42 Community-Based Educational Highlights: Canines to Insects. Trains to Timber. Russian Folktales to Winter Camping.

Model railroad fans from throughout New England and beyond come together this weekend to share their passion for trains of all sizes at the Amherst Railway Society Railroad Hobby Show at the Eastern States Exposition. A great intergenerational hobby, model trains can support a variety of interests, from history to carpentry to economics to set design. Come curious and ask questions! West Springfield, MA. ($-$$)

Canines to Insects. Trains to Timber. Russian Folktales to Winter Camping… These are just a few of the community-based 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 community highlights this week:  Kicking off winter festival season is The Art Garden’s outdoor Winter Celebration on Saturday, January 30, 4pm-8pm. A celebration of local art and the collective experiences of winter (both literally and metaphorically), this special event includes both indoor and outdoor elements. In the rail yard just outside The Art Garden, families will find creative winter-inspired installations and participatory art pieces, as well as (weather permitting) a fire around which to gather and bask in the contrast between the light of fire and the chill of winter. Indoors, the Winter Celebration brings an opening reception for Winter, a community exhibit centered around its namesake and offering families the opportunity to explore the many different creative representations and interpretations of winter. 413-625-2782. 14 Depot Street, Suite 2, Shelburne Falls, MA.

Museums AdventuresCynologyEntomologyTrainsSocial Emotional LearningCreative-Free PlayColonial HistoryHistorical TradesIce HarvestingStorytellingOutdoor AdventuresIce FishingSports HistoryWorld StudiesDance StudiesWinter CelebrationsMusic StudiesCulture StudiesParenting SkillsWomen’s StudiesTextile ArtsRefugee StudiesPaleontologyInclusion

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Museum Adventures

Saturday, January 30, 10am-5pm
The expression “man’s best friend” is often used to describe dogs, with good reason — dogs and humans have had a close relationship for thousands of years. Cynology is the study of dogs and this weekend through museum adventures families can take a zoological approach to an interest in dogs! Learn how wild canines evolved to become our BFFs at a new exhibit, Wolf to Woof: The Story of Dogs, at the Springfield Museums. The exhibit explores science through the lens of the human/dog connection with multi-media displays, artifacts, photo murals, dioramas, and hands-on activities. During this opening-day celebration, there will also be a performance by Greg the Magician and his dog Axel, a live-animal demonstration about mammals by Teaching Creatures, and a presentation by Wolf Talk Educational Programs (sorry, no live wolf). 413-263-6800. 21 Edwards Street, Springfield, MA. ($$)

Saturday, January 30, 11am-5pm
Come to MASS MoCA for Free Day 2016, a day of music, family art projects, gallery tours, and pop-up performances. Enjoy one of the world’s premier centers for making and showing the best modern art. Also view the results of the Kidspace artist residency with North Adams and North Berkshire students. 413-662-2111. 1040 MASS MoCA Way, North Adams, MA. (FREE)

Find out what’s happening at other area museums in our monthly column, Museum Adventures: Highlights from Western MA Museum Educators.


Saturday, January 30, 9-10am; Sunday, January 31, 7-8am
Go on a musical hike this week with Hilltown Family Variety Show guest DJs Jeff and Paige to explore INSECTS! Through music and story you’ll learn: how to identify an insect, how insects connect with animals, how insects help humans, and how humans can help insects! Jeff and Paige will play some of their favorite songs as well as fun tunes from other children’s musicians and from a few adult acts. Make sure you have room to dance as you explore nature and science with Jeff and Paige. Tune in on your FM dial, or listen live via streaming audio at www.valleyfreeradio.org. Encore of Saturday’s broadcast airs Sunday morning from 7-8am and podcast is posted here on Hilltown Families immediately following Sunday’s broadcast. Listen to the Hilltown Family Variety Show podcasts anytime. Click here to choose from over 8 years!


Saturday, January 30, 9am-5pm; Sunday, January 31, 10am-5pm
Model railroad fans from throughout New England and beyond come together to share their passion for trains of all sizes at the Amherst Railway Society Railroad Hobby Show at the Eastern States Exposition. A great intergenerational hobby, model trains can support a variety of interests, from history to carpentry to economics to set design. Come curious and ask questions. Real-life railroads, scale model railroads, historical societies, art shows, flea market dealers, and photographers are all featured. View railroad layouts of all sorts, from the tiny Z scale to the monster N-Trak System. The Amherst Belt Lines, an HO scale model railroad operation, is a show highlight. 413-267-4555. 875 Memorial Avenue, West Springfield, MA. ($-$$)

Though the possibility of train travel in western Massachusetts feels new and exciting, railroads have been an important part of the region’s history. By visiting museums, exploring local landmarks, and following the former paths of trains, families can dig deep into the history of the development of communities across western Massachusetts! Read more in our post 6 Community-Based Resources: Train Travel with Local History.

Coming down the tracks and headed straight into the hands of young enthusiasts, are three picture books about trains previously featured in our monthly column, Open Sesame. If you have little engineers in your life, the ones who sleep with trains under their pillows, who hear the whistle from miles away, who build tracks from one end of the house to the other, then check out these exciting books. Featuring both modern and vintage trains, and artwork that transports the reader to railroads near and far, these books will have train lovers wanting to climb aboard. Read more in our post Railroads & Locomotives: Three Children’s Books About Trains.

Social Emotional Learning Through Film

Saturday, January 30, 9:30am
Loveable Po is an unlikely choice for kung fu master, and his father would rather he stay in the family’s noodle business. Can he overcome these challenges to achieve greatness? Kung Fu Panda 3 (PG, 2016) shows at Greenfield Garden Cinemas as a benefit for the Erving Elementary PTO. Afterward, families can discuss what makes Po a great kung fu warrior. Best suited for ages 6 and up due to some scary sequences. 361 Main Street, Greenfield, MA. (<$ DONATION)

Saturday, January 30, 10am
In Wolf Children (PG, 2012), 19-year-old college student Hana meets and marries a wolfman, the last of an ancient breed of creatures who can transform from wolf to human, and they have two children. After her husband dies, she decides to move from their big, unfriendly city to the country, where the children can choose to live as wolf or human. Based on a Japanese fable, the film is beautiful and emotionally powerful. Afterward, families can discuss how to make tough life choices and the differences between a fable, a legend, a myth, and a fairy tale. At the Amherst Cinema. Best suited for tweens and teens. 413-253-2547. 28 Amity Street, Amherst, MA. (<$)

Saturday, January 30, 2pm and 7pm
It’s a movie; it’s a party; it’s both! You’re invited to Sing Along with The Muppet Movie (G, 1979) at City Stage. This interactive, immersive presentation, the brainchild of Muppets-creator Jim Henson’s daughter, Heather Henson, and her IBEX Puppetry production company, features bubbles, streamers, kites, confetti pops, and characters emerging from the screen into the audience. Audience participation includes reciting famous lines, blowing bubbles, dancing in the aisles, and singing along with the tunes. It’s Muppet madness! 413-788-7033. One Columbus Center, 150 Bridge Street, Springfield, MA. ($$)

Saturday, January 30, 6pm-8pm
Having evolved to serve, the yellow begoggled creatures in blue overalls called Minions (PG, 2015) struggle to find a sufficiently cruel master to work for, until they discover Scarlet Overkill, the world’s first super-villainess. This animated comedy will be shown at Whole Children‘s Inclusive Community Center and may not be suitable for younger children. Afterward, families can talk about how the main characters in the film are bad guys, yet the audience still roots for them. Is that okay? If so, why? Why not? Wear your pajamas and bring a nut-free snack to share. Parents must stay with kids. Pre-registration requested. For ages 5-12. 413-585-8010. 41 Russell Street, Hadley, MA. (FREE)

Colonial History

Saturday, January 30, 9:30am-4pm; Sunday, January 31, 9:30am-4pm
Explore Winter Work & Play in the 19th century at Old Sturbridge Village. Learn about timber harvesting, an essential winter activity, and watch farmers make fence material or hew a log. Step into another time and space to watch a blacksmith, potter, tinner, and other craftspeople do their winter work. When it’s time to play, enjoy parlor games, storytelling, and music inside, or sledding, snow sculpting, or a sleigh ride outside. 800-733-1830.1 Old Sturbridge Village Road, Sturbridge, MA. ($$)

Saturday, January 30, 1pm-2pm
Before mechanical refrigeration, January and February were the months of the ice harvest. Using specially designed tools, harvesters cut blocks of ice from lakes and ponds and stored them for use in “iceboxes,” the forebears of the modern refrigerator. Join the Great Falls Discovery Center for a slide show on ice harvesting, which took place where Unity Park is today, on Green Pond near Lake Pleasant, and elsewhere in the Connecticut River Watershed. 413-863-3221. Great Hall, 2 Avenue A, Turners Falls, MA. (FREE)

Friday, February 5, 9:30am-11:30am
Take advantage of the quiet season at Old Sturbridge Village with Home School Winter Mornings – workshops just for home school students. Choose from one- or two-hour sessions covering topics such as blacksmithing, photography, farm chores, sketching, chocolate and Valentines, and school in the 19th century. A wonderful chance for a behind-the-scenes look at the museum. For ages 7 and up. Pre-registration required. 800-733-1830. 1 Old Sturbridge Village Road, Sturbridge, MA. ($-$$)


Saturday, January 30, 10:30am and 11:30am
The Great Barrington Rudolf Steiner School presents The Snow Maiden at Matrushka Toys and Gifts as part of its Spring Puppet Series. Teachers will use their own handmade, needle-felted puppets to tell the Russian folktale of an old couple whose wish for a child is answered one winter night. For ages 2-6. 413-528-4015. 309 Main Street, Great Barrington, MA. (FREE)

Sunday, January 31, 3pm
Pirate stories feed children’s imaginations and help them learn good from bad. Watch one onstage when Nutshell Playhouse presents “Pirates!” a swashbuckling adventure featuring bold buccaneers, a mysterious map with a riddle, cursed treasure, a visit to an island that you can’t see, a pirate ghost, and a magical journey to the bottom of the sea. This seafaring tale features mime, music, masks, and puppets created by Clothespin Puppets. At Berkshire Pulse. 274-854-7674. 420 Park Street, Housatonic, MA. (FREE)

Outdoor Adventures

Saturday, January 30, 10:30am-12noon
Have you been trying to keep your family active this winter? Join Mass Audubon for a family hike on snowshoes at Canoe Meadows Wildlife Sanctuary. Snowshoeing is an easy-to-learn sport for all ages that promotes physical activity and social interaction. Start with an introduction to equipment and safety, then head out for a trek through wetlands and across gentle slopes. Dress warmly and in layers. Bring snowshoes if you have them. A limited number of adult and child snowshoes are available if reserved ahead of time. Suitable for children ages 5-12 and their caregivers. 413-637-0320. Holmes Road, Pittsfield, MA. (<$ Members, $ Non-members)

Saturday, January 30, 11am to Sunday, January 31, 2pm
Sure, you camp, but in the winter? Now that’s adventurous! Let the Trustees of Reservations show you how at the Tully Lake Winter Camp-out. Depending on snow conditions, experienced winter campers will teach you winter fire-making, snow shelter building, and animal tracking, in addition to outdoor cooking. Registration required. 413-532-1631, ext. 10. 25 Doane Hill Road, Royalston, MA. ($$)

Sunday, January 31, 6am-2pm
Kids ages 6 and up can try ice fishing and compete for prizes at the 21st Annual Ice Fishing Derby on Metacomet Lake, sponsored by the Tri-Lakes Watershed Association. Pre-registration required; limited to 400 participants (adults and kids). 413-336-4998. Bay Road and Poole Road, Belchertown, MA. ($$)

Sports History

Saturday, January 30, 11am
Most people are familiar with the Dream Team, the American Olympic basketball team that won the gold in 1992. The Other Dream Team (Not Rated, 2012) looks at the bronze medal winners that year, the Lithuanians. Four years previous, Lithuania was part of the Soviet Union, and Lithuanian players helped the USSR beat the the US for the gold. This documentary tells the story of the 1992 Lithuanian team, who faced the Russians after years of oppression, following the breakup of the Soviet Union. At the Whately Library. 413-665-2170. 202 Chestnut Plain Road, Whately, MA. (FREE)

Dance Studies

Saturday, January 30, 3pm and 8pm
The American Ballet Theatre has been home to some of the world’s pre-eminent dancers and choreographers, including Mikhail Baryshnikov, George Balanchine, Twyla Tharp, Alvin Ailey, and now, Misty Copeland, the ABT’s first African-American principal dancer. The 16 dancers of the ABT Studio Company, the pre-professional training program of the ABT, will present La Bayadere, Bier Halle pas de deux, and Bolero at Mt. Holyoke College‘s Kendall Studio Theatre. The dancers range in age from 16-20 years old. 413-538-2848. 50 College Street, South Hadley, MA. ($$)

Wednesday, February 3, 4pm-5pm
Learn to freestyle and rhyme, spit lyrics, and develop beats at Rock the Stacks!: Hip Hop at the Library at the Mason Square Branch of the Springfield Public Library. The Community Music School of Springfield will help young people develop their voice and self-confidence. For ages 6-14. Every Wednesday through 2/24. Read more about this program in our post, Rock the Stacks with the Music School of Springfield. 413-263-6853. 765 State Street, Springfield, MA. (FREE)

Winter Celebrations

Presenting the perfect opportunity to shake the winter blues, eight upcoming winter festivals bring community-based celebrations and educational opportunities to western Massachusetts during the coming month. From the Pioneer Valley through the Hilltowns and into the Berkshires, these winter celebrations are offering everything from sled races and bonfires to birding, ice harvesting, and live performances, these winter festivals are not to be missed – especially for families feeling stuck in the doldrums of winter. Read more in our post, Winter Festival Season 2016 in Western MA.

Saturday, January 30, 4pm-8pm
Kicking off winter festival season is The Art Garden’s outdoor Winter Celebration! A celebration of local art and the collective experiences of winter (both literally and metaphorically), this special event includes both indoor and outdoor elements. In the rail yard just outside The Art Garden, families will find creative winter-inspired installations and participatory art pieces, as well as (weather permitting) a fire around which to gather and bask in the contrast between the light of fire and the chill of winter. Indoors, the Winter Celebration brings an opening reception for Winter, a community exhibit centered around its namesake and offering families the opportunity to explore the many different creative representations and interpretations of winter. 413-625-2782. 14 Depot Street, Suite 2, Shelburne Falls, MA.

Friday, February 5, All Day
The town of Greenfield’s 94th Annual Winter Carnival brings indoor and outdoor fun to locations across town during the first weekend of February! A tradition for nearly a century, the event begins with ice carving downtown, the annual Parade of Lights, a fireworks display, and ice skating to a live DJ (for a fee)! 413-772-1553. Various locations, Greenfield, MA. (Most Events FREE)

Music Studies

Saturday, January 30, 6pm
The Four Nations Ensemble performs Baroque music inspired by works in the Clark Art Institute‘s collections. The group will play music with a theme of “goddess and laundress” to complement paintings by Francois Boucher and Hubert Robert. A French country supper will follow at 7:30pm, at an additional cost. 413-458-2303. 225 South Street, Williamstown, MA. ($)

Wednesday, February 3, 7:30pm
Experience ancient Japan and the discipline of the Samurai warrior when TAO brings their precision, energy, and stamina to the UMass Fine Arts Center in their new production, Seventeen Samurai. Intense Taiko drumming and powerful bodies produce innovative choreography. 413-545-2511. Concert Hall, 151 Presidents Drive, Amherst, MA ($$)

Culture Studies

Sunday, January 31, 10am-11am
Celebrate Tu B’shvat, the Birthday of the Trees, with Lander-Grinspoon Academy‘s PJ Preschool Pals at the Yiddish Book Center. Join Rana Morrissey, first grade teacher at the Academy, for “Let It Rain, Let It Rain, Let It Rain,” and make a rainstick. For ages 3-5. To learn more about this special day and to watch a short video, Tu B’Shevat Tale, check out our archived post, Tu B’Shevat: A Birthday Celebration for the Trees. 413-256-4900. 1021 West Street, Amherst, MA (FREE)

Parenting Skills

Sunday, January 31, 2pm
Throw out the sticker charts, quit the nagging and bribing, and stop focusing on grades. Lander-Grinspoon Academy, the Smith College Campus School, and the Montessori School of Northampton present a conversation between noted authors and parenting experts Jessica Lahey and Avital Norman Nathman. Lahey wrote the New York Times best-seller The Gift of Failure: How the Best Parents Learn to Let Go So Their Children Can Succeed. Norman Nathman penned The Good Mother Myth: Redefining Motherhood to Fit Reality. They will discuss how to foster intrinsic motivation in school-aged kids and help them grow into successful, resilient, self-reliant adults. Appropriate for parents, teachers, administrators, and guidance counselors. The authors’ books will be for sale at the event. 413-584-6622. 257 Prospect Street, Northampton, MA. (FREE)

Wednesday, February 3, 6:30pm
In a workshop, “Kids and Anxiety: When It’s Normal and When It’s Not,” clinical psychologist, Dr. Paul Roud talks to caregivers about proven techniques to help children and adults. Sponsored by the Hatfield Public Schools. Takes place at the Smith Academy Library. 413-247-5641. 34 School Street. Hatfield, MA (FREE)

Friday, February 5, 10am-12noon
How you respond to your children’s behaviors can make the difference between reinforcing them and changing them. Learn to support kids’ growth and social and emotional development when Scott Noyes, acclaimed parenting educator, presents “Positive Discipline,” an energetic workshop on helping children learn appropriate behavior. This is the first talk in the Hilltown Family Center‘s Nurturing Your Child/Positive Parenting Series. Pre-registration requested. 413-667-2203. 9 Russell Road (Route 20), Huntington, MA. (FREE)

Textile Arts

Sunday, January 31, 2pm
Today, quilting is seen mainly as a hobby, but in the past, it was often a sociopolitical activity. Quilts, and the women who made them, played an important role in many of the 19th century’s great movements and events, including industrialization, the abolition of slavery, the Civil War, westward expansion, temperance, and suffrage. Hearts and Hands — The Influence of Women & Quilts on American Society, a documentary showing pages of photographs from the book of the same name, tells the story of the powerful place of quilting in American history. At A Notion to Quilt. Followed by discussion. Reservations requested. 413-625-9644. 623 Mohawk Trail, Shelburne, MA. (FREE)

Learning about our local history through the lens of silk can help shed some light on understanding our regions industrial past, how local architecture relates to this past, and help us connect more with the history of our local landscape. Through self-guided walking tours, museum visits, and tree identification, families can explore the world of silk right here in the Pioneer Valley! Read more in our post, Exploring Local History Through Textiles.

No longer as much of a necessity as it once was, sewing is still a useful skill that children can learn to master! Learning to sew allows for a new creative medium, and can lead to studies of local history and local culture! Read more in our post, Sewing Skills Connect Local Culture, Local History, and Self-Sufficiency.

Refugee Studies

Saturday, January 30, 8pm
Mount Holyoke College Music Department students, faculty, and ensembles will perform Songs of the Wayfarer — A Benefit Concert for Refugees at McCulloch Auditorium. All proceeds benefit the local refugee resettlement programs of Jewish Family Services of Western Massachusetts and Catholic Charities Worcester County. 413-538-2000. 50 College Street, South Hadley, MA. (<$ SUGGESTED DONATION)

Sunday, January 31, 4:30pm
The Syrian refugee crisis is the greatest since World War II, with more than 12 million victims. You can learn more about the situation and help the refugees at Soup for Syria, a community-wide benefit hosted by the Jewish Community of Amherst. Experts on the situation will provide an update, and musicians from the Layaali Arabic Music Ensemble and Klezperanto will play. Soups from the cookbook Soup for Syria will be served, and the book, along with those by Syrian authors, will be for sale, to benefit the refugees. Donations will be collected for the Syrian American Medical Society Foundation, which provides desperately needed services. 413-256-0493. 742 Main Street, Amherst, MA. (FREE-WILL DONATION)


Wednesday, February 3, 6pm
What’s so fascinating about fossils? These preserved remains of ancient plants and animals can teach us what the world might have looked like millions, or even billions of years ago. When Sarah Doyle and her team of amateur and professional paleontologists bring their Jurassic Road Show to the Greenfield Public Library, they’ll have fossils of dinosaur footprints, raindrop impressions, mud cracks, and insect trails found on Bank Row in Greenfield in 1835. You can touch the fossils, ask questions, and even share your own fossils, if you like. 413-772-1544. LeVanway Room, 402 Main Street, Greenfield, MA. (FREE)

Young paleontologists unite! Resources for learning about dinosaurs abound here in western Massachusetts. From museum exhibits to hands-on paleontology activities to natural wonders, our region is rich with experiential and place-based opportunities for learning about the prehistoric creatures of the past. Learners of all ages can learn about the science of fossilization, dinosaur species and their adaptations, and the history of the discovery of fossils and footprints right here in western MA – all by utilizing educational resources available locally. Read more in our post, When Dinosaurs Walked…Western Mass.


Making winter recreation accessible to all, local organizations are offering a wide array of opportunities for community members of all abilities to participate in inclusive recreational opportunities. From sled hockey and skiing to basketball and bowling, children and adults of all abilities can find activities to match their interests! Read more in our post, Winter Brings Opportunities for Inclusive Recreation.

Saturday, January 30, 11am-3pm
People of all abilities can enjoy outdoor winter activities at Wendell State Forest. All Out Adventures will provide instruction, adaptive equipment, and assistance for accessible snowshoeing, kicksledding, sit cross-country skiing, sled skating, and snowmobile rides. Discover the thrill of playing in the snow! Pre-registration required. Dependent on snow/ice conditions. 413-584-2052. 392 Montague Road, Wendell, MA. (FREE)

Friday, February 5, 5:15pm-6:30pm
Join other families with kids ages 0-6 to welcome the Sabbath at Tot Shabbat, offered by Beit Ahavah Reform Synagogue. The kids enjoy music and activities led by Marlene Rachelle and Rabbi Riqi Kosovske, then share a veggie potluck dinner. Adults socialize and relax. Interfaith and GLBTQ families, nursing moms, babies and siblings of all ages, grandparents and special people, new members, first-timers, and friends all welcome! 413-587-3770. 130 Pine Street, Florence, MA. (FREE)

No matter what age we are, humans spend lots of our time making observations and learning from them. We learn about each other in this way, too – but sometimes observation isn’t the best tool for learning about other humans. Drawing from information offered in a wealth of varied resources, families can read, listen, and watch to explore the experiences of people with many different cognitive and physical disabilities – introducing children to the idea that all humans experience the world differently. Read more in our post, Resources for Learning About the Experiences of People With Disabilities.

[Photo credit: (cc) clarkmaxwell]

Learn Local. Play Local. is supported in part by a grant from the Amherst, Bernardston, Blandford, Chesterfield, Erving, Holyoke, Pelham and Williamsburg Cultural Councils, local agencies which are supported by the Massachusetts Cultural Council, a state agency.

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