27 Community-Based Educational Highlights: Winter Solstice to Dreidel. Holiday Icons to Dance Studies.

This Sunday, December 18 at the Springfield Museums, connect with your Jewish heritage or learn about traditional Hanukkah celebrations. They will be hosting “Illuminating Gallery Activities” including dreidel games, candle rolling, and more. Participants can craft their own Star of David out of frosted paper. Decorate Suf Ganiyot, a round jelly doughnut often eaten in celebration of Hanukkah. What to make your own Suf Ganiyot (pictured here) at home? Here’s a quick and easy recipe.

Technology to Mills & Canals. Animation to Ballet. Christmas Icons to Astronmy. Dreidel to Suf Ganiyot. Psychology to Neuroscience. 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 weekThe Umass Amherst Sunwheel has attracted tens of thousands of visitors who wish to learn about solar and lunar cycles. Sunwheels, circular stone structures, are designed such that the stones line up with the locations on the horizon of the rising and setting Sun during solstices and equinoxes. On Wednesday, December 21, 7am and 3:30pm, you can witness this event during the Winter Solstice, and also learn about the seasons, the phases of the moon, the story behind the building of the sunwheel, and more. Bring questions and dress appropriately. The gatherings last about one hour and are held in all weather except rain or blizzards. Amity Street. Amherst, MA. (DONATION)

STEM ♦  Local HistoryArt StudiesLocal FoodDance StudiesOrnithology ♦  LiteracyNon-CommercialPlacemakingGingerbreadHoliday LightsWinter SolsticeMYO Gifts ♦  HanukkahAnimationCitizen ScienceAstronomyDreidelBakingHoliday IconsPsychologyNeuroscienceMeditation

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In early December we spotlighted the history of Gingerbread houses and featured a video showing how to create and bake one of your very own house at home. But how are Gingerbread House kits manufactured to be sold in stores during the holiday season? Integrate an interest in pastry arts and technology by learning how kits are manufactured in this video on the Science Channel:

Saturday, December 17, 10:30am-11:30am
S.T.E.A.M. refers to the important subjects of science, technology, engineering, art, and math. STEAM programs encourage an interest in both creativity and scientific topics, bringing together kids with an interest in either or both. This STEAM craft program at the Meekins Library will combine scientific learning with the craft of designing a miniature gingerbread house. 413-268-7472. 2 Williams Street. Williamsburg, MA. (FREE)

Did you know that you can also make a virtual Gingerbread House…with Minecraft? Who knew? Have kids who love Minecraft? Show them this video below and then take them to the event above for a community-based pastry art event at the Meekins Library, engaging all senses at once! Or approach it from the other way around…invite your kids who love pastry arts to discover Minecraft and then engage in the community-based STEM event below!

Monday, December 19, 5:30pm-7:30pm
Minecraft, a game of increasing popularity among children, is a little like a digital version of LEGOs. In the game, players have to build any number of objects and architectural pieces out of blocks. When played in moderation, this game can have surprisingly positive effects on kids’ learning and motivation. Teachers have begun using this game to explain physical and mathematical concepts. The game requires complex planning, technological knowledge and even creativity. This Minecraft event at Holyoke Codes will teach players how to create custom modes and code special behaviors for characters. There will be plenty of tablets and laptops available, but if you have Minecraft PE you can bring your own device. Ages seven and up. 413- 552-4900. 100 Bigelow Street. Holyoke, MA. (FREE)

Local History

Have you ever walked, biked, or driven through downtown Holyoke and wondered about the history of the city’s numerous old buildings?  Each empty mill, towering church, and brick rowhouse tells a story of the city’s past.  An exploration of Holyoke’s history reveals a rich, diverse, and complicated history. Visitors to Holyoke can now learn about the city’s history themselves – from home or while exploring the city’s streets thanks to the Wistariahurst Museum!  The Museum has recently added a gigantic community resource to its repertoire- the Holyoke History Walk, offering a comparative look at the city and many of its streets and buildings as they once were (up to 125 years ago). Check out the map and select an industrial tour for a virtual visit of the Whiting Mill, Beebe and Holbrook Mills, and American Thread Mill.

Saturday, December 17, 10:30am-1pm
Studying mills and canals can connect interests in local history, natural history, industry, and architecture while connecting you to your place. The Holyoke Historical Committee is sponsoring a bus tour for community members who wish to explore the canal system in Holyoke. The tour will cover the canal’s historical background, as well as its physical and mechanical properties, and its development.  Take a virtual tour with the Holyoke History Walk to see image from yesteryear, and then visit in person during this tour! In case of significant snow, the tour will take place on Sunday, December 18, 10:30am-1pm. Please call for reservations 413-322-5634. Meet at City Hall Parking Lot. Holyoke, MA. (FREE)


During the winter, young wildlife enthusiasts can focus their attention on feathered friends, one of the few creatures who are still very visible throughout the coldest months of the year. Whether your family are avid birders or simply enjoy watching feeder visitors, there are lots of ways to learn about the local environment and to participate in citizen science by watching birds this winter! From owls to chickadees, there are many ways to engage with the local landscape and to help contribute information to important studies. Read more in our post, Becoming a Citizen Scientist Opens Your Awareness to Birdlife In Your Backyard.

Saturday, December 17, 1pm-3pm
Bird watching is the perfect educational, outdoor activity for the winter. Bring your children to “Backyard Birds for Kids” at Notchview for them to learn all about local winter birds like cardinals, woodpeckers, and juncos. A naturalist will teach participants all about these birds’ habits, and afterwards your child will make a birdseed pinecone feeder. Reservations are recommended. For more information please call 413.628.4485 x3. 83 Old Route 9. Windsor, MA. (<$)

Art Studies

What do you know about the different types if animation? In this video, five different styles are covered: traditional animation; 2D Vector based animation; 3D computer animation; motion graphics; and top motion. Give it a view for a quick tutorial and then consider the exhibit below to further explore an interest through primary source materials that explore the history of animation:

Before the rise of basic cable, Saturday mornings for many children in America were spent watching cartoons on one of three available television channels. From 1958 through the 1980s, a majority of those cartoons bore the imprint of HannaBarbera. Creating scores of popular series such as The Yogi Bear Show, The Flintstones, The Jetsons, Jonny Quest, and Scooby-Doo, HannaBarbera was an animation powerhouse and its bountiful creativity is beloved to this day. Norman Rockwell Museum will pay tribute to the art of the award-winning studio with the new exhibition HannaBarbera: The Architects of Saturday Morning, on view through May 29, 2017. 413-298-4100. 9 Glendale Road. Stockbridge, MA. ($. College students with ID <$. Ages 6-18 <$. Under 5 and museum members FREE)

Local Food

Winter farmers’ markets provide a fresh and colorful oasis during the winter months, reminding us that despite the blustery, snow drift-covered fields that surround us, farm-fresh foods of all kinds are still available. Connecting to the local food chain year round is not only healthy for your body, your family, and your community, but it can be educational as well! Exposing children to the wide array of foods available from winter farmers’ markets can help them to recognize that there are many different methods for growing and producing food while connecting to where there food comes from. Here are a few to choose from this week:

Saturday, December 17, 10am-2pm
Want to purchase more locally-grown foods? There’s no need to drive around to every local farm; you can meet peruse items from all over at the Farmers Market at Forest Park. This market has everything from fish, to donuts, to herbs. After December 17, the market will continue to take place every second and fourth Saturday, January through March. Old Monkey House, Trafton Road Entrance. Forest Park. Springfield, MA.

Saturday, December 17, 10am-2pm; Sunday, December 18, 10am-2pm
What kinds of vegetables can you buy fresh in the cold months? Find out by shopping and connecting with local farmers at Berkshire Grown’s Holiday Farmers’ Market! Bring along your children to teach them about the changing of the seasons through food. Local meats, cheeses, and vegetables will be available as well as craft items. There will also be live music and activities for kids.

  • Saturday at Monument Valley Middle School. 313 Monument Valley Road. Great Barrington, MA.
  • Sunday at Williams College Town Field House. Latham Street. Williamstown, MA.

Saturday, December 17, 10am-2pm
Still shopping for the holidays? You may be able to find a unique gift at the Amherst Winter Farmers’ Market where there are crafts for sale as well as high quality, locally produced foods. The market also features live music and activities for kids. In addition to scheduled activities the kids table will always have coloring books, crayons, stamps and other DIY activities. Amherst Regional Middle School. 170 Chestnut Street. Amherst, MA. (MARKET/SALE)

Dance Studies

Last week we shared the history of The Nutcracker Ballet, explaining how the tradition of this annual performance came to be. This week we’re sharing a behind the scenes look with a contemporary ballerina, New York City Ballet principal dancer Maria Kowroski, as she prepares for the leading role in the Nutcracker.

Saturday, December 17, 11:30am and 2pm; Sunday, December 18, 11:30am, 2pm and 4:30pm
Wistariahurst brings you a festive, theatrical performance with an added dose of history. Within the historic setting of Wistariahurst, this performance of Nutcracker and Sweets provides a unique, historical interpretation of this classic ballet. This performance is presented through both narration and dance. This interpretation will include local history in addition to elements of the classic performance. 413-322-5660. 238 Cabot Street. Holyoke, MA. ($; Children under four FREE)

Saturday, December 17, 7pm
A Celtic Nutcracker combines the classic nutcracker story with Irish customs and Celtic Dance! Scottish Sword Dancers, Cornish Cloggers, and Galician Dancers feature in this story of a young Irish girl who is transformed into a princess. This performance is set to the original Tchaikovsky score as well as live Celtic Music. The performance will be held at the Academy of Music Theatre. 413-584-9032. 274 Main Street. Northampton, MA. ($)

Sunday, December 18, 11am
The well-known ballet The Nutcracker is the final product of many creative minds. The ballet was originally choreographed by Marius Petipa and Lev Ivanov. Tchaikovsky wrote the musical score and the story was an adaptation of E.T.A. Hoffmann’s The Nutcracker and the Mouse King. With so many brilliant creative minds on the project, it is no wonder that The Nutcracker has become a timelessly popular production. All ages are welcome to attend an HD screening of The Nutcracker and enjoy sugar plum fairy tea at the Clark Art Institute! 413-458-2303. 225 South Street. Williamstown, MA. ($$)


Saturday, December 17, 3pm
This holiday season you can teach your child about your seasonal traditions, while modeling the importance of literacy. The Grace Hall Memorial Library invites families to this Holiday Read Along. Participants are invited to either listen or volunteer to read. All levels of readers are welcome. There will be cookies and a visit from Santa. 413-862-3894. 161 Main Road. Montgomery, MA. (FREE)

Monday, December 19, 10:30am
Literacy skills are essential for everyday life as well as many career paths. Teaching your child to love reading can also open up a world of learning and enjoyment. “Books and Babies! Pathways for Parents” is sponsoring a program at the East Longmeadow Public Library, featuring stories, movement, and play! Caregivers and children from birth to age two are invited. 413-525-5432. 60 Center Square # 2. East Longmeadow, MA. (FREE)


Many contemporary Christmas icons have commercial roots. From Coca-Cola’s Santa Claus to Aebersold & Bell’s Elf on a Shelf. This holiday season to examine the history behind the commercialization of Christmas, and then compare and contrast with icons and traditions that are based in culture and values. Begin here with Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer, first appearing in a  booklet published by the department store chain, Montgomery Ward

Saturday, December 17, 5:30pm-7:30pm
Just because it’s cold out doesn’t mean you have to stay indoors, shopping or otherwise! Get out to Buttery Brook Park with your friends and neighbors and your child will have the chance to meet Santa outside of the four walls of a mega mall! There will also be hot chocolate, a train ride, and a lights display. Please donate five dollars for a professional picture with Santa, or take your own for free. 123 Willimansett Street. South Hadley, MA. (FREE)

Winter Solstice

Saturday, December 17, 6:30pm
As the Winter Solstice approaches, you may feel like you want to reflect on the changing seasons or create new, positive memories with your community. You are invited to the annual Winter Solstice Storytelling and Song Festival to enjoy local entertainment and support organizations in need of funds. Families are also encouraged to bring a canned food item for donation to the survival center. Teach your kids about giving by getting them involved in the donation process. In addition to storytellers and musicians there will be jugglers. This event is appropriate for both families and single adults. Reservations are encouraged. Round House. 413-624-5140. 68 Van Nuys Road. Colrain, MA. (DONATION)

Wednesday, December 21, 7am and 3:30pm
The Umass Amherst Sunwheel has attracted tens of thousands of visitors who wish to learn about solar and lunar cycles. Sunwheels, circular stone structures, are designed such that the stones line up with the locations on the horizon of the rising and setting Sun during solstices and equinoxes. You can witness this event during the Winter Solstice, and also learn about the seasons, the phases of the moon, the story behind the building of the sunwheel, and more. Bring questions and dress appropriately. The gatherings last about one hour and are held in all weather except rain or blizzards. Amity Street. Amherst, MA. (DONATION)

Wednesday, December 21, 6pm-8pm
The winter solstice is a time of celebration for many because it marks the turning point towards longer days. Like the new calendar year, this astrological event can also be a time of reflecting on the past and thinking towards the future. Your entire family is invited to celebrate the solstice at Notchview with S’mores by the fire. 83 Old Route 9. Windsor, MA. (<$)

Wednesday, December 21, 6pm-8:30pm
At Arcadia Wildlife Sanctuary, people will gather at sundown to celebrate the solstice with a bonfire, hot cider, and music. This event will take place unless there is a blizzard. Call Arcadia at 413-584-3009 to inquire about cancellation. 127 Combs Road. Easthampton, MA. (FREE)

Discover how other cultures celebrate the Winter Solstice, starting with this video which shares Chinese customs and traditions (in Chinese with English sub-titles):

MYO Gifts

Sunday, December 18, 1pm-3pm
Want to get your child involved in your Hanukkah traditions? You can teach them about the significance of the menorah at this children’s menorah workshop. Participants will also have the chance to create their own dreidel to take home. The event will feature holiday music and donuts. Space is limited. Call 413-567-8665 to reserve your spot. This event is sponsored by the Aleph Bet Hebrew School and will be held at Lowe’s. 1560 Boston Road. Springfield, MA. (FREE)

Want to learn how to play dreidel? It’s easy and super fun… especially when chocolate Hanukkah gelt is involved!

Tuesday, December 20, 4pm-6pm
Your kids may want to give gift to their friends this holiday season. Crafting gifts allows them to give something special to all their loved ones without spending lots of money in the process. You are invited to the Community Action Family Center in Greenfield for a crafting make and take! Kids will be able to choose crafts such as candles, bath scrubs, shrinky dink keychains, hot cocoa and others! This event is free and open to the public. Register by calling 413-835-5553. 90 Federal Street. Greenfield, MA. (FREE)


Sunday, December 18, 10am-4pm
The word “Hanukkah” is derived from a Hebrew verb which translates to the English: “to dedicate.” The holiday celebrates the regaining of Jewish control over Jerusalem. This year, Hanukkah takes place from December December 24 to January 1. You can begin your celebration early with family activities at the Yiddish Book Center. There will be a Yiddish holiday song workshop, stories, crafts, and scavenger hunts. 413-256-4900. 1021 West Street. Amherst, MA. (FREE)

Sunday, December 18, 11am-4pm
Want to connect with your Jewish heritage or learn about traditional Hanukkah celebrations? The Springfield Museums will be offering “Illuminating Gallery Activities” including dreidel games, candle rolling, and more. Participants can craft their own Star of David out of frosted paper. Decorate Suf Ganiyot, a round jelly doughnut often eaten in celebration of Hanukkah. These programs are free with museum admission. 413-263-6800. 21 Edwards Street. Springfield, MA. ($. Ages 3-17 <$. Children under two FREE)

What to make your own Suf Ganiyot at home? Here’s a quick and easy recipe:


In early December we share the history of Christmas lights where we learn how the tradition of holiday lights got started. If you didn’t get the chance to learn then, view the video now and then take in a community event in like the one in Florence below. Be sure to drive through Look Park in Florence ftoo or contemporary displays of holiday lights.

Saturday, December 17, 6pm-9pm
Holiday light displays support placemaking by encouraging community members to gather downtown in common spaces. The Florence Civic and Business Association will be hosting its 15th annual Luminary Display in downtown Florence. In addition to the light display, you can enjoy hayrides, a bonfire, caroling, and live music with “The Paul Collins Quartet.” All proceeds support the the ongoing renovations of the Florence Civic Center. Downtown. Florence, MA. (FREE)


“There’s a common misconception that if you like to meticulously organize your things, keep your hands clean, or plan out your weekend to the last detail, you might be OCD. In fact, OCD (Obsessive Compulsive Disorder) is a serious psychiatric condition that is frequently misunderstood by society and mental health professionals alike. Natascha M. Santos debunks the myths surrounding OCD.”  – TED-Ed

View full lesson: Debunking the myths of OCD – Natascha M. Santos

Tuesday, December 20, 6pm
Everyone knows someone whose life has been touched by a mental illness. Learning about and understanding mental illness can help you become a more knowledgeable friend or family member, as well as educating yourself on your own mental health. This lecture, “Obsessive Compulsive Disorder in the Family,” is part of an ongoing series on OCD and Related Disorders. This lecture is presented by Denise Egan Stack and will take place in the Neilson Library Browsing Room on the campus of Smith College. 7 Neilson Drive. Northampton, MA. (FREE)

“Imagine, for a second, a duck teaching a French class. A ping-pong match in orbit around a black hole. A dolphin balancing a pineapple. You probably haven’t actually seen any of these things. But you could imagine them instantly. How does your brain produce an image of something you’ve never seen? Andrey Vyshedskiy details the neuroscience of imagination.” – TED-ED

View full lesson: The neuroscience of imagination – Andrey Vyshedskiy

Wednesday, December 21, 10am-12pm
Parenting advice from experts often draws upon knowledge of psychology and neuroscience. Understanding your child’s brain development can help you to understand what kinds of activities will help them to learn the skills they need. In this educational parenting workshop, Scott Noyes will cover the topic, “Feeding the Developing Brain.” The presentation is part of an ongoing series for caregivers by the Hilltown Community Health Center. Childcare will be provided. Call 413-667-2203 ext. 311 to register. 9 Russell Road. Huntington, MA. (FREE)


Wednesday, December 21, 5:45pm-7:15
Learning to meditate can help you achieve balance, peace of mind, and healing in your life. Make It Springfield is offering a beginner’s meditation class, focusing on observing and exploring consciousness. It is recommended that you eat a few hours before class and wear flexible, comfortable clothing which allows for range of motion and easy breathing. Please bring your own pillow, mats, or blankets to sit on. Otherwise, chairs are available. Beginners of all ages are welcome. 168 Worthington Street. Springfield, MA. (DONATION)

[Photo credit: (cc) Avital Pinnick]

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

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