A Teachable Moment in Sochi

A Teachable Moment in Sochi

This week, the United States will signal its opposition to anti-gay laws in Russia when a number of openly gay athletes join the official U.S. delegation at the Sochi Winter Olympics. By transforming the world’s greatest athletic stage into a powerful showcase for political equality and human rights, these athletes are guaranteed to inspire hundreds of millions of people around the world – while serving as a powerful reminder of the long line of activist athletes who came before them.

As attention turns to the Olympics on February 7, 2014, don’t miss cultural historian Dave Zirin’s stirring look at this tradition of activist athletes in Media Education Foundation’s film Not Just a Game: Power, Politics & American Sports.

Click here for film availability, study guide & links…

I Need That Record! The Death (or Possible Survival) of the Independent Record Store

Fast Forward: New Filmmakers
at Historic Northampton

In our modern society, most of us (even a lot of kids, and certainly many teens) are well aware of the effect that corporately-run big box stores have on small businesses, tightly knit communities, and local economies. Filmmaker Brendan Toller’s documentary, I Need That Record! The Death (or Possible Survival) of the Independent Record Store, tells the story of the national impact that big media, big business, and internet-based purchasing has had on a very specific part of our economy and our culture.

Focused on the sharp decline in independent record stores nationwide during the past decade, as well as media consolidation and changes in technology, the film features interviews with music industry greats such as Thurston Moore (iconic Sonic Youth frontman), the Talking Heads’ Chris Frantz, activist and author Noam Chomsky, and Pat Carney of the Black Keys. Toller weaves these interviews (and many more) together alongside staggering statistics about the state of the record industry and tales of media consolidation, homogenized radio, big box stores, and – most importantly – greed, in order to pay homage to the iconic indie record shop and to shed a bright light on the frustrating and destructive effect that corporate media has upon the record industry.

Families with older students can see I Need That Record! at Historic Northampton on Sunday, December 15th, 2013, at 3pm. Shown as part of Historic Northampton’s series Fast Forward: New Filmmakers at Historic Northampton, the screening presents a community based opportunity to examine one of today’s biggest economic and cultural issues through a unique lens. The film can help teens and tweens learn how to make good choices about where (and from whom) they choose to buy or access music, and makes the importance of supporting local businesses really hit home. Independent record stores, which can be a pop culture reference for specific sub-cultures, are often portrayed with an air of invincibility about them. They’re often portrayed in the media as being so against the mainstream that they’re unaffected by it; however, quite the opposite is true. The smaller, less represented parts of our culture are generally the most vulnerable – and record stores are not exception.

Social Studies on the Road

The License Plate Game

By examining license plates, kids can learn a lot about the 50 states! Discussing with kids the reasons behind each state’s design can help them learn about geography, economics, and social studies, and can help them to develop their mental image of the differences in landscape around the country. They’ll learn to think critically about geographic locations by wondering why New England doesn’t produce citrus like the south does, and why the northwest coast of the country isn’t known for it’s lobster like the northeast coast is.

Watching for interesting license plates is a great way to keep kids entertained during road trips – with so many people traveling, the highways are filled with out-of-staters whose plates provide a great distraction from backseat boredom. Simply teaching kids to search for letters of the alphabet, colors, or specific digits can be enough to add some excitement to a somewhat monotonous drive, but expanding plate-searching games to become a family hobby can turn summer fun into full-time learning!

License plates reflect something unique about their state’s culture, landscape, or history – each state’s design says something about the place, whether it’s subtly hinted at through color and design or highlighted with colorful images. Arizona’s standard plate has a backdrop of a beautiful desert scene, while Ohio’s new license plates feature rolling hills, farms, and a small city. Some plates remind us of our state’s claims to fame, like Georgia’s peach plate, Maine’s specialty lobster and moose plates, and the Wyoming cowboy plate. Even the somewhat plain Massachusetts red, white, and blue plate represents the state’s place in American history.

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Family Geography Expo Open to All!

Discover the World!
Family Geography Expo at the
Berkshire Athenaeum on April 5th

Geography Expo at the Berkshire Athenaeum in Pittsfield on Thursday, April 5th. Sign up to participate or just come visit. Students visiting the expo can discover countries worldwide, learning about the global geography, world languages, cultural differences, food and more!

Learn about international cultures together as a family by participating in the annual Geography Expo, hosted at the Berkshire Athenaeum in Pittsfield, MA, sponsored by the 4-H Earth Stars Club and the Berkshire County Homeschool Community.  The event gives kids the chance to delve into learning about a country and then share what they’ve learned about the culture, customs, etc. of the place with the community.

Students are asked to sign up for a country in advance (to avoid duplication).  Then, they’ll create a display that works as a learning tool for visitors to the expo.  Visitors will be able to “tour the world” and visit the display for each country.  Kids can offer samples of traditional foods, play music from their country, or let visitors examine objects that they’ve collected from their country.

Visitors will also be given a paper passport where they can collect stamps from each country they visit- students can create their own stamp, sticker, or other marker to represent their country!

The expo is a fantastic learning opportunity for kids, no matter whether they are participating or just visiting.  Students representing countries will, obviously, learn all about their country- from the activity they can learn to appreciate and respect cultural differences.  Students visiting the expo can discover countries worldwide, learning about the global geography, world languages, cultural differences, food and more!

The event is an excellent supplement to the studies of geography, history, and culture that kids get in school.  The Geography Expo takes place on Thursday, April 5th from 5-7pm at the Bekshire Athenaeum in Pittsfield, MA and is sponsored by the 4-H Earth Stars Club and the Berkshire County Homeschool Community. To sign up as a participant, or for more information, contact organizer Teresa O’Brient: berkshierra@aol.com, 413-298-0099.

[Photo credit: (ccl) Woodley Wonder Works]

The Year of the Rabbit

Celebrating the Year of the Rabbit

Happy Chinese Lunar New Year! 2011 is the Year of the Rabbit. (Photo credit: Sienna Wildfield)

The Chinese Lunar New Year is on February 3rd this year. If you’re considering celebrating this year’s Chinese New Year for the first time, there are many web sites to guide you on decorations, food, activities, and crafts, and to learn how the day is determined.The libraries have several titles to lend for your family to discover the cultural traditions of the Lunar New Year. There are also a variety of supplemental social study curriculums that take a closer look at these traditions, superstitions and customary foods from Asian countries.


The Lunar New Year is full of superstitions. Cutting your noodles on this day is said to shorten your life, and cleaning your home the day of the Lunar New Year is a big no-no, for it’s customary to clean in the days prior. Discovering these superstitions can lead to an exploration of their history with your children; opening up discussions on why they originated.


There are many traditional foods you can serve on this day, or popular dishes from your local Chinese restaurant, along with a New Year’s Cake (Neen Gow) and fortune cookies. Decorating your home with paper lanterns, colorful dragons, Red Couplets, bowls or oranges and arrangements of flowers can be fun too.


The Lunar and Chinese New Year can be celebrated for up to 15 days, depending on the culture that is in observance. The Chinese New Year is celebrated for 15 days (from the first full moon to the next new moon), but the Vietnamese Lunar New Year is celebrated for only half that time. A single evening of celebration to discover more about this culture is perfectly okay too.


Everybody Cooks Rice (By Norah Dooley)
A child is sent to find a younger brother at dinnertime and is introduced to a variety of cultures through encountering the many different ways rice is prepared at the different households visited.

Lion Dancer : Ernie Wan’s Chinese New Year (By K. Waters & M. Slovenz-Low)
Describes six-year-old Ernie Wong’s preparations, at home and in school, for the Chinese New Year celebrations and his first public performance of the lion dance.

Look What Came from China (By Miles Harvey)
Describes many things, both familiar and unfamiliar, that originally came from China, including inventions, food, tools, animals, toys, games, musical instruments, fashion, medicine, holidays, and sports.

Moonbeams, Dumplings & Dragon Boats: A Treasury of Chinese Holiday Tales, Activities & Recipes (By Nina Simonds and Leslie Swartz)
A great book that gives reviews the history of and supplies recipes, crafts and legends of five different Chinese holidays, including: Chinese New Year and the Lantern Festival, Qing Ming, the Dragon Boat Festival, and the Mid-Autumn Moon Festival.

China (DK Eyewitness Books) (by Hugh Sebag-Montefiore)
I love Eyewitness Books!  Their China book takes a look at Chinese culture with “eye-popping” images!

The Wishing Tree (By R. Thong)
Ming’s wishes at the tree on Lunar New Year with his grandmother always seemed to come true, but one year the tree does not help, and he alone must make peace with the loss of his grandmother and the spirit of the tree.

Winter Solstice: How an Ancient Tradition is Celebrated Today

The Winter Solstice

Ellen Jackson’s book, The Winter Solstice, (published by Millbrook Press) takes a look at the many different cultures throughout history who have celebrated the Winter Solstice and developed customs for this shortest day of the year.

With a simple storyline and attractive watercolor illustrations by Jan Davey Ellis, Jackson’s book is a nice addition to a social studies curriculum for children ages 4-8 this time of the year. The Scottish, Romans, Scandinavians, Celts, Northern Europeans, Peruvians, Pueblo Indians, and the Kwakiutl Indians are presented with their customs and beliefs; in addition to a scientific look and simple experiment to illustrate the planetary alignment that creates this seasonal change.

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Mummies Come to the Berkshires

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

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

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

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

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

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Resources to Explore MLK & the Civil Rights Movement

“I Have A Dream” Speech

Families interested in discovering more about Martin Luther King, Jr. and the civil rights movement with their children might enjoy the following resources:

  • FamilyEducation.com has Martin Luther King Jr Day Activities and Resources for Kids
  • Kaboose.com has a great list of Black History Links
  • Rosa Parks: How I Fought for Civil Rights is a lesson on Scholastic.com that describes her pivotal role in the Montgomery Bus Boycott
  • Kodak.com offers a photo display titled Powerful Days in Black & White
  • PBS.com has a companion site to the American Experience program about Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., Citizen King
  • Lest We Forget: Images From the Civil Rights Movement is a collection of portraits of civil right leaders by 20th century artist Robert Templeton
  • HFVS Peace Episode has a good selection of peace themed songs, appropriate for MLK Day.
  • Please share resources you’ve discovered too and leave us a comment.


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