29 Community Highlights: Water Mills to Bike Maintenance. Knitting to Folktales.

Discover local birds on a free guided bird walk with Forbes Library in Northampton on Sunday morning, May 11. The walk will take you through the Smith College campus and up to Paradise Pond in search of birds. This walk is great for beginner birders who want to learn more about bird identification, bird calls, and what some good birding spots in the area are.

Water Mills to Bike Maintenance. Knitting to Folktales. Mother’s Day to Community Service…These are just a few of the community learning highlights we’re featuring this week!

Peruse our list below and make plans to get out into your community and learn while you play!

Featured learning highlight this week: May 15 is Third Thursday in Turners Falls! This month’s theme is “The Nature of Things,” and the evening includes tons of events relating to the river, including workshops, science demonstrations, wildlife exhibitions, performances, installations, and more. There is something for all ages at this fun event, which highlights some of the awesome things Turners Falls has to offer.

Geology/Natural HistoryLocal HistoryMother’s DayCommunity ServiceMusic StudiesDance & PerformanceAnimal & Nature StudiesSkill Share/BikesLiteracyFiber Arts/Knitting

Learn Local. Play Local is sponsored in part by:

Geology/Natural History

Did you know that much of the Pioneer Valley was underwater 15,000 years ago? Glacial Lake Hitchcock covered most of the Pioneer Valley and is responsible for some of the area’s most notable geologic formations. You can discover the geologic history and ecology of the Greenfield Community College (GCC) campus and beyond at a walk and talk event held by the Pioneer Valley Institute on Saturday morning, May 10th. Local geologists and naturalists Richard Little, Dave Small, and Nancy Goodman will present a short introduction, then lead participants on a walk around the GCC campus in search of interesting geologic formations, flora, and fauna. Learn about glacial Lake Hitchcock and how it has impacted (and continues to impact) the region’s geology and ecology. The walk is followed by a discussion, and then, after lunch, a second walk will take place off-campus, transporting participants to many other fascinating geologic sites in the area.

Local History

What can historical sites tell us about life in the past? Landmarks of the past can teach us about popular industries, activities, and people from an earlier time. The Plainfield Historical Society and Dario Coletta, Plainfield landscape historian, are leading “Exploring Plainfield’s History Through Hidden Landmarks” on Saturday morning, May 10. This walk will take you to little-known historical sites, including an animal pound, cemeteries, and a stone cave from the 19th century that was used for tanning animal hides. Seeing these sites can teach students a lot about Plainfield’s history – What sorts of animals were kept in the pound? Who is buried in the cemetery? What was the average lifespan of Plainfield residents in the past? Why were animal hides tanned in a cave and not somewhere else? Brainstorming questions like these can help students make connections between places, people, and history to better understand why and how things were the way they were. — Not able to make it to this event? The Plainfield Historical Society’s website is a great resource for learning about Plainfield’s history, and Hidden Walls, Hidden Mills offers a series of maps for self-guided tours of the town’s historic sites.

Are you interested in learning about the history of the Mill River? Join the Williamsburg Historical Society for an illustrated talk, “Water Mills of Williamsburg: Where, When, Who Built Them, and the Technology They Embraced,” on Tuesday evening, May 13  at the First Congregational Church of Williamsburg. Local historians Bob Barker, Ralmond Black, and Eric Weber present this lecture, which includes illustrations and historic photographs. They will discuss the industrial history of the Mill River, where water mills were located, and why. The talk will also focus on what these waterways were like prior to the Mill River Flood of 1874 and the Great Flood of 1936. Right before the talk, there will be a potluck supper for those attending. Pick up some veggies at a local farmers’ market and make a favorite meal to share with community members, then enjoy learning about Williamsburg’s old mills and the town’s industrial history.

Author and Amherst College history professor Kevin Sweeney presents, “Guns in Early America: Busting the Myth of Colonial Sharpshooters,” with the Hatfield Historical Society at the Hatfield Congregational Church on Thursday evening, May 15. Professor Sweeney will discuss the history of guns in colonial America and the image of the well-armed colonists who were skilled firearms users. Is this a myth, or is it reality? What types of guns did most colonists own, and were they actually skilled marksmen? Find out at this free informative talk! 

Mother’s Day

Not up for breakfast in bed, then head out for breakfast or brunch!  We asked our readers for family friendly restaurant recommendations for Mother’s Day and they had several to offer. Check out Mother’s Day Brunch to see their suggestions… and add one of your own.

After breakfast/brunch, celebrate Mother’s Day by taking her to one of the many gorgeous gardens dotted throughout Western Massachusetts including the Bridge of Flower in Shelburne Falls, one of the Commonwealth’s most unusual and enchanting “gardens” is found in Franklin County.  Read our post The Art of Great Gardens in Western MA for a list of recommended public gardens in the region.

If you’re looking for something a little more scheduled, check out these highlights for Mother’s Day taking place this Sunday, May 11th:

  • Guided wildflower walk at Bartholomew’s Cobble in Sheffield. All ages can stroll around the grounds looking for wild columbine and other native wildflowers. Families can even learn about how to grow these flowers at home to attract butterflies and other creatures!
  • Learn about colonial New England at Old Sturbridge Village in Sturbridge! Moms get in free on this special day and families can spend time together learning about historic New England trades, families, chores, games, and activities, and can do a craft and see a performance. There will also be a moms vs. kids tug of war!
  • The Yiddish Book Center in Amherst will celebrate Mother’s Day with fun and educational events for the whole family. You can tour the museum, participate in a workshop about the Wexler Oral History Project, and a musical tribute to Molly Picon, a star of the Yiddish Theatre. All ages can explore the museum and celebrate Mother’s Day at some or all of these programs.
  • Moms and kids can spend the day together at the Norman Rockwell Museum in Stockbridge. The Museum is offering free admission to moms (with one paying ticket) on this special day, so bring the kids and discover all this Berkshire museum has to offer. There will also be gallery talks about family themes in art.
  • Kids can explore the Eric Carle Museum of Picture Book Art‘s special exhibition by Bernard Waber and then make paper hats inspired by Lyle, Lyle, Crocodile’s mom in the art studio! Celebrate Mother’s Day with this fun craft activity in Amherst.
  • Discover beautiful Spring wildflowers at Little Tom Mountain in Holyoke with The Trustees of Reservations and Aimee Gelinas of Tamarack Hollow Nature and Cultural Center. This fun Mother’s Day hike gives families a chance to spend time together in the great outdoors!

Check our list of Weekly Suggested Events for more information!

Community Service

Learn how you can help protect your local watershed and become a steward for the Westfield River at “Walkin’ the Watershed,” an event that is part of Wild and Scenic Westfield River’s Wild and Scenic Saturdays programs. On Saturday morning, May 10 in Becket, students can learn how to help care for sections of the River and how to conduct a visual survey.

Teachers from Gateway Regional School District have paired with the Hilltown Land Trust to offer a workday for the campus’ Nature Trail on Saturday morning, May 10 in Huntington. Students, parents, and community members are invited to help revitalize the nature trail by removing saplings and overgrown brush. Community members of all ages can gain experience doing community service at this event, which will create opportunities for Gateway students to use the trail for outdoor study and ecology classes.

Be a “blanketeer” at Wilbraham Public Library by making blankets for Project Linus on Sunday morning, May 11. The organization provides new, handmade blankets to children who are ill or who have experienced trauma. Teens can gain hands-on experience in quilting, knitting, crocheting, sewing, etc. and learn about the importance of helping others at this event.

Teens and adults can gain experience volunteering by helping Kestrel Land Trust build bird nest boxes on Monday afternoon, May 12, in Amherst. This work party is the first Land Stewards Corps event of the season, and materials, tools, and instructions will be provided. Since this volunteer opportunity requires the use of tools, it is best for older teens and adults.

Music Studies

Celebrate, encourage, and support community at a concert by Amandla Chorus at Helen Hills Hills Chapel in Northampton on Saturday evening, May 10th. The group, based out of Greenfield, sings ancient and modern songs about justice, freedom, and peace, and aims to celebrate the power of community through their music. This concert will help raise money for the food security programs of Grow Food Northampton, Just Roots, and Pleasant St. Community Garden. Families can hear moving songs from all around the world while supporting local food security and community engagement, and celebrating the lives of Nelson Mandela and Pete Seeger.

Earthdance is holding a community sing and potluck on Sunday evening, May 11 in Plainfield. Penny Schultz, Earthdance co-founder, brings community members together through song. Penny is a dynamic and energetic teacher whose love of music is infectious and ability to lead and teach is unsurpassed. Sing rounds that welcome spring, the Mardi Gras anthem “Iko Iko,” songs about frogs and South Africa, and many more songs rich in history and lore. This event is open to all ages, engaging children in music and singing in an intergenerational environment.

Legendary folk musician Pete Seeger passed away in January and left behind a legacy of music, activism, and the ability to bring about social change through song. Celebrate and learn about his life at a screening of Pete Seeger: Power of Song (2007; rated PG) at Amherst Cinema on Sunday evening, May 11. The film, directed by Jim Brown, documents the life of Pete Seeger and features archival footage and personal films from his family and home life. This authorized biography tells of Seeger’s life experiences and contributions to society and folk music. Musicians Peter Blood and Annie Patterson, creators of Rise Up Singing, will present an introduction and lead the audience in song before the screening. Older students who are interested in learning more about Seeger and his life and work as an artist and activist will enjoy this screening and sing-along.

Dance & Performance

Come see many different types of dance at the Amherst Regional High School Dance Department’s Court Jam Dance Festival, held at the Wildwood Elementary School basketball courts on Saturday afternoon, May 10. There will be workshops on Zumba, yoga, and more, and demonstrations of hip-hop, Irish step, ballet, modern, Cape Verdean dance, Bomba, and other styles. Anyone interested in dance will love this free event!

Community members are invited to a free live performance of The Brain Show at Images Cinema in Williamstown on Saturday afternoon, May 10. This comedic one-woman show, starring Suzy Polucci, is all about the brain and how it develops, and the negative lasting impacts of drugs, alcohol, and trauma. This show could act as a useful platform for teens and parents to have a meaningful discussion about drugs and alcohol.

The Stoneleigh-Burnham School Community Dance Program presents “Native American Folktales Told in Movement,” featuring thirty local children, older students, and adults on Saturday afternoon, May 10. The groups will perform dances with themes based in American Indian mythology. All ages will enjoy seeing these folktales come to life through dance and movement. Free event in Greenfield.

Animal & Nature Studies

Discover local birds on a free guided bird walk with Forbes Library in Northampton on Sunday morning, May 11. The walk will take you through the Smith College campus and up to Paradise Pond in search of birds. This walk is great for beginner birders who want to learn more about bird identification, bird calls, and what some good birding spots in the area are.

Learn about tree identification at the Dickinson Memorial Library in Northfield with Michael Wojtech, author of Bark: A Field Guide to Trees of the Northeast, as part of the Northfield’s Woodlands series of programs on Wednesday evening, May 14. This is the first in a two-part program with Wojtech – part one is an animated lecture on tree identification in New England, and part two, which takes place from on Saturday morning, May 17, is an outdoor workshop focused on identifying trees and learning about their bark. Older students interested in plants and ecology will enjoy this program. 

May 15 is Third Thursday in Turners Falls! This month’s theme is “The Nature of Things,” and the evening includes tons of events relating to the river, including workshops, science demonstrations, wildlife exhibitions, performances, installations, and more. There is something for all ages at this fun event, which highlights some of the awesome things Turners Falls has to offer.

Skill Share/Bikes

The Sunderland Public Library is offering a free Bike Maintenance Workshop for teens and tweens with a mechanic from Laughing Dog Bicycles on Saturday afternoon, May 10. Students in grades 5-12 who want to learn the basics of bike repair and maintenance will love this skill sharing workshop.


Kids can come to the Greenfield Public Library for “Experience the Book Party: Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory” on Saturday afternoon, May 10. Get your Golden Ticket and explore the world of Roald Dahl’s Charlie and the Chocolate Factory at this free event. Meet Charlie, Willy Wonka, Oompa Loompas, and other book characters all around the library.

Fiber Arts/Knitting

Kids can come to the Monson Free Library to learn how to knit or improve their knitting skills on Saturday at noon, May 10! Library staff will be there to teach the basics, including casting-on, knitting, purling, and binding off. If possible, please bring US size #8 straight needles to this free skill sharing event.

On Friday afternoon, May 16, the Sunderland Public Library is also  offering a free knitting skill share. Teens and tweens in grades 5-12 can come work on a project or learn to knit for the first time!

Learn Local. Play Local. is supported in part by a grant from the Amherst, Ashfield, Bernardston, Charlemont/Hawley, Chesterfield, Conway, Heath, Leyden, Montague, Montgomery, South Hadley and Shutesbury Cultural Councils, local agencies which are supported by the Massachusetts Cultural Council, a state agency.

[Photo credit: (cc) Chad Horwedel]

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