20 Indoor Places to Host a Winter Birthday Party in Western MA

Party Space for Winter Birthdays in Western MA

If your child has a birthday in the winter months, the options of where to celebrate become more limited.  We asked our readers to recommend indoor places in Western MA to celebrate winter birthdays. From cinema houses to places to move their bodies, here is what they had to share:

  • Jennifer Unkles recommendsThe Hitchcock Center (Amherst) does nature birthday parties any season.
  • Lei Fay recommendsRoots Gymnastics in Westfield, MA. Also Flywheel in Easthampton rents their room out to private parties, great prices.
  • Jennifer York recommends:  We had a great time when Teaching Creatures came to our house! Also, Hampshire Gymnastics has great birthday parties.
  • Rebecca Addison recommends: The Red Roof Inn in South Deerfield does birthday parties- pool parties.
  • Gina recommends: Central Rock Gym on Route  in Hadley, ages 4+, 20$ pp, LOTS of fun! We had my sons 16th birthday party there and we were very happy! They have a party room after climbing, and can order pizza.
  • Lesley Lambert recommends: New England Dance Centers in Westfield does great birthday parties, too. There are options like: Princess Ballet, High School Musical…
  • Denise Banister recommends: The Valley Swim School has taken over the pool at Clarke School, 52 Round Hill Road, Northampton. Special event rental of the pool is available.
  • Sarah Porter West recommends: We have had great luck with the Northampton Bowl.
  • Roberta Fortini-Curran recommends: Images Cinema in Williamstown: you bring your own movie, drinks and popcorn.
  • Candy Bird Laflam recommends: Big Adventures in Westfield. Awesome place!
  • Faith Ann recommends: Greenfield YMCA gymnastics center or gym. Shelburne Falls Bowling Alley.
  • Lauren Abend recommends: Magic Wings Butterfly Conservatory & Gardens in Deerfield, or bowling.
  • Kate Bailey recommends: Kind of a haul, but Kidsplayce in Brattleboro, VT, is AWESOME!
  • Jessica Morris recommends: Nonotuck Community School in Florence rents space for a reasonable fee and has a wonderful large room with toys, slides, trikes, chalkboard, and a stage.
  • Kara Kitchen recommends: Bouncy Place at the Berkshire Mall in Lanesborough, MA; Dalton CRA-gym games+swimming; Greenfield Cinemas rents out their theaters for movie viewing and xbox playing on big screen.
  • Sienna Wildfield recommends: One of the many indoor ice skating rinks in the region.

Have a recommendation? Post a comment and share your favorite place to host an indoor birthday party in the winter months here in Western MA!

Bedtime Routine: Let’s Talk Bedtime

What Time Does Your Child Go to Bed?

Let’s talk bedtime… What time does your child go to bed, and what is their age? Many parents struggling with bedtime routines with their young children wonder how other parents manage and what time they turn off the lights. Pulled from our archives, here’s what our readers had to share…

  • Myanna Carbin-O’Brien writes: “One son is 20 months…6:45-7:15ish depending on nap. My other son is 4, no nap and 7:30.”
  • Kara Kitchen‎ writes: “8 (almost 9) y.o. Twins in bed at 9 lights out at 9:30 sleep till 7 am-weekends they can stay up till midnight and sleep in till 10 when nothing to do!”
  • Sara Barry writes: “4.5 months and 2 years—Bed time is between 7 and 7:30, though this time of year we’re having trouble getting inside early enough to get to bed on time.”
  • Joan Griswold writes: “My daughter is 9, going to be 10 in September. We get her into to bed to read at 8:30 and lights out at 9PM. Weekends are a little later. I like seeing what others do!”
  • Michelle Huddy‎ writes: “1.5, 5 and 6. Between 7:00-8:00. The 5 year old is up at 6:00 every morning!”
  • See what other parents had to say…

8 Family-Friendly Farms for Pumpkin Pickin’ in Western MA


Where’s a good place to pick pumpkins with the kids in Western MA?

  • Patricia McCarthy Krutiak recommends, “Whitney’s Farm Stand. Route 8. Cheshire, MA.” (Berkshire Co.)
  • Heather Dunham Katsoulis recommends, “Westview Farms Creamery in Monson (Hampden Co.); Austin Brothers Valley Farm in Belchertown (Hampshire Co.); and Fletcher Farm in Southampton (Hampshire Co.).
  • Jessica J Logsdon recommends, “Whitney’s Farm in Cheshire.” (Berkshire Co.)
  • Nancyjo Craig Rongner recommends, “We always go to McCray’s Farm in South Hadley. You can visit the animals, grab ice cream or lunch, and head out to their pumpkin patches via wagon ride. Mt. Tom provides a really pretty fall backdrop as the leaves change.” (Hampshire Co.)
  • Rebecca Sutton Heath recommends,” Ioka Valley Farm in Hancock… hay rides pumpkins, animals and games… oh, and corn maze- so much fun!” (Berkshire Co.)
  • Kate Erickson recommends, “Fletcher Farm in Southampton off Route 10. Free hay rides and a kid play area.” (Hampshire Co.)
  • Amanda Florek recommends, “We are heading to McCray’s Farm this weekend!” (Hampshire Co.)
  • Heather Richardson recommends, “Randall’s Farm and Greenhouse in Ludlow.” (Hampden Co.)
  • Rebecca Trow Addison writes, “I haven’t found any places in the Greenfield/Amherst/Northampton areas.”
  • Anna White recommends, “Howden Farm in Sheffield, MA.” (Berkshire Co.)
  • Jo Buswell Sauriol recommends: “Westview Farms Creamery.”

Read the rest of this entry »

11 Recommended Art Studios/Classes in Western MA


Hilltown Families and The Art Garden will be collaborating this winter, offering free family workshops in Shelburne Falls that weave art and community service together. Make sure you’re subscribed to our eNewsletter to get a heads-up on when those will be happening!

Stephanie Gale asks: “Where are there local craft programs for children 5-12 years old? My daughter is interested in learning more art forms, and many programs seem to be for older teens.”

  • Amy Wilson Cahillane writes: “Check out Art Always in Florence.”
  • Jane Stephenson writes: “Meadowedge Art in Bernardston or Art for Two in Greenfield.”
  • Oriana Martinez writes: “Sugar Hill Camp in Haydenville is amazing!”
  • Melody S. Edwards writes: “Hill Institute in Florence has some kids classes too.”
  • Madeleine DelVicario writes: “I was going to mention Art Always too.”
  • Meaghan Ellis recommends: Thousand Crane Studio in Feeding Hills.
  • Amy Broberg Freeman recommends: IS183 in Stockbridge.
  • Madeleine DelVicario writes: “Also consider really wonderful teacher/crafter Emily Neuburger of Red Bird Crafts. No classes this fall but she will start up again in the winter or spring. She is in Amherst.”
  • Sienna Wildfield writes: “Check out The Art Garden in Shelburne Falls, CyclePottery in Hatfield and the art studio at The Eric Carle Museum of Picture Book Art in Amherst.”

Have more to recommend?  Post a comment below!

Q&A: Healthy & Vegetarian, Kid-Friendly Restaurants in the Pioneer Valley


In addition to this great list of reader recommended restaurants with kid-friendly vegetarian meal options, check our archived post, 18 Kid-Friendly Restaurants in Western MA! (Photo credit: Sienna Wildfield)

Tara Winters of Williamsburg asks: “What are your favorite Pioneer Valley restaurants that offer affordable, healthy, vegetarian, kid-friendly meal options?”

Tara Brock Winters responds: “Awesome suggestions, and thank you for reminding me of a few we have not visited in a while. We are so lucky to have such great options in the Valley!”

Q&A: How Does Your Family Handle Screen Time Limits in the Summer?


Anyone else struggling with over consumption of screen time this summer? How do you handle screen time? How do you set limits?

  • Barbara Nichols Zaccheo writes: “Poker chips worth 20 minutes. Total of 3 hours/week. He spends them as he wishes- it’s reduced arguing and he’s better at managing his time along with chores and camp prep.”
  • Karen Schneyer writes: “We don’t have cable.”
  • Mike Avery writes: “Depends on what is being watched. If there is enough exercise then summer screen time can be part of their vacation.  I think educational channels should be more tolerated than mind candy shows. Two and a half hours of mind candy is plenty.”
  • Nanci Streit-Rohmer writes: “Simply get rid of the TV…we did three years ago and my children’s reading levels soared, our family communication increased… most importantly we are no longer exposing our children to false notions of life (aka Disney, Nickelodeon, etc)… and most of the messages of the shows that kids are exposed to nowadays are wrong… I don’t want my ten year old fawning over Justin Beiber…. I want her reading American Girls, building forts, finding praying mantis in the yard, learning how to grow her own food…”
  • Meg Gescheider writes: “We have been dealing with this issue in the past few days so we looked it up and( for what it is worth) according to the American Academy of Pediatrics kids should have no more than 2 hours of screen time per day-may been a helpful guide for some.”
  • Stefanie Ansanitis writes: “30 minutes of reading equals 30 minutes of video games this summer. My 7 year old can get carried away with Mindcraft so I’m there to bring him back to reality.”
  • Steve Damon writes: “We don’t have a T.V.”
  • Adrianne Kunz writes: “My 2 year old hasn’t watched T.V. in 4 months. He goes outside.”
  • Linda Taylor writes: “Good luck. Always a challenge unless you live off the grid in Wyoming. Might need to have limited electricity times.”
  • Pauline Delton writes: “Mine is old enough to have a little sense of time. Since we were sometimes finding it hard to get out of the house for things, but his favorite screen time was upon waking, we settled on an end time (8am, 10am, etc, whatever works for your family), and unless we have something else planned earlier he is almost guaranteed screen availability up to that time. I promised I would try not to schedule things any earlier than 1 hour before the regular end time. Then, depending on our day, there may or may not be more. And sometimes he doesn’t go *right* to a screen when he wakes up. I’d rather not limit because he learns a ton from what he does, but when I noticed it interferes with other things, affects his mood and risks meaning little-to-no physical activity. I have felt fine coming up with this agreement.”

[Photo credit: (ccl) Jeremy Hiebert]

Tidal Pool Day Trips from Western MA

Day Trip: Tidal Pool & Maritime Centers

Wingaersheek Beach in Gloucester, MA … home to tidal pools and Maritime Gloucester.

Recently one of our readers, Shoshana King, was planning a day-trip to the ocean and wanted to visit a tidal pool with her family.  We asked our readers on Facebook if they could recommend a coastal area/park with great tide pools along the New England coastline.  We received several suggestions…

Harold Murphy recommended Paine’s Creek Beach on Cape Cod in Brewster, MA, and their nearby extensive tidal sand flats. Robert P. Ross recommended both York and Ogunquit beach in Southern Maine as a closer option than Cape Cod, and Amy Meltzer suggested Crane Beach in Ipswich, MA. All terrific suggestions, but Shoshanna ending up going with Dana Fenner Olivo’s recommendation, Wingaersheek Beach, located in the western end of Gloucester, MA…

Read the rest of this entry »

Expressing Appreciation to Teachers & Administrators as the School Year Draws to an End

End of the School Year Gratitude & Appreciation

Do you have suggestions on gifts to give teachers and administrators to thank them for the past school year? Add your ideas to our reader recommend list!

End of the school year is fast approaching and many families are looking for creative ways to express their gratitude of the teachers and administrators that educate and support their children throughout the school year!

Gift ideas can range from making something from scratch in your kitchen, to pairing up store bought sweets for a fun association that expresses your appreciation, to a summer themed gift basket for enjoying their time off, or a clever presentation of a gift card.

As always, Hilltown Families’ readers are a great resource for ideas! Take a look at their recommendations shared in our post, End of the Year Teacher Appreciation Gifts, get inspired, and share your own ideas too!

Recommended Fiction Titles with Autistic Characters


One of our readers is looking for a book recommendation written from the perspective of a child with Asperger’s syndrome or autism for their preteen reader. Any suggestions?

Dan McManmon from CIP in Lee, MA recommends AANE as a good resource in New England. They have a “fiction for children” section on their web site with a few options. Another resource is Free Spirit Publishing, recommended by Shoshona King for their survival guide type books.

Q&A: Email for Kids


“Email programs that are designed specifically for kids offer safety, security, and privacy features that regular grown-up email programs don’t,” writes Common Sense Media. “Unlike Gmail, Yahoo, or even Facebook, email programs for kids can’t sell ads based on the topics in your messages or suggest people for you to add to your contact list.” 

One of our readers is looking to set up an email account for their tween.  — “Are there any recommendations from other parents on how to set up a monitored email account for a grade school child (10yo), in particular has anyone ever used KidsEmail.org? Gmail requires kids to be 13yo+ and I’m resistant to having my child use Gmail until then, otherwise I might be modeling that it’s okay to lie about your age on the internet. Love to hear if parents have used other services that are specifically for kids. Thanks!”

  • Susan Countryman writes, “I’ve used kidsemail.org and been happy with it. It has a huge array of controls–including a set list for who can email your child (and vice versa), whether attachments or photos can be received, and the option to have in and outgoing mail be copied to your own account.”
  • Amber Ladley writes, “Thanks for this timely post. We just started the email discussion…also for a 10yo…will definitely check out kidsemail.org.”
  • Karina BlackHeart writes, “Norton has a great system for monitoring internet use for kids. You get to set up which email account they can use, what kinds of sites they can visit, etc. If Norton won’t let them on a site they want to visit, the child has to come and get your permission.”
  • Melissa Mason Hyde writes, “Just set up a regular email like Hotmail but only the parents know the password. What’s the big deal.”
  • William Buescher writes, “I have three teens. None of them email. Ever. They text 100% (well, they also post comments on Facebook – which is pretty easy to monitor.)”

[Photo credit: (ccl) Ruben Vermeersch]

Q&A: Let’s Talk Bedtime


Let’s talk bedtime… What time does your child go to bed, and what is their age? Pulled from our archives, here’s what our readers had to share…

  • Nancyjo Craig Rongner writes: “‎22.5 months. Somewhere between 7 and 8.”
  • Amanda Saklad‎ writes: “5, 9, 11 – all go to bed at 8pm (the 5 and 11yo share a room and it is tough to have the younger one go to bed earlier).”
  • Angela Golembeski‎ writes: “7pm. Ages 3, 8 & 10. We are early risers but they still get their 12 hours in.”
  • Drew Campbell writes: “Almost 10yo is in bed at 8:30, lights-out at 9:00.”
  • Meggin Thwing Eastman writes: “‎7-8pm, depending on whether he had a nap; 3.5yo.”
  • Heather Richardson writes: “My boys are 2 and 4 and they go to bed between 7 and 8.”
  • Kate Thompson Bader writes: “My son is 10 months and he goes to bed between 6:30 and 7:00. I wish he would stay up a little later!”
  • Myanna Carbin-O’Brien writes: “One son is 20 months…6:45-7:15ish depending on nap. My other son is 4, no nap and 7:30.”
  • Kara Kitchen‎ writes: “8 (almost 9) y.o. Twins in bed at 9 lights out at 9:30 sleep till 7 am-weekends they can stay up till midnight and sleep in till 10 when nothing to do!”
  • Sara Barry writes: “4.5 months and 2 years—Bed time is between 7 and 7:30, though this time of year we’re having trouble getting inside early enough to get to bed on time.”
  • Joan Griswold writes: “My daughter is 9, going to be 10 in September. We get her into to bed to read at 8:30 and lights out at 9PM. Weekends are a little later. I like seeing what others do!”
  • Michelle Huddy‎ writes: “1.5, 5 and 6. Between 7:00-8:00. The 5 year old is up at 6:00 every morning!”
  • Melanie Klein Courtemanche writes: “Would be great if you could change the question to include what time is your child up in the morning too.”
  • Kathleen Roden Spires writes: “5 y/o boy…bed and lights out (if no t-ball game) @7:15/20…he’s up in the AM (sleeps like a rock thru the night) 6:15/30 self waking up. He is in full day Kindergarten…”
  • Diane Hinze Kanzler writes: “‎4.5-year-old girl, in bed by 8 p.m. (7-7:30 in winter), self-wakes between 6 and 7 a.m. Awesome sleeper.”
  • Carrie St John writes: “‎5.5 years. Bath at 7pm, stories at 7:30, sleeping with seconds. Generally awake between 6-7am. A later bedtime means grumpies and she still wakes at the same time no matter the bedtime. She has had an internal alarm since birth.”
  • Vanessa Van Stee‎ writes: “15 month old – in bed at 7pm.”

[Photo credit: (ccl) Patrick]

Q&A: 12 Suggestions for Including Babies During Family Dinner


When your kids were babies, how did you include them at the dinner table?

Jennifer Shiao Page writes, “Well, when she was a wee one, we always ate when she was asleep. Once she could sit up, we put her in the high chair and she sat at the table with us. We always gave her appropriately-sized bits of whatever we were eating, for her to eat on her own (or not). We did child-led weaning, which is basically forgoing baby food and pureed food, and letting her experience the texture and taste of our food. It helped to not have to spoon-feed her.”

Carrie St John writes, “My daughter has always preferred being at eye level-sling or soft back pack instead of a stroller. Also true at the dinner table, so from about 1 month to 4 months she would be in the middle of the table (big table). Right in the action. Once she started rolling, she sat on my lap. Once she could sit, close to 6 months, she was in one of those baby seats that goes right up to the table, not a traditional high chair which tends to be back from the table. She was always right there being a part of the conversation.”

Rebecca Dejnak Svan writes, “High chair. Loved it.  It’s at table height and we started eating together as soon as they could be in it.”

Rebecca Trow Addison writes, “At 7 months our daughter had her 1st Thanksgiving and she ate everything we ate. Just cut it up small.”

Judie Isabella writes, “When mine were too little for high chairs, I’d put them right up on the table in their baby seat. When they could sit in high chairs, I would pull it right up to the table… Always… We still do have the best family dinners.”

Kerri Recore Vassar writes, “While infants they seemed to know when we were eating, so typically they nursed while I ate. As they grew, some times they were in a high chair or on my lap.”

Eileen Collins writes, “I rescued a Victorian bent wood high chair, bought a 4 point harness to secure my daughter and kept the table portion of the high chair always flipped back. This way I could push her high chair up to our table. She was at eye level and enjoyed having her meals with us.”

Janet McLaurin writes, “We have hooks in a beam right at the head of the table and we hung a baby airplane swing there-so I guess the boys started at the table but then if they got bored or fussy they ended up gently swinging often ending up asleep -family dinner time is important-good time to gather together.”

Olivia Leone writes, “Our children were always at the dinner table with us, in their high chair (tray off an pulled up to the table), in a booster seat and now in chairs. No matter how busy our lives get, we make sure to sit together at the dinner table even if it means on dance nights we don’t eat until 7, or when track starts, we picnic.”

Barb Raymond writes, “With love and patience.”

Julie Rodrigues Tanguay writes, “In a ring-sling, on our laps, in a swing next to us, on our laps, in the carriage, on our laps, in the highchair reclined, on our laps, in the highchair, ON our laps, in a booster, ON OUR LAPS, in a chair. Our dining room table is in the center our house, and that is a time and place we go to “talk out” any of the days events & plans for the days to come.”

Susan Lillie Robert writes, “When our girls were little we always included them at the table to teach them about proper manners and family time, we would also take them out to eat to show them how one acts out if public. We were always commented on how well behaved they were.”

[Photo credit: (ccl) Daniel James]

20 Recommendations for Keeping the Family Entertained in Subzero Weather


Rachael Laurie writes: “Board games: Battleship, Candy Land, Chutes and Ladders, Hullabaloo, Twister. Lots of games.”

How does your family stay entertained when you’re snowed in (and the temps dip below 0°)?

  • Amy Meltzer writes: “Blokus, Backgammon, Spot It, Clue, puzzles…baking cookies…and what my girls call “book conferences” when we all get in bed and read together.”
  • Andrew Woodland writes: “Play banjo!”
  • Gillian Kyle Budine writes: “Cozy up and read!”
  • Aviva Lester Sieber writes: “We do arts and crafts, and read.”
  • Robin Shtulman writes: “Board games!”
  • Leah Pilet-Stinson writes: “Making forts, baking, arts and crafts, set up our tent for indoor camping!”
  • Prudence Wholey writes: “Games, reading, Scrabble.”
  • Samantha Wood writes: “Reading near each other, watching movies, playing piano and making soups.”
  • Mercedes Echevarria writes: “Baking cookies, reading, playing games.”
  • Amy Jean Smith writes: “Baking, reading, coloring, playing music and lots of indoor activities that get you moving. My toddler’s favorite is a CD of music with different music for walking, marching, running (in place), skipping and formal walking. And watching the creatures outdoors.”
  • Michele Lussier writes: “Books, movies, baking, cuddling/napping…”
  • Mike & Mimi Blissed Ross writes: “Creating, music, art, reading, homeschooling, cooking things that require the oven! Dancing! Exercising! Latin music hot hot hot!”
  • Jeremia Pollard writes: “We go outside.”
  • Dorothy Elaine Lavachia Stant writes: “Go Crazy.”
  • Amy Kane-Coyne writes: Playing Banannagrams. Art projects. Baking brownies.
  • Michael Muller writes: Games. Reading. Audio books.
  • Kate Bailey writes: V.I.D.E.O.
  • Aime DeGrenier writes: Coloring, visiting with our awesome neighborhood kids, puzzle.
  • Joshua Farber writes: Kitchen table science experiments involving snow – predictions and proposed variations can be drawn by the under-literate crowd. My 8 year old wrote her first lab report this past Friday!

[Photo credit: (ccl) Renielet]

Q&A: 20 Reader Recommendations for a Rustic Winter Getaway in Western MA


Amy Meltzer writes: “We’re looking to take our girls for a night’s stay in a cabin or small and inexpensive B&B in the woods sometime over winter vacation (We live in Northampton, MA center and they never see the winter night sky in all its glory….) any suggestions?”

[Photo credit: (ccl) Neal Fowler]

9 Resources for Surviving & Thriving the Winter in Western Massachusetts

Survive & Thrive the Winter in Western MA!

Follow the links for recommendations and words of wisdom from our readers for families on surviving and thriving in Western MA in the winter! (Photo credit: Sienna Wildfield)

Now that we finally have some snow, winter play can begin!  Wondering where to get outside for a little winter fun? Or where to go inside for a winter birthday party or ice skating? There’s no better source of information on how to survive and thrive during winter in Western MA than Hilltown Families’ readers!

Over the years Western MA families have shared their favorite places to go sledding and where to get a cup of hot chocolate after (or coffee for the parents!).  They’ve discussed how to get kids to dress for the cold, and where to take the family for a horse drawn sleigh ride (or an indoor winter birthday party).  Find out what local treasures and words of wisdom our readers have offered in these nine posts from our archives, and add your 2-cents too!

  1. Where’s a Good Sledding Hill for PreK Kids in Western MA?
  2. Horse-Drawn Sleigh & Hayrides in Western MA
  3. Where to Enjoy Hot Chocolate in Western MA
  4. The Struggle of Winter Wear
  5. What’s Your Family’s Favorite Indoor and Outdoor Snowy Day Activities
  6. Winter Resources & Activities for Families with Special Needs in Western MA
  7. Recommendations for Indoor Places to Host a Winter Birthday Party
  8. Ice Skating in Western Massachusetts
  9. Best Cup of Joe in Western MA?

Q&A: Nut-Free Bakeries in Western MA


Are your kids allergic to nuts? Maybe you can help Julie Rodrigues Tanguay out with a recommendation for a nut-free bakery. Julie writes, “I’m looking for recommendations for nut-free bakeries, or responsible practices to prevent cross-contamination. Birthday cakes are a must in our family, but I just don’t have time for baking, nor am I any good at it! Any suggestions will be appreciated. Will travel for cake: Hampden, Hampshire, Franklin or Berkshire counties. Good buttercream would really be “the icing on the cake.”

  • Sarah Kinsman recommends:2nd Street Baking Co. in Turners Falls is really wonderful about catering to their customers’ needs. I know they recently made an egg free cake for a child with an egg allergy. Their number is 413-863-4455.”
  • Amy E. Mager recommends: “Maybe contact the Queen Bee Cupcakery about to open in Thornes Marketplace (Northampton)?”
  • Catherine Chadwick recommends:Simona’s Gluten-free Baked Goods (Haydenville) can make nut free, corn free, gluten free cakes and cupcakes. Just tell her your concerns… Very nice and honest.”
  • Katie Green recommends: “Head over to Cafe Evolution in Florence… Molly is so fantastic at making allergy free treats that are sure to please!”
  • Dawn Hansen Kempf recommends:Sweet Jane’s in Greenfield…she makes nut-free cakes…chocolate cake is to die for, and the buttercream is the best in town… Sweet Jane’s can make gluten free as well! Cookies, cakes, cupcakes…”
  • Valerie Gintis recommends:Woodstar Cafe (Northampton) is a great place to start!”

Share your recommendations too!

Q&A: Horse-Drawn Sleigh & Hayrides in Western MA


One of our readers is looking for places to take kids on horse-drawn sleigh or hayrides in Western MA for their child’s winter birthday party. Any recommendations?

  • Lauren Koblara Kostantin writes, “Blue Star Equiculture! It’s in Palmer, MA on a beautiful farm.”
  • Tara Brock Winters writes, “Kip Porter on Kinnebrook Rd in Worthington (O’Shea & Porter Draft Horses) has draft horses & does horse drawn rides; they are beautiful!”
  • Christy Bielunis writes, “Call Al at Tetrault’s Horse Farm.  He will come to you if you have the space, or you can go to his farm in Hatfield. 413-247-5983.”
  • Robert P. Ross writes, “Florence Village Luminary (Dec. 22, 2012) offers free hay rides in downtown Florence, MA.”
  • Melissa Moody Belmonte writes, “Wendell State Forest has a little skating rink, awesome sledding, and a little shed for making hot chocolate. I had so much fun at a birthday party when we went to there!”
  • Hilda Bailey recommends, Historic Deerfield in Deerfield, MA. Weekends from Dec 1-18, 2012.
  • Sienna Wildfield writes, “Draft Works in Chesterfield offers private horse drawn hayrides at Look Park in Florence during the holidays, Sweet Brook Farm in Williamstown offers both horse drawn hayrides & sleigh rides (when there’s snow), and Old Sturbridge Village hosts horse-drawn sleigh or wagon rides on weekends and during school vacation weeks in December and February.”

[Photo credit: (ccl) Jim Sorbie]

Q&A: 18 Recommended Winter Resources & Activities for Families with Special Needs in Western MA


Jean Engle of North Adams writes, “Once the colder weather sets in, where are the best places to visit and socialize for parents and children with special needs? Are there any specialized activities?”

Holyoke High School’s Adaptive Physical Education Program is an inspiration!  Here’s a video of the program they held at Fitzpatrick Ice Arena to inspire other schools and communities to model a similar program in their area:

  • Kara Kitchen writes, “There are several free programs for special needs children (ages 6 months+) throughout the year at the Dalton Community Recreation Association.  Late fall and winter is the start of the Splash program-swimming and other fun/learning activities… there’s a family swim from 11am-noon on Monday (small fee for non-members but so worth it-warmest pool in the Berkshires).”
  • Lisa Levheim writes, “It’s a little far from North Adams, but Whole Children in Hadley is amazing! They have after school programs and daytime programs for homeschoolers and younger kids.”
  • Swansea Benham Bleicher writes, “Most family centers will welcome children with special needs. Contact the Coordinators ahead of time if you are concerned: Northampton Parents Center, Easthampton Family Center, Belchertown Family Center, Amherst Family Center, Cummington Family Center, Gateway Family Center, South Hadley Family Center, Ware Family Center…”
  • Matt Sawyer writes,Ski Butternut offers skiing and snowboarding adaptive programs for people with special needs.”
  • Laura Lucchesi writes, “Special needs or not, the Holyoke Children’s Museum was a favorite when my kids where young… Don’t forget children’s bowling… great activity and cheap.  If you call ahead they put bumpers in the lanes so kids won’t get gutter balls!”
  • Karen Foster writes, “The DCR Universal Access Program partners with All Out Adventures during the winter to offer free outdoor recreation (snowshoeing, cross country skiing, ice and sled skating) in state parks to people of all ages with disabilities.”
  • Jean Engel responds, “I’m going to share one that we like and make a comment for more ideas: The New York State Museum in Albany has an indoor Merry Go Round on the top floor…with glass windows all around and benches for parents and grandparents. The splash-park at Look Park (Florence) is our all time favorite. I wish someone would build an indoor one that could be running year round.
  • Sienna Wildfield writes, ” Jean, while not in Western MA, there are a couple of indoor water parks within driving distance (CT & MA).  Closer to home in south Berkshire County, the Spectrum Playhouse in Lee has indoor performances for families.  If you’re not familiar with Spectrum Playhouse, they have a multi-purpose performance space where they host concerts and performing artists, as well as theatre productions, visual art and lectures.  Their mission is to encourage and develop artistic talents of young adults on the Autism Spectrum and with learning differences. To find out about upcoming events there check Berkshire Family Fun, Hilltown Families bi-weekly column, for events announcements, or visit their web site at bvpac.org/spectrum-playhouse.”

Q&A: 15 Recommended Activities Grandparents Can Do With Their Grandkids in Western MA


Arts and crafts are an excellent activity for grandparent to do with their grandkids!  The Art Garden in Shelburne Falls, a non-profit organization offering a creative community environment for art-making, has open studio hours from 1-5pm every day except Sundays. Grandparents can get creative with their grandkids and other families, making keepsakes together! [Photo credit: Sienna Wildfield]

Patricia Valenti writes, “What are some good activities in the area for grandparents to do with their grandkids, or are there any local grandparents groups? I watch my daughter’s son a couple of times a week and want to get out with him more!”

  • Carrie Gabinelle Duda recommends, “Tons of playgroups around. I’ve seen plenty of grandparents there.”
  • Zoe Wright Johnson recommends, “The Northampton Parents Center seems particularly grandparent friendly!”
  • Abbe Laine Schiowitz recommends, “The Amherst Family Center is grandparent friendly as well.”
  • Community Network for Children recommends, “We have playgroups and story hours that grandparents attend as well.”
  • Amy Vlastos Benoit recommends, “The Belchertown Family Center too!”
  • Kara Kitchen recommends, “The Dalton CRA sees many kids with their grandparents at Kindergym (includes play, craft, snack+swim time!) on Mon. & Wed. mornings, swim lessons (grand/parent/toddler class is free!), at their many sports leagues games, as well as their many free community events (like concerts, movies, holiday events).”
  • Berkshire Athenaeum recommends, “Have you considered a visit to one of our many local museums? We have museum passes for free/reduced general admission.”
  • Sandy Courtney recommends, “The Palmer/Monson Family Network runs a Drop-In Playgroup Tues-Fri mornings. Check out the Friends of the Palmer/Monson Family Network Facebook page for updates! – Most libraries have story hours for children as well – Monson Free Library has Weds mornings @ 10:30 and Baby Story Time on Friday mornings @ 10:30.”
  • Jean Engel recommends, “The childrens department at the Lee Library is always safe and welcoming. There are many weekly activities there.”
  • Linda Bennett-Mason recommends, “Yes the library in Westfield is good too.”
  • Mandy Gerryrecommends, “Come to the Northampton Parents Center, in downtown Northampton, lower level of Edwards Church. Open 9:30-11:30 M-Th, drop in playgroup for birth to 5 and their caregivers.”
  • Sharon Hawkes recommends, “The librarian from Lenox is thrilled to see all these nice comments about libraries (And yes, the Lenox Library also have storytimes and special events about once a month that are great for bonding with grandkids)!”
  • Carrie St John recommends, “Monday story time at Forbes Library (Northampton). There is also a play area and craft/puzzle area.
  • Donna Todd Rivers recommends, “If they are interested in starting their handcrafted holiday gifts…a mug for Dad with their handprints on it, a beaded necklace for Mom that they made themselves…at Bisque, Beads & Beyond (Pittsfield)!

For a list of playgroups and story hours that happen each week, be sure to check our List of Weekly Suggested Events for a comprehensive list!

List of Weekly Suggested Events

Q&A: 8 Ways to Make Math Fun at Home


In the driveway or on the sidewalk, play Hopscotch Math! Using a grid to play, kids can practice and reinforce number sequencing, odd/even numbers, addition, subtraction and times tables – while having fun!

Deborah Doulette of Whately, MA writes, “How do you bring (fun!) math into your household and engage your kids in real math problems? For example, we play a type of math word game at the dinner table. Would love other suggestions!”

  • Amber Ladley suggests, “We like to cook/bake together. Recipes are great for reading, following directions, learning units of measure, & basic math, including fractions!”
  • Katie O’Hara Edwards suggests, “Check out ‘Bedtime Math Problem‘ on Facebook. They provide fun math problems every night for little kids and big kids.”
  • Katryna Nields suggests, “Yahtzee.”
  • Kara Kitchen suggests, “Darts (multiply, add+subtract).”
  • Carrie St John suggests, “I have a first grader. We use a couple ideas from a book called, Old Dogs, New Math: Homework Help for Puzzled Parents.  I put up a number problem in magnetic numbers on the fridge and leave it to be solved. I save up the pocket change from the week. Once a week I put it out for sorting and counting. We added in the bonus of depositing it into her school savings bank account.”
  • Rebecca Trow Addison suggests, “We do an adding game in the car. We count horses, and my 1st grader remembers how many horses she saw on the morning ride to school (with my husband) and adds that number to the number of horses she sees on the ride home from school (with me). Memory and math.”
  • Jo Buswell Sauriol suggests, “Older children can help you use coupons and line up sale items with coupons. Especially motivating when it is something they want and you won’t buy full price. Also motivating for them to help if you give them a cut of the savings as a bonus!”

[Photo credit: (cc) D. Sharon Pruitt]

Q&A: 5 Ways to Enjoy Shorter Days with Less Light


With shorter days descending upon us, how do you get your kids to enjoy the outdoors even with less light? We want to hear from you! Share your ideas here.

Now that the days are getting shorter, do you have any ideas or suggestion on how to get the kids to enjoy  outdoors even with less light?

Community recommendations from our readers include:

  1. Head Lamps
  2. Glow Sticks
  3. Explore the Night Sky
  4. Listen for Night Sounds
  5. Games

  • Audrey Nystrom Anderson writes, “Getting dark at 5pm gives you the chance to experience the dark in the eyes of a 3 year old. My son and I donned our head lamps and went outside into the dark…we first did a hunt for dinosaurs, then chased our cat around the yard, then just yelled and listened to our echos. It was pretty fun, and I look forward to doing it again tomorrow. Who says you have to be stuck inside when it’s dark out?!”
  • Jenna Lyn writes, “Glow sticks!! Lots of glow sticks!!”
  • Shoshona King writes, “That sounds like a great way to teach kids not to be afraid of the dark.”
  • Abbe Laine Schiowitz writes, “Take the outside inside and go to the rock climbing gym in Hadley, Central Rock Gym. They even have a mini rock wall upstairs for the littles!”
  • Theresa D Lafer writes, “Get your star map and explore the heavens; lie on a blanket and just look up… And while there are no more lightening bugs, there are plenty of night sounds; practice holding still and listening together… is there a neighborhood owl perhaps?”
  • Andrew Varady writes, “That never made any difference to us and I grew up in Canada where we get the short days a lot sooner.Hide n’ Seek, Kick the Can, Red Rover, Relieve-Le, Simon Says and other games too numerous to mention.  The closest pole with a street light was always home base.

[Photo credit: (ccl) SPH]

Q&A: Organic PYO Apples in Western MA


Philip Korman writes, “For a listing of PYO where the farmer is encouraged to post growing practices: www.buylocalfood.org.”

Wanted: Organic PYO apples! Pilar Goldstein-Dea of Easthampton writes, “We’re wondering where we might pick organic apples locally. Where’s your favorite organic pick-your-own orchard?”

  • Erin Brainard writes, “Outlook Farm (Route 66, Westhampton). Can’t wait, the kids love it.”
  • Chip Konowitz writes, “Bear Swamp Orchard in Ashfield.”
  • Marissa Tenenbaum Potter writes, “Apex in Shelburne.”
  • Annie Bob DeCoteau writes, “If you don’t mind the pretty drive- Dwight Miller in Dummerston, VT or Green Mountain in Putney.”
  • Tish Serrani writes, “Outlook is not organic but they are a great local farm.”
  • Amy Wasserman writes, “There are no organic orchards in MA, unfortunately. But I know there are trees at the Yiddish Book Center and also at Eric Carle Museum, and I don’t think they are sprayed with anything. The surrounding grass might have chemicals. If you are REALLY concerned, call Hampshire College grounds dept. Many local orchards are IPM – you have to ask the farmers. Apex is low spray/IPM with great apples that we buy at Amherst Wednesday and Winter Markets…not sure if they are PYO but I know they are in the Shelburne area.”
  • Jenny Underdown writes, “There is an organic orchard in Ashfield: Bear Swamp Orchard…Just went there last weekend. Great place. Cider too!”
  • Maribeth Blankenburg Ritchie writes, “There is a certified organic pick your own in Ashfield on Hawley Rd. Bear Swamp Orchards, they make great cider.”
  • Chris Sanborn writes, “Apex is not organic. Dwight Miller in VT and Bear Swamp are the closest ones I know of that are open to the public. IPM constitutes most orchards in MA.”
  • Jaimee Roncone writes, “Bear Swamp, Ashfield.”
  • Jennifer ‘kippy’ York  writes, “Sentinel Farm on Cottage St. in Belchertown!”
  • Cheryl Svoboda Asher writes, “My 2 year old granddaughter went to Outlook last weekend and had the time of her life. She and my daughter picked 75 apples for about $20. I too, have always thought Outlook as an organic farm They are located in Westhampton for those that do not know. They will being gong again this time with me! Fun activity no matter where you go and we scrub the apples to be doubly sure.”
  • Jose Santiago writes, “Outlook Farm. We went last Saturday. $25 for a bag.”
  • Belle Rita Novak writes, “An orchardist from New Hampshire once told me that it is very difficult to grow organic apples; not impossible, but difficult. Don’t expect them to look pretty.”
  • April Pitroff Varellas writes, “Bear Swamp Orchard, Ashfield.”
  • Pilar Goldstein-Dea writes, “Hurrah! Thank You!”

12 Musicians Share Strategies on How to Get Kids to Practice Their Musical Instruments

Getting Kids to Practice Their Musical Instruments

“Parents can play music with children,” writes Deborah Poppink. “That means singing along or even having the student teach the parent. If the parent can play the recorder, a drum, or the guitar with the child – GO FOR IT!”  (Photo credit: Sienna Wildfield)

Last fall we ask our readers how they got their kids to practice their musical instrument, generating great feedback on what worked for their families. We then invited many wonderful independent children’s musicians, several of them who have been guest DJs of the Hilltown Family Variety Show, to answer this same question. Their excellent advice ranged from letting them listen to themselves, filling your home with music/instruments, practicing along with them, allowing them to experiment, setting up a supportive environment, being patient, and making it fun!

Here’s what they had to share:

Debbie Cavalier: “Record them! I have found that kids love to hear/see their progress and are often surprised by it when they hear what they sounded like a week or two weeks ago! Listen back together and comment on the progress. You can use a free smartphone video recording app or a free audio app. I use one called Record.”

David Weinstone (Music for Aardvarks and Other Mammals): “For young children just leave the instruments lying about and let them bang or strum away at will. For older children, if they are interested, get them an instructor that is use to working with kids. Keep practice sessions short. The child will let you know how much is enough. Don’t be strict about it. If they want to learn an instrument they will need to understand delayed gratification. That’s the real hurdle at first.”

Rachel (Gustafer Yellowgold): “I used to enjoy practicing Suzuki violin much more when my dad or granddad played the piano with me, and loved singing when my brother played the piano. I think it’s the sense of music being something you do with others, and enjoy with others, makes it easier to have it be a part of every day life. – I also use to walk around the garden in circles playing the violin, as I liked the way it sounded outside – finding a place where the space around you makes it sound better or feel better. – The best thing I think is to be supportive and encouraging without forcing a child to do something that they really don’t want to do.”

Frances England: “My 8 year old son started violin a year ago and for him the things that work best are making sure we are fairly consistent with practice (4 or 5 times a week), sitting next to him and staying positive and enthusiastic while he plays, making sure we don’t leave it too late in the day when he’s too tired and can get easily frustrated, and adding some fun melodies he recognizes into the mix. After we’ve gone over music from his lesson, we often end with an “open jam” session where he can play whatever and however he wants (ie. Shredding on the violin with Led Zepplin strings cranked up high in the background!). If someone in the family can join in on an instrument, all the better… One last thing, I think it’s great to expose kids to as many different genres of music in which their instruments are played. With violin, my son has heard lots of classical, bluegrass and Irish music, but we also like to listen to people/bands that play violin in less traditional/more experimental ways (Andrew Bird, Noah and the Whale, Arcade Fire, Emily Wells). It’s inspiring to hear all the different sounds and styles that can come from one instrument.”

Charity Kahn: “Ah, the age-old question! Of course every child and family is different, but here’s what has worked in our family… Patience: Have the patience as a parent to wait ’til your child is seven or eight to start formal lessons. Before that, most children are not developmentally ready to commit to practicing 4-5 times per week, so either practice becomes a struggle between you and your child, or they don’t practice at all and consequently see no improvement and get frustrated or bored. – Practice: Don’t have overly high expectations around practice. Until kids are in middle school, ten minutes four times per week is appropriate. Usually you’ll find they want to play longer of their own volition: bonus! – Participation: Sit with your child during some or all of their practice session and support them emotionally (and musically if you can and if they ask for it). Listen, be present, hold space. Show them that you honor their efforts and time and learning process by being present for it. – Playfulness: As always, keep things light and fun. If your child is constantly struggling or having tearful practices, check with the teacher to make sure they’re not moving too quickly through the material, or suggest they spice the song choices up with something your child is familiar with and is drawn to learn. Also be mindful of not putting too much pressure of your own on your child. – The best modeling of all is to learn or re-visit an instrument yourself and model your own practicing for them. Then some day you’ll all be able to play music together! And there are not many experiences more magical and profound and connecting than making music with other human beings.”

Mike Park: “We have a music room in the garage with a keyboard, drum kit, and guitars. Usually what happens is after dinner I will go out to the practice room and just started playing and the kids will follow without asking. Having daddy play music seems to get them motivated. My son is 2 (almost 3) and can play rudimentary drum patterns. My daughter is a bit older and though lagging behind on her rhythmic skills is still very interested and we usually spend at least 30 minutes every day in that room.”

Steve Weeks: “Wow, this is a tricky one since there are so many factors. Some kids are more goal-oriented than others. Some instruments are harder to master than others, etc. – But I have to say that in my heart I really believe that music is supposed to be enjoyable. Adding too much stress to the early learning process can kill the best part of it. Music is best when it’s played for the love of it, in my opinion. It’s supposed to be magic, so when they’re really young, just let ‘em play. – I would suggest immersing your house in music. Have it on the radio. Take you kids to local concerts. Don’t tell them to knock it off when they’re just plinking around on the piano. Break out that old trumpet and play once in a while… even if you stink. If you’ve never played an instrument, take up the ukelele. You’ll love it I promise, and your kids will see that it’s OK to be a beginner.”

Read the rest of this entry »

Suggestions & Recommendations for Back-to-School


“Children are often requested to carry a backpack to daycare or school so that personal items, work and projects can be safely carried to and from home. What should parents look for when making a purchasing decision about their child’s backpack?” Check out Robin McClure’s post, Before You Buy Your Child’s Backpack.

Labor Day weekend marks the return of school for many families! We’ve combed through our archives of questions we’ve asked our readers over the years that relate to this time of year and wanted to share a few gems that generated helpful community recommendations and suggestions that families with children going back-to-school (or just starting school!) can use.

Be sure to check out our weekly post, Learn Local. Play Local. for weekly highlights of educational opportunities in the region students can participate in to supplement their studies in school and at home.  We highlight many different types of place-based educational events, raging from local history to culinary arts, geology to nature science.

The most recent question was last week when we asked how Western MA families make wise purchases for back-to-school clothes:

Wonder what to do with those hand-me-downs from last year, especially old clothing that is ripped, stained or otherwise unable to donate/wear?

Look for that back-to-school hair cut?

PB&J. Cheese stick. Yogurt. – (Snore!) – Here are a few fresh, creative idea for back-to-school, lunch toting kids:

Once in school, kids often bring home colds and flu. Here are community recommended home remedies for beating and treating your kids sniffles and fevers:

Looking for a new pediatrician to care for your child when they come home from school with strep throat or in need for their yearly physical or vaccinations?

What about lice? How can you prevent your kids from getting lice from their classmates? What do you do if they do get it?

Pizza is great for sleepovers, Friday night family dinner, or before/after high school sports. Here are some great places to get pizza after school (or anytime!):

Other helpful Q&A posts:

[Photo credit: (ccl) o5com]

11 Suggestions on How Western MA Families Can Make Wise Back-to-School Purchases

Americans spent $7.7 billion at family clothing stores in August 2011! When shopping for back-to-school clothes for this upcoming school year, how can Western MA families make wise purchases? Share your thoughts/ideas…

Lissie Fein asks, “Where are some recommended places to buy children gym shoes/sneakers?” Share your recommendations! (Photo credit: Sienna Wildfield)

  • Jean Engel writes, “Start with the summer clothes that are on sale at all the stores. It will stay rather hot well into October or sometimes November. Just make sure they have a new pair of shoes and a transitional jacket. Buy warmer clothing piece by piece as the next few weeks progress. It starves off the impulse buying you regret later.”
  • Kara Kitchen writes, “When my kids were younger and style did not matter as much, I would buy their clothes after the season was over for deep discounts in anticipation of next years needs. Online shopping when free shipping is offered is also a wise purchase when living in the Hilltowns and travel is a consideration+cost! Kids who don’t like to shop at the mall, try on clothes, or wait in lines often like catalogs/websites to browse…  Stores like Land’s End (great quality guarantees for rough+tumble kids) and Old Navy (great for babies+mom to look stylish for cheap) make returns to your local store wicked easy. But our favorite wise clothing option is hand-me downs! Kids (surprises galore) and parents (free clothes/tax donation deduction) both win.”
  • Karen Hettlinger writes, “A clothes donation/ trading post.”
  • Heather Wrisley writes, “Consignment stores.”
  • Robin Morgan Huntley writes, “Organize a clothing swap with neighborhood families or your kids’ friends! And crafty older kids can modify old clothes to revamp them (and maybe make them fit!), or figure out how to navigate sewing patterns and make some stuff of their own! Beehive in Northampton offers hourly rates on sewing machines if you don’t have one at home.”
  • Catherine Snyder writes, “Rethreads in Shelburne Falls. Freecycle.”
  • Amanda Gadd writes, “There is a wonderful new children’s consignment shop on North St. in Pittsfield called Kidding Around Consignment. She’s got everything from maternity to tween and some fun handmade stuff.”
  • Jean Engel writes, “Another one in Adams for North County families… Experienced Attire on Park Street/next to the old Armory (across the street from the Library). Great consignments.”
  • Sue Lowery writes, “Salvation Army, Hospice Shop, Northampton Survival Center, Amherst Survival Center – and any consignment shops.”
  • Katryna Nields writes, “Also post on Facebook. people are also going to be getting rid of the clothes that don’t fit anymore.”
  • Erin Klett writes, “‎Hens & Chicks consignment in Greenfield!”
  • Lissie Fein writes, “Where are some recommended places to buy children gym shoes/sneakers?

Don’t Pet the Fuzzy Caterpillars: Hickory Tussock Moth

Hickory Tussock Moth

Hickory tussock moth (Lophocampa caryae)Have your kids been handling these white and black fuzzy caterpillars that are so abundant this summer (Hickory Tussock Moth)? Some families are reporting skin rashes after handling these little guys (while others have had no reactions at all). We haven’t seen any health alerts issued in MA, but they have been issued in other regions, stating that handling these little guys can produce a rash that is “often misdiagnosed as: chickenpox, scabies, MRSA, bug bites, scarlet fever and nonspecific viral rash.”  Here’s what our readers had to say:

  • John L. Grossman writes, “Handled without any issues.”
  • Alison Recordss writes, “Those caterpillars are everywhere at our house!! Thanks for posting this, luckily my SIL gave me the heads up.”
  • Diane Kanzler writes, “Most tussock moth species have stinging hairs. We just don’t touch them, and let them go on their merry way.”
  • Kim Montague writes, “Have a lot in our yard. No rashes yet.”
  • Dawn Hansen Kempf writes, “Great. My 4 year old has made one her “pet” in the garage. I guess this pet is going to mysteriously disappear…”
  • Heidi Kelly writes, “They actually have little hairs that embed in skin. After a few minutes of handling them, it’ll start to sting where the caterpillar was. Get tape and wrap it around sticky side out and put against skin to try and get the hairs out. It’s not a traditional rash, but a reaction to the little hairs… very much akin to fiberglass splinters. Tweezers won’t work, too small, but the sticky tape will be helpful in removing them. Also, cold water helps to minimize the sting. We have first hand knowledge. They’re new around us. There is also a black version. The spiny hairs that stick out are the sign that the hairs will embed in the skin.”
  • Laura Davis Taylor writes, “Austin came in contact with one of a different color last year and had a bad rash. He was one itchy and unhappy camper for a day or two. Keep your kids away from “all FUZZY caterpillars.”
  • Mimi writes, “Yes. They are poisonous according to the nurse at the Huntington Health Center. My daughter had a very bad reaction two summers ago and I had one land on me this week. Yes, rash red bumps burning itching feeling.”
  • Luiz Felipe Perrone writes, “Rule of thumb for a Brazilian child: NEVER touch a caterpillar. I’ve always been shocked that here kids play with them… Now, my wife knows I’m not paranoid delusional (just paranoid, maybe).”
  • Tom Pietrosanti writes, “When I was younger, my best friend’s little sister had picked one up and I remember her hand swelled up and I think they had to take her to the hospital. So definitely a good idea not to play with them!”

Have you or your kids experienced any reactions to handling these caterpillars?

[Photo credit: (ccl) Peppergrass]

13 Ways to Spend a Rainy Day in Western MA

When it’s a rainy day in Western MA, what do you like to get out and do with your family in the region? Share your recommendations!

Springfield Museums have several museums in one! Great way to spend a rainy day in Western MA., especially the interactive Hasbro GameLand installation on the first floor of the Lyman & Merrie Wood Museum of Springfield History.(Photo credit: Sienna Wildfield)

13 Suggestions on What to Do with Tattered & Torn Clothes

Wondering what to do with old clothing that is ripped, stained or otherwise unable to donate/wear?

Melissa Weinberger of Easthampton writes, “I am about to throw a huge bag of old clothing into the garbage and wondering if there’s another way. We already use a lot of old t-shirts, etc. as rags, but this is stuff that seems headed for the landfill unless there’s another option.”

Thanks to Riché for recommending the short documentary, Secondhand (Pepe). “In this documentary about used clothing, the historical memoir of a Jewish immigrant rag picker intertwines with the present-day story of ‘pepe’ — secondhand clothing that flows from North America to Haiti. Secondhand (Pepe) animates the materiality of recycled clothes — their secret afterlives and the unspoken connections among people in an era of globalization.”

  • Jennifer Shiao Page writes, “I have the same conundrum, so am looking forward to hearing the ideas!”
  • Diane Kanzler writes, “Well, pure cotton and linen textiles can be composted. It takes awhile to compost, but it can be done. I’ve found it can take up to two years for cotton knits to compost fully, and often the nylon thread used to sew a cotton garment won’t compost and has to be pulled out of the compost. – The EPA has an interesting page on the topic of textile recycling: Textiles Common Wastes & Materials.
  • Susan Countryman writes, “If you sew you can repurpose the clothes into doll clothes, cool patches for jeans, throw pillows, etc.”
  • Michelle Harris Dzialo writes, “Give it to a quilter! All my grandmothers old quilts were made out of old clothing!”
  • Gillian Daley writes, “The Northampton DPW has special tags that you use on bags of textiles to be recycled, and the Salvation Army will take them. I don’t know if other towns have them as well but contacting the Northampton DPW is a good start.”
  • Jennifer Shiao Page writes, “But, does the Salvation Army want clothing that are “ripped, stained or otherwise unable to donate/wear?” I know that the Northampton Survival Center does not. I donate what I think is suitable, but what to do with the stuff that is not donation worthy?”
  • Gillian Daley writes, “Jennifer, the specially tagged stuff is recycled into other materials. They ask for the special tags so they are sorted separately from the wearable clothes.”
  • Riché J. Daniel Barnes writes, “I donate to Salvation Army and others because I know they give or sell it to other companies that process it into other stuff. There is a documentary about “rags” called Secondhand (Pepe) by a professor at Harvard.”
  • Maryellen Smith Rousseau wrties, “Give them to the Salvation Army. They take the items that are not saleable and give them to companies that recycle them into shop towels. Please, please don’t throw them away! We need to do everything we can to reduce what we are putting in the landfill.”
  • Arianna Alexsandra Grindrod wrties, “Doesn’t the Bag Share group use rags? Check with the Old Creamery Co-op in Cummington.”
  • Robin Morgan Huntley writes, “Braided rugs! Make one (or a few) for a space your kids play/create in- if they spill paint or jam clay into the rug, it won’t matter because it’s recycled. You can also make pillows and/or a quilt out of old clothes… also particularly effective when there are spill-y kids around.”
  • Kara Kitchen writes, “You can rip/cut into strips, tie together to make long rope and either crochet or braid+stitch into braided rag rugs or baskets/bowls.”
  • Sarah M writes, “Quilt! Then donate the quilts to a shelter or hospital! I use old clothes to put in the dog’s crate!”
  • Melissa Flanders writes,Freecycle?”

12 Places/Instructors for Kids to Take Piano Lessons in Western MA

Recommend a place/instructor in Western MA for kids to take piano lessons:

  • Marya Kozik LaRoche recommends, “Kate Fitzroy Staebler in Pittsfield!”
  • Sarajane Daniels recommends, “Celia’s Voice Studio (Northampton, MA) gives voice and piano lessons. Wonderful!”
  • Emily Clarke Whitney recommends, “Leea Snape at Second Congregational Church in Greenfield. She is great!”
  • Christine Giampietro Bruhn recommends, “‎Northampton Community Music Center.”
  • Jillian Hanson recommends, “Sarah Elston in Haydenville!”
  • Doug Martin recommends, “Barbara Goodchild in Shelburne. She uses the Simply Music system which is great.”
  • Denise Bickford Banister recommends, “Sylvia Tardiff is in the business listings in the phone book. She is located at 140 Pine Street in Florence. Also – I think Bethany Ouimet – lives on River Road in Williamsburg.”
  • Amy Kane-Coyne recommends, “Margaret don Diego in Worthington, Lindsey Hill Road. She does lessons at her home.”
  • Marie Hackworth McCourt recommends, “Sharon Bail in Granby does lessons in her home – very reasonable!”
  • Jane Stephenson recommends, “Carrie Ferguson is an amazing piano instructor in Northampton.”
  • Mindi Palmer Fried recommends, “Jeff Olmsted in Northampton. He teaches Simply Music – very cool stuff.”

[Photo credit: (ccl) woodleywonderworks]

Q&A: 19 Children’s Books on Food Security/Scarcity


Do you have a favorite children’s book that touches on the topic of food security/scarcity you care to share? Hilltown Families is collaborating with The Food Bank of Western MA on compiling a list of kids books that have to do with fighting hunger, soup kitchens, food banks, etc. for their Youth Action Hunger program.


Publicly post any titles you’d like to recommend below, or submit it privately here:

Read the rest of this entry »

« Older entries

%d bloggers like this: