Suggested Resources & Learning Opportunities in Western MA: March 21-27, 2020

Awarded the “Essential Agent of Change Award” by the MDPH’s Massachusetts Essentials for Childhood, Hilltown Families is recognized as a leading family strengthening initiative in the region, promoting “positive parenting through the social norm of community social connectedness.” Serving Western Massachusetts since 2005, Hilltown Families continues to support the development and enhancement of our local economy and community. Local businesses, farms, individuals, schools, and non-profit organizations are invited to collaborate with Hilltown Families in their community outreach. With over 9,000 opt-in subscribers and 2.6+ million visits to our web site alone, Hilltown Families can deliver your message to thousands of families living throughout the four counties of Western MA! Find out about our affordable advertising options and how you can partner with Hilltown Families in your online marketing by contacting us at… and scroll down to discover community-based educational resources and opportunities happening this weekend and next week in Western MA!

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Families are invited to discover the warm, welcoming community at Amherst Montessori School, with dedicated teachers, administrators, and fellow parents who strive to create a sense of belonging for each child and family. Set-up a tour, explore the hands-on, child-centered Montessori curriculum, and learn about the engaging community of Amherst Montessori School. Applications for the 2020-21 school year are now being accepted. Schedule options from partial day to full day with extended hours. Set-up a tour by emailing Susanna at or by calling 413-253-3101.

Best kept secret in Amherst! Spring Street Preschool is an independent, progressive preschool located in downtown Amherst. Experienced and caring teachers provide opportunities for constructive play, literacy learning, friendship development, and creative arts. Spring Street Preschool has two outdoor play spaces, including a nature playground. Enrolling children from 2 yrs 9 months – 5 years. Flexible schedule with hours from 8am-5:30pm and affordable tuition. Spring Street Preschool is a non-denominational preschool located behind the Congregational Church. To schedule a tour call 413-256-8442 or email For more info visit

Check out our Summer Directory for nearly
60 summer camps & programs in and around Western MA!

Featured Summer Programs & Camps

Jun 15 – Aug 9

The Bement School Summer Programs. Deerfield, MA. The Bement School offers summer programs for children from 4 to 15 years old. Children have the opportunity to enjoy the fun of a traditional day camp and help create their own schedule by choosing from our wide range of unique activities. Digging into Nature at Pine Hill provides outdoor education for ages 5-12. The Junior Camp provides a safe, nurturing camp experience for our youngest campers. The Adventure Camp offers activity choices that include cooking, video game and movie-making, sports, nature, arts and crafts, and swimming. The Counselor-in-Training program gives young teenagers experience working with children and developing valuable job skills while still enjoying the fun of summer camp. Dates: Jun 15-Aug 7; Age Range of Campers: 4-15yo. Contact: 413-774-7061.

Jun 22 – Aug 21

LSSE Summer Sports Programs and Day Camps. Amherst, MA. Spend the summer with Amherst Leisure Services! At the LSSE Sports Programs and Day Camps, children will have the opportunity to participate in arts, crafts, games, nature activities, sports programs, and swimming lessons. Their caring and experienced staff will make this a summer to remember. They offer free breakfast and lunch to Early Adventures and Adventure Playground day campers thanks to the ARPS School Nutrition Department. Visit the LSSE website for more information and to find the perfect sports or day camp for your child. Dates: Jun 22-Aug 21; Age Range of Campers: 5-14yo. Contact: 413-259-3065.

Jun 22 – Aug 21

Camp Apex. Shelburne, MA. Camp Apex, the YMCA in Greenfield’s Summer Day Camp, provides kids with activities that foster youth development and healthy living. Fun-filled days are focused around caring, honesty, respect & responsibility! The camp day runs Mon-Fri, 9am-4pm, with an option of extended early & late care at Camp Apex. Maximizing their extensive property as well as their experienced, specialized staff, kids stay busy & challenged with a progressive curriculum, unique, stimulating outdoor adventures which features art & music explorations, sports, archery, swim lessons in their solar heated pool, tube slide, creative craft projects, play & more! Each week they offer exciting themes & also offer specialty camps. Check their website & Facebook page for more info. Dates: Jun 22-Aug 21; Age Range of Campers: 6-14yo. Contact: 413-773-3646.

Jun 22 – Aug 28

Rattlesnake Adventure Camps at Morse Hill Outdoor Center. Shutesbury, MA. This is Morse Hill’s 30th year offering fun outdoor activities that facilitate children’s self-awareness, confidence, trust, communication, problem-solving, & teamwork skills. With a foundation in physical & emotional safety, our programs include on-site low & high ropes courses & team-building initiatives, as well as off-site rock climbing, canoeing, raft building, mountain biking, caving, hiking, & more. The 85-acre property by Lake Wyola in Shutesbury includes bike trails, campsites, cabins, and discovery elements. Transportation is available from Amherst & Northampton. Whether campers choose day, overnight, or expedition camps, they will develop their outdoor skills & knowledge while building relationships with counselors & friends. Dates: Jun 22-Aug 28; Age Range of Campers: 8-18yo. Contact: 413-253-1807.

Jun 29 – Jul 2

“Brave” Dance Camp with Celtic Heels & Devine Dance in Greenfield, MA. Experience the joy of dance at the “Brave” themed dance camp. Celtic Heels & Devine Dance are offering students the opportunity to attend a four-day workshop incorporating Irish Step, Tap, Lyrical, Musical Theatre, and more. In addition to dance classes, students will create craft projects, learn new rhythms and cadences and improve their balance, posture, and flexibility. With such a variety of styles, there is something for everyone, and a summer workshop is a great way to experience their individually tailored lesson plans as well as the inclusive atmosphere they create with and for their students. Dates: Jun 29-Jul 2; Age Range of Campers: 7-12yo. Contact: 413-475-4726.

Jul 6 – 24

The Putney School Summer Arts. Putney, VT. The Putney School Summer Arts hosts summer arts workshops in June and July for high school students and a one-week workshop for adults in August. Create and connect through art. Dive deep into workshops and join a wildly creative community on a hilltop farm in Vermont. About a hundred students attend each three-week session, and workshops are capped at 12 students, fostering a close-knit community of young artists. Students come to discover a form, others to hone their practice, and all connect with the faculty and make use of the resources on campus. Located on a spectacular hilltop with 500-acres of woods, farms, and gardens there are endless opportunities for students to get outside and explore. Dates: Jul 6-24; Age Range of Campers: 14+yo. Contact: 802-387-7335.

Jul 6 – Aug 21

The Children’s Ballet & Movement Co. Theater & Dance Summer Camp/Summer Dance Intensive in Hadley, MA. The Children’s Ballet & Movement Co. offers two separate dance camps this year! Theater and Dance Summer Camp (ages 4-8) provides a variety of dance forms, arts and crafts, play, swimming, set design and more! Summer Dance Intensive (ages 9-15) offers Ballet, Pre-Pointe/Pointe, Acro Dance, Jazz, Modern, Contemporary, Yoga, and more! Both camps are Monday-Friday from 9am-4pm with Full Day and Half Day options. Whether your child is new to dance or a seasoned dancer, Children’s Ballet & Movement Co. dance camps are sure to please! Dates: Jul 6-Aug 21; Age Range of Participants: 4-15yo. Contact: 413-478-1944.

Jul 6 – Aug 28

Kids, Art & Nature. Amherst, MA. Children in Deborah Bazer & Lahri Bond’s week-long, themed Summer Art classes explore the natural world through the visual arts. Drawing from many traditions, they nurture the creative, intellectual, and emotional growth of the children in their care. Visual arts, storytelling, and environmental education are all integral parts of their summer classes. Summer session is from 8:30am-3:30pm, Mon-Fri at the Arts Barn on the beautiful Hampshire College campus and woods. Classes included: making art with nature, ceramics, faeries & myths, papercraft, superheroes, dinosaurs, dragons, and using fantasy gaming ideas to create real-world environments. Much of the day is spent outside, art-making, exploring, & playing non-competitive games. Dates: Jul 6-Aug 28; Age Range of Campers: 5-14yo. Contact: 413-367-0186.

March 21-27, 2020

Saturday, March 21Sunday, March 22
Monday, March 23Tuesday, March 24Wednesday, March 25
Thursday, March 26 Friday, March 27

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Resources and opportunities below are shared as a courtesy. While we do our best to share accurate and up-to-date information, please take the time to confirm age appropriateness, registration requirements, and associated costs.

Saturday, March 21, 2020

VERNAL EQUINOX/RADIO SHOW: Spring Equinox Episode with Guest DJ, Charity Kahn airs on Valley Free Radio (103.3FM WXOJ Northampton, MA) on Saturday, March 21, 9-10am. Spring returned on March 20! Celebrate it’s arrival with our guest DJ, Charity Kahn, sharing music and insights that lift the spirits as spring begins to emerge. Click here select from over 13 years of archived shows! It’s better than Saturday morning cartoons and commercial radio! ♥ Hilltown Families eNewsletter subscribers are invited to an exclusive sneak peek every Thursday of the upcoming show. Check your eNewsletter to listen any time. Not a subscriber? Click here to subscribe to our free Weekly eNewsletter!

VIRTUAL LEARNING SUMMIT/STEM: Want to learn CSS or HTML? Ready to turn your app idea into a real app? Perhaps you’ve been wanting to make 3D drawings using SketchUp or itching to learn about LEGO EV3 Robotics? Look no further than the NERD (New England Regional Developers) Summit, a 2-day learning camp (3/20 & 3/21 from 8:30am-5pm) focused on helping people build coding, web design, and related skills, and to welcome everyone into this interesting industry. Most sessions are intended for self-directed teens and lifelong learners; several sessions are good fits for younger children who have an adult accompanying them. Pre-register online for the sessions that interest you!

FOOD HISTORY/PANCAKES: Did you know that pancakes are over 6,000 years old? Although not in the present form we know today, the predecessors to the modern pancake consisted of ground wheat cooked in the form of a pancake. Even the ancient Greeks and Romans ate a type of pancake sweetened with honey! Later in history, American colonists ate pancakes, also known as Johnny Cakes. Modern-day technology and contemporary recipes have added to our cultural repertoire of recipes. For recipes submitted by families in Western Massachusetts, check out our post, “Seasons at Our Table: Maple Sugar.”

WORLD CULTURE/COOKING: In this video, kids try ten different kinds pancakes from around the world. Check this out with your kids for a great way to explore cultures from around the world through the lens of food! Local the country on a map, look up ingredients unfamiliar to you, and best of all, pick a pancake to try making in your own kitchen! Start your recipe search with

INTERNATIONAL FOODS/COOKING: To say that immigration is an important aspect of American history is an understatement. None of us would be here if it were not for immigration. Moreover, the United States is not unique in this. Human populations have been immigrating around the world since the beginning of history. If you go far back enough, you will find that there are no communities of people anywhere in the world that did not originate somewhere else. What this historical phenomenon demonstrates is that human societies are always hybrids. Groups travel and move, and as they do so, they adopt customs, influence the creation of new cultures, and bring certain cultural elements with them. All cultures, from the most heterogeneous to those that might appear homogeneous, are the result of generations of immigration. Food cultures and traditions are one of the best ways to illustrate this historical fact. Chicken tikka masala is a perfect example: one of the most popular and recognizable Indian dishes in the world was likely invented in Scotland by Pakistani chef, Ali Ahmed Aslam, in the 1970s. He decided to add tomato soup to a plate of chicken curry after a customer complained that it was too dry. In this video, hear the story of one chef and learn how to make his “authentic” Chicken Tikka Masala!

FERMENTED FOODS/KITCHEN SCIENCE: Nobody knows the exact origins of Kombucha. This mysterious fermented beverage is thought to originate in Manchuria, in northern China. It is known to be consumed in far eastern Russia in the 19th century and then it migrated to Germany and Europe. The word ‘kombucha’ tells us little about its origins as well, since the term is a misapplied loanword from Japanese. There is a beverage consumed in Japan called ‘kombucha’ which translates literally to ‘kelp tea’ but this beverage has no relation to the effervescent fermented tea which now bears the name. No matter where it came from or how it got here, Kombucha has been steadily growing in popularity in the United States in the 21st century. The refreshing taste and numerous claimed health benefits have made converts out of many people. And it is shockingly easy to brew at home! In this video, Lisa Lov from Relæ shows how to make Kombucha at home.

FOOD SECURITY/SERVICE-BASED LEARNING: Food insecurity can strike anyone, including working families, elders on limited incomes, and people faced with a sudden illness or layoffs. Organizing a Virtual Food Drive with The Food Bank of Western MA can support folks experiencing food security in the region. Organizing a virtual food drive has many benefits, including cost savings to The Food Bank of Western MA in staff time, no extra driving for participants, and accessibility to families near and far who want to support food drives in our region. There are also a lot of learning opportunities, including communication and organization skills. Find out how to organize a virtual food drive and learn more about food security, the value of volunteering, and the need for well-supported food banks in communities. The Food Bank of Western Massachusetts. 413-247-9738. 97 N Hatfield Rd. Hatfield, MA.

Sunday, March 22, 2020

VERNAL EQUINOX/RADIO SHOW: Spring Equinox Episode with Guest DJ, Charity Kahn airs on Valley Free Radio (103.3FM WXOJ Northampton, MA) on Sunday, March 22, 9-10am. Spring returned on March 20! Celebrate it’s arrival with our guest DJ, Charity Kahn, sharing music and insights that lift the spirits as spring begins to emerge. Click here select from over 13 years of archived shows! It’s better than Saturday morning cartoons and commercial radio! ♥ Hilltown Families eNewsletter subscribers are invited to an exclusive sneak peek every Thursday of the upcoming show. Check your eNewsletter to listen any time. Not a subscriber? Click here to subscribe to our free Weekly eNewsletter!

COMPUTER CODING/VIRTUAL HACKATHON: Do you like to code? Do you want to code? Have you tried to learn to code only not to know how to get started? Join the NERDS2020 Virtual Hackathon on Sunday, March 22, 9am-4pm for a day of STEM-based learning, and practical hacking. Using JavaScript, Python, and maybe a Raspberry Pi or two, beginner programmers and professionals (ages 8+) will have opportunities to learn practical programming skills and participate in building real-world applications with mentors in a group setting. Sharpen your skills, and develop new ones in a fun and encouraging setting.

VIROLOGY/SELF-DIRECTED LEARNING: According to the CDC, “Keeping hands clean is one of the most important steps we can take to avoid getting sick and spreading germs to others. Many diseases and conditions are spread by not washing hands with soap and clean, running water. CDC recommends cleaning hands in a specific way to avoid getting sick and spreading germs to others. The guidance for effective handwashing and use of hand sanitizer was developed based on data from a number of studies.” Here in this video, Alton Brown gives a science-based explanation and demonstration for washing hands. Relevant science and great example of proper hygiene.

KITCHEN SCIENCE/FERMENTATION: Turn your kitchen into a fermentation station! Kimchi, sauerkraut, pickles, and sourdough can be made at any time of year and are a great way to support experiential learning about chemistry and cellular biology through the lens of food! Zymology (the science of fermentation) supports these learning concepts, but it’s also a rewarding way to spend time in the kitchen as a family. Read more in our post, “Learn About Local Food & Chemistry through Fermentation.

MATH/NATURE-BASED LEARNING: As you gaze at the base of a pine cone, did you know that you’re regarding an incredible example of mathematical reasoning? Nature’s patterns, as it happens, are deeply rooted in the Fibonacci Sequence and the Golden Ratio. It’s the ultimate in a marriage between the aesthetic beauty of nature, and its mathematical base that makes it make sense. To discover what a learning opportunity this is for the family to share, read our post, “Nature’s Patterns Reveals Mathematical Reasoning.” When out on a self-guided hike or explore your own backyard or local park, look for these patterns in different native species, including sunflowers, pinecones, dragonfly wings, and the eye of a common housefly.

CITIZEN SCIENCE/LOCAL HABITAT: Families can help with studies of phenology! The National Phenology Network has developed Nature’s Notebook, a citizen science program that aims to get people outdoors and observing nature. Nature’s Notebook has an app and a website where citizen scientists can record observations to help scientists better understand how climate change is affecting plants in New England. The National Phenology Network needs volunteers to take part in many of Nature’s Notebook projects, of which there are several throughout the country. Independent, citizen science like Nature’s Notebook is a great way to connect with nature, learn about phenology, practice gathering data, and learn the basics of experimental design while contributing to a scientific study.

ASTRONOMY/ONLINE VIDEO SERIES: A black hole is a phenomenon of spacetime that possesses such a powerful gravitational pull that nothing, not even light particles, can escape from it. Physicists argue that sufficiently dense black holes could even distort and warp the fabric of spacetime itself. It has also been suggested that black holes may have a role in shaping the structure of galaxies, drawing stars and planets into orbit around themselves. Since nothing can escape the pull of a black hole, they are incredibly difficult to study, and these mysterious entities have captured our imaginations. If you are interested in astronomy, check out this Crash Course Astronomy video series:

CITIZEN SCIENCE/METEOROLOGY: CoCoRaHS (pronounced KO-ko-rozz) is a grassroots volunteer network of backyard weather observers of all ages and backgrounds working together to measure and map precipitation (rain, hail, and snow) in their local communities. By using low-cost measurement tools, stressing training and education, and utilizing an interactive web site, the aim is to provide the highest quality data for natural resource, education, and research applications. The only requirements to join are an enthusiasm for watching and reporting weather conditions and a desire to learn more about how weather can affect and impact our lives. Their webpage provides the ability for observers to see observations mapped out in “real time”, as well as providing a wealth of information for our data users. They have a variety of lesson plans and activities to teach children about the science of studying the weather. Supported learning includes the process of scientific inquiry, data collection, mathematical skills, science and technology, Earth and Space science, and global climate change. Participating as a citizen science not only supports learning while helping scientists collect data, it also connects people to place by slowing down and noticing the patterns and processes of nature in their local communities. Find out more at — Get excited by the data you gather and report as a citizen scientist by seeing how it is used, as this video of Global Precipitation Measurement’s first global map of rainfall and snowfall shows in this one example:

MAP SKILLS/CONSERVATION PROPERTIES: For many of The Trustees’ properties, trail maps are available at the bulletin board in their parking areas, or you can download trail maps before heading out to plan your visit. Looking at maps with your kids supports map skills through the interpretation of geographical information and the practice of spatial thinking. The National Education Association offers online lessons, activities, and map-making in their unit, Teaching with Maps. Pairing online lessons with local hikes and associated trail maps support place-based learning while getting families out in nature and supporting local conservation efforts.

Plan your summer birthday now!

Monday, March 23, 2020

FAMILY MUSIC/KINDIE MUSIC: Award-winning folk musician Alastair Moock was scheduled to perform at the Jones Library on March 21. While the Children’s Music Series at the library has been canceled, families can still enjoy the music of Alastair Moock by listening to his guest DJ appearance of the Hilltown Family Variety Show in this archived episode, Songs of Hope Episode, and by checking out his newest video released just this week!

ART HISTORY/MAPLE SUGAR SEASON: Western Massachusetts landscape painter Robert Strong Woodward (1885-1957) was born in Northampton, MA, and settled in the Hilltowns where he produced many works of art. Woodward was a landscape painter, mostly depicting the rural countryside and living that surrounded him. Woodward’s works can be viewed online at the website run by the nonprofit Friends of Woodward. One of the themes he explored is the sugaring season, and one painting in particular, Late Sugaring, shows maple trees with red tapping buckets along Route 112 in Buckland, MA. Painted in 1934, this image is a typical New England scene that one can still witness driving along the same road in the Hilltowns of Western Massachusetts. This beautiful region, largely unchanged throughout the decades, still offers that majestic New England experience that Woodward captures in this painting. Peruse the gallery online to support both an interest in art history and culture studies. For families who live in Western Massachusetts, while viewing the online gallery, get curious and ask yourselves what has changed over the years? What has remained the same?

ART STUDIES/VIRTUAL MUSEUM TOURS: While western Massachusetts’ museums offer a wide array of art pieces, online resources can be used to add depth and breadth to studies of art and art history. Using Google Cultural Institute, families can explore the museum collections of institutions in far-away places (like Romania or Spain!) and dig deep into the archives of organizations all over the globe. By connecting museums and other institutions worldwide, Google Cultural Institute allows users to virtually tour and learn about the pieces included in thousands of curated collections. Read more in our post, Google Cultural Institute: A Portal to the Cultural Treasures of the World.”

NATURAL HISTORY MUSEUM/VIRTUAL LEARNING: The Berkshire Museum in Pittsfield, MA has daily videos to support learning via their collections and natural resources.

ONLINE ART CLASSES/BOTANICAL DRAWING: Taking a class with an artist that specializes in botanical illustration provides the scientific and artistic instruction needed to learn how to create botanical drawings. Botanical illustrations are not just limited to painting flowers, but also include sketching trees and other plant specimens. Not only is botanical illustration a creative outlet, but also a scientific one that lets you explore a plant species at an observational and focused level! The American Society of Botanical Illustrators provides different resources and tools to help students locate classes in their area or informational books on doing an individual study of botanical illustration. Gardens and wayside growing flowers offer an opportunity to engage with the landscape through art, literature, and community. Whether it’s botanical watercolors, illustrations, photography, or a relaxed visit to your local public garden, flowers blooming in a community support interests and connect residents to their public parks and the patterns of the seasons.

Schools are accepting applications for 2020/2021 school year!

Tuesday, March 24, 2020

COMMUNICATION SKILLS/IDD SERVICE ORGANIZATION: Best Buddies, an organization that works to provide individuals with intellectual and developmental disabilities with inclusive opportunities, offers e-Buddies, an email penpal program for teens and tweens. E-Buddies supports social inclusion by matching people with intellectual and developmental disabilities (IDD) with their peers who do not have IDD. Volunteering with this email penpal program allows older students to practice computer technology, communication, and social skills through the development of meaningful relationships with people with IDD. Read more in our post, “Intellectual and Developmental Disabilities Pen Pal Program for T(w)eens.

LITERATURE GUIDE/NEW ENGLAND CULTURE: In late winter and early spring, when the days are warm but the nights are still cold, the sap starts to run in sugar maples. Throughout New England, buckets and tubing begin to adorn trees, and the steady plinking of sap dripping into buckets can be heard throughout the sugarbush. Check out this literature guide, Titles for Exploring Sugaring Season” to use to support learning about sugaring – both the science behind it and the role that it plays in rural New England culture.

LITERATURE/ONLINE MAPPING: Make great use of Google maps function by building Google Lit Trips, which gives a whole new dimension to great literature by merely putting literary characters on the map. This free enhanced visual aid enhances literacy and mapping skills and gives readers a sense of place. Many great literary stories are rooted in “journey,” and Google Lit Trips grasps this opportunity, giving readers another layer of learning. Read more in our post, “Google Lit Trips Puts Literary Characters Back on the Map.”

LANGUAGE ARTS/SELF-GUIDED HIKE: Follow the footsteps of earlier Americans and stay active and healthy during the summer by walking. Many of the local woods and trails in Western Massachusetts were common destinations for 19th-century hikers and fueled the creative genius of many writers. Engage with local history and experience the landscape from a literary perspective by reading some of these writers’ works while on the trail or before you embark on your next outdoor adventure. For example: imagine reading William Cullen Bryant’s The Rivulet, with the poet’s description of the prattling water, as you stand by the same rivulet yourself and hear the same sound (featured in the March/April Season of Learning Ahead)! In a way, the poem acts as a time machine, bridging together the woods of Bryant’s life in the Hilltowns with the same forest you can hike today. Take a self-guided landscape tour and strengthen a sense of place through poetry and the countryside. William Cullen Bryant Homestead. 413- 634-2244. 207 Bryant Road, Cummington, MA. (Update: As of 3/24/20, all TTOR properties are closed)

Plan ahead for Fall 2020!

Wednesday, March 25, 2020

BIOLOGY/WILDLIFE SANCTUARY: Download Mass Audubon’s Bingo Cards and take your young children on a self-guided hike, disguised as a nature scavenger hunt! Look for moss on logs, lichen on rocks, signs of animals, sounds of birds, emerging insects, budding plants… and get curious! Ask questions during your discovery: “How does lichen grow on a rock?” “What kind of insect is this”?) Compare and contrast what you find (i.e., tree bark, bird calls, mosses). You don’t need to know the answers. Just let curiosity lead the way! If you have field guides, bring them with you or take pictures and research what you find online when you return home. (Update: As of 3/24/20, all Mass Audubon properties are closed)

NATIVE SPECIES/ZOOLOGY: Though the relationships between the two are generally predator-prey, studying how birds and insects depend on each other can offer insight into the inner workings of the local landscape. By learning to identify insects and birds, families can explore the who-eats-who of their surroundings! Read more in our post, Studies of Birds and Insects Illuminate Interconnectedness in Nature.

NATIVE SPECIES/ORNITHOLOGY: Springtime is filled with sightings of all kinds of exciting natural wonders. The season’s outdoor appeal makes it a perfect time of year not only for enjoying our natural surroundings, but for learning about conservation and species preservation, too! Springtime is the season for bird sightings as Western Massachusetts becomes filled with a variety of migrating bird species in the early spring months. Read more in our March/Spring Season issue of Learning Ahead. Download your free copy here.

NATIVE SPECIES/ORNITHOLOGY: Warblers are the jewels of the bird world. Check out this video on warbler-watching tips and then head to nearby wildlife sanctuary, like the Arcadia Wildlife Sanctuary in Easthampton. Bring a pair of binoculars to see if you can spot the first wave of these spring migrants. (Update: As of 3/24/20, all Mass Audubon properties are closed)

ECOSYSTEMS/DIY: For experiential learning lessons in biology, ecology, and ecosystems, make your very one tabletop biosphere! People of all ages can make tabletop biospheres, and it is a creative, scientific, and educational process. Planning a tabletop biosphere allows for the exploration of local resources, including pet stores and local bodies of water. Assembling a tabletop biosphere and observing on over months and possibly years, sparks curiosity and supports learning about ecology and living ecosystems. Read more in our post, “Tabletop Biosphere: Lessons in Biology.”

HERPETOLOGY/CITIZEN SCIENTIST: Not long from now, local ponds, wetlands, and vernal pools will be teeming with life. These aquatic habitats are home to a variety of fascinating species – including many types of frogs! As the landscape awakens, families can prepare for the appearance of local amphibian species by learning to identify common species, exploring the life cycle of amphibians, and engaging in citizen science opportunities. Read more in our post, Listen for Frogs, Become a Citizen Scientist“.

Start planning now!

Thursday, March 26, 2020

FORESTS/ECOLOGY: The taiga, also known as the boreal forest, is the largest biome, or animal and plant habitat, on the planet. This forest encircles the northern portions of the globe and accounts for around 30 percent of the world’s forests. In North America, the southernmost portion of the forest includes parts of northern New England, where it is known as the north woods. Scientific research has confirmed what traditional communities have always known: the forest is a sentient superorganism made up of individuals that are capable of communicating with each other. Tragically, despite this and the fact that all life on earth requires forests due to their ability to capture carbon dioxide and produce oxygen, billions of trees are cut down every year, and only 5% of the world’s old-growth forests remain. Screen the film The Call of the Forest: The Forgotten Wisdom of Trees and learn about the science of what makes the sacred northern forests so vital to our survival as a species and the impact a single person can have in the restoration of our forests.

ECOLOGY/RECOMMENDED READING: The Ripple: Synchronization of the Watershed Flora & Fauna

BOTANY/MAPLE TREES: Families interested in sugaring can use maple sugar season as an opportunity to support place- and community-based studies of math and science, allowing children to learn new skills and concepts within a meaningful context. To successfully produce maple syrup, families must first learn to identify trees accurately. Young naturalists will need to look closely at the tree’s bark, tiny buds, and twig growth patterns to identify each species of maple. Getting up close and personal with a tree’s bark provides a secondary means to leaf-less identification. Sugar maple bark is made up of thick plates formed over time, with comparatively large rifts between them. It’s dark brown on the oldest trees, but lighter on younger ones, and tends to have a chunky look to it. Rather than collecting bark samples, try photographing the bark of many trees so that samples can be placed side by side. Bark identification is tricky without a close look at the tree’s leaf buds and is best used as a means of confirming a suspected sugar maple after leaf buds have been examined. Hunting for sugar maple trees (Acer saccharum) before they leaf out supports lessons in botany through the lens of food, habitat, and New England heritage. Return to the tree you have identify this spring and see it it’s leaves confirm your find!

BOTANY/SUGGESTED TITLES: Books to support studies of tree identification before they leaf out include:

Start planning for Fall 2020!

Friday, March 27, 2020

FREE ONLINE WRITING CLASS: Pioneer Valley Writers’ Workshop (PVWW) Group in Williamsburg is offering community writing gathering via video conference for writers of all levels and genres every 3rd Friday of the month with PVWW Writing Instructors. The next one happens today, Friday, March 27 from 6-8pm and is open to all young adults and teen writers. Warm-up with a number of engaging prompts, followed by sustained writing time, then (optional) sharing and discussion. RSVP.

LOCAL HISTORY/WILDLIFE SANCTUARIES: Embedded learning is intrinsically found in nature. Most wildlife sanctuaries and conservation properties, including Mass Audubon, The Trustees, and the Hilltown Land Trust, have hiking trails for self-directed hikes. Different trail options can support a variety of interests, including local history. Two examples include the historic old lime kiln at Lime Kiln Farm in the Berkshires and the historic home of children’s author Thornton W. Burgess at Laughing Brook in the Pioneer Valley. (Update: As of 3/24/20, all TTOR properties are closed)

SOCIAL STUDIES/CARTOGRAPHY: While old maps are interesting on their own, they provide an excellent entry point for studies of local history. The state department of education includes local history in their frameworks for third-grade social studies. Still, local history is a topic that can be learned about at varying depths by students of all ages. Read more in our post, “Maps of Massachusetts: Supporting Social Studies & Local History.”

LOCAL HISTORY/SELF-GUIDED WALK: 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 vibrant, 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 hosts a large online community resource to its repertoire- the Holyoke History Walk, available on the museum’s website, offering a comparative look at the city and many of its streets and buildings as they once were (up to 125 years ago). The program uses Google Maps and provides a map – created by piecing together numerous maps from the museum’s archives – of Holyoke past, layered above a map of Holyoke present. Scattered across the map are over 100 of the city’s landmarks – churches, civic buildings, prominent businesses, and views across the canal, from hilltops, and down various streets in the busiest parts of town. The old photos are shown next to a current image of the location. In some cases, the buildings are unrecognizable; in others, entire blocks are boarded up; meanwhile, some others remain relatively unchanged. Families can use the interactive tour to learn all about local history and can apply what they learn about the city to bring context and more in-depth understanding to American history and changes in industries, technology, and the American way of life. Holyoke, MA. (Update: As of 3/23/20, MA Governor has issued a stay-at-home advisory)

WOMEN’S HISTORY/PAST & PRESENT RESIDENTS: Western Massachusetts is home to so many women changemakers who have dedicated their lives to enacting social change through the arts, critical inquiry, and learning. Still today, there are many women poets, writers, activists, artists, teachers, educators, and scientists that reside in Western Massachusetts who continue to work towards positive social change that fosters female empowerment and diversity. These efforts add to women’s voices in our globalized society and economy! March is Women’s History Month, a national observation that honors and pays tributes to those women who dedicated their lives to social justice, the environment, education, and positive change for society. Their fortitude and perseverance as pioneers are honored during the month of March. Read more in our post, “Local Women & Local History:Understanding New England Women’s Lives from the Past.”

Hilltown Families’ list of Suggested Events is supported in part by grants from the Amherst, Bernardston, Buckland, Chester, Gill, Goshen, Hadley, Heath, Hinsdale-Peru, Holyoke, Montgomery, Mt. Washington, New Salem, Northern Berkshire, Pelham, Plainfield, Rowe, Shelburne, Shutesbury, South Hadley, Springfield, Washington, Westhampton, and Windsor Cultural Councils, local agencies which are supported by the Massachusetts Cultural Council, a state agency.

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