Graveyards Inspire Curiosity and Learning in October

Learning Lurks Amongst the Gravestones in Historic Cemeteries

Rich with community history, cemeteries across western Massachusetts offer families a variety of rich learning experiences this fall. From gravestone rubbings to tours of historic burying grounds, there are many ways in which families can tap into the knowledge buried amongst the graves.

Accompanying fall’s spook-filled Halloween celebrations come opportunities to explore and learn about cemeteries and graveyards across western Massachusetts. Filled with stone markers that chronicle a community’s history, local cemeteries can provide visitors with a look deep into the past. Some local communities have been existed for over 300 years, and gravestones in such places speak volumes about centuries past. Everything from the names of buried people to the style of the stone can tell visitors something about the time period to which that a headstone dates back. And on top of learning about the history of a place, visitors can celebrate and honor the things that members of generations past have contributed to their present day community.

A study of a local cemetery (or a few of them!) can help students to understand how individuals’ life stories contribute to the re-telling of history. For young cemetery explorers, making gravestone rubbings is a fun way to introduce the study of headstones, and can help children learn that cemeteries don’t have to be scary. Turning the beauty of hand-carved headstones into a similarly beautiful art-producing activity adds to the intrigue of a cemetery, but decreases the fear factor.

Boden Cemetary - Letterboxing-3

To broaden and deepen independent cemetery studies, browse through resources offered by The Association for Gravestone Studies. The locally-based organization offers resources for learning to preserve and conserve cemeteries, support for decoding the symbolism found on headstones, and extensive online archives. For a look at cemeteries a bit further from home, apply what you’ve learned by exploring nearby burial grounds to images historic headstones from around New England.

In addition to self-guided studies of cemeteries are many upcoming opportunities for community-based learning surrounding cemeteries. From walking tours to stone carving, these intergenerational community events offer a wide range of exciting learning opportunities! Read the rest of this entry »

Famed Artist, Henri Matisee Exhibit a Major Coup for Western Mass!

Drawings by Henri Matisse on view at Mount Holyoke College Art Museum now through December 14, 2014

This latest exhibition at the Mount Holyoke College Art Museum is expected to “draw” crowds: an exclusive selection of 45 drawings by Henri Matisse, the widely-known 20th century French artist known best for his colorful, expressive portrayal of the human form in paintings, sculptures, cut paper, and drawings.  The drawings on display span half a century and include both sketches and finished drawings.

Students of art and art history will be particularly excited about this exhibition because it offers an opportunity to interact with original artworks by a historically significant artist right here in Western Massachusetts.  A chance to eliminate the need for excessive travel and planning, while still showing your kids the art of one of the great masters: it’s a foolproof combination!

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Ceramic Exhibit Offers Rare Glimpse Into A Very Distant Past

Ceramics Exhibition Explores Craftsmanship Over 6,000 Years
At Mount Holyoke College Art Museum through May 31, 2015

A wonderful example of ceramics as an “objets d’art.”

Have you ever taken a ceramics class? The feeling of the clay molding into recognizable shapes like bowls and plates is so satisfying, matched only by the feeling of accomplishment once the piece has been fired and glazed and is ready to be used. The creation—and usage—of functional objects has been part of the human experience for as long as humans have existed, and the ways in which these objects are made and regarded has evolved over time. From the purely practical and utilitarian to veritable objets d’art, ceramics have served a wide range of people in an even wider range of ways. And as the world’s peoples grew, developed, and traveled, so did their tools and artwork; this allowed for further dispersion and interchange of ideas and techniques. Read the rest of this entry »

Listen Current: Learning Through the Power of Public Radio

Listen Current Provides a Database of Current Affairs Topics, Crucial for Stimulating Critical Thinking For Teens and Tweens

Water shortages in places like Detroit and Iraq are news items tackled in Listen Current.

For learners who prefer to be active while they learn, auditory sources of information can provide stimulating and engaging educational material. Listening to an audio book, a news story on television, or radio coverage of current events can provide learners with the opportunity to engage with information while also participating in a physically engaging activity, like drawing, note-taking, running, hiking, or otherwise moving their body. The combination of engaging in auditory learning and physical motion simultaneously can help learners whose educational strengths lie in verbal/linguistic and/or bodily/kinesthetic modes of learning.

While local libraries give us access to endless audio books, and radio and television news media fill screens and airwaves with a constant stream of audio and visual explanations of events all around the world, learning from these sources requires a somewhat long-term commitment to a certain topic. Audio books are generally many hours long, and in order to truly understand a news story, it’s generally necessary to have been following the story as it develops for a few days, weeks, or even months.

Luckily for auditory learners, online resource Listen Current offers a database of news stories from public radio stations, designed and curated specifically to teach middle- and high-school-aged students explore topics in social studies, science, and language arts. Read the rest of this entry »

When Dinosaurs Walked…Western Mass

Paleontology Fascinates and Stimulates Learning in Kids

As one of They Might Be Giants’ best-loved (and paleontologist-narrated) children’s songs proclaims, “I love diggin’ in the dirt!” The potential for getting dirty is just what many kids need in order to become interested in dinosaurs, but it’s not the only hook. In addition to the fun that comes from digging and discovering, dinosaurs are fascinating to children for the magic and mystery that surrounds them – though we have lots of evidence that supports their long-ago existence, young ones whose understanding of time has not fully developed are astounded by the beasts of long ago. Drastically different from most of the creatures seen on Earth today (at first glance), dinosaurs’ shape, size, and even habitat are fascinating and almost unbelievable to youngsters.

Engaging children in dinosaur-related learning allows them not only to learn about the prehistoric beasts, but presents opportunities for lots of other types of learning as well. Learning to identify dinosaur species can help young children practice putting words to specific characteristics related to a species’ shape, size, and coloring, while for older learners, species identification serves as a means of understanding the role of each specific body part that distinguishes one type from the next – information that can help children to understand animal adaptations and evolution. Additionally, dinosaur studies supports children in learning about the climate- and landscape-related changes that the Earth undergoes over time. Read the rest of this entry »

Hampshire and Hampden Canal: Gone but not Forgotten

Photographer Examines Hidden History of Local Landscape in the Valley

At 2pm on Saturday, August 16, 2014, Carl Walter, a canal historian, will give a talk in Historic Northampton’s Gallery III. He has been studying the Hampshire and Hampden Canal since 1991, and has created a digital database that contains several thousand photos and documents containing information about the canal. In his talk, he will explain why the canal was built, where it was located, and how it was constructed, as well as its importance to the canal towns, with an emphasis on the relationship between the town of Northampton and the canal.

As part of Historic Northampton’s Contemporary Art series, Anthony W. Lee will exhibit seven large format photographs, collectively titled A River of Dreams, from Friday, August 8 through Saturday, September 6, 2014.

Lee, an historian and documentary photographer, is the Idella Plimpton Kendall Professor of Art History at Mt. Holyoke College. His show is inspired by the history and legacy of the early-nineteenth-century Hampshire and Hampden Canal, which ran from New Haven, Connecticut to Northampton, Massachusetts. Established in the 1820s, the canal was New Haven’s attempt to prevent the city of Hartford from gaining a monopoly on the trade and movement of goods in the region. In Northampton, the canal ran along the west side of New South Street, then known as Canal Street, and continued north, crossing King Street at Damon Road until it joined the Connecticut River. Despite the relatively successful operation of commerce over a ten year period, the venture as a whole was fraught with problems, and the canal was defunct by 1946. The remains of the canal beds were rapidly repurposed into railroad lines, streets, and other modern edifices, and it takes a discerning eye to see the subtle clues left on the landscape.  Read the rest of this entry »

Western Mass Historical Heritage for All to Explore

Summer is History-Exploring Season in Western MA!

This summer, the Sheffield Historical Society hosts the Milt Barnum All American Tool Exhibit, an extensive show of tools used by workers of all kinds throughout the past few centuries. Check out our list of 15 historical societies and history museums below and find out what these community-based educational resources have to offer and discover your local history while nurturing a better sense of place in your kids and in yourself!

Nestled amongst the hills of western Massachusetts are pockets of history – the streets of cities and towns are lined with historic buildings, fields are dotted with centuries-old cemeteries, and even the landscape itself tells stories of generations past, its shape hinting at human influences. It’s obvious that our communities’ history surrounds us, but the challenge in learning about local history is learning how to access it in a meaningful way. Luckily, historical societies and museums across the region offer families a wide variety of ways to learn about the history of their community. From wartime tales to walking tours, resources for learning about local history abound during the summer in western Massachusetts.

An added bonus of the easy accessibility of local history resources is that children will be supported in learning about the history of their own community and a familiar landscape, but they’ll also learn about major historical events – events that took place on a national or international level – and the ways in which they affected folks here in western Massachusetts. In allowing children to learn about large-scale events or cultural shifts on a small scale, families can support learning about broad topics on a level that meets children where they’re at developmentally, while strengthening their sense of place. Adding familiar context to an unfamiliar or confusing topic can help children to understand it – and they’ll develop a deeper connection to their history once it becomes personal. Many local historical societies only open their doors to the public during summer months (for many reasons, including the availability of volunteer staff and the lack of heat in many old buildings), so don’t miss this year’s history-exploring season! In addition to open museum hours, many historical societies and museums offer interactive activities, speakers and educational events, and other special programming – be sure to check out your local society’s calendar for learning opportunities that extend beyond a visit to the local museum or archives. Here are history museums, historical societies and events to consider this summer with your family throughout the region: Read the rest of this entry »

‘Stories from the Kitchen Sink’ Installation Challenges Conventions

Stories from the Kitchen Sink: Comic Multimedia Installation Examines American Domesticity

Submitted Image: Dog Dreams, 2006/2012. Ricky Bernstein, glass and mixed mediaFrom now through Sunday, June 21, 2015, the Community Gallery at the Michele and Donald D’Amour Museum of Fine Arts in Springfield, MA, will host a special, site-specific installation by Sheffield, Massachusetts-based artist Ricky Bernstein.  The installation, titled Stories from the Kitchen Sink: Bob and Phyllis Learn New Tricks, contains oversized collage-style graphics that depict stereotypically-American domestic scenes.  These “still life sit-com” images are both humorous and critical, drawing attention to past and present ideas about modern life, multi-tasking, and gender roles.

Younger viewers will be particularly interested in these energetic, colorful, stylized representations of American families, and students interested in Pop Art and contemporary art will be able to draw connections between Bernstein and other artists who used graphic, comic imagery, while parents and adults will appreciate the gently satirical sentiments and questions that Bernstein’s installation poses. Read the rest of this entry »

Summer Solstice Illuminates Learning for Families

Time & place literally provides for experiential education opportunity on the longest day of the year!

Here in western Massachusetts, families can take part in three different events that provide the opportunity to learn experientially about solstice-related cultural traditions – all of which will be held on the solstice itself, Saturday, June 21st…

Soon, celebrations will take place all over the northern hemisphere to mark the arrival of the summer solstice – our portion of the globe’s longest day of the year. The light-filled solstice that our days have been lengthening towards will bring with it, of course, the shortest night of the year, and will place our geographic location as close to the sun as it will be for the rest of the year. Of course, the simplest way to celebrate the solstice is simply to enjoy the extra daylight while it lasts, but there are a variety of other community-based ways to celebrate that will encourage children to learn why we have extra hours of daylight in the summer but traditional celebrations, world cultures, ancient civilizations, and the summer landscape.  Read the rest of this entry »

Celebrate Freedom on Juneteenth

Celebration events invite families to celebrate the abolition of slavery, and to reflect on the daily aspects of freedom in their own lives

Andre Keitt will perform stories and folklore from the African oral tradition during Black History Weekend at Old Sturbridge Village on June 21 & 22, 2014.

These days, when a monumental government decision is made, technology allows the news to travel quickly and we are able to find out almost immediately. However, before the internet and telephones and even motorized vehicles were invented, information took a lot longer to travel. News could take days, weeks, even months to spread, and the further information had to travel, the longer it took for it to get there. In the case of the Emancipation Proclamation, for example, word of Lincoln’s granting of freedom to slaves in Confederate states took nearly six months to reach some parts of the country! While the Emancipation Proclamation was issued on January 1st, 1863, word of emancipation took until June 19th to travel from Washington, DC to Galveston, Texas!

The day upon which Texas slaves learned of the Emancipation Proclamation is celebrated today as Juneteenth. Originally celebrated only in Texas, the day has served as a commemoration of the ending of slavery in the United States since 1865. Across the country – and even around the world – Juneteenth is celebrated in order to honor the struggles of those who endured slavery, and to remind us of the ways in which our country’s history has affected (and continues to affect) our current society. Find out about celebrations in Western MA!

Springfield Museums’ New Exhibit Snapshots The Emergence of the 20th Century American Individual

Springfield Museums Explore Modern American Masterworks
Friday, June 6, through Sunday, August 31, 2014

Students and enthusiasts of art, art history, and American history will be interested to know that among the works on display in American Moderns are representations of Cubism, Synchromism, Precisionism, Expressionism, and Social Realism, as well as interpretations of folk art and early steam-punk style.

Beginning in June, the Springfield Museums’ Michele and Donald D’Amour Museum of Fine Arts will play host to a special traveling exhibition curated by and containing key pieces from the Brooklyn Museum in New York. American Moderns, 1910-1960: From O’Keeffe to Rockwell features over fifty paintings and several sculptures by well-known American artists whose works illustrate the multiple schools of thought and representational techniques that developed during the Modern period: Georgia O’Keeffe, Norman Rockwell, Joseph Stella, Marsden Hartley, Elie Nadelman, Rockwell Kent, and more. While the works in this exhibition are on loan from the Brooklyn Museum, their presence at the Springfield Museums is a good reminder of the masterworks by these artists and their contemporaries that belong to the Springfield Museums’ own collection.

Though the works by these artists may not seem to have much in common with one another at first glance, they each signify a reaction to a society undergoing rapid and dramatic change. The fifty years covered by the exhibition saw two world wars, the success of the women’s suffrage movement, the short-lived Prohibition, the Great Depression, the Civil Rights movement, and the birth of other youth and activist movements; while new technologies for travel, entertainment, communication, and household efficiency became commonplace over increasingly shorter intervals of time. The world felt smaller, and the United States had established itself as an international power, but not every U.S. citizen had achieved the American Dream.

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STEM Opportunities at The Great Holyoke Brick Race

The Great Holyoke Brick Race: June 7th, 2014

Intergenerational collaborations can provide young students with hands-on lessons in the basic science of physics and principles of design at the 4th annual Great Holyoke Brick Race happening on Saturday, June 7th!

Take on the coolest gravity based physics experiment around at the Great Holyoke Brick Race!  Similar to the Boy Scouts of America’s traditional Pinewood Derby, the event requires that participants create their own miniature car to race down a specific track.  However, unlike Pinewood Derby, the cars are not wooden – the main piece of material is a brick!

Sponsored by Paper City Studios and the Massachusetts Cultural Council, the race is open to participants of any age and from anywhere in the world (No need to be a Holyoke native!).  Entries can be created by individuals, or by teams of any size, allowing for lots of intergenerational collaboration and knowledge pooling.

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Fish Ladder & Lift Elevates Local Learning & Critical Thinking

All ages learn about wide variety of fish in their natural habitat and the environmental challenges facing river life

Community-based educational opportunities await children of all ages on the riverbank.

One of western Massachusetts’ (and western New England’s) most important and valuable natural resources is the Connecticut River. Over 400 miles long, the river runs from the Canadian border in Quebec to the Long Island Sound, and its waters and watershed provide habitat to thousands of species. However, our region’s history includes lots of water-powered manufacturing and hydroelectricity projects, all of which have permanently changed the Connecticut River.

Thanks to programs funded by the United States Fish and Wildlife Service, educational resources are available for learning about the river and understanding the complexities of our current relationship with it. This time of year, the most fascinating way to learn about the river is by visiting a fish ladder or fish elevator, where numerous species of fish can be observed right in their natural habitat! Most importantly, families can learn about anadromous fish – ones who are born in freshwater, spend most of their lives in the ocean, and return to freshwater to spawn in the springtime. The many dams on the Connecticut River have caused a decline in populations of such fish, as they block the path from the ocean to many species’ spawning grounds. However, projects such as the fishlift at the Robert E. Barrett Fishway in Holyoke and the Turners Falls Fish Ladder attempt help to move fish from one side of a dam to another – allowing them a slightly better chance of reaching their destination and successfully spawning.

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Storrowton Village Offers an Interactive Insight into the Wide Impact of the Civil War

A comprehensive experiential educational program for families to gain insight into major American historical event.

The American Civil War obviously had huge impact on the field of battle. At Storrowton Village, families are offered an interactive insight into the challenges people faced during the war beyond the battlefields.

Often generalized as the war that ended slavery, the Civil War was an incredibly challenging time for Americans – whether or not they were fighting on the front lines. In both the north and the south, communities experienced many wartime difficulties. Many supplies were scarce, community members were absent, and many lives were lost.

On Tuesday, May 20, 2014, Storrowton Village in West Springfield, MA, will offer an informative and experiential educational program for families. Storrowton and the Civil War is an interactive tour of the historic village, providing an inside look at what wartime life was like for villages in the north. While exploring the village, visitors will meet various community members – all of whom will share stories of how they’ve experienced the effects of war, despite remaining at home in Massachusetts.  more on the tour

Easter Events in Western MA, 2014

Easter Events in Western MA 2014

During Easter many towns host egg hunts for their residents. Check our list of Easter events for an egg hunt nearest you, along with Easter craft opportunities, brunch and Easter Bunny appearances.

Community events that celebrate Easter take place through April 20th. We’ll be adding to this list as events come in, so be sure to check back: Easter Events in Western MA 2014.

Textile Exhibit Celebrates Muslim Female Identity

Textile Exhibit Celebrates Muslim Female Identity
Westfield State University through April 5th, 2014

Westfield State University’s Arno Maris Gallery presents “Threads that Bind,” a Middle Eastern textile exhibit, which will be on display until April 5. A reception will be held on Thursday March 27 from 5:30-8 p.m. with exhibit curator Dr. Christina Swaidan, associate professor of art history at Westfield State. This exhibition inspires further discussion both about textile and fabric arts as well as Muslim culture and the representation and daily lives of Islamic women. See our discussion questions for ideas to spark conversation with your kids and/or students.

The Arno Maris Gallery at Westfield State University invites you and your family to its current exhibition, Threads that Bind. This display of Middle Eastern textiles highlights items of Muslim women’s clothing such as the abaya, an all-purpose robe-like dress that is worn both to Mosque and while entertaining family and friends at home, and the salwar kameez, which is comprised of a set of loose, pajama-like pants and a tunic top. Curator Dr. Christina Swaidan, an associate professor of art history at Westfield State, organized the exhibit with the intention of educating the college and local community about women in Islamic culture.

“When most people picture a Muslim woman, they imagine a shadow: a demure woman draped in all black,” says Swaidan. “She is viewed as devoid of personality or individuality.”

But the clothing and textiles in Threads that Bind are anything but demure or shadow-like: vibrant colors serve as the background for rich details like lace, embroidery, and other embellishments. And, according to Swaidan, the designs on the garments are often unique to the region in which they were produced, which could immediately signal the origin of a garment (or its wearer) to others familiar with the various patterns.

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Art + History + Technology = Steampunk Springfield!

Unique Subculture Links
Visual Art and Design with Industrial History
March 22 – September 28, 2014

In conjunction with several other local institutions, this spring the Springfield Museums will be hosting, “Steampunk Springfield: Reinventing an Industrial City.” This series of exhibits and events explores the cross-disciplinary subculture and literary genre known as “Steampunk.”

What is Steampunk? Steampunk is expressed primarily through fashion, two- and three-dimensional art, and fantasy writing, with an emphasis on science fiction, historical fiction, and horror stories a la Mary Shelley, Jules Verne, and H. G. Wells. Steampunk is a genre of alternate history, in which historical events, people, and places are reimagined, frequently in post-apocalyptic scenarios or the American “Wild” West, as well as in the Victorian era. Steampunk seeks to answer the question: “What would the world be like if the steam-powered mechanical technology of the Victorian era was incorporated into current technology and all other aspects of human life today?” The Springfield Museums’ response to this question, as presented by guest curator and well-known Steampunk artist, Bruce Rosenbaum, is a truly unique contribution to the genre.

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For the past few months, Rosenbaum – dubbed the “Evangelist of Steampunk” by Wired Magazine – has collaborated with members of the Springfield Museums’ curatorial staff to reinterpret the Victorian-era items in both the art museum and the history museum through the lens of Steampunk iconography and mythology.  Read the rest of this entry »

2014 Summer Camps and Programs in Western MA

Historical Lecture Series at Wistariahurst Museum: Made in the Happy Valley

Made in the Happy Valley
A Historical Lecture Series at Wistariahurst Museum
Holyoke, MA

Wistariahurst Museum presents a Historical Lecture Series: Made in the Happy Valley, Feb 24-May 19, 2014. This series of Monday evening lectures focuses on industrial and handcrafted material culture that historically took place in the Pioneer Valley, or that is currently taking place. All lectures are held Monday nights in the Carriage House at 6pm.

The Pioneer Valley is home to an abundance of artists, writers, craftsmen, artisans, and tradesmen of all types – a fact that has long been true about the area. Ever since the first European settlers made their home in the Valley hundreds of years ago, the presence of a wide variety of craftsmen and artisans within the community has helped to shape local culture. Creativity – and its expression – is significant in the Pioneer Valley today, and has been throughout its history.

This late winter and spring, families have an opportunity to learn about many things locally handmade (past and present!) thanks to the Wistariahurst Museum’s 2014 Spring Historical Lecture Series, Made in the Happy Valley. Held on Monday evenings at 6pm (beginning on February 24th) in the museum’s Carriage House, the lectures will offer useful information and local history surrounding everything from letterpress printing to the Holyoke merry-go-round, custom footwear to child labor in milltowns.

The first event in the series, titled Life of a Mill Hand, will focus on an Irish family living in Holyoke during the Civil War…  Read the rest of this entry »

The Children’s Garden Project Brings Garden-Based Learning into the Community

The Children’s Garden Project

Working on garden bedsA childhood filled with playing in the dirt is something that rural folks can almost take for granted. Small lessons about seeds, plant growth, weather, and seasonal changes almost teach themselves when kids are able to explore the earth – and the things that grow in it – for themselves. But what happens when the dirt to dig in is covered with pavement? How do we help children to learn these lessons when the materials aren’t quite so handy?

Thanks to The Children’s Garden Project , kids in the urban areas of Hampden and Hampshire counties have easier access to dig-able, plant-able, fascination-inducing earth! The organization – which begun their work just last year – has helped to bring gardens to locations in Holyoke and West Springfield. This year, the organization has partnered with Head Start to bring gardens to seven new locations in Holyoke, Springfield, and Chicopee.

While school gardens are becoming increasingly more and more prevalent, the founders of The Children’s Garden Project saw one major flaw with the model of using school gardens as a tool for teaching…  Read the rest of this entry »

Westfield State Celebrates Black History Month

Westfield State Celebrates Black History Month

Since 1974, Westfield State University (WSU) has held special events during the month of February dedicated to informing students, faculty, and staff as well as the community about the importance of black history, culture, and traditions. Continuing this tradition, WSU will celebrate Black History Month this year by hosting community events ranging from music performances to diversity dinners:

Tuesday, February 3rd, 4:30-6pm- There will be a film screening of The Loving Story. The film follows the story of an interracial couple who was charged with breaking Virginia’s anti-miscegenation laws in 1958. Following the screening, there will be a discussion led by Dr. Carlton Pickron, Vice President of Student Affairs. This event will be held in the Owl’s Nest in the Ely Building and is open to the campus community.

Click here to see move events happening throughout Black History Month at WSU…

Winter Celebrations Warm Up Western MA!

During this part of the year, the cold and dark make it difficult to truly enjoy the outdoors. For the past month, temperatures in the single digits have kept kids and adults alike on the couch instead of in the snow… and we’re all starting to get cabin fever! Luckily, mid-winter ’tis the season for winter festivals, and the coming weeks bring a deluge of indoor and outdoor community celebrations happening in all four counties of Western MA!  Find out about winter celebrations happening in Amherst, Easthampton, Greenfield, Holyoke and North Adams…

Rainforest Adventure in Western MA

Rainforest Adventure in Western MA
Springfield Museums: Jan 25-May 11, 2014

Rainforest Adventure is a multi-sensory exploration of one of our planet’s most precious resources. Through a variety of interactive experiences and hands on displays, visitors will learn about the amazing diversity of life in rainforests and the many challenges they face today. Using vests, flashlights, and binoculars provided, young visitors can explore a gorilla nest, climb a kapok tree, and identify endangered species they find along the way. Perhaps the most appealing aspect of Rainforest Adventure is that it is designed for both children and adults, allowing families to share in the enjoyment of learning together.

Craving an outdoor adventure that doesn’t involve icicles, snow banks, and layers of cold weather gear? If you can’t flee to a warmer corner of the globe anytime soon, enjoy an indoor version of such an adventure at the Springfield Museums! From January 25th through May 11th, 2014, the museums will be home to an exciting new exhibit – Rainforest Adventure.

True to its name, the exhibit brings real excitement to the museums and offers families a rainforest adventure without the travel. While exploring a gorilla nest or climbing a kapok tree, families will be able to learn about the amazing species diversity found in our planet’s rainforest and will work to identify endangered rainforest species. Backpacks, flashlights, and special adventure vests will be provided for intrepid explorers to use while adventuring on a multisensory expedition through the exhibit, and kids and adults alike will enjoy the experience and the useful information gained by visiting… Read the rest of this entry »

History Exhibition Recalls Holyoke’s Industrial Past

Echoes of Industry:
The Death and Rebirth of Holyoke’s Mills
Jan – Feb, 2014

With 25 mills near the end of the 19th century, Holyoke was the largest paper manufacturer. Today these mills are reminders of another age – victims of fire, demolition or a new purpose. What remains offers a silent dignity that demands to be recorded.

This January and February, Wistariahurst Museum in Holyoke remembers the city’s past through a display of artwork by Eric Broudy. “Echoes of Industry: The Death and Rebirth of Holyoke’s Mills” contains photographs Broudy took of the old, run-down mills – their exteriors and vast interiors, the “architectural details with rubble and shattered windows” – and a video installation featuring footage of Holyoke mills being given new life, through the development of creative spaces like art galleries, dance and yoga studios, offices, restaurants, even homes, in these once-mighty industrial structures…

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Holiday Events for Families in Western MA: 2013

Springfield Museums Showcase of Antique Toys, Just in Time for the Holidays

Peek Inside Santa’s Sack at the Springfield Museums
Tuesday, November 12, 2013 through Sunday, January 5, 2014

For a fun challenge at the exhibition, discuss with your children the production methods used for cast-iron toys, and see if you can spot the hammered steel pins connecting the left and right halves of the toys! This can serve as both a history lesson and a lesson in engineering and fabrication.

The Michele and Donald D’Amour Museum of Fine Arts at the Springfield Museums ushers in the holiday season with a showcase of vintage cast iron toys.  The exhibition, titled “A Peek Inside Santa’s Sack,” features rare cast iron collectibles such as fire trucks, horse-drawn carriages and emergency vehicles, airplanes, toy trains and miniature wood and coal stoves – predecessors to the classic HESS trucks of the past fifty years – and tells the story of the three most popular toy-makers of the period.

 Cast-iron toys were common between the 1870s and the 1940s because the molds in which they were made could be reused thousands of times, making the mass production of these metal toys an efficient and profitable endeavor…

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Annual Fiber Festival of New England Returns to Western MA

Fourth Annual Fiber Festival of New England
November 2nd & 3rd in Hampden County

The 4th annual Fiber Festival of New England is back in West Springfield, MA, and offering an incredible learning experience to guests interested in workshops, demonstrations and all things fiber. Workshops offered at the Fiber Festival includes needlefelting, hairpin lace crochet, and rug hooking. Other activirties include spinning and weaving demonstrations and a fiber fashion show.

Learn about all things fleece and fiber at The Fiber Festival of New England! Held on November 2nd and 3rd, 2013, at the Eastern States Exposition in West Springfield, MA, the festival includes workshops, demonstrations, fleece and fiber art vendors, and even a woolen fashion show filled with beautifully spun, felted, knitted, and crocheted clothing items of all kinds. Families can learn about the vast artistic potential that fiber offers as a medium, as well as the specifics of raising animals for fiber.

Both days of the festival will include workshops where older students and parents can learn new skills like needle felting, crocheting, rug hooking, and more. There are workshops for all abilities – some are designed for absolute beginners, while others are geared towards teaching skills to more experienced fiber artists. Felting, knitting, and other fiber-related crafts are all based on their own fairly simple skill set, the basics of which still allow for a fair amount of creativity and originality in the pieces created. Additionally, once you’ve learned the basics of a type of handwork, there are lots of resources available for self-teaching. Kids who learn the basics of needle felting, for example, may expand their own skills using books, videos, and other educational resources

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Hiking at Night at Bear Hole

Family Night Hike at Bear Hole
Saturday, November 2nd in West Springfield

Invite yourself to the opportunity of experiencing a side of the Bear Hole watershed that many do not experience… at night! Bear Hole is much different at night. Many creatures come to life at night and with winter around the corner and mating season for some animals in motion. Hear sounds that you’ll never hear during the day.

Many animals are well-equipped for night hunting and travel; some even prefer it to daytime prowling. Animals of different species have a variety of adaptations that make navigating field and forest simple in the dark – things like echolocation and slit-shaped pupils mean that the setting sun doesn’t dictate the end of an adventure. Humans, on the other hand, have an entirely different experience with darkness. Our eyes, with our rounded pupils, are not designed for excellent night vision, and our other senses are not as sharp as those of other creatures – facts that make explorations in the dark challenging, spooky, and quite different from the sensory experiences that we’re used to.

The West Springfield Environmental Committee is offering families a chance to explore the dark nighttime woods for themselves on a guided hike at Bear Hole! Taking place at 6:45pm on Saturday, November 2nd, the hike will take participants on a shadowy three mile trek through the trails of the city of West Springfield’s heavily wooded municipal watershed on 1700 acres with 20 miles of trails and footpaths. Guided by flashlights and headlamps, families will listen to the noises of night creatures, smell the scents of a sleepy wood, and see a familiar type of landscape in a new light (er, lack of light)…

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The Magic of Gingerbread: A Call for Gingerbread House Designs

The Magic of Gingerbread Competition

The Springfield Museums are pleased to announce The Magic of Gingerbread, this year’s annual gingerbread house exhibition and competition. They are inviting families and schools to submit design plans for imaginative gingerbread houses up until November 15, 2013. (Houses must be delivered by November 25.)

What does your fantasy fairy tale castle look like?  Are there turrets?  A moat?  Maybe a drawbridge?  Now, what if it was made not out of stone, but of gingerbread, icing & candy? – Gingerbread houses are a great way to engage in creative-free play with your family, and the Springfield Museums is inviting community members of all ages to be a part of their holiday exhibit, “Gingerbread Fairy Tales.” All entries will be displayed in the museum alongside fairy tale backdrops and holiday trees beginning in mid-November. 

The Springfield Museums are inviting bakeries, schools, individual bakers and young people to submit design plans to create gingerbread houses that will be on view at the Springfield Science Museum as part of the holiday exhibit, “The Magic of Gingerbread.” Entries (due by November 9th) can be created by school classes, businesses, youth groups, etc. – or your family can create one of their own! Participation in the gingerbread contest offers youth a fun and creative way to experiment with architecture and design, as well as kitchen skills & creative-free play! Families with kids of all ages can design an entry together – using careful planning to perfect designs for each wall, window, and courtyard – and can easily incorporate math, problem solving, food science, etc.  It’s also an excellent opportunity to discover and talk about the archetypes present in fairy tales…

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“Holyoke Remembers the Civil War” Exhibit at Wistariahurst Museum

Museum Volunteer’s Research Results in Commemorative Civil War Exhibition at Wistariahurst

Artifacts featured are from the Museum Archive Collection and include a period carte-de-visite portrait of George H. Smith, who later became a well known local physician and held municipal positions in the city of Holyoke. On display through Oct 31, 2013.

Wistariahurst Museum in Holyoke, MA, commemorates the one hundred fiftieth anniversary of the Civil War with a new display of artifacts from the Museum’s Archive Collection, entitled “Holyoke Remembers the Civil War.”

One hundred and fifty years ago, Holyoke residents left their homes and families in Massachusetts to join in the fight for the Union. Visitors can look at these brave civilians’ belongings on display now at Wistariahurst – a carte-de-viste portrait of George H. Smith, a well-known figure in Holyoke’s history, as well as a Bible dating back to the 1860s that Smith carried during his war experience that contains a personal note, in addition to uniforms, newspapers and other documents dating from the period, and veterans’ medals – and immerse themselves in the rich history of the time period.  This exhibition is the result of research compiled by James Ubertalli, an archive volunteer at Wistariahurst with a particular passion for Civil War history.

Students of American history – and people of all ages hoping to learn more about Holyoke and Pioneer Valley history – will find this an enriching experience. Saturdays-Mondays, noon-4pm, through October 31, 2013. Holyoke, MA.

In addition to this exhibition, Wistariahurst offers house tours, and their calendar is full of other local history lectures and events happening this fall. For more information: www.wistariahurst.org. 413-322-5660. 238 Cabot St. Holyoke, MA.

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