Hilltown Families


Winter Solstice and indeed the entire season provides a unique opportunity to begin to learn and live in deeper connection with Earth. Many people believe that Earth is farthest way and hence colder in winter. Even though this makes logical sense, it is incorrect. This cognitive disconnect (problem) can be the solution to igniting wonderment about Earth.

Thanksgiving is over, now what? An attitude of gratitude nourishes life. The time for this has not passed, but it before us. Opportunities to embrace this are all around if we open our minds, hands and hearts.

7-Day Outdoors Family Challenge Want to get outside more, connect with your kids and enjoy some old-fashioned family time? Join in a fun 7-Day Outdoors Family Challenge that was created by Shannon Brescher Shea from We’ll Eat You Up We Love You So in support of the Children and Nature Network’s Vitamin N Challenge to encourage kids to get outside more. This is a 7-day nature challenge is intended to help families spend just… Read More

”Stone age painting” is an opportunity for all, regardless of age, to use and value local resources, celebrate creativity, inquisitiveness and innovation as well as strengthen community throughout the summer and beyond as part of the Summer Creativity Challenge.

Adventure develops connection with our selves, place and community. It is more than cognitive. Adventures help us find our heart place and real adventure ignites a thirst for exploration and stimulates curiosity that can drive learning much deeper. Roots of environmental stewardship and activism grow out of active learning, play, imagination and adventure.

There is a common fear that learning through fantasy leads to misunderstandings and misconceptions. It turns out this may also be, according to research, contradictory to the nature of child development. Integrating and valuing fantasy into the learning landscape cultivates a mindset of not either or, but both and more.

“You can’t solve a problem on the same level on which it was created. You have to rise above it to the next level.” – Albert Einstein

Learners make connections that link the edges of their own questions, educational subjects, skills, ways of learning, previous knowledge and personal interests to pattern a sturdy, integrated structure much like snapping together LEGOs (if well designed). When we use the edges and value the marginal in the learning landscape we ignite an intrinsic desire to reciprocate, extend and add to the “edges” – self, family, community, ancestors, spirit, nature and the Universe.

Diversity is at the core of life. Human diversity is also key to creativity, resilience and a vibrant, healthy human society. Each person, each child, is an individual with intrinsic worth and it is essential that we use and value the diversity within and between learners, among other people, and in our environment. However, bringing diversity into children’s learning landscapes and lives is often misunderstood… Read more in “Learning Landscapes: Integrating Permaculture with Community-Based Education.”

Year of Small and Slow A new year, a new opportunity to reflect and renew our beliefs, values and intentions. Many people create resolutions each year and then we hit the ground running trying to create big and important changes in our lives. There are of course big milestones worthy of marking and celebrating (like last month when Hilltown Families quietly turned 10 years old!), but in many cases with the new… Read More

This month in “Learning Landscapes,” Jen writes: “Permaculture is a fundamental component of our journey back to wholeness, away from the segregated “me” and into the “we.” Permaculture is a flexible and adaptable holistic design approach based on natural laws that allows us to examine and refine our relationships with a whole ecosystem, including ourselves. Utilizing whole system ethics and thinking as a guide, we implement design strategies that integrate and harmonize with the whole system.” Read on…

There are patterns all around us, from the large-scale patterns of our universe to nano-scale of atoms, and in everything we learn. If we work “with” the natural patterns within children and our environments we can transform what it means to learn, educate and be educated. This month in “Learning Landscapes,” Jen shares ways we can rethink and re-imagine how to design the learning landscape and education as a whole by using tools found in permaculture used to design from patterns down to details.

With passing of the recent equinox we are entering into the cooler weather of autumn in the northern hemisphere – a time for many that is fondly thought of as apple picking season. What are some natural, play-based experiential education ideas for our young Johnny Appleseeds that can take the joy of going apple picking to a whole (systems thinking) new level?

In addition to the typical way of thinking about resources – renewable and nonrenewable – consider the natural, raw intellectual energy of our children. Learn about the open invitation to families and educators to join in the annual, global Cardboard Challenge. Learning if or how we recognize, value and chose to use resources is a choice. All children are natural inquirers who can change the story and transform the future.

Education is our greatest potential resource.

Before jumping into action and using our greatest potential resource, we need to rush to reflection in order to ensure that we and our children can “succeed.”

The ability to self-regulate refers not just to controlling oneself or using and valuing natural resources, but also using and enriching natural relationships – with self, others, and the natural world. We can easily and quickly acquire the academic and scientific “know how,” but it is the traditional wisdom for “knowing how” that can help our children, families, and communities ethically and sustainably learn to “succeed” in transforming the future.

Integrating the ethics and thinking tools of permaculture into children’s learning landscapes helps them extend and enrich their understanding of themselves.

This month in “Learning Landscapes: Integrating Permaculture with Community-Based Education,” Jen shares how superheros are examples of how a complex, interdependent permaculture idea like “catch and store energy” can be meaningfully integrated into a child’s learning landscape…

Children can be way more creative in their approach to learning critical skills than we may them credit for. This month in “Learning Landscapes: Integrating Permaculture with Community-Based Education,” Jen talks about integrating permaculture principles to allow children to explore how to learn, how to find what they love, and how to make that central to who they are, what they do, and what they can do to care for themselves, others, and the earth.

There is a natural symbiotic relationship between the complex life system that comprises healthy soil and all the other elements thriving in that ecosystem. Check Jen’s column, “Learning Landscapes: Integrating Permaculture with Communiy-Based Education” this month as she takes us into a metaphorical discussion about the “soil” in our learning landscape and gets us thinking about fun experiential educational opportunities .

How can you leverage everyday experiences, curiosity, and natural relationships in your child’s learning landscape?
We’re delighted to introduce a new column by Jen Mendez, founder of PERMIE KIDS, who will be address this question and others in her column, “Learning Landscapes: Integrating Permaculture with Community Based Education.” Check out her debut post as she shares her educational philosophy and invites you in.

5 Simple Steps for Pruning Raspberries Picking ripe raspberries straight off of their canes and popping them into your mouth is a summer delight that kids can carry with them into adulthood as fond memories from their childhood! But perhaps no other small fruit commonly found in Western MA  gardens mystify their owners as do raspberries. And there is no shortage of information out there on how to prune these thorny canes!… Read More

Pruning Blueberry Bushes April is a great month to get the family outdoors and getting their landscape ready for the spring. Families can rake the leaves missed in October, pick up fallen branches, cut perennials back… But the pruning of shrubs is not quite as obvious of a spring chore. While many varieties of shrubs can be pruned at this time of the year, our native blueberries will thrive with regular pruning…. Read More

5 Gardening Tips for Late Winter Spring is just around the corner and planning your garden with your kids while there’s still snow on the ground can be both fun and educational.  There’s no shortage of garden prep that you can be doing right now. Here are five things you can do to plan and prepare for your gardens this summer: SEED CATALOGS: Gather your kids around and peruse thorough seed catalogs…. Read More

Growing a Model Sustainable Campus: UMass Permaculture Documentary Series UMass Permaculture Committee writes, “Together, we have the unique ability to create huge positive global transformation, and inspire more colleges and universities, towns and cities, and all communities to adopt permaculture and sustainable design principles into their Master Planning. A powerful video can sometimes be a catalyst for this kind of big change, and the goal of this entire project is to inspire… Read More

Course to Establish Forest Garden at Williamsburg Elementary School on May 28th-31st, 2010 The garden curriculum at Williamsburg’s Dunphy Elementary School will get a boost this year, when a special kind of garden, known as a Forest Garden, will be built on the school grounds. A Forest Garden includes perennials and annuals, and mimics the layered structure of a forest, utilizing trees, shrubs, vines, and ground covers. The garden will include common… Read More