The Art and Science of Butterflies at Berkshire Museum

The butterfly effect: how studying these pollinators broadens analytical and creative minds

Tiger Swallowtail by Howard HoopleMuch like bees, butterflies play an important role in our local ecosystem – and also in ecosystems globally. As pollinators, butterflies help to ensure that plants exchange genetic material, something that we depend on in order to enjoy many of our favorite foods! However, changes in the way that humans live and the ways in which we interact with our surroundings have caused butterfly populations to decline (especially the iconic monarch). Learning about butterflies and their role in our ecosystem is essential to understanding and appreciating our surroundings; luckily, opportunities for learning about these beautiful Lepidoptera abound during the next few months! Find out about upcoming events & resources…

Norman Rockwell Museum Presents “Dancing Princesses: The Picture Book Art of Ruth Sanderson”


Norman Rockwell Museum Presents “Dancing Princesses: The Picture Book Art of Ruth Sanderson”
Saturday, December 7, 2013 – Sunday, March 9, 2014

One of the special holiday displays in the Norman Rockwell Museum’s “Distinguished Illustrator Series” this winter will feature over 60 works by noted picture book illustrator Ruth Sanderson. Described as “beautiful” and “jewel-like,” by NRM director, Laurie Norton Moffatt, the works on display include original paintings and drawings by Sanderson, in addition to costumes that the artist commissioned to correspond with her illustrations. The subjects of these works hail from a selection of Sanderson’s beloved books – some classic tales re-told, some original tales, and each one embellished with enchanting imagery – including The Twelve Dancing Princesses; The Sleeping Beauty; Cinderella; The Golden Mare, the Firebird, and the Magic Ring; and several others…

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The African Serval Cat Comes to the Berkshires

Animals Up Close: The African Serval Cat
Berkshire Museum in Pittsfield
Saturday, July 6, 2013

Meet animals from around the world at Berkshire Museum in Pittsfield, MA during the Animals Up Close: The African Serval Cat program, presented by the Granite State Zoo, formerly known as the W.I.L.D. Center & Zoological Park of New England, on Saturday, July 6, at 1pm.  Learn about different species outside of the Berkshires’ backyard and the efforts taken to protect the habitats of these creatures at this live animal program. ($$)

How often is it that your family gets to meet a wild animal up close and personal?  Of course, there are lots of different easy-to-spot species inhabiting backyards all over western Massachusetts, and even more elusive species in like porcupines, bears, bald eagles and moose – but what about nonnative species from other regions, like an African Serval Cat or Moluccan Cockatoo?!  On Saturday, July 6th at 1pm, the Granite State Zoo in New Hampshire brings these exotic creatures (and more!) to the Berkshire Museum in Pittsfield, MA, presenting families with an exciting opportunity to meet unique animals face-to-face… perfect for animal-loving kids of all ages…

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Art & Science of Paper at the Berkshire Museum this Summer

Berkshire Museum presents PaperWorks: The Art and Science of an Extraordinary Material

Butterfly, Hina Aoyama, image courtesy Christopher Henry GalleryWhat role does paper play in your family’s daily life?  Bedtime stories are printed on it, homework is written on it, a bin in your garage collects it for recycling and reuse.  However, the history, science, and artistic potential of paper is much more complex and fascinating than the average person’s experience with the material might suggest.

On Saturday, June 15th, the Berkshire Museum in Pittsfield, MA unveils PaperWorks, a gallery show made up of beautiful paper works of art and paper-related artifacts.  The goal of the exhibit is to showcase the wide array of work that can be created with paper (it’s not all origami!), as well as to highlight the role that history, science, and culture play in the manufacture and use of papers of all kinds.  Visitors to the exhibit can view work created by more than thirty different artists from all over the country (and even a few from Europe!), including papercut animations and mathematically sound sculptures made from sheets of folded paper.  Along with the fascinating works of art, visitors can view and learn about various paper-related artifacts, including jewelry, furniture, and other surprising objects!

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Photography of Ansel Adams Comes to Western MA!

Ansel Adams: Masterworks on View
Berkshire Museum in Pittsfield, MA
February 9th – June 2nd, 2013

Berkshire Museum presents the special photography exhibition Ansel Adams: Masterworks from February 9 to June 2, 2013. An opening reception will be held Saturday, February 9, from 5 to 7pm. The exhibition features forty-eight works by Ansel Adams (1902 – 1984), about two-thirds of a selection Adams made late in his life to serve as a succinct representation of his life’s work. He himself felt these photographs were his best. The images are from the Collection of the Turtle Bay Exploration Park in Redding, CA.

The Berkshire Museum welcomes their newest exhibit this week!  Beginning February 9th, “Ansel Adams: Masterworks,” will be down in the museum’s galleries.  The show contains 48 pieces of Adams’ most striking nature photography, on loan from the Turtle Bay Exploration Park in Redding, CA.  Titled, “The Museum Set,” the works feature scenes from across the country – Yosemite National Park to groves of aspens in Colorado, Cape Cod to the Sierra Nevada.

Known for his breathtaking landscapes, Adams’ work also represented his commitment to the preservation of the natural world.  In photographing beautiful places in nature, he shared with others a love of the outdoors and an appreciation for the natural beauty of the world.  Not only is his work unique and beautiful art, but it sends a message to viewers – one that is difficult to forget.  The photographs are moving, and remind all who see them that nature is a precious resource.

A visit to the exhibit is perfect for young, budding photographers – they can learn about the scale upon which photography can take place, and will see classic examples of nature photography, not to mention a great supplement to art studies.  They can also learn to appreciate photography the way it used to be – when film and darkrooms were used, and digital point-and-shoot had yet to be thought of.  Non-photographers can learn from the exhibit, too – after viewing the images, think about the message that they send for conservation and the role that art plays in helping to create cultural change.

The exhibit is open during the Berkshire Museum’s regular hours, 10am-5pm Monday-Saturday and 12noon-5pm on Sundays.  For more information, call the museum at 413-443-7171. berkshiremuseum.org

[Image credit: Aspens, Northern New Mexico, 1958. Photograph by Ansel Adams. ©2012 The Ansel Adams Publishing Rights Trust]

Engaging Exhibits & Hands-On Programs at the Berkshire Museum this Winter

Engaging Experiences at the Berkshire Museum

When you think of the Berkshires, images of the green and blanketed Tanglewood lawn may come to mind, or the beautiful colors of fall in the Hilltowns, but the Berkshires don’t close up shop for the winter! The Berkshire Museum in Pittsfield, MA has a busy winter season planned, with engaging new exhibitions, hands-on public programming, and lots of opportunities for family fun and learning.

Because the bat population is so fragile, Bats: Creatures of the Night features bat models that visitors can learn from rather than live bats, but the Berkshire Museum will host live bats on March 10th at 1pm! In a one-day-only special event, Rob Mies of the Organization for Bat Conservation will present a big brown bat, fruit bats from Africa and Asia, and the largest bat in the world- the Malayan flying fox – which sports an incredible six-foot wingspan.

The Berkshire Museum’s newest exhibit, Bats: Creatures of the Night, will be on exhibit through May 12, 2013, and is filled with opportunities to have fun while learning about these mysterious creatures. Grab a gallery guide as you enter the exhibit, choose a bat persona, and begin the Bat Survival Challenge, a game that leads you around the exhibit as you see if you can survive a year in the life of a bat. You can also learn how bats navigate and hunt by approaching the museum’s sensor-filled echolocation wall and watching how and when the bat-mimicking sensors pick you up. There are giant bat ears that you can try listening through to see how well bats hear. There are also plenty of bat mounts and models that allow you to see just what these mammals look like up close. Some of them have some pretty funky features!

The Berkshire Museum education department is offering a brand new education program with this exhibition. Bats: Out of the Cave and into the Night can be adapted to students of all ages. In it students will learn about bats’ incredible adaptations, how they benefit us and our environment, and the risks they are facing. Students and teachers will also get to experiment with the Berkshire Museum’s own echolocation machine, BAT-BOT. Teachers- can you navigate blindly through a maze of your students using only the readouts from the museum’s echolocation sensors? Come find out, and then challenge your students to navigate like bats as well. Families can also try BAT-BOT during the museum’s Bats gallery program, which will be presented in the Bats exhibit halls on the second Saturday of each month, through May, at 11am.

Winter can be a time where kids can go a little ‘batty’ themselves. Fortunately the Berkshire Museum has several programs were kids can come in, explore, experiment, and play!

Get a taste of chemistry as a mad scientist at Kitchen Kaboom! at the Berkshire Museum on the last Saturday of every month! Along with the help of the museum’s very own crazy chemist, kids can learn how to do exciting and surprising (and safe!) experiments with regular household materials.

Kitchen Ka-Boom, the museum’s new family-friendly physical science program, offers kids the opportunity to learn while making a mess! Whether participants are shooting a rocket to the ceiling with Alka-Seltzer and water, or making gooey slime, participants are learning through some sort of surprise reaction. Taking place on the last Saturday of every month, all experiments involve simple and kid-friendly ingredients, most of which can be found around the house or at your local grocery store. Each participant leaves with a sheet of information detailing the science behind the experiment and how you can replicate it at home. This information is also posted on the museum’s website in case you want to see what we’re up to from home. The museum strives to introduce new experiments each session, keeping budding scientists coming back! Find program details here: Kitchen Ka-Boom.

Animals Up Close: The Wolf will be presented on Tuesday, February 19, at 1pm, featuring special guest Atka, an Arctic Gray Wolf from the Wolf Conservation Center in New York. As an animal ambassador, Atka travels to help educate people about wolves and their relationship to our environment, and how humans have an important role in protecting their future.

WeeMuse: Ten Days of Play begins at the museum on Thursday, February 14, continuing through Saturday, February 23. Have you ever spent hours choosing the best new toy for your child, only to find that they are much more excited to play with box it came in? This ubiquitous experience is the basis for this exciting new program. Ten Days of Play highlights the importance of child-directed play. The Crane Room will be filled with play materials like paper and cardboard boxes that you and your child can use in whatever way you imagine daily from 11-3pm. This program is free with museum admission and presented in partnership with the Transition Team of Pittsfield and Pop-Up Adventure Play.

Do you have a budding filmmaker who will be home during February break? Send them to the museum for February Vacation Movie Camp! From Monday, February 18, through Friday, February 22, students in grades 3-6 will get the opportunity to work a group film with film producer Erica Spizz. Students will be involved with all aspects of the film, from creating the storyline to the acting and filming. On Friday, Feb. 22,  friends and families will get to watch the final product in a special screening in the Berkshire Museum Theater.  And this summer, the Berkshire Museum will offer some new and exciting  summer camps, as well as some returning favorites!

ABOUT THE BERKSHIRE MUSEUM

The Berkshire Museum is located at 39 South Street on Route 7 in downtown Pittsfield, MA. The Museum was established by Zenas Crane in 1903 as a museum of art and natural history. Little Cinema is open year-round; Feigenbaum Hall of Innovation, Aquarium, and other exhibits are ongoing.  The Museum is open Monday-Saturday from 10am-5pm and Sunday 12noon-5pm. For more information, visit www.berkshiremuseum.org or call 413-443-7171. Museum admission is $13 for adults and $6 for children. Members and children aged three and under enjoy free admission.

-Emma Kerr


ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Emma Kerr is the Natural Science Education Specialist at the Berkshire Museum, where she teaches school and public programs on all subjects, from animation to aquarium animals. A native of central Massachusetts, Emma now lives in Pittsfield.

Community Cookie Contest at Berkshire Museum

Let’s Bake Cookies! Berkshire Museum to Host Cookie Contest During Holiday Season
Saturday, December 8th in Pittsfield

Baking cookies with your kids can afford parents a chance to share family their history through recipes while working together as a team in the kitchen practicing math and literacy skills!

Does your family have a favorite and treasured holiday cookie recipe that has been passed down through the generations? Show it off by entering your family recipe in the Berkshire Museum’s cookie contest! The event, which is part of a launch celebration for local author Gina Hyams’ Christmas Cookie Contest in a Box: Everything You Need to Host a Christmas Cookie Contest, will be judged by museum visitors and the recipients of each People’s Choice Award will also get a free family museum membership and a copy of the book!  But just participating with your kids alone is an award that can’t be matched!

Families (and individual participants) are asked to bake 4 dozen of their favorite cookie, an endeavor that requires family cooperation and teamwork and provides an opportunity to practice kitchen skills (as well as the basic math and literacy that recipe-following calls for). For an added educational bonus, try featuring as many locally grown and/or produced ingredients as possible, like milk, eggs, butter, maple syrup and honey, and talk as a family about the benefits of eating and buying local.

Inspired to do your own cookie contest yet? The book includes everything a family needs to host their own event, and offers ideas, resources, and more for hosting a cookie contest on any scale! Contests can be held just for fun at family holiday gatherings, used as a fundraiser for a community organization, and more. The contest and book launch will take place on Saturday, December 8th at 2:30pm at the Berkshire Museum in Pittsfield, MA. To enter the contest itself, contact Craig Langlois at 413-443-7171 ex 13, or clanglois@berkshiremuseum.org.

[Photo credit: (ccl) Iryna Yeroshko]

Two Western MA Exhibits Explore Native American Art & Culture

Native American Heritage Month Celebrated Across Western MA

On Saturday, November 10, and Sunday, November 11, 2012, Berkshire Museum in Pittsfield will celebrate Native American Heritage Month with four exceptional performances featuring music, stories, and dance. The festival will feature the rich history and culture of the Mohawk and Nipmuck tribes, conveyed through storytelling, music, and ritual. The performers are Jerry Thundercloud McDonald, Joseph Firecrow (pictured here), Larry Spotted Crow Mann, and Sandy Rhodes. For more information, visit www,berkshiremuseum.org or contact the Berkshire Museum at 413-443-7171. (Photo credit: David Carnes)

Fall is often a time when students learn about the history of America and the American Revolution – topics that lend themselves to studies of Native American history and culture, as well.  Students’ learning about Native American ways of life during Native American Heritage Month can be supplemented by a visit to a gallery show of Native American artwork – either at Westfield State University or the Berkshire Museum in Pittsfield!

The Berkshire Museum’s exhibit, Rethink! Native American Art, features a wide variety of work from Native American groups nationwide, and is open through January 6th.  Along with the exhibit, the museum is hosting a series of community events featuring Native American music, dance, storytelling, and more.  On November 10th and 11th, the museum will host the Chief Konkapot Festival of Native American culture, offering visitors a chance to see a variety of performances showcasing the traditions of numerous nations from across North America, including:

  • Saturday, November 10th at 1pm – Jerry Thundercloud McDonald presents Mohawk music, stories, and dance. McDonald will also speak on the Haudenosaunee Confederacy’s influence on the formation of the U.S. Constitution. ($$)
  • Saturday, November 10th at 7pm – Joseph Firecrow of the Northern Cheyenne, a Grammy-nominated Northern Cheyenne musician and master of the traditional Native American flute, will perform a special concert.  ($$)
  • Sunday, November 11th at 1pm – Larry Spotted Crow Mann, Nipmuck poet and author of Tales from the Whispering Basket, presents Nipmuck stories, songs, and drum with the Quabbin Lake Singers. ($$)
  • Sunday, November 11th at 3pm – Sandy Rhodes will be presenting contemporary pow wow culture, dance, and regalia. ($$)

Follow the festival at the museum, the Berkshire Community College in Pittsfield will be hosting a free performance by Joseph Firecrow on Monday, November 12th at 12:15pm, sponsored by the BCC Committee for Diversity.

Westfield State University’s Arno Maris Gallery will host an exhibit of Native American Culture and Tradition through Saturday, December 8th, 2012. The exhibit will feature works from Native American artists Lenny Novak and Dan Shears.

Another opportunity to see contemporary Native American art in Western MA will be at the Arno Maris Gallery in Westfield State’s Ely Campus Center in Hampden County.  The gallery is hosting an exhibit of unique, handcrafted dreamcatchers – made in a traditional style that only five people are trained in!  Students can learn about the intricate nature of dreamcatcher making, as well as the significance of the pieces in Native American culture.  The exhibit runs through December 8th, and admission to the gallery is free.

Both exhibits offer unique learning opportunities, and showcase artwork that is not often accessible.  Each show provides an in-depth look at Native American traditions, and highlights the important role that artistic expression plays in Native American culture.

How to Plan a Bioblitz

Organize a Bioblitz in Your Community!

For Western MA teachers, educators, and parents who are interested in learning more about using the outdoors as a living classroom, check out the Berkshire Museums Living Landscapes curriculum. Living Landscapes focuses on natural science but also includes connections to math, language arts, and visual arts, and is a terrific local resource.

Are your kids curious about all of the many different plants and animals that they find while exploring outside?  Have you ever been curious about the amount of biodiversity in your community?  Would your students benefit from a hands-on species identification project?  Do a bioblitz!

A bioblitz is a community event designed to quickly compile information on biodiversity in a relatively small area.  Community members of all ages participate in the events alongside trained naturalists and scientists to find and identify as many species of plants and animals as possible in, generally, a period of 24 hours.  A shorter bioblitz (one the length of a school day or even just an afternoon) can be organized, though – if a smaller area of land is explored, a classroom of students or even just a few families together can work their way through the identification process.

Resources for blitz-planning are available on the National Geographic website – the organization has provided everything from instructions for early planning to a suggested materials list!  A bioblitz can offer students a unique hands-on learning experience that will make them more aware of the amount of biodiversity in their neighborhood and will teach them to identify new species. Communities will benefit from the events as well – neighbors can gain a greater awareness of what’s in their backyards, and perhaps even become better connected to the natural world that surrounds them!

[Photo credit: (ccl) Katja Schulz]

Berkshire Family Fun: 16 Ways to Weave Family and Community Holiday Traditions Together in the Berkshires

Keeping Holiday Traditions Alive in the Berkshires

Currently my living room looks as if Christmas threw up all over it. Boxes of old decorations, more stockings than we have family members and pets combined (and that includes the three fish, cat and new puppy, Murphy), tree ornaments, Christmas villages, holiday-themed books, empty cookie tins and more lay strewn on top of couches, countertops, hardwood floors and coffee tables making it difficult to concentrate on the task at hand — writing this column. But as all three of my children have continued to remind me since the first day of December, it’s all about tradition!

ADVENTMOVIES  | FOOD | MUSIC | CHANUKAH | COOKIES

ADVENT TRADITION

The first holiday tradition I attempted to tackle this month was our unique (or maybe not so unique) way of counting down the days until Santa Claus arrives. Each year (preferably prior to Dec.1, but often occurring sometime within the first week of December) my husband drags the bags of nearly 50 holiday-themed books from the attic for me to peruse and wrap. I browse the titles, rescuing our favorites from the piles until I have 24 in front of me.

This year, I separated the books into two piles: one for my niece, Kylee, and one for us. Yearly favorites such as Olivier Dunrea’s Bear Noel, Elise Primavera’s Auntie Claus series, a version of E.E. Cummings Little Tree written and illustrated by Chris Raschka, and Patricia Rae Wolff’s A New Improved Santa made it into our pile, while extra copies of The Polar Express, The Grinch Who Stole Christmas, and Twas the Night Before Christmas were tossed into Kylee’s, along with other 2-year-old appropriate stories that had long since been abandoned by my kids.

Then I wrapped each present in Christmas wrapping, each dated with the day of the month Dec. 1-24, each one ready to be unwrapped on its given day and read at bedtime. This tradition used to require my husband and I to take turns reading. Now McKenna, Max and Shea (ages 12, 12, and 10) alternate with Mark and I, either reading a page at a time and then passing it to the next family member, or claiming an entire book for themselves.

On Christmas Eve, the last book is always the same, though the version and illustrations may change. Twas the Night Before Christmas completes our holiday advent, and as the kids sit in their holiday pajamas, just opened a few hours earlier, all five of us (and at times it has been 20 of us, depending on which friends and family members join us for the evening) sit around the fire, candles burning and tree lights sparkling, where we recite the book (known almost by heart at this point), before sprinkling reindeer food in the backyard and heading off to bed where “visions of sugarplums dance in our heads.”

The Sheffield Historical Society will be sharing in a storytime tradition of its own this year with residents of the town on Saturday, Dec. 17, at 10:30 a.m. when Mrs. Santa Claus will read stories by local authors to visitors at the Old Stone Store on Route 7 in Sheffield. For more information visit www.sheffieldhistory.org.

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Berkshire Family Fun: Holiday Traditions in the Berkshires

Let the Holidays Begin

Traditions abound in our family beginning with the annual Thanksgiving dinner featuring 25-plus family and friends, mint chip pie, a rousing game of left-right-center and a roundtable discussion of what everyone is thankful for. Soon the holiday books for everyday of December will be wrapped (our own take on the Christmas advent calendar), trees will be chosen, chopped and decorated, and my children’s annual Christmas Eve gift — new pajamas — will be purchased.

Berkshire County is flush with holiday celebrations, many of which have made their way into our family’s list of annual Christmas traditions, and though there are too many to mention them all in this column, here are a few of our favorites.

A TRADITION EVERYWHERE

The Nutcracker, performed by the Albany Berkshire Ballet, will be on stage Dec. 10th & 11th in Pittsfield. (Image courtesy The Colonial Theatre)

The Nutcracker” is a well-known Christmas tradition wherever you live, and for those living in the Berkshires this tradition is kept going each year as a result of the hard work and dedication of the Albany Berkshire Ballet.

The Albany Berkshire Ballet has been bringing its acclaimed production of “The Nutcracker” to audiences throughout the Northeast for over 35 years. Each year, over 600 children are chosen to perform alongside the professional dancers of the ABB in six venues — dancing for over 9,000 audience members. This year’s performances in the Berkshires will take place on Saturday and Sunday, Dec. 10 and 11, at The Colonial Theatre in Pittsfield. — For showtimes and information log onto www.berkshireballet.org or www.thecolonialtheatre.org.

TRADITIONS IN LENOX

The Santaland Diaries runs Dec. 2nd-3oth in Lenox, MA. (Image courtesy Shakespeare & Company)

Another Berkshire County holiday tradition began last year by way of the legendary Shakespeare & Company in Lenox, and I was lucky enough to partake in it with my husband and friends.

Directed by S&Co. Artistic Director Tony Simotes and starring Peter Davenport, the company presented David Sedaris’ hilarious one-man production, “The Santaland Diaries,” an occasionally subversive, alarmingly clever, engagingly poignant and always side-splittingly funny true account of Sedaris’ time spent working as a Christmas elf at Macy’s Department Store. By the end of the evening my companions and I were rolling in our seats due to the absolute hilarity of seeing this good-looking man deliver a nearly two-hour monologue onstage in his elf costume. We all vowed to return to theater next year during the holidays in hopes of partaking, once again, in our newfound holiday tradition.

This year the show returns this weekend with Simotes once again in the director’s chair and veteran S&Co. funny man Ryan Winkles tackling the role of Crumpet the Elf. The show opens Friday, Dec. 2, and runs through Dec. 30. — For more information log onto S&Co.’s website at www.shakespeare.org.

CHRISTMAS AT THE COLONIAL

From the Midwest to the Berkshires, local singer-songwriter, Mary Verdi has been bringing people together through her music for years, and for the second year in a row she will bring families together to ring in the holidays at the Colonial Theatre in Pittsfield with a concert titled “Christmas at the Colonial with Mary Verdi.”

The concert is set for 7 p.m., Saturday, Dec. 3, and will feature Verdi and her band, the St. Raphael’s and St. Patrick’s bell ringers from Williamstown, a children’s chorus, the Rock On guitar orchestra, Dalton Ballet Studio dancers, Tony Lee Thomas and, of course, Santa Claus. Audience members will get the opportunity to hear Verdi’s new original song, “Christmas Time,” performed, as the evening will also serve as a celebration of the official release of her new Christmas album “Christmas in the Berkshires.” Later in the concert a children’s cast of elves will take the stage to lead audience members in a heart-warming sing-a-long.

I’m so excited to tell you about this concert as I had the privilege of hanging out with Mary on many occasions, and for the last year I have been getting updates as to the status of this album. I can personally guarantee that this holiday event is sure to fill even the biggest of Scrooges with holiday cheer, and perhaps it could be the beginning of a new holiday tradition for you and your family.

Tickets may be purchased in person at the Colonial ticket office at 111 South St., by calling 413-997-4444 or online at www.thecolonialtheatre.org.

MORE HOLIDAY CHEER AT THE COLONIAL

After nearly 70 years of sitting dormant in the center of Pittsfield, The Colonial Theatre underwent a major renovation and reopened its doors to the public as a theater in 2006. Since its reopening the local theater has been known for presenting stellar family and educational programming at all times of the year. Last year for my twin’s 12th birthday we all took a family “mental health” afternoon to catch Black Violin, two violinists who combine classical music and hip-hop to present a show that is truly out of this world, at the venue. (If they ever return to the area I highly recommend you catch them in action.)

Knuffle Bunny: A Cautionary Musical returns to Western MA on Dec. 4th in Pittsfield. (Image courtesy The Colonial Theatre)

On the agenda for this weekend? The Colonial is presenting a tale of firsts — a stuffed animal’s first trip in the laundry, a little girl’s first words and a Daddy’s first time dealing with his child going “boneless” — in its upcoming musical “Knuffle Bunny: A Cautionary Musical” coming to the Pittsfield theater on Sunday, Dec. 4, at 2 p.m. This musical, based on Mo Willems’ Caldecott Honor-winning picture book, and combines the talents of six-time Emmy Award winner Willems and Grammy Award-winning composer Michael Silversher to lovingly celebrate the heart and heartache that comes from Daddy, Trixie and Trixie’s beloved Knuffle Bunny’s visit to their local laundromat. Tickets can be purchased online at www.thecolonialtheatre.org or by calling 413-997-4444.

Another holiday tradition in the Berkshires is the annual holiday performance of Berkshire Theatre Festival’s rendition of the Dicken’s classic “A Christmas Carol,” and since the merger of the company with The Colonial last year to form the Berkshire Theatre Group, the performance has been moved to the Pittsfield venue. This year, patrons who attend one of the 11 scheduled performances will get an extra special treat, as the performance not only feature local residents of all ages, but also local legend James Taylor. (“I see fire and I see rain …”)

Performances are set for Dec. 17-18, 20-23, and 26-30. For more information on performance times and tickets visit The Colonial’s website.

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Berkshire Family Fun: Gratitude in the Berkshires

Thankful for the Berkshires

Recently my husband and I have been reading Mark Nepo’s amazing, Oprah-lauded book, The Book of Awakening: Having the Life You Want by Being Present to the Life You Have. The book is comprised of 429 pages of daily affirmations, reflections and meditations and has been a wonderful way to connect with my husband first thing in the morning over a cup of coffee, if we are lucky, before the kids get up. Today’s affirmation began with a quote from Berkshire-based musician James Taylor: “We could never have guessed; We were already blessed where we are …” It has taken me a long time to realize that and, like it is for many parents, can still be a daily struggle when juggling work and kids and homework and sports schedules and general adolescent unease. But by taking a few moments each morning to reflect on what I have, who I am, where I am going, and where I live each morning, is a wonderful reminder of how blessed I really am.

BArT SHOWCASE

This column has served as a biweekly reminder of how lucky my husband and I am to be raising our children in the Berkshires. Besides the lush landscapes and opportunities for outdoor recreation, as well as the arts and culture at our fingertips just waiting to be explored, we are also lucky to live in an area with some of the best school systems in the state. From sports teams that regularly reach post-season tournaments, and award-winning theater programs among area schools, state-recognized musicians and hardworking debate teams, if one takes a close look at the schools in Berkshire County you will witness some pretty amazing things happening.

Tonight, Thursday, Nov. 17, from 6 to 9:30 p.m., the Berkshire Arts & Technology Charter School in Adams is opening its doors for the fall trimester’s Student Arts and Technology Showcase. The evening is an opportunity for students to present their artistic feats through a variety of dramatic and musical acts in the BArT atrium, while a wide array of student watercolors, still-life drawings, digital photos, musical compositions, and animations will be displayed throughout the building. The BArT chorus also will make their school-year debut! The gallery opens at 6 p.m. with performances beginning at 7 p.m.

Then on Friday, Nov. 18, the school’s class of 2012 will host a Dinner and Family Movie Night fundraiser to raise money towards the purchase of new young adult novels for the school’s library. There is a small fee for tickets, but that will get you two slices of pizza, a drink, and the choice of one of two movies — “Aladdin” or Tim Burton’s “Alice in Wonderland.” Doors open at 5:30 p.m., dinner is served from 6 to 7 p.m. and the movie runs from 7 to 9 p.m. Popcorn, drinks, and assorted desserts also will be available for purchase.

BArT is located at 1 Commercial Place in Adams. For more information log onto the school’s website at www.bartcharter.org.

WELCOME TO THE BIG TOP

One of my family’s favorite holiday traditions each year is visiting the annual Festival of Trees at the Berkshire Museum in Pittsfield, but for some reason last year we missed it. Not this year though! With the theme “Under the Big Top” I can’t wait to see what tree decorators have come up with.

This year’s event, opening Nov. 18 and running through Jan. 2 promises to be “a dazzling, fun-filled holiday extravaganza with more than a hundred decorated holiday trees scattered throughout Berkshire Museum’s galleries.” In addition to the trees, there will be special exhibits of vintage circus memorabilia, posters, and photography adding to the exciting Big Top atmosphere.

The 27th annual Festival of Trees festivities begins Friday, Nov. 18, from 5:30 to 7:30 p.m. with an Opening Night Party, an evening of exhilarating entertainment and delicious delicacies for the whole family. The festivities include performances by a troupe of atmospheric aerialists, a nimble contortionist, and towering stilt walkers. The RSVP period is over, but you may be able to sneak a late ticket by calling 413-443-7171, ext. 45 or by e-mailing events@berkshiremuseum.org.

Then on Saturday, Nov. 19, from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. the museum will host aerial circus workshops with Show Circus Studios, where the company will bring their aerial rigging and years of professional circus performances to the museum for a truly unique experience, as the lucky workshop participants try their skills aloft. Recommended for ages 8 to 16; the workshop size is limited to 10 per session. Registration is required: call 413-443-7171, ext. 10. Workshop participants must be accompanied by an adult. For more information visit www.berkshiremuseum.org.

Stay tuned in upcoming columns for more events associated with the Festival of Trees!

POP ON OVER TO THE NORMAN ROCKWELL MUSEUM FOR SOME FAMILY FUN

Looking for something to do over the Thanksgiving weekend, the Norman Rockwell Museum in Stockbridge has you covered.

On Saturday, Nov. 26, from 1 to 4 p.m., the museum will host a Pop-Up Festival where families will learn about the art of paper during this fun-filled afternoon of workshops, tours, and talks exploring the world of mechanical books and cards. Museum-goers will even get a chance to design their own holiday gifts to share. For more information visit www.nrm.org.

Also beginning at the museum this month is its educational program “Kids Create!,” scheduled to take place the last Wednesday of each month through April (Nov. 30, Dec. 28, Jan. 25, Feb. 29, Mar. 28, and Apr. 25) at 10:30 a.m. Parents and children ages 2 to 5 will get to explore the galleries with the museum’s Chief Educator Melinda Georgeson for an exciting interactive look at the world of art. Find more information on this low-cost program on the museum’s website.

One last thing you might want to add to your calendars, as December fills up quick, is the museum’s “Cabaret for Christmas” event on Dec. 3 at 4 p.m. where visitors can enjoy an old-fashioned afternoon of music, art, and heartwarming treats! At 4 p.m., Curator of Education Tom Daly will explore the spirit of the holidays in Norman Rockwell’s art, and at 4:30 p.m., the Sheri Buxton Trio will perform seasonal favorites. Norman Rockwell’s favorite cookie recipe will be served with hot chocolate, and patrons also can make a holiday pop-up card to take home.

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Berkshire Family Fun: Halloween in the Berkshires

Fall is “Boo”tiful in the Berkshires

Last weekend I broke out my gloves, hat and favorite cozy fleece, grabbed the travel mug filled to the rim with a delectable hazelnut blend, and prepared myself for a full day of football at Bill Laston Memorial Park in Lanesboro. The air was crisp and clean, the brilliant foliage filled the landscape and eased my mind, and the energy on the gridiron was contagious. Ahh, I love fall in the Berkshires.

Highlights in this week’s Berkshire Family Fun:

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Berkshire Family Fun: Berkshire County’s Hidden Treasures

Knowing Where to Look: Berkshire County’s Hidden Treasures

Using cardboard, sculptor James Grashow created a rainbow of fish swimming through Kidspace at MASS MoCA with their mermaid friend (Under the Corrugated Sea).

As the school year slowly revs into full gear, the number of family-friendly events seems to decline in the Berkshires, but that is only true if you don’t know where to look. Hidden behind the doors of local museum, barns, year-round theaters and historical venues, families can find a treasure trove of activities guaranteed to please even the most finicky of family members. From geckos to sea creatures, Martians and stories of the Ku Klux Klan, this month the region has some truly eclectic offerings:

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Student-Scientists in the Berkshires

Science & Innovation Fair in the Berkshires

The First Annual Science and Innovation Fair, featuring the work of over 100 student-scientists from Pittsfield High School and Taconic High School, will be hosted by Berkshire Museum on Thursday, February 10th, 2011. Berkshire high school students, who have conducted scientific research and completed engineering projects in concert with faculty advisors, will display the exciting results of their work. The public is invited to view the work of these innovative students from noon to 8pm, which includes free public admission to Berkshire Museum that day.

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Giveaway: 5 Annual Family Memberships to 5 Western Mass Museums!

At the turn of the year, Hilltown Families will be turning five years old … and we will be celebrating all year long! We started off our celebration by offering 5 Gifts Locally Handmade by Hilltown Mompreneurs (see who won here).

Over the years, Hilltown Families has had the great pleasure of letting families throughout the region know about all of the wonderful events happening at the plethora of world class museums we have access to here in Western Massachusetts.

We are continuing our 5 year celebration with the Berkshire Museum, The Eric Carle Museum, Historic Deerfield, MASS MoCA and Springfield Museums! These 5 Western Massachusetts Museums have joined our party and are offering our readers an annual family membership! One very, very lucky family will win a family membership to all five of these local cultural gems! How wicked awesome is that!? It’s our birthday, but you get the presents!

Each week on our list of Weekly Suggested Events, we share family and community activities offered by these local gems, along with educational opportunities, performances and camps. We’ve featured many stellar museum exhibits including:  The Art of the Brick at the Springfield Museum;  Color Forms I: Pink and Blue Projects at KidSpace at MASS MoCA; and Armed & Dangerous: Art of the Arsenal at the Berkshire Museum.

Contributing writer Karen Bayne has shared her family day visits to Historic DeerfieldSpringfield Museums, and the Berkshire Musuem — and our outings have always been equally enjoyable: like our visit to Historic Deerfield for A Cozy Winter DayMidwinter Magic puppet show at the Springfield Museum; and Constant Wonder’s educational performance Wings of a Feather at the Eric Carle Museum.

The Berkshire Museum continues to delight us with their activities and exhibits. We discovered  truly amazing amphibians at the exhibit Frogs: A Chorus of Color; delighted in the Berkshire Children’s Theater’s performance of Hans Christian Anderson’s The Little Mermaid in the auditorium;  enjoyed soul food and a performance of Hip-Hop, African and modern dances at their Martin Luther King, Jr.’s birthday party; and dressed up and attended a fabulously kitchy retro gala to celebrate the exhibit, Kid Stuff: Great Toys from Our Childhood.

Over the years we’ve also shared ways to participate at the Eric Carle Museum, including the Be Kind to Animals Week contest and an invitation to create a butterfly for their Batches of Butterflies community display. And we’ve offered several opportunities to win tickets to family concerts hosted in their auditorium, including Gustafer Yellowgold, Princess Katie & Racer Steve, Rani Arbo & daisy mayhem, and Elizabeth Mitchell.

The educational opportunities with our local museums are constant. Historic Deerfield has hosted a Homeschool Harvest Day and a historic look at chocolate during their American Heritage Chocolate Celebration.  The Springfield Museum has offered many opportunities to learn a bit of American history, including a reading of  Frederick Douglass Speech and an Underground Railroad Lecture.  And the Berkshire Museum has many programs for homeschool educators and teachers and has participated in the citizen science project, Firefly Watch!

To read more about how you can make your family visit fun to one of our local museums read the post, The Wonderment of Museums.

Deadline to enter to win an annual family membership to all 5 museums: Monday, January 3rd, 2011 by 7pm (EST).  Find out more about these museums below and the benefits of membership.

DISCOVER MORE ABOUT THESE LOCAL TREASURES

MASS MoCA

MASS MoCA is located at 87 Marshal St. (North Adams). Since opening in 1999 in North Adams MASS MoCA (Massachusetts Museum of Contemporary Art) has become one of the world’s premier centers for making and showing the best art of our time, exhibiting large-scale and complex installations by many of the most important artists of today. An essential and integral part of MASS MoCA’s mission are the more than 75 performances staged year-round, including popular music, contemporary dance, alternative cabaret, world music dance parties, outdoor silent films with live music, documentaries, and avant-garde theater. (413) 662-2111 www.massmoca.org

Benefits of a family membership:  MASS MoCA is offering a free family membership ($90 value), which gives inside access to the best of contemporary art and performance. Members enjoy exclusive benefits, including free gallery admission, invitations to exhibition openings, opportunities to meet artists and performers, and discounts at MASS MoCA concerts, films, and live theater; Hardware: The MASS MoCA Store; The Porches Inn; and the Lickety Split Cafe.

BERKSHIRE MUSEUM

The Berkshire Museums is located at 39 South St. (Pittsfield, MA). At the Berkshire Museum, there’s something for everyone. The museum offers a unique blend of exhibitions, galleries, and attractions for families of all ages. See exhibitions, fine art, and sculpture from around the world. Pet a live starfish in their touch tank and discover their 20 aquarium tanks and assorted terrariums. Be amazed at their collection of artifacts from Native American cultures and ancient cultures. Marvel at the technology that awaits in the new Feigenbaum Hall of Innovation. And their Natural Science Galleries incorporate hundreds of rocks, minerals, fossils, and animal specimens into interactive exhibits, serving visitors of all ages and learning styles with hands-on experiences. (413) 443-7171 www.berkshiremuseum.org

Benefits of a family membership:  The Berkshire Museum is offering a free annual family/household membership ($75 value). Annual membership benefits include: unlimited free admission to 1st floor galleries and Aquarium; invitation to exhibition openings; discounts on Museum programs (including performances, camps & lectures); reduced tickets to Little Cinema; discount on Museum Store purchases; and free admission to 260+ museums participating in the ASTC Passport Program worldwide.

HISTORIC DEERFIELD

Historic Deerfield is located at 80 Old Main St. (Deerfield, MA). Historic Deerfield, an authentic New England experience, is a great place for families to learn about early American Life. Their museums and programs provide today’s audiences with experiences that create an understanding and appreciation of New England’s historic villages and countryside. Explore 11 museum houses with trained guides, world- class collections of antiques, special exhibitions, and an outdoor garden and meadow walk. Experience early American life from the 1704 Deerfield Raid and the French and Indian War, to the American Revolution and the first decades of the new Republic. Enjoy family programs, hands-on activities, special events, distinctive shopping, and tavern lunch—all in a 330-year-old village. (413) 774-5581www.historic-deerfield.org

Benefits of a family membership:  The Historic Deerfield is offering a free annual family membership ($60 value). The benefits of a family membership includes: free, unlimited admission to all museum houses; a subscription to Historic Deerfield; Special advance notices and member discount information for trips, classes and workshops; Free admission to all of their Hands-On History family programs; Discounts at the Museum Store and Deerfield Inn.

THE ERIC CARLE MUSEUM OF PICTURE BOOK ART

The Eric Carle Museum of Picture Book Art, located at 125 West Bay Rd. (Amherst, MA), is a stunning, 40,000 square-foot facility in the heart of Western MA, is loved by families, art aficionados and book lovers alike. The Carle houses three Galleries with rotating exhibits of picture book art from around the world, and a permanent collection including works by artists. A hands-on Art Studio allows visitors to create their own masterpiece any time The Carle is open. The Auditorium hosts regular live performances, films, lectures, and guest appearances by renowned authors and illustrators. The comfortable Reading Library is the perfect spot for Storytime. The Museum Shop is stocked with unique gifts and a beautiful array of picture books. (413) 658-1100. www.carlemuseum.org

Benefits of a family membership: The Eric Carle Museum of Picture Book Art is offering a family membership ($65 value).  Benefits of membership includes free, unlimited admission for two adults plus up to four children. Enrollment of up to four children in the Caterpillar Club which includes: A Certificate of Membership with each child’s name. Invitations to Members-Only events. Subscription to the Museum Newsletter, Event Calendar, E-newsletter, 15% discount in the Museum Shop (30% during the annual holiday sale), Advance notice and discounts on various Museum events including classes, workshops, performances, films, and lectures. Free museum exhibition poster.

SPRINGFIELD MUSEUMS

Springfield Museums, located at 21 Edwards St. (Springfield, MA). A welcome committee of larger-than-life Dr. Seuss characters greets you at New England’s own “mini Smithsonian” – four outstanding museums filled with science, art and history, plus the Dr. Seuss National Memorial Sculpture Garden. Encounter a life-size Tyrannosaurus rex in Dinosaur Hall, blast off to new worlds in the planetarium, take a safari through Africa, play among statues of Dr. Seuss’s most beloved characters, meet some critters in the live animal center, see Springfield-built antique cars and Indian Motocycles, enjoy hands-on activities in the Art Discovery Center, and much more. Picnic on the beautiful Quadrangle green in nice weather. One admission fee. Free onsite parking. Museum Store. (413) 263-6800 www.springfieldmuseums.org

Benefits of a family membership:  Springfield Museums is offering a household membership ($75 value) for all 5 of their museums. Become a member at the Household level and enjoy unlimited free admission to all museums and the planetarium for two adults and all children. Get discounts on Museum School classes, birthday parties, and Museum Store purchases. Receive invitations to members-only events. Get the museum event calendar, course and travel catalogue, and program flyers in your mailbox. Plus free admission to a host of other science and children’s museums nationwide.

HOW TO WIN:

Your chance to win annual family memberships to the Berkshire Museum, The Eric Carle Museum, Historic Deerfield, MASS MoCA and Springfield Museums is as easy as 1-2-3 (4-5)! To win simply:

  1. SHARE THIS PAGE ON FACEBOOK BY SELECTING “LIKE” BELOW
  2. TELL US HOW HILLTOWN FAMILIES HAS BENEFITTED YOUR FAMILY THESE PAST FIVE YEARS in the comment box below, and be sure to tell us your
  3. FULL NAME and where you
  4. LIVE (TOWN/STATE) Must include your town and state to be eligible. We’ll randomly draw a winner from those who participate and contact the winner via email.  So be sure to leave an
  5. ACCURATE EMAIL in the email field of the comment box (we never share your email address).

IT’S THAT SIMPLE! —  Deadline to enter to win is Monday, January 3rd, 2011 by 7pm (EST).  All five annual family memberships will be awarded to one family and issued separately from each participating museum.  If you have any questions, please contact us before entering to win at hilltownfamilies@gmail.com.

A Day at the Berkshire Musuem

Mummified in the Berkshires

The performance of "The Mummy's Tale and Other Stories from the Great Beyond" sparked the boys imaginations! (Photo credit: Karen Bayne)

As the heat wave continued, the boys and I packed it all up for a full day at The Berkshire Museum, including a performance of The Mummy’s Tale and Other Stories from the Great Beyond. My youngest child is four years old so I was unsure he’d be able to sit through a play. I was even a little nervous that he might be scared of the mummy, or more likely of the house lights going dark.  It turned out there was nothing to fear and so much to enjoy. Ancient myths are comics full larger than life characters – the very good, the ever so bad, all saviors, helpers, hopeless causes. Because of this, the boys just ate them up. They jeered at bad guys and cheered for happy endings. We all danced and laughed along with the young cast who came out after the show to thank the audience and gave the little kids high-fives and big smiles.

After the show, we wandered downstairs for Chow Time at the aquarium, which is held each Saturday at 12:30. We watched tortoises crunch salads bigger than their shells, turtles dive for earthworms and geckos go for jumping crickets.  After a quick stop at the touch tank to visit with the sea-stars, we headed upstairs.

Mummy Jigsaw Puzzle (Photo credit: Karen Bayne)

The current exhibit , Wrapped: The Search for the Essential Mummy, is open through the end of October. It’s an extensive adventure into the forensic science of exploring mummies.  The interactive science exhibits were fun, but what my boys truly loved was the art.  The performance had sparked their imaginations. We spent the afternoon examining hieroglyphs, tomb art, headdresses and necklaces. If you go, don’t miss the mummified animals – snakes, cats and more, wrapped to spend eternity with their beloved owners, I suppose.

We moved back down stairs where the Berkshire Backyard exhibit showed us how much there will always be more to explore in the amazing Berkshires. The kids and I tested our animal tracking skills – more successfully than ever this time. We flight tested feathers and even examined a working bee hive, which included access via a plexiglass tube through a window, to the actual outside Berkshires!

Dinosaur excavation (Photo credit: Karen Bayne)

Just before it was time to go, we had our own excavation in the dinosaur exhibit. Once goggled, the boys dug industriously in the pea stones dumping them in the trenches to uncover their own dinosaur discoveries. Theo insisted on digging for mummies or snake mummies, but kept finding dinosaur bones anyway. He was the smallest most aggravated little excavator around that day. “This is not a mummy! It’s a dinosaur!”

We left the Berkshire Museum with a few corners not yet explored and made note to come back for more adventures in the fall.


ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Karen Bayne

Karen grew up in Manhattan and lived in Connecticut before moving to Northampton with her husband Matt to raise their boys. Her sons Isaac, Henry and Theo are 11, 6 and 4,  leaving Karen on a search for all the “just right adventures” that will wow them and wear them out.  She works as a birth doula, childbirth and parent educator in the greater Northampton area. She writes about mothering at Needs New Batteries and about birth in our culture at Gentle Balance Birth.

Mummies Come to the Berkshires

Wrapped! Search for the Essential Mummy
Tells the Inside Story of Mummies: both figuratively and literally!

"Wrapped! Search for the Essential Mummy" will be on view from June 19 to October 31, 2010. at the Berkshire Museum in Downtown Pittsfield. FATHER'S DAY SPECIAL: On June 20th, kids can bring their Dads for Free!

Museum visitors often leave an exhibition of Egyptian artifacts with the impression that mummies are all the same and that all mummies were kings or princes during their lives. In reality, mummies are individuals; they vary in terms of their manner of preparation, the decoration of their sarcophagi, and the region in which they lived. And, of course, before they were mummies, they were living people, of either gender, belonging to different classes, working in a variety of occupations – who died of as many causes as people die today. Underneath their ancient linen wrappings lies a multitude of mysteries often too great for scientists and researchers to uncover. Nevertheless, since their first discovery by Western cultures, seekers across the centuries have been trying to unwrap the secrets of mummies.

From June 19 to October 31, 2010, the Berkshire Museum in Pittsfield, MA will take museum visitors several steps closer on this quest. The Museum’s groundbreaking, world-premiere exhibition, Wrapped! Search for the Essential Mummy, transports visitors to the Egyptian tombs of Akhmim and the funerary tables and labs of ancient mortuaries; through the discovery of mummies by Western explorers and the ensuing “unrolling” soirees of the 19th century, to current-day mummy research, including reconstruction of mummies’ facial features in sculptural busts and digitizing mummies’ body cavities using cutting-edge scanning technology from the leading radiology labs of North America.

Wrapped! takes visitors to the awesome cliffs of Akhmim, Egypt and its sprawling cemetery– 300 miles south of Cairo – the year is 1884 and mummies are being pulled from their ancient tombs by the hundreds. Among those buried in the loose limestone of Akhmim was Pahat, who lived a full life as a smaty priest of the temple cult of Min. Pahat was carefully mummified 2,300 years ago with the best funerary methods and craftsmanship of his era. At the turn of the 20th century, Pahat was excavated, removed from his resting place, and eventually sold to Zenas Crane in Pittsfield, Massachusetts, for the now-paltry sum of $300. Crane donated Pahat to Berkshire Museum, which the philanthropist founded in 1903, where the prized mummy has remained on display to this day.

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Firefly Watch! Citizen Science Project

Firefly Watch! Citizen Science Project
Thursdays through August 5th in the Berkshires

Firefly Watch combines an annual summer evening ritual with scientific research. Participation requires just a fraction of your time. (Photo credit: James Jordan)

Fireflies are faithful harbingers of summer, but are they disappearing? If so, then why? Help scientists answer these questions by becoming a Firefly Watch Citizen Scientist. Firefly Watch was originally developed by The Museum of Science in Boston, and has taken off around the country with thousands of people participating each year.

This summer join the Berkshire Museum and Department of Conservation and Recreation every Thursday this summer through August 5th at 9:15 pm, to count fireflies in a meadow. Meet at the Mount Greylock Visitors Center(30 Rockwell Road in Lanesborough, 1.5 miles off US Route 7). Bring a flashlight, a pencil & pad of paper, and a stopwatch. Appropriate for all ages, especially families. Activity takes about 15 minutes. Dress appropriately for evening conditions, as bug spray is not recommended. In the event of rain program is canceled.

For more information call the Mount Greylock Visitors Center: (413) 499-4262.

Who Dwells in the Pittsfield State Forest?

Like This!

Bioblitz in the Berkshires
Friday & Saturday, June 4th-5th in Pittsfield, MA

Specialist will be on-hand to explore and educate, including reptile and amphibian specialist, BCC Professor Tom Tyning. Link to schedule is below. (Photo credit: Sienna Wildfield)

Celebrating the United Nation’s “Year of Biodiversity,” the Berkshire Museum is holding Berkshire County’s first BioBlitz in Pittsfield State Forest from noon on Friday, June 4th to noon on Saturday, June 5th, 2010. The weekend event will allow scientists and local residents to document the extensive variety of life in their immediate area and see first-hand the diversity and importance of the clean and active ecosystems in their own backyard.

The BioBlitz is an opportunity for biologists, naturalists, and environmentalists to gather in a given area and in a 24-hour period complete a formal survey of all living species. Specialists such as BCC Professor Tom Tyning (reptiles and amphibians), Harvard botanist Walter Kittredge (flowering plants), Berkshire Wild Mushrooms’ John Wheeler (fungi) and Sage College Professor Emeritus Nancy Slack (mosses) will be on-hand to explore and educate. The public is welcome to attend to watch the scientists work, and even participate in sorting specimens.

The biological survey is the “core” of the Berkshire BioBlitz, and anchors a number of interactive, nature-oriented programs which have been scheduled around it. For example, on Friday night, a lively “BioBlitz Drum and Campfire Jam” will take place, followed by a “Moth-Light” demonstration and an “Owl Prowl” hike. A bird walk and a “fitness hike” will be held the following morning, as well as a presentation on Asian Longhorned Beetles—an invasive insect species recently discovered in Worcester, MA.

“It’s a great opportunity for people from all walks of life to come together and learn about their own backyard,” said Berkshire Museum Natural Science Coordinator, Scott LaGreca. “It’s a powerful tool we can use to get people away from their television sets and computer monitors, and spend time outside—providing an antidote to what some educators have dubbed ‘nature-deficit disorder’. It provides valuable information about Pittsfield State Forest’s flora and fauna that can be used by Pittsfield State Forest staff to better manage the local resources.”

The Pittsfield State Forest is located just five miles from downtown Pittsfield. From Park Square, go west on West Street for 2.7 miles. Turn right on Churchill Street and continue for .7 miles. Turn left onto Cascade Street and continue for .3 miles. The entrance to the forest in just over a mile on your left-hand side.

All events are free and held at the Pittsfield State Forest. Friday evening programs and Saturday morning naturalist hikes are weather-permitting. For a full schedule, click here. Call Scott LaGreca at 413.443.7171, ext. 17 to sign up

Armed & Dangerous: Explorations of Human Culture and the Animal Kingdom

Berkshire Museum in Pittsfield Starts 2010 with a Bang:
Armed & Dangerous: Art of the Arsenal opens January 23

Armed & Dangerous: Art of the Arsenal on display at the Berkshire Museum in Pittsfield, MA from January 23rd - June 6th, 2010

Berkshire Museum’s upcoming exhibition, Armed & Dangerous: Art of the Arsenal, explores the evolution, function, and craft of weaponry and armor throughout human culture and the animal kingdom. This exhilarating exhibition, drawn primarily from the Museum’s permanent collection, runs from January 23 through June 6.

Man and animals have always been Armed & Dangerous. From the heroic warrior of the legendary past to the modern military soldier, humankind has relied on arms and armor to convey dominance, power, and status. Weapons and armor reflect the evolution of technology, class, mythmaking, and personal identity and have enormous implications for our understanding of changes in human culture.

“The sheer diversity of materials and the exquisite craftsmanship of the weapons on view in Armed & Dangerous is testament to how important weapons are to the people who make and use them,” said director of interpretation at the Berkshire Museum, Maria Mingalone. “From a historical perspective, the exhibition spans centuries and continents, showing how arms and armor illustrate the evolution of technology, and mythmaking. Weapons are a history of the human experience and a great example of how diverse cultures cope with the challenges of conflict and survival.”

Mankind has always created and used weapons and armor in order to fight, protect, and intimidate. Many of these armaments have been inspired by the natural world, where fierce fangs, claws, beaks, and horns are displayed not only to injure or kill other animals, but also to avoid battle through demonstrations of dominance. Armed & Dangerous features the arsenal of the natural world alongside man-made weaponry from a global array of cultures and time periods.

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Frogs Educate and Fascinate Museum Goers in Pittsfield, MA

Frogs: A Chorus of Color at the Berkshire Museum

Waxy Monkey Frog

Waxy Monkey Frog - South American monkey frogs climb through trees with grasping feet. The waxy monkey frog is unusual in its preference for hot, dry conditions. By recycling water in its kidneys, the frog is able to avoid expelling precious moisture in the form of urine. It also gives itself a rubdown with a waxy secretion to limit water loss through the skin. (Photo credit: Sienna Wildfield)

This week we went to the Berkshire Museum in Pittsfield, MA. Following a wonderful production of Wind in the Willows by Berkshire Theater Festival in their auditorium, we went upstairs to check-out their exhibit, Frogs: A Chorus of Color.

Wow! This is an impressive show that is both educational and visually stunning. Through a dazzling display of photos, frog colors and textures, audible enhancements with an array of calls from different frog species, visitors explore a wide variety of living frogs from all over the world. The exhibit contains 15 different varieties of live frogs, all in self-contained custom habitats that are precisely replicated and include rock ledges, live plants, and waterfalls for the frogs to thrive in.

My seven year old daughter was very interested to see large live frogs, like the African and American Bullfrogs, that are so big they include birds and mice in their diets. And the tiny, cute yellow Poison Dart Frog that has enough poison to kill 10 people!

Studying Frogs

Stunning backlit graphic panels with colorful images of frogs cover the walls, and interactive components invite visitors to activate recorded frog calls, view videos of frogs jumping, swimming or gliding from dizzying heights, spin a zoetrope, and test new-found frog knowledge on subjects from the most basic to the totally bizarre, such as the difference between a toad and a frog. (Photo credit: Sienna Wildfield)

The museum offers a scavenger hunt as part of the exhibit with their Frog Finder kit that asks questions like, “How do Waxy Monkey Frogs prevent water loss during hot dry weather?,” and “How many Mossy Frog were you able to find in the exhibit?” I found this really compelled kids to study each station and to come away with a full educational experience, learning about a frogs basic biology, ecology and lifecycles.

Kids went from station to station, looking for answers to their Frog Finder Sheets as the Waxy Monkey Frogs hung on branches like little green amphibious looking primates, and the bizarre lichen looking Vietnamese Mossy Frog offered challenges for students to find them in their mossy habitats.

When we left we stopped by the Pittsfield Library to check out books on frogs to read when we got home. This show is truly inspiring to all who enjoy natural history.  The show runs through November 1st, 2009.

To see more photos from our visit to the Berkshire Museum, click here.

Free Admission to Area Museums

Lisa Downing of the Forbes Library in Northampton, MA writes:

Free admission to area museums is as easy as a visit to the Forbes Library. Now in the fifth year, the library’s museum pass program enables patrons to borrow a free admission pass to the Children’s Museum of Holyoke, Eric Carle Museum of Picture Book Art, Historic Deerfield, Mass MoCA, Massachusetts State Parks, Norman Rockwell Museum, Smith College Museum of Art, Springfield Museums and the Zoo in Forest Park.

The passes circulate for two days and generally admit one family free admission for the day. Passes are available to borrow from the main desk and same day reservations can be made. The passes are checked out with a library card. This program is sponsored by the Friends of Forbes Library. For more information call 587-1011 or stop by the library to pick up a brochure about the program.

  • Click HERE for a list of museum passes available at additional area libraries in Western Massachusetts.

The Wonderment of Museums

Making a Family Museum Visit Fun …
By Marilyn Anderson and Patricia Sullivan

More Art, Please!

Museums are places of wonderment, exploration, learning, and fun for the entire family. Just ask Jean L. Sousa, associate director of museum education, The Art Institute of Chicago. “Don’t be intimidated or worry that your children will cry or misbehave at the museum…and don’t worry that you need a degree in art history,” she said. “If the museum offers family programs, these are non-issues.” Sousa said that parent workshops at museums build on issues in child development and learning theory to make family visits more comfortable.

Today, many museums are interactive learning centers that give families an opportunity to explore, learn, create their own art, and, yes, even touch some exhibits. With all of this variety and activity, how can parents ensure that their children won’t become overwhelmed, tired, or too distracted to enjoy the experience? The key is in the planning.

A Look at Art Museums

“It’s important for children to distinguish between beautiful, masterfully rendered art and mass-produced art or what you see on television,” Sousa said.

For children’s first art museum experiences, she recommends that parents keep the visit simple. “See three pictures and then have lunch,” she said. Be flexible. When the children start becoming restless, do something else.

Dr. Seuss Sculpture Garden at Springfield Museums. (Photo credit: Sienna Wildfield)

Following are suggestions from Sousa and The Art Institute of Chicago on how to cultivate your children’s curiosity through art.

Look for recognizable things.
Simply identifying things in a painting can be fun for families with young children. Parents can ask their children how many people and animals they see, how many fruits are in a still life, what kind of activity is taking place, and what colors and shapes they see.

Find visual clues that uncover meaning.
Ask older children to describe what they see and help them determine the meanings the artist intended. For instance, ask your children to determine the time of day, season, or which person is oldest in a painting. Then ask them to explain how they came to their conclusions.

Imagine the work of art coming to life.
Let children’s active imaginations run wild by asking them to make up a story for a picture. “In some ways not knowing much is an advantage,” Sousa said.

Modern art offers plenty of room for interpretation, too.
Parents can ask, what just happened? What’s going on now? What will happen next? What sounds or smells do you imagine while looking at the painting?

Listen and respond to each other.
Sharing time with your children at a museum also means communicating well. Be sure to ask your children why they feel a certain way or made certain comments about a piece of art.

Eric Carle Museum

Eric Carle Museum in Amherst, MA.

How to prepare for a museum visit

“A child is going to get out of an experience what the adult is willing to put in,” said Nancy Kolb, president and chief executive officer of Please Touch Museum in Philadelphia. “The parent has to be patient.”

Before the visit

  • Get the information. Explore the museum’s website to learn about the permanent and special exhibits, hours of operation, accessibility, admission fees and discounts, and family programs. Request a brochure or activity sheet that is used for school groups. (More than half of museums are free to the public. Of those that charge fees, nearly 60 percent have free days.)
  • Ask your children what they’re interested in and what they’re studying in school. Then try to build upon their responses.
  • If you have a book at home that’s related to one of the exhibits you plan to see, sit down and leaf through the book with your children. It will help build their excitement.
  • Consider becoming a member if you plan to visit several times during the year. Museum memberships often provide discounts for the museum store, food vendor, and special museum programs. (The median museum admission for a family of four is $15. The median membership fee for families is $25.)
  • Determine how long you will spend at the museum. Ninety minutes to two hours should be enough

At the museum

  • Find the information desk and ask, “What do you recommend for families?”
  • Help children figure out how things work, but don’t do it for them. Use open-ended questions and try to get to the how and the why of things. For example, while at a dinosaur exhibit, ask, “How do you think they ate? Where did something that big sleep?”
  • Keep the visit simple and don’t try to see everything. Take a break.

After the visit

  • Ask your children what they liked or didn’t like, and why. Ask what they enjoyed the most.
  • Have them share their experiences with friends and relatives.
  • Help your children find the answers to their unsolved questions.
  • Talk about items in your home and have them relate what they learned to everyday objects.

Source: www.pta.org


Here’s a sampling of  museums in Western Mass (check with your local library for free museum passes):

New Programs For Homeschool Educators & Teachers in Pittsfield

Educator Reception at the Berkshire Museum in Pittsfield, MA
April 2, 2007 from 3:30-5 p.m.

INNOVATION STATION

Teachers and homeschool educators throughout the region are invited to learn about new programs related to the Berkshire Museum’s brand new Feigenbaum Hall of Innovation, including “Innovation Station,” a program for Grades 3 – 8. “Innovation Station” will inspire students to learn about famous Berkshire innovators, and then will present students with group challenges as well as the opportunity to develop individual solutions. “Innovation Station” connects with Massachusetts Frameworks, Science, Technology & Engineering for Grades 3–5 (1.1, 2.1, 2.3) and Grades 6–8 (1.1, 2.1.).

USE YOUR NOODLE

The Berkshire Museum will also introduce the curriculum “Use Your Noodle,” which meets Science/Technology learning standards in engineering, as well as Language Arts. “Use Your Noodle” is a design challenge to be used as a flexible tool to create a culture of learning in the elementary and middle school classrooms. “Use Your Noodle” curriculum helps students, coached by their teachers, take an idea through the creation, review, and revision process, using the engineering/design model. Students will work together as a group to come up with ways to use noodles—pasta of any shape or size, raw or cooked—to ultimately design a unique project that relates to their class curriculum in a way that is adaptable to any area of study. Each and every group of students will develop its own response to the improvisational exercises, brainstorming and discussion sessions, and reflective writing practices. Students come to understand the creative process, and thus, become innovators themselves!

Enjoy refreshments and learn about our new educational programs. RSVP to (413) 443-7171, ext.18. www.berkshiremuseum.org

Ben Rudnick Guest DJ Episode on HFVS (01/08/08)

LISTEN NOW

Ben & Presephone at WXOJ in Northampton HILLTOWN FAMILY VARIETY SHOW
Ben Rudnick Guest DJ Episode

with Ben Rudnick & Persephone

WXOJ LP – 103.3 FM – Valley Free Radio
Northampton, MA
Tuesday evening @ 7pm

01/08/08 PLAYLIST

listen now | subscribe to podcast | archived shows | contests

PLAYLIST 

NEW YEAR’S EVE WITH BEN

How lucky we were to have Ben Rudnick in studio to guest DJ an episode of HFVS with Persephone! A great guy with a GREAT band, Ben Rudnick & Friends (BR&F). Persephone & I got to enjoy a New Year’s Eve performance by BR&F at the Berkshire Museum in Pittsfield, MA (Click here to see photos). The snow was heavy outside the museum after the previous evening’s snowfall, and families filtered in, filling chairs with coats, scarves and mittens. With Ben on guitar, John on mandolin and Arni on bass, these three seasoned performers started singing and playing, giving the audience a real American roots style concert … and the kids couldn’t keep still! Thirteen years of playing together shined through, giving the audience a Class Act performance. But if my gushing over BR&F isn’t convincing enough that this is a band your family must discover, take it from Parent’s Choice and NAPPA who have doled out a number of awards to this finger pickin’ good band. Look for new music by BR&F this year!

THIS WEEK’S CONTEST

This week we’re offering Ben Rudnick music and apparel:

  • We have two copies of Grace’s Bell to give away:
  • along with their award winning t-shirt (Kid’s Pick) submitted to the HFVS T-shirt Review:

Kids Pick Award - Hilltown FamiliesWithout a doubt, Ben Rudnick & Friends design was one of the top three designs amongst our “Official Reviewers,” getting the most positive comments out of all submitted t-shirts. This design pulled off the blend of color and graphic design that appealed most to the kids. “I like the pink in the middle and red in a circle,” commented Antonia (age 5) of Florence, MA. “I like the cool guitar and the three eyes!” shared Jaden (age 5). It is noted that the tie-dye designs can vary, with blue centers and green swirls, or orange centers with yellow swirls … they can all turn out with different patterns and colors, which gives every shirt its own unique aspects.

HOW TO WIN: For your chance to win, simply post us a comment below. We’ll randomly draw TWO winners from everyone who leaves a comment. IT’S THAT SIMPLE! — Deadline is 01/15/08 @ 7pm (EST).

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Berkshire Museum in 2008

Berkshire Museum to Present Public Programs at Lichtenstein Center, the YMCA, and the Berkshire Community College While Closed for Renovations in January & February

The Berkshire Museum will be closed for construction from January 1 through March 28, 2008. During this time Phase II of the renovation project, which includes the long-awaited installation of a climate control (HVAC) system, will be completed. During the construction period, the Berkshire Museum will present several public programs at other locations in Pittsfield, including an exhibition devoted to the Mohican people at the Lichtenstein Center for the Arts.

Suggested Events 12/22/07 – 12/28/07

The Snowman

One my favorite films to watch during the holidays is The Snowman by Raymond Briggs, a 23 minute pencil-drawn animation. It’s the purity of The Snowman that I enjoy the most. The film is without words and set to the composition “Walking in the Air” by Howard Blake and performed by Peter Auty. With his wonderful illustrations and a timeless musical composition, Briggs brilliantly captures the innocence of a young boy’s imagination during the holiday season.

Somehow we’ve misplaced our copy of The Snowman and have had to get our holiday movie classic quota from outside sources … BUT, I was happy to find the video for view on-line. So if you’re looking for something to do with the kids, grab them and enjoy the magic of Raymond Briggs:

To add this video to your movie collection, click here to buy it from Amazon.

Thank you to this week’s Suggested Events Sponsor, Spirit of the Heart. Nancy has a couple of weekend classes for families available. Check them out and get the kids active!

www.spiritoftheheart.org

  • Become a Sponsor

  • To find out how you or your business can help support Hilltown Families by becoming a sponsor, drop us an email or give us a call at 413.296.0096 for more information. We’re offering very reasonable rates throughout the holiday season. By having individuals in our community and area businesses become sponsors, Hilltown Families can continue to offer a weekly list of suggested events, a weekly podcast, updated resources, articles and much more.

    • Submit an Event

    If you have a family-friendly event or educational program happening in Western Massachusetts that you’d like to let us know about, or would like to submit your event to the Hilltown Families calendar of Suggested Events, email Sienna at swildfield@juno.com. Comments are warmly welcomed!

    Local forecast | Get directions | Free Museum Passes | School Closings & Delays

    Events Happening in the Hilltowns

    Saturday – 12/22

    WINTER SOLSTICE

    8am – FAMILY RADIO – (Air Waves) While traveling around town, tune-in to WXOJ 103.3 FM in Northampton, MA, from 8-10am to hear fabulous family-friendly music on Spare the Rock, Spoil the Child. [All ages] (Free)

    Noon – SPORTS – (Amherst) Take the family to see the “big girls” play basketball at UMass (vs. Buffalo) in the Mullins Center. 413.545.0810 [Families] ($$)

    2pm – THEATER – (Stockbridge) The Berkshire Theatre Festival will be presenting Charles Dickens’s A Christmas Carol at the Unicorn Theatre. 413.298.5536 x33. [Families] ($$)

    2:30pm – FAMILY MUSIC – (Greenfield) Join the rocking kids music group The Pop Rockets at Barts Ice Cream for a family fun holiday show. They’ll be serving up new music and hot cocoa, along with a sing-a-long to traditional holiday music. www.poprocketsmusic.com [Families] (Free)

    4:30pm – HOLIDAY CAROLING – (Cummington) The CFC invites families to go caroling down Main Street, followed by hot chocolate and a potluck dinner. Caroling begins at the Cummington Community House. [Families] (Free)

    5pm-8pm – HOLIDAY HAYRIDES – (Florence) Look Park is offering a tour of their holiday lights display on a horse drawn hayride. [Families] (>$)

    5:30pm-8:30pm – SOLSTICE CELEBRATION – (Easthampton) Arcadia Nature Center & Wildlife Sanctuary will be hosting a Winter Solstice Celebration with candles, readings, music, bonfire & hot cider. 413.584.3009 [Famileis] (Free)

    6pm – HOLIDAY DISPLAY – (Florence) Join the community for the annual Luminaria Display in the Village of Florence. There will be a public display, holiday reception at the Civic Center and free hayrides. 413.320.2306 [Families] (Free, Benefit)

    6pm-8:30pm – SOLSTICE CELEBRATION – (Westhampton) A Full Moon Howl and Solstice Celebration will be held at Parsonage Field. There will be refreshments, bonfire, singing, sledding, and marshmallow roast. 413.527.1731 [Families] (Free)

    6:30pm-8:30pm – SOLSTICE CELEBRATION – (Ashfield) On the town green join other families for a Winter Solstice Celebration with candles, a bonfire, singing, story tellingand Morris Dancers. [Families] (Free)

    7:30pm – SPORTS – (Amherst) Take the family to see the “big boys” play basketball at UMass (vs. CCSU) in the Mullins Center. 413.545.0810 [Families] ($$)

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    Going Retro in Pittsfield

    Kids Stuff: Great Toys From Our Childhood

    A Retro Party to celebrate the exhibition Kid Stuff: Great Toys from Our Childhood at the Berkshire Museum in downtown Pittsfield, MA, will take place tonight (07/12/07) at 5pm.

    Kid Stuff highlights more than 40 of the most popular toys and games of the last 50 years. The exhibition was organized by the Berkshire Museum in 1999 and has been seen by more than 1 million people at museums across North America, and will be at the Berkshire Museum through September 3rd.

    Tonights party will feature a menu that combines casual picnic atmosphere with retro party fare.  Retro food that reflects the 1950s and 60s will be offered (read “unhealthy”), along crudite and fresh fruit (read “healthy”).

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    Hilltown Families Celebrate Martin Luther King, Jr.’s Birthday

    African-American Soul Food for Martin Luther Kig, Jr. birthday at the Berkshire Museum in Pittsfield, MA. (Photo credit: Sienna Wildfield)

    Hilltown families enjoyed African-American soul food during the “I Have a Dream” community celebration at the Berkshire Museum in Pittsfield, MA, on Monday, January 16th, honoring Martin Luther King, Jr.

    The “I Have A Dream” celebration was kicked off at 1 p.m. with a reading from King’s famous speech, followed by a performance by the popular Pittsfield step dance troupe, Youth Alive. Youth Alive is a troupe of young dancers from Pittsfield, who perform Hip-Hop, African, and Modern dances using their bodies as musical instruments to create a mix of sounds through feet stomping, hand clapping, and body movement.

    Making "I Have a Dream" posters. (Photo credit: Sienna Wildfield)

    A sampling of African-American soul food was offered to visitors following the performance. Children and parents enjoyed free samples of cornbread, collard greens seasoned with pork, and sweet potato pie.

    Children sat around tables and on the floors in the upstairs gallery to make “I Have A Dream” posters to be displayed around the gallery for the day or to take and hang at home. Statements like “Use your own mind and listen to yourself,” and “Speak up when you know you should,” were written along with illustrations. Wise words for such young minds!

     

    Kids marvel at the Savage Ancient Seas exhibit. (Photo credit: Sienna Wildfield)

    Currently on view at the museum is the exhibit Savage Ancient Seas, which presents the many gigantic forms of life that populated the prehistoric waters at the same time dinosaurs roamed the earth. The gallery is lit in hues of blue and green, creating an underwater ambience.

    Exploring undersea world of the late Cretaceous Period at Berkshire Museum. (Photo credit: Sienna Wildfield)

    The exhibition explores the undersea world of the late Cretaceous Period, filled with huge carnivorous marine reptiles with double-hinged jaws and teeth in the middle of their palates, gigantic flesh-eating fish big enough to swallow an adult human whole, and more. With voracious appetites, incredible teeth, and gaping jaws, these creatures are unlike anything known in today’s world. Highlights include an Elasmosaur with a 30-foot long neck, the toothy scowl of a giant carnivorous fish (Xiphactinus), and the jaws of a Megalodon, or giant shark, along with other skeletons, fossils, and life replicas.

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