rech at 413-597-2188 or send an e-mail to Others will be admitted as space permits. Large groups should call for special appointments.


Hilltown Hoot (Photo credit: Kelly Bevan McIlquham)

The kids headed back to school last week without much pomp and circumstance and returned home with a mountain of homework — for me! Emergency cards, general information forms, questionnaires to fill out, school handbooks to read and sign ensuring that you actually read them … Ugh! While my kids chilled out watching television after a “taxing” first day (Yeah, right), I spent the majority of the evening with carpel tunnel and a giant migraine.

Among those forms were the first of the fundraisers peddling candles and wrapping paper, calendars and must-have seasonal decorations, all of which I do not need. But there is one fundraising flier that caught my eye and made me smile, and in my opinion, is the way a fundraiser should be done. For the past five years local Central Berkshire Regional School District parents Abe and Lisa Guthrie (Yes, they are related to THOSE Guthries famous Berkshire Guthries Woody and Arlo) have organized the annual Hilltown Hoot, a “fun-raiser” to benefit local schools. Originally the fundraiser was for the Becket/Washington Elementary School in the district, but last year the two decided the daylong music festival had been so successful in past years that they wanted to extend the benefits to all of the schools in the district, and this year is no different. On Sunday, Sept. 18, from noon to 7 p.m. local bands and performers, vendors, and more will converge on Washington Town Park (Route 8, Washington, MA) for an afternoon of fun, food, children’s activities, MUSIC and more. Some of the local (and world-renowned) talent includes students from the Becket Washington School Band, Terry a la Berry & Friends, Hilltown Zydeco String Band, Modest Me, Ryan Blessing, Annie Guthrie, Jordan Weller, Xavier (a band consisting of members Abe Guthrie, Tim Sears, Randy Cormier and Dan Teichert that started playing at our school dances went to school the district) and none other than Arlo Guthrie himself.

Tickets can be purchased in advanced for a discounted price or at the gate. For more information on where to purchase tickets and for a complete schedule of events visit


The Washington Town Park isn’t the only place Berkshirites can find music this fall, Central Berkshire Music Together, the internationally recognized music and movement program for infants, toddlers, preschoolers and the adults who love them, is offering free demonstration classes today, Sept. 8, and Saturday, Sept. 10, at 10 a.m. at South Congregational Church located on South Street in Pittsfield, and on Friday, Sept. 9, at First Congregational Church on Main Street in Williamstown, to prepare for the upcoming 10-week fall semester.

My twins began going to these classes in preschool and Shea, who was still in an infant car seat at the time, attended, too, and I swear that is where he got his rhythm. To this day, he loves to dance and sing, and has more of that “groove thang” than anyone else in the house. Thank you Sandy! For more information visit or call 413-637-1265.


Just because we were on vacation from school for three months didn’t stop my kids from learning about local history this summer as we visited old marble quarries, various mills, crumbling foundations and more around the Berkshires, and the discovery won’t end there as we plan to visit a few other historic sites in the region this fall.

First on our agenda is the Sept. 10 Berkshire County Residents’ Family Day at Chesterwood in Stockbridge. Chesterwood is the former summer home and studio of sculptor Daniel Chester French, whose best-known works include a seated Abraham Lincoln at the Lincoln Memorial in Washington D.C. and the Minute Man statue in Concord.

Our family has been talking about visiting the venue since we took a much-loved trip to D.C. a little over a year ago and the kids realized the Berkshire connection. Shea and Max even had a little scavenger hunt to find the inscription of the famed sculptor who called the Berkshires home during the summer months in late 1800s early 1900s.

During the family day visitors to the site can relax in the garden, stroll the woodland walks and enjoy the stunning views of Monument Mountain after visiting the studio, residence and annual “Contemporary Sculpture at Chesterwood” exhibit. Many of French’s plaster sketches, including models of his Abraham Lincoln for the Lincoln Memorial, are on view in his studio as well as in the permanent exhibit, “Daniel Chester French: Sculpting an American Vision,” in the Barn Gallery.

Picnicking is encouraged, so pack up the kids and some delectable treats and head south. The house and grounds are open from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. For more information call 413-298-3579 or visit

Another stop I hope to make in South Berkshire County this fall is at the Ashley House and Bartholomew’s Cobble in Sheffield. The house is the former home of Elizabeth “Mum Bett” Freeman, who lived in the house as the Ashley family’s slave and sued for her freedom in a Great Barrington court house and won in 1781. The home has been preserved by the Trustees of Reservations. It is open through Columbus Day weekend on Saturdays and Sundays, with tours at 1 and 2 p.m. that tell the intertwined stories of the Ashleys and the enslaved African Americans who lived there in the 18th century.

Also on the property in celebration of the 230th anniversary of Freeman’s landmark case, the Trustees have opened a new outdoor exhibit in an old converted barn to honor the legacy of Freeman, and to tell her life story before and after she obtained her freedom. The exhibit, titled “Elizabeth Freeman: A Story of Courage,” at the newly opened Interpretive Center is open daily (sunrise to sunset) and is a great place to visit before or after hiking the trails at the Cobble. It will introduce visitors to Freeman and slavery in New England and surely have children asking many questions on the ride home. (Always a good thing!)

For more information visit http


The story of Elizabeth Freeman is just one of many that celebrates the diverse heritage of our region and on Sept. 17 in partnership with the Upper Housatonic Heritage Area’s 2011 Heritage Walks Weekend, Chesterwood will be hosting Heritage Walks around the property at 10:30 a.m. and 1:30 p.m. The walks will reveal how Daniel Chester French created the Minute Man in Concord and Abraham Lincoln for the Lincoln Memorial. Landscape architect and Chesterwood Advisory Council member Sarah la Cour will lead the tour at 10:30 a.m. and Curatorial Assistant Anne Cathcart will lead the tour at 1:30 p.m. Pre-registration is required. To register call 413-298-3579, ext. 25216.


On Sunday, Sept. 11, St. Joseph Church on North Street in Pittsfield will celebrate the eighth annual “Festival of Sharing Roots,” an event that highlights the many cultures that comprise the parish community. The free festivities will begin at noon and continue until 5:30 p.m. and will feature entertainment, food concessions representing nine international cuisines each serving their favorite specialty, children’s activities, raffles and more. All they had to hear was international food and my taste buds were screaming to schedule this one in.


Due to the rain on Labor Day my plans to hike the Cascade Trail in North Adams were foiled once again, but there is still the fall, so stay tuned for future photos. I AM going to make it to this trail off of Marion Avenue in the Mount Greylock State Reservation SOON!

Another hike that I am determined to take with my family, though not in the Berkshires but close enough, is one to the Chesterfield Gorge, another Trustees of Reservations property in West Chesterfield off of Ireland Street. I went there in the fall years ago when my husband and I were dating and the foliage alone was breathtaking enough to elicit a return visit. And then there was the gorge. It is a trip I’ve wanted to make again and one I promised myself I’d do with my husband and kids this year. For more information about the property and its trails visit


Each year Berkshire Theatre Festival puts on a stellar community production to close the summer season and to ring in the new school year. This year’s production of “The Wizard of Oz” is set to begin Friday, Sept. 9, at 7:30 p.m. at the Colonial Theatre in Pittsfield. Shows are also scheduled for Saturday, Sept. 10, at 2 and 7:30 p.m., and Sunday, Sept. 11, at 2 p.m. For more information visit


Fall in Berkshire County still leaves room for plenty of outdoor celebrations and on Saturday, Sept. 10, Berkshire Family and Individual Resources (BFAIR) will hold its third annual Miniature Golf Tournament & Community Day Fundraiser to benefit programs for adults and children with developmental disabilities, autism and acquired brain injuries at The Range in North Adams. The day’s festivities will feature activities for children and adults, raffles, Zumba and yoga demonstrations, food and music, as well as miniature golf tournament (1 p.m. shotgun start). The daylong event runs from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. For more information visit or call 413-664-9382.


Kelly Bevan McIlquham

Kelly Bevan McIlquham writes our bi-monthly column, Berkshire Family Fun, sharing update, events and activities for families in the Berkshires.  Kelly is a psychotherapist-turned-writer who resides in Hinsdale, MA with her husband, three children, a chocolate lab, a very fat cat, a turtle, and a few goldfish. Kelly is a freelance writer who dabbles in writing for children and has had her non-fiction published by Wee Ones online family magazine. When not writing or editing, her favorite pastime is cheering on her children at various football, soccer, basketball and baseball games. — Check out Berkshire Family Fun every other Thursday.

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