11 Community-Based Educational Highlights: Apples to Woolley Bears. Agriculture to Folklore.

Can Woolley Bears (Pyrrharctia isabella) offer us an indication as to the severity of the coming winter? Common North American folklore says that a wide brown band calls for a mild winter and a narrow one calls for a severe winter. While there is no scientific evidence for this prediction, looking for these little guys and examining them closely with your kids opens up channels for learning while connecting to the seasons.

Honey to Botany. Thin Places to Developmental Psychology. Interpretive Dance to Bioblitz. 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 seasonal highlight this week:

Apples, one of the earliest (and most delicious) signs of fall, have been an essential part of New England agriculture for centuries. McIntosh apples are undeniably the most iconic of New England’s apples, and make up over two thirds of the regions apple crop! Macs and countless other delicious and fascinating varieties of apples are grown at orchards across western Massachusetts, and families can enjoy this year’s fantastic apple crop by visiting an orchard to pick or purchase a bushel. Participate in the tradition of apple-picking and support local agriculture! Check out local orchards and farms in Western MA for Pick Your Own Apples, including Park Hill Orchard (Easthampton), Outlook Farm (Westhampton), Bear Swamp Orchard & Cidery (Ashfield), Quonquont Farm (Whately), Clarkdale Fruit Farms (Deerfield), and Bashista Orchards (Southampton).


Human beings have been harvesting honey and keeping hives for around nine thousand years. Traditional cultures in Africa, Northern Europe, Asia, and the Mediterranean have worshipped bee goddesses as a way of venerating these amazing creatures. In Lithuania, for instance, the traditional bee goddess is known as Austeja. It is said that in traditional Lithuanian communities, it is forbidden to argue or quarrel in the presence of a bee, and if one comes upon a dead bee, it is buried ceremonially. Closer to home, the custom of “telling the bees” was practiced as a tradition in early America, a custom brought over from Europe. After a death in the family, the beekeeper would “tell the bees” so they too could enter proper mourning. It was thought that otherwise the bees might not produce honey or leave the hive to pollinate our crops. — And why is it that bees are so revered across cultures and time? Could it be that their contributions towards pollination is vital to the survival of 80% of the world’s plant species? Bees and flowers have an amazingly close relationship. Flowers need bees to reproduce, and bees need flowers to feed their colonies. Take away one, and the other would disappear too. It begs the question: When it comes to evolution, which came first, the bees or the flowers?” Find out in this video by It’s Okay to Be Smart:

Saturday, September 15, 10am-4pm
Want to learn more about beekeeping, honey, and the importance of land conservation? Your local apiary just might be the best resource for supporting these interests! Stop by the twelfth annual Honey Festival at Warm Colors Apiary this Saturday when this eighty-acre apiary will open to the public to enjoy its beauty and explore its wildlife habitat. This annual late-summer event will feature demonstrations and lectures on a wide variety of bee-related topics, including cooking with honey, making honey wine, and pollinations. This is a great opportunity to learn about some of the things you can create with honey and the importance of bees to our environment. 413-665-4513. Warm Colors Apiary. 2 South Mill River Drive, South Deerfield, MA (FREE)

“Over the past 15 years, numerous colonies of bees have been decimated throughout the world, but the causes of this disaster remain unknown. Depending on the world region, 50% to 90% of all local bees have disappeared, and this epidemic is still spreading from beehive to beehive – all over the planet. Everywhere, the same scenario is repeated: billions of bees leave their hives, never to return. No bodies are found in the immediate surroundings, and no visible predators can be located.” Want to learn more? Check out a copy of More Than Honey from your local library, a documentary that explores the effects of colony collapse disorder, the phenomenon responsible for bees’ recent scarcity.

Other resources to check out from your library include these titles: The Life and Times of the Honeybee [Ages 5+]; Honey Bees: Letters from the Hive [Ages 11+]; and The Backyard Beekeeper – Revised and Updated: An Absolute Beginner’s Guide to Keeping Bees in Your Yard and Garden.

(Supported interests: Entomology, Agriculture, and Sustainability)

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Saturday, September 15, 12pm
Celebrating local biodiversity, the 9th annual Berkshire Bioblitz brings community members of all ages together with biologists, naturalists, environmentalists, and teachers to explore nature and identify as many plants, animals, fungi, and other organisms as possible during a 24-hour period. Participants will join teams led by specialists to experience first-hand the importance of a healthy, active ecosystem in their own community.  In addition to surveying local species, this year’s program will include family events such as bird banding, microscope and specimen set-ups, and a hands-on water filtration activity, as well as interactive walks and conversations that will run throughout the day. There will also be an invasive species identification exhibit to exemplify the impact of holding a survey, all taking place at the 2,600 acres Hopkins Forest preserve. Directions to Hopkins Memorial Forest: From the rotary in Williamstown, turn right onto Route 7 and continue 0.3 miles to Bulkley Street. Turn left on Bulkley and continue 0.75 miles to its junction with Northwest Hill Road. Turn right on Northwest Hill Road and continue for approximately 100 yards. The entrance to Hopkins Forest is on the left. Hopkins Forest. Williamstown, MA (FREE)

Want to host your very own bioblitz? Resources for blitz-planning are available on the National Geographic website – the organization has provided everything from instructions for early planning to a suggested materials list!  A bioblitz can offer students a unique hands-on learning experience that will make them more aware of the amount of biodiversity in their neighborhood and will teach them to identify new species. Communities will benefit from the events as well – neighbors can gain a greater awareness of what’s in their backyards, and perhaps even become better connected to the natural world that surrounds them! For Western MA teachers, educators, and parents who are interested in learning more about using the outdoors as a living classroom, check out the Berkshire Museums Living Landscapes curriculum. Living Landscapes focuses on natural science but also includes connections to math, language arts, and visual arts, and is a terrific local resource.

(Supported interests: Ecology, Biology, Zoology, and Scientific Method)

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Gustav Klimt is one of the most significant figures of the Symbolist movement and created some of the most recognizable paintings of the fin de siecle in Central Europe, especially his sumptuous golden 1907 piece “The Kiss.” Something of an eccentric, Klimt wore nothing but long, flowing robes when he worked and his studio was filled with cats. In an ill-advised experiment, Klimt covered his sketchbook with cat urine, believing that it would act as a fixative. It did not, and the stinking sketchbook was literally and figuratively “consigned to the dustbin of history.” Want to learn more about Gustav Klimt? Here is a brief introduction to Gustav Klimt’s life and some of his paintings:

Saturday, September 15, 1pm
Seeing how artists work is an invaluable part of understanding the artistic process. What kinds of environments do they find most conducive? How do their work habits influence the finished pieces? Come check out this Open Studio and Gallery Exhibit and see how local artist Susan Valentine creates her oil paintings. Leverett Crafts and Arts. 13 Montague Road, Leverett, MA (FREE)

(Supported interests: Fine Art Studies, and Psychology)

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The history of European settlers in Northampton goes back to 1653. Over the centuries, Northampton has played an essential role in the Abolitionist movement, transcendentalism, evangelical Christianity, and the Daniel Shays rebellion. Swedish opera singer Jenny Lind called Northampton “the paradise of America” in 1851, and to this day, the city has an enormous cultural impact.

Friday, September 14 & Saturday, September 15, 7pm
Engaging the imagination in multiple forms, Historical Footnotes: Dancing Through Northampton’s History highlights the continuity between local history and the arts. Linking contemporary dance works, site-specific films, music, and visual art with Northampton’s rich history, twelve area artists and their collaborators will offer a range of surprising ecological and cultural perspectives, all with ties to Northampton’s past. Historic Northampton’s co-directors Laurie Sanders and Elizabeth Sharpe and colleagues will read from historical letters, diary entries and news articles, giving audience members a context for experiencing the history-inspired creative work of contemporary artists. Music, displays, and installations happen at 7pm followed by the performance at 8pm, both nights. FLEX SPACE. 33 Hawley Street, Northampton, MA ($)

(Supported interests: U.S. History and Interpretive Dance)

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Resource: TREES

German author Peter Wohlleben’s recent book The Hidden Life of Trees: What They Feel, How They Communicate has sold more than 800,000 copies in Germany and is now on the best-seller list in the United States and elsewhere. Wohlleben’s book is popularizing revolutionary new scientific research demonstrating conclusively that trees communicate with each other. Through what some scientists are calling the ‘wood wide web,’ intricate underground fungal networks that connect them, trees actually exist in colonies, which share a collective intelligence, like ants. The fungi, which grow from the tiny tips of tree roots, consume around 30 percent of the sugars that trees gather through photosynthesis, almost like a form of payment. This fungal communication system is vital to the survival of many younger trees, particularly in the darkness of the deep forest. Without access to rain and sunshine, these trees are actually supported by the rest of the colony, by transferring much-needed sugars to the youngsters through the fungal network.

Sunday, September 16, 10am-12pm
Interested in the work of Peter Wohlleben? Curious about the trees we share our home with here in Western MA and what they have to teach us? They are, after all, one of our most accessible community resources (just like the clouds, rain, and the sun!). Learn more about local species on this Tree Walk with Hitchcock Center naturalist Ted Watt. Laurel Park Arts. 2 Laurel Park, Northampton, MA (SUGGESTED DONATION)

(Supported interests: Dendrology, Ecology, and Botany)

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Value-Based Learning: CREATIVE-FREE PLAY

Sunday, September 16, 10am-1pm
Ironically, allowing children to be bored can often lead to creative solutions.  Many parents can share stories of the most creative play they’ve witnessed of their children originated out of moments of boredom resulting in toilet paper roll towers or made up stories exercising the imagination. Essentially, unscripted toys that allow a child innate creativity and storytelling ability to shine forth. This Sunday, bring your kids to Pop Up Adventure Playground, a “pop-up” event featuring everyday upcycled objects like cardboard boxes, tubes, tape, rope, and hay. This creative-free play project is a great opportunity to encourage children to use their imagination and creativity when they play while meeting new families and practicing social skills. Reused materials can be transformed into a wondrous landscape of fun and adventure. Experiment and collaborate! Unitarian Society of Northampton and Florence. 220 Main Street, Northampton, MA (FREE)

Can boredom benefit adults too? Yes! Find out about the benefits of being bored:

We have a couple of columns that have great ideas for generating both facilitated and self-directed play. Check out these archived posts:

(Supported interests: Developmental Psychology)

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Value-Based Learning: PLACEMAKING

Sunday, September 16, 12-3pm
There is still time to enjoy warm and sun of summer, before the dark, rainy days of autumn are upon us. And nothing says “summer” like a chicken barbecue! Come join the whole community at the Florence Public Chicken Barbecue, this Sunday on the lawn of the Florence Civic Center (next to the Lilly Library)! Community meals bring us together and help create that sense of belonging that is so vital. Florence Civic and Business Association. 90 Park Street, Florence, MA ($)

If a public BBQ has you motivated to heat up the barbeque at home, here’s a bit of culinary inspiration to get you in the kitchen with your kids to help prep a delicious meal:


(Supported interests: Culinary Arts, and Placemaking)

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Interest: Immigration

We all know that the United States has always been a nation of immigrants. In fact, the United States is the only nation on earth in which virtually every single resident’s ancestry can be traced to another part of the world. To this day, the United States has the largest immigrant population of any country on earth. In the early days of the American republic, statesmen actually traveled to other parts of the world to actively recruit immigrants. Historically, the United States has had an excellent record concerning integrating and assimilating immigrants. Can the same still be said?

Monday, September 17, 5:30pm
The Pioneer Valley Workers Center and First Church Amherst are inviting community members to come together for a potluck meal and discussion of immigration, with special guest speakers presenting on the history of immigration in the United States and how it relates to the present day. First Church Amherst. 165 Main Street, Amherst, MA (FREE)

(Supported interests: Immigration, U.S. History, Current Affairs)

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Among the ancient pre-Christian communities of the British Isles, there was a term for special places where the veil between our world and the other was particularly thin. These so-called “thin places” were often sites of sublime natural beauty, islands, for example, or rocky mountain peaks. These are places where the individual soul is able to slip free from the historical and the contingent and enter the stream of the undying and eternal. Writers have used many words to describe this transcendent experience. For some, thin places are sites were the individual can truly be at peace. For others, it’s where we learn important things about ourselves. One thing is for certain, everybody has their own thin places. What’s yours? A particular bookstore? Under a specific tree by the riverside or nearby park? A mysterious moss-covered boulder deep in the forest? A specific bench on Main Street? A cafe that illuminates your senses? The ways that these places work upon us are genuinely mysterious. We may never know why a particular place profoundly moves us.

Thursday, September 20, 6-7pm
For some members of the community, the Common Ground garden in Florence has become their very own “thin place.” Come experience the joys of a community by sharing a meal with others, at the Common Ground annual harvest potluck dinner. Childcare is available. Bring an autumn dish, plate, cup, and utensils. 140 Meadow Street, Florence, MA (FREE)

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Wednesday, September 19, 6-8pm
Historically, trade guilds were highly structured and hierarchical. These organizations often held considerable political power and enforced a high level of craftsmanship through a rigorous series of apprentice examinations. In recent years the resurgence of traditional arts and crafts has led to a growth in crafting guilds once again. Unlike the guilds of yore, however, today’s craft guilds are much less formal and authoritarian. Motivated by a desire to share a love of crafts, educate younger generations, and keep traditional skills alive, today’s guilds tend to be more democratic and diverse, while still more formal than a local crafting group. This Wednesday, the Mohawk Trail Quilting Guild will be holding their monthly meeting! Come learn all about the guild and the amazing quilting work that’s being done in your community. All ages and levels of experience welcome. Historical Society of Greenfield. 43 Church Street, Greenfield, MA ($)

Often, math and art are seen as opposites: structure and the lack thereof. At the intersection of the two, however, lies quilting: an art form that is inherently mathematical. Families can explore everything from shape identification to tessellations by learning to create quilts together! Read more in our post, Quilting Offers Multidisciplinary Exploration of Math and Art.

Friday, September 28, 2018 – Sunday, September 30
Join Historic Deerfield and an esteemed panel of speakers for an in-depth look at the broad meanings of conflict on clothing and textiles that defined culture in 18th-and early 19th-century British and French North America. Best for older students and life-long learners. Workshops include Early 19th-century millinery; Early 19th-century tailoring; and Gallery Tour and Workshop, “The Uniform of Elisha Porter.” 413-775-7179. Historic Deerfield. Deerfield, MA ($$$)

(Supported interests: Textile Arts, U.S. History, Heritage, Math)

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Learn Local. Play Local. is supported in part by a grant from the Ashfield, Bernardston, Chester, Chesterfield, Conway, Erving, Heath, Holyoke, Montgomery, Pelham, Rowe, Russell, Shutesbury, South Hadley, and Springfield Cultural Councils, local agencies that are supported by the Massachusetts Cultural Council, a state agency.

[Photo credit: (cc) Kent McFarland]

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