19 Community-Based Educational Highlights: Guided Hikes to First Night. Dance Party to Winter Sports.

There are many ways to remain active and engaged with the outdoors during the winter. Nordic skiing, downhill skiing, ice skating and snowshoeing are a sample of activities that allow one to get outside, stay fit, and maintain a healthy lifestyle while exploring the beauty of nature in the winter. Choosing a winter sport is not only spending time outdoors, it’s also participating in the traditions of local culture and history. Download our Jan/Feb edition of Learning Ahead: Cultural Itinerary for Western Massachusetts for places to ski, skate and snowshoe in Western MA.

Gregorian Calendar to Engineering. Telescope to Owls. Snow Sports to Sweetgrass.  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 highlight this week: On New Year’s Day, Hilltown Families and the Flywheel Arts Collective are continuing the beloved ‘Morning Music Party’ series for another year with a breakfast bash featuring food, dancing and diversions for kids! This year, we are starting off this family series on New Year’s Day, Sunday, January 1, with a First Day Morning Music Party from 10am-12noon in Easthampton, MA. Come enjoy a breakfast bash featuring free pancakes and an awesome dance party for all ages! It takes place at Flywheel in Easthampton’s old Town Hall. This event is a fundraiser for both Flywheel & Hilltown Families, with a “pay what you can” admission to attend with your family. So much cheaper than a night out on the town and just as much fun!

Calendar HistoryEcologySTEMPlacemakingLiving HistoryOutdoor AdventuresWinter SportsYo-YoPhysicsAstronomyLiteracyPlant StudiesAfrican American HistoryNew Year CelebrationsGuided Hikes Native American StudiesOrnithologyCollaborative Consumption

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New Year Celebrations

Julian calendar, Gregorian calendar, Lunisolar calendar, Sumerian calendar, Mayan calendar… with the new year approaching, let’s talk calendars! The history behind each one of these systems of keeping track of the days in a year tells an interesting story about the societies from which they came and how they saw time and the cycles of nature. Have you ever wondered about the history of the modern calendar? Why is the modern calendar based on the cycles of the sun rather than the moon? Who was the first civilization to switch from lunar to solar and what modern day calendars still  remain lunar-based? Discover the answers to these questions and many more in this video, “How the Modern Calendar Came to Be.”

Saturday, December 31, 10am-4pm
The Holyoke Merry Go Round, known as “Holyoke’s Happiness Machine,” is a sensory treat for the young and old. Your children can enjoy unlimited rides on the Merry Go Round as part of First Night Junior! Festivities also include a bouncy house, face painting, ice sculpting, and live music. Your ticket includes admission to the Children’s Museum and Volleyball Hall of Fame. Tickets can be purchased at the Holyoke Merry-Go-Round and the Children’s Museum. For more information, please call the Merry-Go-Round: 413-538-9838 or the Children’s Museum: 413-536-7048. Various locations. Holyoke, MA. (<$)

Saturday, December 31, 12noon-12midnight
New Year’s Eve and New Year’s Day are international holidays, celebrated everywhere in the world where people observe the Gregorian calendar. Whether you like to reflect on the previous year or make resolutions for the year ahead, you can gather with friends and family for First Night fun! First Night Northampton will feature live music, jugglers, magicians, dancers, puppets, a light display and more. There will be plenty of entertainment for all ages across 20 venues downtown. Visit First Night Northampton website for a full schedule. Northampton, MA. (Adult $; Seniors and kids 2-10 <$; kids under 2 FREE)

Saturday, December 31, 6-10:30pm
21st Annual Starry Starry Night celebration in the heart of Orange that includes a line-up of performers as well as hay rides, ice sculptures, a Parade of Stars, and fireworks. Their Parade of Stars is open for anyone and everyone to join us in our festive walk from Town Hall to Memorial Park (no need to register).  BYO star to carry in the parade, and feel free to bring extras to share. Orange, MA (FREE)

Local History

Saturday, December 31, 3pm
Have you ever heard of the term “chatelaine?” It is the feminine version of a castellan. Chatelaine refers to the head of a large household, a woman of many domestic duties. Mrs. George Morgan, known as Sarah to her friends and family, was chatelaine to one of Lenox’s greatest cottages, and she invites you and your family to tea! Actress Anne Undeland will be playing Mrs. Morgan at Ventfort Hall’s Christmas tea event, set in 1894. Reservations are required. Call 413-637-3206. 104 Walker Street. Lenox, MA. ($$)

Thursday, January 5, 11:15am-1pm
Studying slave narratives enriches our understanding of local and national history, and can enlighten current racial relations in the United States. Lucy Terry is the first known African American poet. Her husband Abijah Prince was an entrepreneur and a veteran of the French and Indian wars. They were slaves in Deerfield and Northfield before becoming settlers and property owners in Vermont, raising a family of six, and defending their rights of property ownership in court. Learn about this 18th century family by attending a presentation by Gretchen Holbrook Gerzina, Dean Commonwealth Honors College, UMass Amherst. You are invited to bring a lunch to enjoy during this lecture at the Springfield Museums. 413-263-6800. 21 Edwards Street. Springfield, MA. (<$)


Who was the first person to discover the telescope? What is it’s purpose? How does it work? Find out in this episode of Crash Course:

Wednesday, January 4, 6pm
Longer nights in winter create increased opportunities for stargazing! Crystal Mengele and members of the Amherst Area Amateur Astronomy Association will share their knowledge of astronomy at this lecture at the Greenfield Public Library. Mengele and the Astronomy Association will share their experience with viewing the night sky with both telescopes as well as the naked eye. The program will take place in the LeVanway Room and on the back lawn. The First Wednesday Speaker Series, sponsored by the Friends of Greenfield Public Library, is free and open to the public. 413-772-1544. 402 Main Street. Greenfield, MA. (FREE)

Friday, January 6, 7:30pm-9:30pm
An interest in studying astronomy can develop from an interest in mathematical calculation, or a simple appreciation for the beauty of the sky. Families can share their interest in astronomy with one another by attending a Stars Over Springfield night at the Springfield Museums large rooftop telescope and planetarium. These programs are are best suited for families with children ages 8 and older, however younger children are also welcome. If it is cloudy, a planetarium show will be presented in place of telescope viewing. These programs are organized by the Museum and the Springfield Stars Club, and take place on the first Friday of each month. For more information, please call 413-263-6800. 21 Edwards Street. Springfield, MA. (<$)

Offering a wealth of space-based information presented in a playful way, NASA’s online Kids’ Club presents opportunities for studies of a fascinating yet largely inaccessible realm. Relevant for most ages and easy to use, the Kids’ Club can be a great resource for space enthusiasts! Read more in our post, Web-Based Space Explorations Blast Off Through NASA Kids’ Club.

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Outdoor Adventures

Sunday, January 1, 7am-8:30am
Want to catch the first sunrise of the year? Get up early and welcome the new year with a sunrise hike. Participants will meet at the Bartholomew’s Cobble visitors’ center for coffee before the hike. This event is weather dependent and you must register. For more information please call 413-298-3239 ex 3013. 117 Cooper Hill Road. Sheffield, MA. (Members FREE; Non members <$)

Sunday, January 1, 12pm
Hikes are a healthy way to celebrate the New Year with your family or friends. All are welcome to participate in a 1.5 mile hike to the overlook at Briar Hill Conservation Area. In this hardwood forest you can see hemlock, oak, and hickory, and ultimately a view overlooking parts of Williamsburg. In the event of heavy precipitation, or hazardous conditions, the hike will be cancelled. Call 413-268-7523 with questions. Park and meet at the trailhead on Briar Hill Road. Williamsburg, MA. (FREE)

Sunday, January 1, 12pm-2pm
Ring in the New Year by connecting with your community and nature while getting some exercise. Kestel Land Trust invites you to a hike, either in Belchertown at the Reed Conservation Area, or in Northampton at the Fitzgerald Lake Conservation Area. This program is free but registration is required. Visit the Kestel Land Trust website for full details. 413-549-1097. Belchertown or Northampton, MA. (FREE)

Sunday, January 1, 1pm-3pm
Start off the New Year with exercise, nature studies, and community at the First Day Hike. Participants will walk a two-mile path along the Canalside Rail Trail. This route is gentle, making for a family friendly event. Attendees will learn about the natural, historical, and cultural features of Turners Falls, and enjoy a cup of hot chocolate back in the hall at Great Falls Discovery Center. Dress warm and wear winter boots. Dogs are welcome on leash. 413-863-3221. 2 Avenue A. Turners Falls, MA. (FREE)


Not many toys can boast over 2,500 years of use worldwide, but the yo-yo has enjoyed consistent use in hundreds of cultures for nearly three millenia. Seemingly moved by magic, the yo-yo is little more than a well-designed tool to demonstrate basic principles of physics. Consisting essentially of a spool and a string, yo-yos (when in the hands of a skilled operator) can spin, jump, hang, and bump in patterns that are so graceful and speedy that they seem almost impossible. And for those of us with few yo-yo skills, they may feel impossible to perform, too! Take a look at the inner mechanisms of a modern day yo-yo in this video from the Science Channel:

Tuesday, January 3, 4:30pm
Luckily, folks who want to learn to better understand the physics and physical movements behind yo-yo tricks have numerous resources available to them – including both weekly classes and a world class championship right in western Massachusetts’ Pioneer Valley! Popular education-based store A to Z (located on King Street in Northampton) hosts Yo-Yo School three times a week inside their store, and their teachers are true masters. Amongst the crew of talented yo-yoists are a world champion and a world class competition judge! A visit to A to Z Yo-Yo School ensures expert instruction and access to a wide variety of yo-yo styles and colors – if you don’t have a yo-yo at home, you’ll be able to pick out a favorite before class begins. Call 413-586-1611. 57 King St., Northampton, MA. (FREE)

Books & Brew/Lifelong Learners

Wednesday, January 4, 7:30pm
Young people just out of college sometimes have trouble meeting new people out in “the real world.” In your twenties and thirties you may end up moving around, to explore new places and build your career. Moving to a new area, it can help to get out and connect with people as much as possible. This new book club is targeted to twenty and thirty something adults (although anyone ages 21 and up is welcome!) Come make new friends who share a love of reading. Books and Brew Book Club is brought to you by the Springfield City Library and will be held at Nathan Bill’s Bar and Restaurant. Each book will be available for free check out at the East Forest Park Branch Library. 413-263-6836. 122 Island Pond Road. Springfield, MA. (FREE)


Thursday, January 5, 6:30pm
The Dickinson Memorial Library’s Environmental Awareness Group meets on the first Thursday of the month to discuss issues related to nature, ecology, biology, and other environmental topics. In this meeting, participants will be discussing the book Braiding Sweetgrass: Indigenous Wisdom, Scientific Knowledge and the Teachings of Plants, by Robin Wall Kimmerer. As a member of the Citizen Potawatomi Nation, the author relays her knowledge of indigenous ecological and spiritual teachings. Come to discuss these topics and meet others who share your interests. 413-498-2455. 115 Main Street. Northfield, MA. (FREE)


What makes an owl such a silent hunter? Why are their eyes so big? How do they fit in their heads (they’re so big!)? And exactly how far around can they turn their heads? Learn about these amazing birds of prey in this video, “Why Owls are Night Ninjas.”

Friday, January 6, 10:30am-11:30am
Do your kids love animals? You can help nurture your child’s love of animals into a love of scientific learning. Youth ages three to six are invited to animal focused “Kidleidoscope” programs at Great Falls Discovery Center. Siblings and friends are welcome. Children must be accompanied by an adult. Participants will learn about bears, who share our home in the Connecticut River. The January 6 program will focus on owls. 413-863-3221. 2 Avenue A. Turners Falls, MA. (FREE)

Friday, January 6, 6:30pm-8pm
How many species of owl can you name? Owls populate regions in all areas of the world except Antarctica and some remote islands. Chances are, you can spot some type of owl by traversing the woods where you live, if you know how and where to look. Bring your child to the visitor’s center at Bartholomew’s Cobble for a reading of the children’s book, Owl Moon, followed by a show and tell of owl facts. Next, participants will hit the trail and see if they can spot some owls in their habitat. Dress for the cold and bring flashlights. For more information please call 413-298-3239 ex 3013. 117 Cooper Hill Road. Sheffield, MA. (<$)

Winter Sports

There are many ways to remain active and engaged with the outdoors during the winter. Nordic skiing, downhill skiing, ice skating and snowshoeing are a sample of activities that allow one to get outside, stay fit, and maintain a healthy lifestyle while exploring the beauty of nature in the winter. Although the equipment has changed, looks more modern and incorporates more technology and contemporary materials, some of these winter sports have a deep and rooted history.  Choosing a winter sport is not only spending time outdoors, it’s also participating in the traditions of local culture and history. Check out our Jan/Feb edition of Learning Ahead: Cultural Itinerary for Western Massachusetts for places to ski, skate and snowshoe in Western MA.

Friday, January 6, 6pm-9pm
Skiing and snowboarding are great ways to get outside in the cold months, enjoy the snow, and get exercise when other forms of recreation become inaccessible. Purchasing equipment for these winter sports, though, can be expensive. The Ski, Skate and Snowboard Winter Gear sale will be providing both new and used gear at low prices, while supporting a cause. All proceeds will benefit the Amherst Historical Society, a local resource for historical education. The sale will take place at Crocker Farm Elementary School. 280 West Street (aka, Route 116). Amherst, MA. (MARKET/SALE)

Sunday, January 1, 8am-4:30pm
With its roots lying in the snowy winters of Scandinavia, cross-country or “Nordic” skiing has been a competitive sport since as early as the 18th century. Distinctly different from downhill skiing in both structure and purpose, cross-country skiing utilizes much narrower skis and boots than downhill skiing does. Cross country skiers strive sometimes for speed, but aim more to cover great distances. Accessible to skiers of all ages and abilities, cross-country skiing is a favorite winter activity which allows families to get exercise while exploring beautiful landscapes. Start this winter and this year off by renewing or beginning this hobby at Notchview. For more information call The Trustees at 413-628-4485 x383 Old Route 9. Windsor, MA. ($ – $$$)

Sunday, January 1, 10am-3pm
Did you know that you can rent snowshoes at the visitor’s center of Bartholomew’s Cobble? Snowshoes have been around for thousands of years, helping people travel more easily over snow. Bring your own snowshoes or rent them, and enjoy the beautiful trails draped in snow. Enjoy hot chocolate in the visitor’s center after your hike! Adult and child snowshoe sizes are available. For more information call 413-298-3239 x 3013. 117 Cooper Hill Road. Sheffield, MA. (Members <$; Non members $)

[Photo credit: (cc) MOTT]

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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