100+ Ideas, Resources, & Virtual Events for Learning at Home in Western MA: May 2-15, 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 nearly 10,000 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 info@hilltownfamilies.org… and scroll down to discover community-based educational opportunities to explore at home this weekend and next week.

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May 5

Diary of a Wombat Reading Live on Facebook: After having to cancel Monkey Baa Theatre’s production of Diary of Wombat, due to the Covid-19 outbreak, the UMass Fine Arts Center is hosting a digital pajama party with the company for a live event on the FAC’s Facebook page, Tuesday, May 5 at 7pm. Based in Australia, company Director Eva Di Cesare will share a bedtime reading of Diary of a Wombat and also answer questions. As a bedtime story, children are asked to put on their favorite PJs and join in for a wonderful story about Mothball, the naughtiest wombat in Australia. In advance of the reading, the FAC invites young participants to draw a photo of their favorite animal wearing PJs and share it on Facebook during the live event. Those who share will be entered to win a super Wombat prize pack including a copy of the book, stuffed wombat, and swag from our friends at the Eric Carle Museum of Picture Book Art. For more information, visit www.fineartscenter.com/wombat or the Fine Arts Center’s Facebook page.

Virtual Farm Store

This time every year, many families start to think about tending to their gardens, growing their own food, and being able to access locally grown food easily. Gardening connects families with the seasons and is a multidisciplinary activity embedded with learning every step along the way, from botany to soil science to meteorology. At home, gardening can take place in either a garden plot, porch containers, and/or window sills, becoming a learning laboratory for all members of the family. Now is the time to order your plants, and Bare Roots Farm in West Chesterfield is open for pre-orders via their online store. Bare Roots Farm is a locally owned family greenhouse growing useful organic plants. Orders can be picked up at their Farm Stand (329 Ireland Street) beginning the 2nd week of May. Place your order now at Barerootsfarm.com.

Jul 6-23

Smith Vocational and Agricultural High School Summer Youth Programs. Northampton, MA. Smith Vocational and Agricultural High School is pleased to announce its 2020 Summer Program offerings for students entering grades 6, 7, and 8. Programs include: Entering the World of Cosmetology; Tour de Cuisine: Cultivating the Young Culinarian; Criminal Justice League; Build Your Own Longboard. Weekly programs from July 6-July 23 half-day runs 8:30am- 12:30pm. Full-day programs run 8:30am – 3:30pm. Students can prepare amazing food, practice beauty techniques, build longboards, or learn about law enforcement. For full course descriptions, including which weeks they will run and to register for a Summer Youth Program, please see their website. Dates: Jul 6-23; Age Range of Participants: 11-14yo. Contact: 413-587-1414 x3406. dcarver@smithtec.org. www.smithtec.org/summer.

May 8-10

Are you planning your garden for this spring? Make sure to plant local, organic, and heirloom varieties! Where to get your plants? River Valley Co-op in Northampton, of course! During their annual Mother’s Day Weekend Spring Plant Sale they will be selling flower, veggie, and herb starts for your home garden from local farms, including Windy Ridge Farm, High Meadows Farm, and Bare Roots Farm. A great selection is available at River Valley Co-op during Mother’s Day weekend: May 8th, 9th, 10th from 10am-7pm. River Valley Co-Op. 413-584-2665. 330 N King St, Northampton, MA.

Online Classes

Online Classes. Chad Stewart, former Disney Animator and veteran homeschool Dad, offers Online Animation or Drawing Classes for ages 11-18. Weekly classes are one hour long, and industry professionals complete video reviews of homework as a part of every class they teach. The cost is $350 for the full 12-week session, and the Summer Session begins June 1st. Classes tend to fill up quickly so you can hold your child’s spot with a $50 deposit at the time of registration! Classes are held during Summer, Fall, and Spring Sessions, so if you can’t join them now, check back with again! Chad has worked on films such as Tarzan, Emperor’s New Groove, and The Polar Express, and has much to share with students of his Drawing or Animation Classes. Contact: 661-755-5775. kayla@theanimcourse.com. theanimcourse.com.

PARTNER WITH HILLTOWN FAMILIES: Are you offering virtual classes or lessons? Are you facilitating online social, learning, or entertainment opportunities? Is your local business offering new ways for customer engagement? Partner with Hilltown Families in your online outreach, delivering your message to over 25,000 subscribers, web visitors, and social media followers. Hilltown Families is committed to our community and supporting one another in times of need. Our sponsors and advertising partners allow us to keep delivering this community-based educational resource to our readers for free (since 2005!). Local and online businesses, virtual and local service providers, non-profit organizations, and individuals are encouraged to reach out to find out about our new and exciting opportunities! Contact Sienna at swildfield@hilltownfamilies.org.

May 2-15, 2020

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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, May 2, 2020

Online Events: Suggest a distant learning event!

  • Check Hilltown Families Facebook event page for free virtual events! Want to have your Facebook event page added? Add Hilltown Families as a co-host. Event must be free, based out of Western MA, and a single event (not a series). Questions? DM!

STORYTELLING/RADIO SHOW: HFVS Adapted Story Episode with Guest DJs, Lee and Katie of the Story Pirates. The Story Pirates take stories written by real kids and turn them into sketch comedy, songs, books, and a podcast. In today’s show, hosted by Lee from the Story Pirates, they play some of their songs based on kids’ stories, plus the songs that inspired them! From 9-10am every Saturday, Hilltown Family Variety Show streaming on 103.3FM WXOJ. ♥ 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!

ORGANIC GARDENING/NOFA: You don’t have to be a beekeeper to attract pollinators to your backyard or garden. You can help reverse the decline in honeybee and native pollinator populations with strategic gardening. Certain plants will naturally attract beneficial insects, which will beautify your garden in a mutually beneficial relationship with the plants. Northeast Organic Farming Association of Massachusetts is a great local resource to support the interest of home gardeners. They serve homesteaders growing food for themselves, chefs planting herb gardens on restaurant rooftops, suburban parents picking tomatoes with their kids in the backyard, and urban foodies creating flower boxes on their windowsills. Visit their website to discover organic gardening workshops statewide, along with workshops designed to help support organic gardening practices. In addition to the support of a community-based educational resource like NOFA, you can also support your learning at home! Not only can an organic home garden provide food, but it can also be a learning lab, supporting interest in ecology, botany, and entomology. In this video, watch a bumblebee perform “buzz pollination,” a technique that they use to dislodge pollen from some plants, and this spring, see if you can spot other pollinators in your garden while observing their pollination techniques.

FRUIT TREES/PEARS: You may have heard the Chinese proverb, “The best time to plant a tree was twenty years ago. The second best time is now.” This is a wonderful metaphor for life but also a good reminder of the importance of trees! Practically speaking, if you want to plant a tree, you have to know how to care for it so that it will grow successfully, especially fruit trees. And while we all know that apple trees grow well in New England, did you know that pear trees do too? In this video, learn how to grow pear trees in your backyard. Topics include fertilizing, sunlight, watering, pruning, soil type, pH, and more.

FOOD HISTORY/PIE CRUST: Where did the saying “Upper crust” come from? According to the U.S. Apple Association, in early America, when times were hard and cooking supplies were scarce, cooks often had to scrimp and save on ingredients. Apple pie was a favorite dish, but to save on lard and flour, only a bottom crust was made. More affluent households could afford both an upper and a lower crust, so those families became known as “the upper crust.” Read more in our post, Culinary & Family History Through the Apple Pie.

FOOD HISTORY/PIE CRUST: Old Sturbridge Village asks, “Ever make a pie from scratch? Now is a great time to try! Making pie crust is intimidating for some modern cooks, but it is simple once you get the hang of it. Watch this step-by-step video to see Ashleigh, Domestic Management Straker Fellow, demonstrate how to make a pie crust.”

HOMESTEADING/BACKYARD CHICKENS: There are many reasons to want to get involved in the homesteading movement, a trend towards self-reliance in daily living. It can be empowering to learn how to produce your food, clothing, or other products you use daily. You might be motivated because you want to know where these things come from while wanting to cut down on your environmental impact. Plus, growing a garden, raising chickens, making or swapping clothing, and building your own furniture can be fun! Plus, there’s so much learning that can happen in the process, expanding your knowledge and skills. Homesteading is multi-faceted and can cover topics such as horticulture, agriculture, textiles, cooking, and carpentry. An easy place to start is with a vegetable garden and a small flock of chickens. To learn about raising chickens in your backyard, check out this beginners guide:

AGRICULTURE/SUSTAINABILITY: Did you know that the first Community Supported Agriculture garden was founded in Great Barrington in 1986? The movement was started by Swiss biodynamic farmer Jan Vander Tuin, who came to the United States in the 1980s and assisted with the creation of the Great Barrington garden. The goal of the CSA movement is to create direct relationships between farmers and consumers. This relationship can help to create fair trade policies and livable wages for farmers. Additionally, CSA farms often employ organic and biodynamic approaches to agriculture, which promote ecologically sustainable farming. Now is a great time to sign up for a CSA near you, supporting local farmers and connecting to where you live through locally grown food. Check out CISA’s list of CSA’s in western Massachusetts, and their great DIY resources, including recipes & cooking tips and food preservation & gardening resources. Visit these farms online and consider becoming a member this year! Being a member of a CSA connects you with the local harvest, and your local neighbors via the folks who grow your food! Plus, CSA’s are loaded with embedded learning opportunities!


Sunday, May 3, 2020

Online Events: Suggest a distant learning event!

SUSTAINABILITY/BIOMIMICRY: What’s the best way we can care for the places we live while sustaining 10,000 generations to come? The answer may lie within the structures and behaviors of the natural world and understanding the limits and opportunities found in our places. “Biomimicry, the practice of looking deeply into nature for solutions to engineering, design, and other challenges, has inspired a film about a ground-breaking vision for creating a long-term, sustainable world.” This short film, “Biomimicry,” featuring Janine Benyus, takes a look at how some of our most pressing human-made problems may be solved by mimicking nature. Benyus delivers natural and human examples, offering hope and encouragement for 10,000 generations to come when we accept her invitation to “apprentice” with “masters” in the natural world.

CULINARY ARTS/KITCHEN SCIENCE: One of the best “classrooms” is right in your own home … your kitchen! Planning and preparing meals with your family can support an interest in culinary and pastry arts while exposing kids to a wide variety of embedded learning opportunities. Classic subjects like math, chemistry, and humanities are readily supported in the kitchen, along with general technical skills and valuable life skills. Any pastry chef will tell you about the importance of kitchen math for making great pastries, including an understanding of fractions and measurement units, and the practice of addition, subtractions, and division. Lessons in chemistry are supported when young chefs learn the science behind the use of baking soda and baking powder and what happens on a molecular level to a protein molecule when heated. Nutrition can be outlined by understanding which foods have carbohydrates, proteins, and/or fats. Sharing the story behind your grandmother’s delicious cookie recipe or researching the history of pancakes online supports lessons in the humanities. Knives skills, operating ovens, and handling food help a young chef gain technical expertise in the kitchen. And life skills to carry on into adulthood can be explored, like how to plan, organize, and purchase ingredients. A kitchen is a mini-lab and learning space. It is a place to not only expand and support interests but also to connect with family and to appreciate where your food comes from and how it was prepared. There are plenty of recipes to be found online, in books, or handed down from family members from which you can select. Just follow your child’s tastes and food preferences and let it lead the way towards learning in the kitchen! If a question is asked (i.e., “Why does bread turn brown in the toaster?” “Why do cookies spread?” ““What is a carbohydrate?” “Can we make s’mores indoors?“)

FOOD SCIENCE/MOLECULAR GASTRONOMY: Love food and chemistry? Dive into the world of molecular gastronomy, where chefs create unique foods using unconventional materials and methods.

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.

SCIENCE & EDUCATION/RADIO SHOW: HFVS Science & Education Episode with Danny Weinkauf of They Might Be Giants. Danny Weinkauf guest DJs our science and education episode, demonstrating though song examples and commentary his love of both, and how it has influenced his favorite songs and personal writing style. Click here select from over 13 years of archived shows! It’s better than 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!

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 outside, look for these patterns in different native species, including sunflowers, pinecones, dragonfly wings, and the eye of a common housefly.

CBEdu RESOURCE/SCIENCE CAFES: Science Cafes are part of a grassroots movement to open science to everyone and to bring free presentations and engaging conversations into casual community settings. Here in Western MA, working scientist shares their research with the public every month via SciTech Cafe in Northampton. At these monthly events, all ages are welcome, allowing self-directed learners to participate in community events such as science cafes can help them to learn how to engage with an intergenerational community of learners while challenging them to learn more about in-depth science topics on their own. Each science cafe is lead by an expert in the field who share their expertise to science cafe participants. The opportunity to learn about a science topic from an expert scientist grants learners access to a pool of knowledge that is both deep and wide. These events are canceled for the spring, but they have offered a link to support home-based learning relevant to current affairs: Why outbreaks like coronavirus spread exponentially, and how to “flatten the curve”. If all goes according to plan, SciTech Cafe monthly Science Cafes will start back up by the autumn.history Find out who will be presenting at www.scitechcafe.org. Northampton, MA.

DENTAL HYGIENE/BIOLOGY: Do you struggle some nights with getting your kids to brush their teeth before bed? (Exhausting, right?!) Maybe if they were to better understand what causes cavities, and how can to avoid them, they wouldn’t push back so hard on our constant nagging to brush and floss (and to stay away from so many sweets!)? Mel Rosenberg takes us inside our teeth to find out in this animated TED-Ed video. Share it with your kids and let your morning and evening ritual of oral hygiene be a catalyst for learning!


Plan your summer birthday now!

Monday, May 4, 2020

Online Events: Suggest a distant learning event!

  • Check Hilltown Families Facebook event page for free virtual events! Want to have your Facebook event page added? Add Hilltown Families as a co-host. Event must be free, based out of Western MA, and a single event (not a series). Questions? DM!

DANCE STUDIES/CANADIAN STEP DANCE: Ottawa Valley Step Dancing is a type of Canadian dance with origins in France, Ireland, and Scotland. In this type of step dancing, steps reach high off the floor and are paired with flowing arm movements. You can learn the basic steps of Ottawa Valley Step Dancing and watch the magic of its pairing with music in this short video.

DANCE STUDIES/WORLD FOLK DANCES: While it is certain that Irish dance traditions date back thousands of years, there is very little recorded information about those traditions until the 17th-century, because most ancient cultural practices around the world were not written down. What we do know is that when the Normans invaded Ireland, they brought with them the courtly ’round dances’ common in Europe during the Medieval period. In the 1600s, we begin to see references to Irish folk dances, known as ‘rinkafadda,’ which were often performed in fields and involved lines or rows of men and women facing each other. By the 1760s, hornpipes and fiddles were added to Irish dancing traditions and the custom of traveling dance masters began and would last until well into the 19th century.- Want to see examples of not only Irish dance but also other traditional folk dances from around the world? Check this out these folk dances from around the world.

DANCE STUDIES/JACOB’S PILLOW: Did you know one of the best community-based resources to support an interest in dance studies exists in the Hilltowns of Western MA? Dive into Jacob’s Pillow Dance Interactive, an ever-growing collection of dance videos filmed at Jacob’s Pillow from the 1930s to today, plus new illustrated essays. Playlists include Women’s History, Black Voices, Cultural Diversity, Distinctive Costumes, Indigenous Dance of the Americas, Men Dancers, and several others. Jacob’s Pillow is a National Historic Landmark, National Medal of Arts recipient, and home to America’s longest-running dance festival, located in Becket, MA.

SPORTS/ROCK CLIMBING: Looking for inspiration or new techniques to try out on your next climb? Watch Ashima Shiraishi, an extraordinary young rock climber, and hear her thoughts on the sport:


Schools are accepting applications for 2020/2021 school year!

Tuesday, May 5, 2020

Live event on Tuesday, May 5 at 7pm!

Online Events: Suggest a distant learning event!

  • Check Hilltown Families Facebook event page for free virtual events! Want to have your Facebook event page added? Add Hilltown Families as a co-host. Event must be free, based out of Western MA, and a single event (not a series). Questions? DM!

CULTURE STUDIES/CINDO DE MAYO: Often thought to be a traditional Mexican holiday, Cinco de Mayo is celebrated much more widely in the United States than anywhere else in the world. Despite its lack of authenticity as a major Mexican holiday, Cinco de Mayo serves as an opportunity for families to explore Mexican culture, making for a day of delicious food, great music, and engaging hands-on activities. Read more in our post, Cinco de Mayo: A Celebration Mexican Heritage where you’ll find activities for the whole family to enjoy, including reading recommendations HFVS Cinco de Mayo radio show/podcast, MYO pinata, Mexican cooking, and DIY amate paintings, a traditional Mexican folk art. Learn more about the ancient Mexican tradition of making amate paper in this video:

GOAL SETTING/VISION BOARDS: Vision boards – a tool for supporting children in keeping goals in mind – can serve as a powerful visual reminder of the importance of hard work and responsibility. When displayed in an important place at home, vision boards can help children to keep their goals in mind every day! Read more in our post, Vision Boards: Creative Tool for Supporting Children with Accomplishing Goals.

CREATIVE FREE-PLAY/EARLY CHILDHOOD: Teaching your kids at home? One of the best ways for children to learn is simply to let them play. Most educators and parents understand that for children, playing is essential to learning as well as emotional well-being. Playing allows children to grow their imaginations and practice new skills in a safe, fun environment. With so many useful and healthy aspects to play, parents can benefit from participating. Taking time out of a busy day to play with your children not only helps you form happy memories and bond with your kids, it can also increase your well-being and vitality. So go ahead, just let them play!

CREATIVE FREE-PLAY/TODDLERS: Spring has arrived here in Western MA, which means we can now move our creative free-play outdoors! Toddlers can make the best of anything, especially dirt! Read more in our post, Let Them Grow: Dirt Play.

CREATIVE FREE-PLAY: We have a couple of columns that have great ideas for generating both facilitated and self-directed play. Check out these archived columns, What to Play? Play Ideas for Family & Community and Let Them Grow: Fresh Ways to Engage Toddlers in Creative Free Play.


Plan ahead for Fall 2020!

Wednesday, May 6, 2020

Online Events: Suggest a distant learning event!

  • Check Hilltown Families Facebook event page for free virtual events! Want to have your Facebook event page added? Add Hilltown Families as a co-host. Event must be free, based out of Western MA, and a single event (not a series). Questions? DM!
  • Wednesday, May 6, 6pm – SPECIAL NEEDS/SUPPORT: Special Needs Family Alliance. Greenfield, MA. (FREE)

BIOLOGY/SYMBOLIC RELATIONSHIPS: Though the relationships between the two are generally predator-prey, studying the ways in which 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, Interconnections Between the Birds & the Bees.

ENTOMOLOGY/BEETLES: Mass Audubon invites families to go on a beetle scavenger hunt! “There are at least 107 known species of beetles in Massachusetts, 30,000 in the United States, and 350,000 around the world. How many beetles can you find? While on the hunt, don’t forget to watch how they defend themselves, listen to the sounds they make, and observe how they communicate with each other.” Use their free downloadable activity page, It’s Beetlemania!, to guide you!

ENTOMOLOGY/BUTTERFLIES: Why Is Blue So Rare In Nature? “Among living things, the color blue is oddly rare. Blue rocks, blue sky, blue water, sure. But blue animals? They are few and far between. And the ones that do make blue? They make it in some very strange and special ways compared to other colors. In this video, we’ll look at some very cool butterflies to help us learn how living things make blue, and why this beautiful hue is so rare in nature.” – It’s Okay To Be Smart


Start planning now!

Thursday, May 7, 2020

Online Events: Suggest a distant learning event!

  • Check Hilltown Families Facebook event page for free virtual events! Want to have your Facebook event page added? Add Hilltown Families as a co-host. Event must be free, based out of Western MA, and a single event (not a series). Questions? DM!

WILL & ESTATE PLANNING/COMMUNITY EXPERTS: When we look at our communities, and we think about community resources we have access to, our elders and community experts are an important asset to our community-based educational resource landscape. Their sharing of knowledge and skills is a type of collaborative consumption that leads towards sustainable and resilient communities while supporting interests and education. For many parents, both new parents and grandparents, estate planning is an interest they have many questions about… so we turned towards two community experts with questions generated from our readers who have been generous enough to share their expertise with our readers, attorneys Mark NeJame and Julie Kling of NeJame & Kling Law Offices. Read more in our post, Local Expert Q&A: The Importance of a Will.

BUSINESS/CURRENT AFFAIRS: Small Business Classes with the Small Business Administration. These free online classes are aimed towards business owners; however, students of business administration can tune in to learn about small business management through conversations around COVID-19 recovery and economic strategies.

PSA from thebagshare.org.

COMMUNITY SERVICE/SEWING: Put your skills and interests in sewing and values of kindness to work! DIY Masks of Western Mass is a public Facebook group of volunteers who have decided to help the effort in making Masks for medical personnel, service workers, and other organizations and people who may need them. Swap stories, find support, organize drop-offs via this online group! Also, be sure to connect with the Bag Share Project for future community sewing events to make reusable bags for independent grocery stores, food co-ops, and local libraries.

KINDNESS/ART: Some folks are attracted to street art, such as sidewalk chalk art and yarnbombing because it is anonymous and puts art in public spaces for all to enjoy. If you want to put art out into the world to brighten a stranger’s day, another more subtle idea is art-rock. Painting words of kindness and encouragement on small rocks found in your yard and then left in outdoor public spaces for others to discover has the power to connect the community through the integration of art and nature while nurturing emotional intelligence.

COMMUNITY SERVICE/HOSPITAL: To ensure patient safety, Cooley Dickinson Hospital is currently following Center for Disease Control and Prevention guidance in accepting non-medical grade PPE (such as homemade masks). In this video are instructions on how to make face masks, which can be dropped off at Cooley Dickinson Hospital’s North Entrance, Monday-Friday, 8am-4:30pm. 30 Locust St. (Route 9) Northampton, MA.

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.

KINDNESS/HOMELESSNESS: Thanks to Birthday Wishes, a nonprofit organization serving much of New England and New York, children living in homeless shelters can celebrate their birthdays with games, cake, and gifts – and there are lots of ways in which families can help to support the organization’s efforts! Birthday Wishes’ mission is made evident through their name: they make homeless children’s birthday wishes come true. This is done in a few different ways, depending on a family’s living situation. Birthday Wishes organizes and holds parties for children – either individually or in groups – at homeless shelters in numerous communities. However, some children reside in safe shelters where non-residents aren’t able to visit. For these children, Birthday Wishes provides a Birthday Box packed with everything a family needs to have a small gathering to celebrate – cake mix and frosting (as well as a baking dish), party hats, favors, decorations, and – of course – presents!

SERVICE-BASED LEARNING/VETERANS ASSOCIATION: Families can engage in community service projects by becoming involved with the Veterans Association of Central Western Massachusetts’ volunteer program or by donating items to veterans who live on the VA campus.

Start planning for Fall 2020!

Friday, May 8, 2020

Online Events: Suggest a distant learning event!

  • Check Hilltown Families Facebook event page for free virtual events! Want to have your Facebook event page added? Add Hilltown Families as a co-host. Event must be free, based out of Western MA, and a single event (not a series). Questions? DM!

CULTURE STUDIES/INDONESIA: Learn about Indonesian culture through wayang kulit. Wayang kulit is an ancient form of storytelling through elaborate shadow puppets and complex musical styles, originating on the Indonesian island of Java. These stories borrow characters from indigenous myths, Indian epics, and heroes from Persian tales. Learn more about this the history and techniques of this form of Balinese shadow-puppetry in this video:

PSYCHOLOGY/MAGIC: Magicians often ask audience members to choose a playing card “at random.” Researchers from McGill University, however, have found patterns in these choices. Much like a computer cannot generate a truly random number, humans do not pick cards entirely at random. The researchers found that of their 667 participants, women were more likely to name the King of Hearts, and men the Queen of Hearts when asked to name any card. Understanding the role of human behavior in the phenomenon of magic can make magic shows that much more interesting and entertaining. A good magic show can captivate children’s attention as they watch intently, trying to figure out how the magician made an object appear, disappear, or change. As children try to make sense of the world around them, magic opens up their minds to a world of seemingly impossible possibilities. Read more about magic at our post, Magic Shows: The Psychology Behind Magic Tricks & Illusions.

FILM STUDIES/ANIMATION: The 2013 animated film Boy and the World (PG), winner of over 40 film festival awards, involves almost no dialogue but features stunning visuals and an equally superb soundtrack of Brazilian music. Screen this movie at home to experience a foreign film, from Brazil, without the struggle of reading many subtitles. Instead, viewers can focus on the artwork and music. The lack of dialogue makes this already family-friendly film great for children. You can also discuss with your children the themes of environmentalism, which are implicit in the story. Parents and kids who enjoy making art will likely feel inspired by the unique animation style employed by the filmmakers. Get a sense of the animation style, music, and themes of Boy and the World in this trailer:

THEATER/LANGUAGE ARTS: Shakespeare’s lasting popularity over hundreds of years may stem from his command of the English language, and the universal themes explored in his plays and poetry. Shakespeare used a great deal of creativity with words. He combined short, familiar words into compound words, and sometimes changed verbs into nouns and vice versa. This is how he invented hundreds of words still used every day. Shakespeare’s plays allow us to explore relatable ideas by reading, performing, and witnessing performances of his words. Plays are meant to be performed, and Shakespeare’s plays undergo countless renditions, iterations, and adaptations on the stage and film. At home, families can celebrate Shakespeare’s lasting impact by screening the 2011 film Gnomeo and Juliet. (Rated G), the 2010 adaptation of The Tempest (Rated PG-13), and the 2012 film Much Ado About Nothing (Rated PG-13).

RENAISSANCE HISTORY/SWORD FIGHTING: Are your children or teens interested in history? Theater? Sword fighting? Learning about history can be extra engaging with an intersecting interest, especially one which can be active and participatory. Several community-based resources can support learning about history through an interest in sword-fighting and theater, along with online opportunities to guide the way. The Pioneer Valley Fencing Academy in Easthampton and Riverside Fencing Club are two local educational services that offer classes and engaging Facebook posts that encourage online learning. And Shakespeare & Company in Lenox is known for providing backstage guided tours where visitors can try out swords used as props in productions. This interest can further be explored online with a read of Shakespeare Theater Company’s tip of the hat to such props, the unsung heroes of theater. But interest in history and sword fighting can connect to not only theater but also films and literature. The classic family film, The Princess Bride, based on the 1973 novel of the same name by William Goldman, contains a famous sword fighting scene with accurate references to historical sword fighting techniques. Screening this film, or The Mark of Zorro, can be a fun way to see sword fighting in action at home while catching references to historically significant fencers such as Rocco Bonetti, Agrippa, and Capo Ferro. You can screen the film as an introduction to the history of sword fighting, and kids who love the film can also consider reading the book upon which it is based, or vice versa.


Saturday, May 9, 2020

Online Events: Suggest a distant learning event!

  • Check Hilltown Families Facebook event page for free virtual events! Want to have your Facebook event page added? Add Hilltown Families as a co-host. Event must be free, based out of Western MA, and a single event (not a series). Questions? DM!

CULTURAL STUDIES/RADIO SHOW: Let’s party around the world with a Global Party Dance Episode of the Hilltown Family Variety Show! Guest DJ, Flor Bromley, will take listeners on a musical adventure to visit countries like Argentina, Czech Republic, Italy, South Africa, Brazil, Colombia, Belgium, The Netherlands, Spain, Cuba, Mexico, and the USA. Learn and rhythms from these countries and get ready to dance! ♥ 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!

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:

ASTRONOMY & METEOROLOGY/MUSIC STUDIES: Integrative learning about the sky with the HFVS Sky Episode with Guest DJ, Suzanne Jamieson Selmo (LISTEN NOW!). Suzanne Jamieson Selmo celebrates the SKY and everything in it. She takes us through a whole day, from waking up with the sun to going to bed with the stars and the moon…and lots of fun stuff in between. She threads through poetry, history, and science into the hour and showcases a variety of music… from old classics to modern pop, jazz standards to popular children’s music. It’s a celebration of the sky with great tunes!

GEOLOGY/MINERALS: A mineral’s physical properties give us essential clues about its identity. Which five properties are most telling? Watch this clip to learn more!

GEOLOGY/WEATHER & EROSION: Weathering and erosion are key concepts of geology and Earth Science. Find our more in the following video:

GEOLOGY/LOCAL RESOURCES: For junior geologists and their parents, there are several local resources for learning through geology. Read all about it in our post, 4 Outdoor Adventures for Exploring Geology and Local History.

GEOLOGY/THE TRUSTEES: Follow along with The Trustees of Martha’s Vineyard Education Manager, Molly Peach Mayhew, as she guides you through a virtual lesson about weathering and erosion. This lesson is designed for elementary school-aged students. Materials: chocolate chip cookie, non single-use straw, skewer or toothpick, plate, and a glass of water.

FORAGING/WILD EDIBLES: Learning about wild edible plants opens up new possibilities for learning and lifestyle. Once you’ve begun recognizing local edible plants, your nature walks will be filled with discovery. Identifying wild edibles is a fun skill to learn with your family. Once you’ve identified an edible plant such as dandelion greens, fiddleheads, violets, lamb’s quarters, and garlic mustard, you can try cleaning and eating them, and possibly even incorporating them into cooking! Learning how to identify edible plants around you will add another layer of fun, understanding, and discovery to your nature walks. Challenge all members of your family to learn, too, by playing a game to see who can spot edible plants first.

NATURE CENTER/HITCHCOCK CENTER: Keep connected with nature and the seasons while staying safe at home! The Hitchcock Center in Amherst, MA, has virtual nature-inspired offerings, including their favorite off-the-beaten-path hikes, teaching resources, animal anecdotes, seasonal discoveries, bird watching, and nature-based bingo! Find out more online: www.hitchcockcenter.org.

NATURE-BASED LEARNING/GREAT BARRINGTON LAND CONSERVANCY: Connecting with nature and sharing discoveries is a great way to stay connected to where you live (while supporting nature-based learning!) during challenging times. The Great Barrington Land Conservancy (GBLC) invites folks to participate as a family or individual in a nature-focused activity they designed for home. During April 2020, GBLC will hold a Tree Seed Photo Challenge. Each week they will post a photo of a seed and ask you to identify it. This challenge leads up to Arbor Day (always the last Friday in April in Massachusetts), where participants will be entered to win prizes. This is a great community invite to step outside, engage with nature, and to learn a little bit more about GBLC and the mission of Arbor Day.

NATURAL HISTORY/NEW ENGLAND FORESTS: Have you ever seen a strangely shaped tree and wondered why it grew that way? Environmental events such as storms can cause trees to grow in a bent direction. Tom Wessels, author of Reading the Forested Landscape: A Natural History of New England, takes clues such as tree shapes, scars in the bark, and various forms of decay to interpret the natural history of the land. Grab a copy of his book and pair it with this 3-part film where Tom leads viewers into the woods of New England, providing a supplemental opportunity for the budding naturalist to enhance their own “forest forensics” skills. Some of the topics covered in this series include New England’s stone walls, the merino sheep craze, forests arising on abandoned agricultural land, signs of past logging and fire damage, reading tree stumps, and more.

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.

DENDROLOGY/ECOLOGY: For more online tree learning links, check out this list Regreen Springfield posted to their website for using to introduce trees and the natural world via the web.

MASS AUDUBON/NATURE STUDIES: Mass Audubon has a newly-launched Explore Nature at Home section on their website. Find videos from their team of amazing naturalists and educators like “Bird of the Day” and “Nature in Your Neighborhood” from cities and towns across Massachusetts. Activities to download for the entire family include nature bingo, coloring sheets, and a scavenger hunt. There are also ways to engage in citizen science by recording wildlife observations and actions you can take to protect the planet.

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.”


Sunday, May 10, 2020

Online Events: Suggest a distant learning event!

HISTORIC DEERFIELD/SENSE OF PLACE: Historic Deerfield in Deerfield, MA, holds an important place in American history and the interactions between Native American and early European settlers to the Pioneer Valley. Historic Deerfield has been referred to as one of the best-documented small communities in American history, contributing to a deep sense of place through its layers of authentic historical representations. In this video, learn more about this Western Massachusetts treasure, how it supports place-based education, and why it’s an essential piece of our local heritage. While at home, Historic Deerfield has several printables to encourage self-directed learning through the lens of Colonial History. Support an interest in food history, museum collections, and writing and communications with these printables: Butter and Biscuits, Exploring Collections, and MYO Homemade Berry Ink and Fake Old Paper.

HANCOCK SHAKER VILLAGE/ARCHITECTURE: Typically, this time of the year, we see the opening of the Hancock Shaker Village (HSV), where families get to meet newborn lambs, piglets, calves, goats, chicks, and ducklings in the Round Stone Barn. The HSV is a great place to learn about the biology of these animals and their significance in the historical context of farming life. In addition to history and biology, many people who visit Hancock Shaker Village are interested in the architecture of the Round Stone Barn, built-in 1826 as a cow stable. When open, the Hancock Shaker Village has something for everyone: art, history, science, and baby animals! Take a short tour of the interior of the beautiful Round Stone Barn and make plans to visit when they reopen:

NOLUMBEKA PROJECT/NATIVE AMERICAN STUDIES: According to the National Congress of American Indians, there are more than 550 tribes, bands, nations, pueblos, rancherias, communities, and Native villages in the United States today. Tribes can differ in many aspects of their culture, including language, customs, and dress. There is a lot to learn about Native American culture, and it’s important to start locally by connecting with Native American communities where you live. In this recorded webcast, “Who Are the Abenaki: Past, Present, and Future,” join Don Stevens, Chief of the Nulhegan Band of the Abenaki, Elnu Abenaki artist and scholar Melody Walker Brook, and Nulhegan Abenaki singer/songwriter Bryan Blanchette. This video is the third of the “River Stories 2020: Recovering Indigenous Voices of the Connecticut River Valley,” presented by the Nolumbeka Project.

WOMEN’S HISTORY/BERKSHIRE MUSEUM: Berkshire Museum’s She Shapes History blog series is an excellent way to learn about history through the stories of exceptional women. Discover their work and how their accomplishments have changed United States history over the past two centuries.

WOMEN’S HISTORY/LOCAL HISTORY: Monumental events in history, like the women’s suffrage movement and the abolition of slavery, are particularly inspiring when studied through a particular person in history. Important historical figures local to your area or state can help build strong connections to where you live. Lucy Stone, Civil War abolitionist and suffragette, is a fascinating and important figure native to Massachusetts. Learn about her life and the history of that time period in this presentation by Sylvia G. Buck.

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.”

ART HISTORY/VIRTUAL MUSEUM TOUR: Norman Rockwell Museum’s online museum resource, Illustration History, allows families to explore the history of the art of illustration. Filled with important and interesting images, biographical information about artists, and information explaining the cultural context of illustrations, Illustration History provides an in-depth look at the role of illustration and the transformations that the art has undergone as culture has evolved. Read more in our post, Illustration History: Online Educational Resource & Archive for the Art of Illustration.”

THE TRUSTEES/LOCAL HERITAGE: The Trustees of Reservations has launched a new Trustees at Home page on their website. Get a virtual dose of nature. Connect with art, culture, and history. Learn how to cultivate your garden. Keep the kids busy. Visit one of their working farms. And more!

AVIATION HISTORY/VIRTUAL MUSEUM: The New England Air Museum in Windsor, CT, has made it easy for folks to stay engaged with the museum online while supporting studies in STEM, aerodynamics, and history through the lens of aviation!

VENTFORT HALL/AMERICAN HISTORY: Take a virtual tour of Ventfort Hall Mansion and Gilded Age Museum in Lenox, MA! Ventfort Hall is an imposing Jacobean Revival-style mansion built in 1893 for Sarah Morgan, the sister of J. P. Morgan. Listed on the National Register of Historic Places, Ventfort Hall is the home of The Museum of the Gilded Age. The Gilded Age as a time of rapid economic growth in the United States, occurring in the late 19th century. Ventfort Hall was one of the approximately seventy-five so-called “Cottages” built in Lenox in the last century when the village became a popular Gilded Age resort. Through exhibits and events, The Museum of the Gilded Age interprets the great changes that occurred in American life, industry, and society during the Nineteenth Century, a fascinating period of American history. For more information, take a virtual tour in this video and visit them online at http://www.gildedage.org.

NAUMKEAG/LOCAL HISTORY: Learn about history with a journey through the contents of a closet at Naumkeag, the Gilded-Age summer home of the Choate family located in Stockbridge, MA. Now a property of The Trustees, Naumkeag is a quintessential country estate of the Gilded Age with a gracious house, magnificent gardens, and panoramic views. This architectural masterpiece is a National Historic Landmark, providing a special link to the history of the Berkshires.

FASHION HISTORY/HISTORIC NORTHAMPTON: History at Home with Historic Northampton. The museum’s new virtual learning and engagement resources support an interest in local history through their collections and activities. Online learning featured on their website includes fashion history, as shown in this video featuring the history and purpose of a “cardinal cloak.”

LOCAL HISTORY/WALKING TOURS: Western Massachusetts is rich in walking tours, an excellent community-based educational learning activity families can do together on their own. Unlike scheduled tours guided by interpreters, self-guided walking tours offer flexibility to explore on terms that best fit the needs of your family within the context of their community. Families can use walking tours as a way to expand on a subject that children learn about in their school-based curriculum while strengthening a sense of place through place-based learning and discoveries. Read more in our post, Learn About Western Massachusetts Communities & History on Foot with Self-Guided Walking Tours!.

FOOD HISTORY/EARLY AMERICAN CUISINE: Following the Declaration of Independence and the American Revolutionary War, the cuisine of North America changed forever. Without access to imported foodstuff from Britain and the West Indies, the early Americans were forced to develop their unique culinary traditions. Of course, much of early American cuisine was still linked to its British and European roots, but variations on traditional dishes were common and indigenous cuisine was also a heavy influence. For the Puritans, who had come to the New World particularly from the region of Anglia in Eastern England, traditional dishes were favored, even though substitutions had to be made. Apple pie, for example, perhaps the most quintessentially American dish, is derived from a typical Anglian preparation. Baked beans and porridge were among the most common early staples among the New England settlers, and the abundant seafood offerings also became integrated. Perhaps the most unique adaptation in early American cuisine was the absence of wheat and the substitution of cornmeal and rye in most baked goods. This development is responsible for the innovation of the “johnnycake,” a flatbread made from cornmeal, which is common throughout North America and the Caribbean to this day. Here in this video, interpretive historians share the history and recipe for a traditional johnnycake, something families can do together as a pathway to learn about American History and Culinary Arts.

CULTURAL HISTORY/TOILET PAPER: Let’s learn through the lens of toilet paper! Oddly tied to current affairs, the recent COVID-19 pandemic has left many grocery store shelves empty of toilet paper! Why? Fear of a dirty behind? Who knows. But what we do know is the history behind (pun intended!) toilet paper. History Guy shares a look at world history and culture in his video, A Brief History of Toilet Paper.

SOCIAL MOVEMENTS/LUDDITES: Sewing has been a vital part of human life for more than ten thousand years. The earliest forms of sewing involved using animal sinews and bones. The world’s first sewing machine was invented in 1790 by Englishman Thomas Saint and the technology quickly shifted the production of textiles from the home to massive mills throughout England. Working conditions in these mills were exceedingly harsh and artisans whose skills had been passed down for generations suddenly found themselves being replaced by unskilled laborers. The general sentiment among textile workers was that automation and industrialism were bound to make them increasingly irrelevant. This situation came to a head in the early 19th century, while Great Britain was embroiled in the Napoleonic Wars in Europe. Groups of weavers and other textile workers began burning down mills and destroying machines. Drawing inspiration from the legendary Ned Ludd, who allegedly destroyed two stocking frames in 1779, the workers began calling themselves ‘Luddites.’ The response by the British government was severe. At one time during the Luddite Uprising, which lasted until 1817, there were more British troops fighting the Luddites than fighting Napoleon. All over the country, the Luddites attacked industrialism by all possible means. Mill owners were assassinated, merchants who traded in industrially produced textiles were attacked, and countless machines were destroyed. After the British government declared the destruction of a machine to be a capital crime and increasing numbers of Luddites and their sympathizers were hanged or killed by the army, the movement lost momentum. The legacy of Luddites, however, has had an enormous impact on the history of the labor rights movement. Renowned historian Eric Hobsbawm, for example, identified machine breaking as an early form of “collective bargaining by riot.”


Plan your summer birthday now!

Monday, May 11, 2020

Online Events: Suggest a distant learning event!

  • Check Hilltown Families Facebook event page for free virtual events! Want to have your Facebook event page added? Add Hilltown Families as a co-host. Event must be free, based out of Western MA, and a single event (not a series). Questions? DM!

ART, HISTORY, SCIENCE/BERKSHIRE MUSEUM: Did you know that there are more than 40,000 objects in Berkshire Museum’s collection, each with countless stories to tell? In their new podcast, What’s in the Basement?, Chief Experience Officer Craig Langlois invites listeners to take a trip into collection storage in Pittsfield, MA, to uncover these narratives one object – and five minutes – at a time. Different guests join Langlois in each episode to share their research and passion for the topics as they shine a light on the Museum’s fine art, historical artifacts, and scientific specimens from mummies to meteors and everything in between.

ART STUDIES/ANIMATION: Online Classes. Chad Stewart, former Disney Animator and veteran homeschool Dad, offers Online Animation or Drawing Classes for ages 11-18. Weekly classes are one hour long, and industry professionals complete video reviews of homework as a part of every class they teach. The cost is $350 for the full 12-week session, and the Summer Session begins June 1st. Classes tend to fill up quickly so you can hold your child’s spot with a $50 deposit at the time of registration! Classes are held during Summer, Fall, and Spring Sessions, so if you can’t join them now, check back with again! Chad has worked on films such as Tarzan, Emperor’s New Groove, and The Polar Express, and has much to share with students of his Drawing or Animation Classes. Contact: 661-755-5775. kayla@theanimcourse.com. theanimcourse.com.

ART STUDIES/SMITH COLLEGE MUSEUM OF ART: Support art studies at home with Smith College Museum of Art from Home. They’re offering up content from the museum’s blog, YouTube channel, as well as content found on their social media sites that were requested by museum followers. Families are invited to visit the museum’s social media often, engaging and sharing ideas with their online platforms. Discover SCMA’s collection with their Discovery Cards, which give a closer look at SCMA’s permanent collection objects. The SCMA YouTube channel features content from the museum’s many artist lectures and talks.

ART STUDIES/HAMPDEN GALLERY: Take a virtual tour of the current exhibit, A Horse Walks Into A Bar, at the UMass Amherst Hampden Gallery. Humor is not the first thing you think of when researching or discussing Contemporary or Modern Art, but it does have a far more significant place than one might presume. R. Crumb, Peter Saul, and Erwin Wurm, to name just three, cannot be completely understood without considering their ability to make us smile or laugh. Even the late Picasso paintings and prints had as much humor as they did restlessness, angst, or sexual tension in his continued quest for the extreme. A Horse Walked Into a Bar is a survey of some of today’s artists who continue to push the boundaries of fine art toward wit and whimsy.

ART STUDIES/THE CLARK: The Clark Art Institute in Williamstown, MA, connects folks at home with their collection through virtual programming, which consists of a video series, Clark Connects. New content is added weekly. In this video below, Amanda Bell Goldmakher, senior educator at the Clark, takes a deep dive into George Gray Barnard’s sculpture, Brotherly Love.

ART STUDIES/PRINTMAKING: IS183 Art School of the Berkshires in Stockbridge brings their art opportunities to families at home! Their talented Berkshire artists have created online classes, video tutorials, and printable projects to inspire creativity and encourage making art at home. Their videos explore the art of origami via paper airplanes, sewing skills via plushies, ceramics for all ages, paper art via paper beads, and printmaking via collagraphs.

ART HISTORY/SELF-DIRECTED LEARNING: Sam-I-Am, Yertle the Turtle, Marvin K. Mooney, the Cat in the Hat, and other silly Dr. Seuss characters have been well-loved by young readers for decades. Best known for his invented words, imaginary animals, and ridiculous yet thought-provoking plots, Dr. Seuss is one of the most well-known children’s authors of all time. A native of western Massachusetts, Dr. Seuss drew upon his surroundings to create images for his stories. The industrial landscape of his hometown of Springfield is reflected in the zany, unaffected-by-gravity architecture found in many illustrations, and the town of Whoville is rumored to be based upon the city of Easthampton and towering Mt. Tom. In Springfield, the Springfield Museum is home to the The Amazing World of Dr. Seuss Museum, and in Northampton, R. Michelson Galleries is home to a collection of original artwork and even the “secret art” of Dr. Seuss, along with unorthodox taxidermy and illustration art. Learn more about the lesser know artwork of the artist, Theodor Seuss Geisel, in this video, The Secret Darker Art of Dr. Seuss.

MUSEUM ADVENTURES/ONLINE: The Springfield Museums might be closed, but their staff is working on several ways to stay engaged with local families. The Museums added a new page, Explore the Springfield Museums, to their website expressly for engagement even if families can’t visit in person. Activities include offerings from the staff at the Museums’ interactive centers: The Cat’s Corner, The Smithsonian Spark!Lab, and The Art Discovery Center. Videos include science, art, and family activities. Springfield Museums. 413-263-6800. 21 Edwards Street, Springfield, MA.

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.

HISTORY OF COLOR/NATURAL DYES: Did you know that Tyrian purple, one of the most valuable and ancient natural dyes, is actually created by grinding up the shells of tens of thousands of sea snails? The color produced by this dye is a vibrant reddish purple that actually becomes brighter over time! This dye was being used by the Phoenicians in the Eastern Mediterranean as early as 1570 BCE and was a major status symbol for members of the Roman and Byzantine nobility. As a matter of fact, at certain periods, the only people allowed to wear clothing dyed with purple were members of the imperial family itself! Natural dyes can create a wide variety of bright and colorful hues. Learn about natural plant dyes in the exhibit guide for The Art and Science of Dyeing (And check it out in person at The Botanic Garden of Smith College through June 30, 2020 once they reopen.)


Schools are accepting applications for 2020/2021 school year!

Tuesday, May 12, 2020

Online Events: Suggest a distant learning event!

  • Check Hilltown Families Facebook event page for free virtual events! Want to have your Facebook event page added? Add Hilltown Families as a co-host. Event must be free, based out of Western MA, and a single event (not a series). Questions? DM!

OYSTERS/MARINE BIOLOGY: Follow along with The Trustees of Martha’s Vineyard Education Manager, Molly Peach Mayhew, as she guides you through a virtual lesson about marine invertebrates, and in particular, oysters. This lesson includes an oyster dissection and is designed for elementary school-aged students, but useful for all ages! Materials: plain white paper (2), pencil, colored pencils or markers or crayons (8 different colors), kid-friendly scissors.

MARINE BIOLOGY/WEBCAMS: The Monterey Bay Aquarium has ten live webcams from which to choose! See breathtaking sea nettles drift and pulse, busy tropical fishes, a swaying kelp canopies with swirling sardines and leopard sharks, and even sea otters frolic and swim! Monterey Bay Aquarium Live Web Cams. Watching marine life live might support an interest or possibly spark a new one!

MERINO SHEEP/FIBER ARTS: In the 19th century, Western Massachusetts saw a huge merino sheep boom when many farms purchased Australian sheep for their incredibly soft fleece to produce wool for textiles. The Hilltowns’ landscape provided an ideal pasture for livestock grazing. Although this craze for merino wool did not last long, and some of the farms no longer exist, there is still a rich and long tradition of fiber farms in our region that continue to produce fiber and yarn for hand knitters and textile artists. The benefit of purchasing local yarn is that you are more involved in and aware of the entire process of producing your wool product. Unlike commercially produced yarn, which is often processed and shipped from overseas, local yarn speaks to the land and farmers that cared for the sheep and cultivated the land. Often, the wool is processed locally and requires many hands to create it: from the farmer that cares for the animals to the sheep shearer, spinners and hand-dyers, locally grown yarn offer the hand knitter a deeper connection to our community’s agricultural roots. It also supports the local economy and helps foster collaboration and sustainable consumption. A couple of local businesses that sell local yarn include Sheep to Shawl in Franklin County and Northampton Wools in Hampshire County. Yarn can be ordered online from Sheep to Shawl now and get a gift card from Northampton Wools to use when they reopen. Until you can get your hands on a skein of local wool, learn about the history of merino sheep and the nature of their wool.

ORNITHOLOGY/AMERICAN WOODCOCK: Courtship displays, in which animals attempt to attract mates through a set of behaviors, can take the form of dances, songs, or displays of strength. These displays are more commonly executed by males, or done mutually, though there are a small number of species whose females execute courtship displays. Males execute the courtship display of the American woodcock, and it is both a dance and a song, designed to both attract a mate and mark territory. You can start to become more familiar with this native species of western MA during the spring. Start by learning their calls, which you can easily pick out amongst the spring peepers in the early evening when you listen quietly until nightfall.

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.

ORNITHOLOGY/PEREGRINE FALCONS: Support an interest in ornithology while connecting to where you live through the season … breading season! Several web cameras around Massachusetts are available to the public to witness the Peregrine Falcon breeding season up close and throughout the spring! Get an inside look at the nests of the fastest birds on Earth through the live nest cameras. These cameras are pointed directly at or are within nest boxes and allow an up-close live look at nesting pairs and their chicks. Chicks hatch in early May and leave the nest in mid-June (at about seven weeks of age). View Falcon Cameras. to see the native species live, and check out this video to learn more abut the Peregrine Falcon,

ORNITHOLOGY/LANGUAGE ARTS: The bird populations in Western Massachusetts have inspired many poets and writers to pick up their pens and compose verses dedicated to our feathered friends, celebrating nature and the land. Cummington native William Cullen Bryant, and Amherst native Emily Dickinson, both wrote poems about the bobolink. This intriguing species migrates back to New England in the late Spring (mid-late May) where it prefers large grasslands, such as hay fields, where they can build their nests on the ground. They are impressive birds, with a curious and clownish fluttering that is a joy to see in the late spring and early summer. Due to their preference to nest in hay fields often utilized by farmers, The Bobolink Project seeks to work with farmers to delay haying fields in order to protect grassland birds such as bobolinks. Learn about bobolinks through the Cornell Lab of Ornithology’s website and their educational videos on different bird species. After learning about their habitat, migration patterns, behavior and nesting preferences, read Bryant’s poem Robert of Lincoln and Emily Dickinson’s poem. The Way to know the Bobolink for examples of how language art can describe the nature and habitat of the bobolink in beautiful and complex ways.


Plan ahead for Fall 2020!

Wednesday, May 13, 2020

Online Events: Suggest a distant learning event!

  • Check Hilltown Families Facebook event page for free virtual events! Want to have your Facebook event page added? Add Hilltown Families as a co-host. Event must be free, based out of Western MA, and a single event (not a series). Questions? DM!

ICHTHYOLOGY/CITIZEN SCIENCE: Do you want to become a volunteer community scientist? Individual volunteers are needed for River Herring Monitoring now through June 30, 2020. No experience necessary. These important fish are starting to migrate up local rivers, and the Connecticut River Conservancy could use the help of individuals/families in learning more about river herring population in the tributaries of the Connecticut River. River Herring are an essential part of the food chain and fish monitoring is an excellent opportunity to spend time outside and discovering your local rivers, while practicing social distancing! How does it work? Individual volunteers are assigned a location, and once a week, they go out to survey for river herring. Virtual training is provided. In Massachusetts, help is needed at the following locations: Three Mile Brook (Agawam, MA); Porter Lake Stream (Longmeadow, MA); and Pond Brook (Springfield, MA). Contact volunteer@ctriver.org to sign up!

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.

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 www.cocorahs.org. — 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:

ASTRONOMY/CITIZEN SCIENCE: Galaxy Zoo, a web-based citizen science opportunity, asks participants to support researchers in learning about how galaxies form. Citizen scientists participating in Galaxy Zoo are shown pictures of galaxies and asked to classify them based on their shape. In essence, some of these pictures are of galaxies yet to be seen by any other human being, meaning participants might get to be the first to ever them! Galaxy Zoo is used by educators worldwide in a variety of ways to introduce young people and students to the amazing world of astronomy.

LIGHT POLLUTION/CITIZEN SCIENCE: The night sky is a community-based educational resource available to everyone by simply stepping outside your home. Become a citizen scientist by gathering data on your observations of the celestial bodies above and participating in the project, Loss of the Night. Created by German researchers, Loss of the Night is designed to collect information about the amount of sky glow (also known as light pollution) present in populated areas all over the globe. An additional goal of the project is to help users learn more about the stars that they see above them and the seasonal changes that take place in the sky. Read more about this citizen science opportunity in our post, Citizen Scientists Wanted to Map the Stars. Participation with support learning about the impacts of light pollution has on our native species while supporting interests in astronomy and the scientific process.


Start planning now!

Thursday, May 14, 2020

Online Events: Suggest a distant learning event!

  • Check Hilltown Families Facebook event page for free virtual events! Want to have your Facebook event page added? Add Hilltown Families as a co-host. Event must be free, based out of Western MA, and a single event (not a series). Questions? DM!

ECOLOGY/POETRY: Since National Poetry Month and Earth Day share the same month, it seems appropriate to feature Ecopoetry, a movement of poetry with a strong environmental ethic that acknowledges the relationship between humans and nature. Poetry has the power to reveal insight and to spark curiosity and inquiry. Ecopoetry is a way to reflect on our relationship with the Earth and develop a heightened awareness of how we directly interact with nature in our local Western Massachusetts communities. In our region, writers and painters such as William Cullen Bryant and Thomas Cole helped shape an early American ecological ethic and appreciation for nature through their portrayal of the natural world in their works. Their championing of the American landscape, both pastoral and wild, contributed to the shaping of a unique American identity associated with the environment and sense of place. To discover Ecopoetry, enjoy this featured video:

POEM IN YOUR POCKET DAY/POETRY: In Barbara Cooney’s book Miss Rumphius, the woman lovingly know as the Lupine Lady spreads beauty throughout her community by keeping a pocketful of seeds to distribute – so as to share the joy of nature’s treasures. During National Poetry Month, families can apply the Lupine Lady’s philosophy of life to the written word by participating in Poem in Your Pocket Day. Looking for inspiration? Families can find poems to explore together through The Favorite Poem Project, which features recordings of Americans from all walks of life sharing poems that are meaningful to them. Another useful resource is the Library of Congress’ Poetry 180, a poem-a-day project for teens hosted by former US poet laureate, Billy Collins. Also, our column, One Clover and a Bee, offers suggestions for books, authors, and specific poems for families to explore, as well.

CHILDREN’S LITERATURE/LANGUAGE ARTS: Children’s book author and illustrator Grace Lin has said: “Books erase bias, they make the uncommon everyday, and the mundane exotic. A book makes all cultures universal.” Lin grew up in upstate New York, and hers was the only Asian American family in her neighborhood. As a Taiwanese author drawing upon her personal experiences, Lin has enriched the world of children’s literature with greater diversity. Asian American children reading her books have the pleasure of feeling represented, and children of other cultures and backgrounds get to learn about experiences beyond their own. Check out her podcast, Kids Ask Writers, where she and a guest author answer kid questions! She also has a YouTube channel where she reads from her books and conducts drawing lessons. In this video, learn how to draw a Lunar Year decoration for the Year of the Rat!

NATIONAL POETRY MONTH/LANGUAGE ARTS: April is National Poetry Month! Let this national observation month be a catalyst for learning. Families can start with fun projects at home, like Blackout Poetry and Book Spine Poetry. Explore the work of famous poets, including William Shakespeare, Robert Frost, and Safia Elhillo. For recommended titles, check out our posts, Six Novels Written in Verse and Books for Young Bards, and check out our archived column, One Clover & A Bee: Poems for Families to Learn & Love.

POETRY/SENSE OF PLACE: Western Massachusetts has been home to many poets and writers who were inspired by this region’s remarkable landscapes and natural settings. Since April is National Poetry Month, the spring season is a great time to explore some of the homes and writing places of local poets from the past Read more in our post, Poetry & Place in the Hilltowns.

LITERATURE/JANE AUSTEN: Jane Austen once wrote in a letter: “I cannot anyhow continue to find people agreeable; I respect Mrs. Chamberlayne for doing her hair well, but cannot feel a more tender sentiment. Miss Langley is like any other short girl, with a broad nose and wide mouth, fashionable dress, and exposed bosom. Adm. Stanhope is a gentleman-like man, but then his legs are too short and his tail too long.” Austen’s biting wit and relaxed, well-tempered prose have made her one of the most beloved novelists in the English language. Her six novels paint a vivid portrait of middle-class life in 19th century Britain and examine the role of women in society. Wanting her writing to support the development of her readers, her novels were often rooted in the philosophy of personal development.

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.”

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.

GENDER STUDIES/QUILTING: Families can connect new sewing skills to the study of gender roles in society by using our literary guide for the book Sam Johnson and the Blue Ribbon Quilt, which features both men’s and women’s quilting groups. Traditionally a skill left up to women, sewing is, of course, a skill that anyone can learn and succeed at, and in considering its typical “women only” designation, children can begin to think critically about gender roles in society.


Start planning for Fall 2020!

Friday, May 15, 2020

Online Events: Suggest a distant learning event!

  • Check Hilltown Families Facebook event page for free virtual events! Want to have your Facebook event page added? Add Hilltown Families as a co-host. Event must be free, based out of Western MA, and a single event (not a series). Questions? DM!

MUSIC STUDIES/CHORUS: A path towards a love and learning about classical music is exposure to great performances by great composers. The Mendelssohns were a prominent family in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. Moses Mendelssohn was a philosopher who wrote of what he called the “Jewish Enlightenment.” His grandson, Felix Mendelssohn, was a musical prodigy who played piano, composed, and conducted. You can hear Mendelssohn’s composition, Elijah, brought to life by Cambridge Community Chorus at the Kresge Auditorium at MIT in this featured video.

MUSIC STUDIES/WEST AFRICAN: Many interesting instruments, many of which are percussive, originated in Africa. The Shekere, Balafon, and Akuba come from West Africa. The percussive nature of many African instruments lends itself easily to collaborative, improvisational music-making. Consider the ways in which traditional West African instruments and music intersect with cultural shifts in the Gambia. “For generations, West African music and oral history have been traditionally passed down through the family line of Griots (musicians, oral historians, praise singers, storytellers). It has been said when a Griot dies it’s as though a library has burned to the ground.” Learn more in this video series, The Pulse of the World:

SPRINGFIELD SYMPHONY/MUSIC STUDIES: In this video below,Springfield Symphony Orchestra Education Coordinator Patrick McMahon presents a a virtual Musical Petting Zoo as part of the SSO Homegrown Series. Every week, SSO will offers engaging videos from SSO musicians, youth orchestra musicians, members of the SSO staff, and more. There will be music and talk of instruments, composers, and pieces — something different each week.

MUSIC STUDIES/CLASSICAL MUSIC: “Light, bright, and cheerful, ‘The Four Seasons’ by Antonio Vivaldi is some of the most familiar of all early 18th-century music, featured in numerous films and television commercials. But what is its significance, and why does it sound that way?” In this TED-Ed video, Why should you listen to Vivaldi’s “Four Seasons”?, Betsy Schwarm uncovers the “underlying narrative of this musical masterpiece.”

MUSIC STUDIES/CLASSICAL MUSIC: Hilltown Family Variety Show Classical Music Episode with Guest DJs, Stephen and Bonnie Ward Simon:

MUSIC STUDIES/SOUND: Listen to the modern “Pioneers of Sound!” with Elska as she takes us on a sonic journey into the world of early electronic music, synthesizers, micro-beats, bells and more. Broadcasting from her Arctic island home, Elska teaches us about the origins of the most innovative sounds in pop music, how they were made, and then she plays us fascinating examples from pop music, art music, classical and some music that defies classification all together.

MUSIC STUDIES/EMILY DICKINSON MUSEUM: Fill your home with the sound of Emily Dickinson’s poetry and the music that her life and work inspired. Emily Dickinson Museum House Manager, Margaret Draft, created three new Spotify playlists that celebrate the connection between Emily Dickinson and music. The playlists include covers of songs the poet played in her lifetime, compositions set to her verse, and contemporary music inspired by her life and work. To listen, you’ll need to create a free Spotify account if you do not already have one.

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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