Peruse our list below and make plans to get out into your community and learn while you play!
Featured community highlights this week: Put away your electronic devices and try your skill at some colonial games at Historic Deerfield on Saturday, December 19 & Sunday, December 20 from 10am-4:30pm. Learn to play checkers, fox and geese, merelles, table-top nine pins, Jacob’s ladder, and ball and cup. Engaging in game play stimulates visual and spatial perception (How do these checkers move around the board?), encourages the making and testing of predictions (If I place my playing piece here, will I block her move?), and enables us to see physics and mathematics at work (At what angle should I roll the ball to knock down the most pins?). Special group games and songs at 11am and 2pm. 413-774-5581. Visitor Center at Hall Tavern, Old Main Street, Deerfield, MA. (FREE Members and Deerfield Residents, $ Non-members)
Ornithology ♦ Citizen Scientist ♦ Empathy ♦ Holiday Films ♦ Folk Dancing ♦ MYO Gifts ♦ Winter Farmers’ Markets ♦ Food History ♦ Gingerbread Houses ♦ Creative-Free Play ♦ Critical Thinking Skills ♦ Board Games ♦ Storytelling ♦ Ballet ♦ Makerspace ♦ STEM ♦ Winter Solstice ♦ Music Making ♦ Cultural Studies ♦ Los Posadas
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Saturday, December 19; Sunday, December 20
Participate in the longest-running citizen science bird project in the country by joining a local team for the 116th Christmas Bird Count. In early winter, volunteers count every bird they see or hear during a 24-hour period within a designated 15-mile radius. Beginners are matched with experienced counters to learn and help at the same time. Data from the count, which occurs throughout the Western Hemisphere, are used to monitor bird populations and identify species in decline. This is a rewarding activity for all ages, and you can join a team for whatever period of time you like. Call a local coordinator for more information. Central Berkshire: 413-684-3724. Northern Berkshire: 413-458-3538. Springfield: 413-525-6742. Locations vary. (FREE)
- Read about the history of the Christmas Bird Count in our post, Longest-Running Bird Census Turns 116 Years Old.
Amateur birders can, of course, use field guides to identify the species that they spot nearby, but Mass Audubon’s Fall and Winter Birds page offers photos and descriptions of the bird species found in the state during these two seasons, and their Tips for Identifying Winter Bird Species offers suggestions for ways to differentiate between similar-looking species, helping bird watchers more accurately identify the feathered friends they spot.
Sightings of other birds – either at home feeders or on outdoor adventures – can be reported to Mass Audubon, too, through a program called eBird. Created in collaboration with Cornell University’s ornithology lab, eBird includes checklists of commonly seen birds, information on species identification, and maps of sightings both locally and across the country. In addition to using the platform as a way to share citizen scientist data, families can explore the online resources that eBird offers in order to learn more about the species that they share their environment with. A look at a map of local sightings can help families learn what species they’re most likely to spot, while reading about the many species who might be seen can help families to learn about diversity amongst bird species.
Saturday, December 19, 10am
The Christmas comedy Elf (PG, 2003) is shown as part of the Family Film Series at Amherst Cinema. Will Ferrell stars as Buddy, a baby who crawls into Santa’s pack at an orphanage, is adopted by one of his elves, and grows up at the North Pole. When he learns he is human and has a biological father in New York City, Buddy sets off to find him. Buddy’s sweetness and naivete are in stark contrast to the coarseness of the city and greed of his biological father, a driven publisher of children’s books. Humorous and touching adventures ensue. Afterward, families can discuss how to treat others, what values are important in life, and staying true to one’s beliefs. 413-253-2547. 28 Amity Street, Amherst, MA. (<$)
Sunday, December 20, 7pm (Mahaiwe Performing Arts Center)
Wednesday, December 23, 2pm (Amherst Cinema)
Enjoy It’s a Wonderful Life (PG, 1946), the classic Frank Capra film about the difference one person can make in the lives of many, on the big screen at the Mahaiwe Performing Arts Center and Amherst Cinema. Its messages of standing up for what’s right, even when it’s difficult and unpopular, and taking care of your neighbors, underscore the meaning of the season.
Mahaiwe Performing Arts Center: 413-528-0100. 14 Castle Street, Great Barrington, MA. ($)
Amherst Cinema: 413-253-2547. 28 Amity Street, Amherst, MA. ($)
Saturday, December 19. 8pm – 11:30pm
Experience the joy of contra dance, a social folk dance that resembles square dancing, hosted by Lenox Contra Dance. Bring a partner or find one at the dance! This week’s music is by Nor’easter. A great opportunity to get to know children, adults, and elders in your community. Everyone can observe and practice social pragmatics such as how one introduces oneself to a new friend and how to communicate through non-verbal cues, as well as getting a great dose of exercise. Beginners are encouraged to attend! 413-528-4007. 65 Walker Street, Lenox, MA. (< $)
Saturday, December 19, 10am-12pm
Enjoy brunch with Santa and Mrs. Claus and make your own ornament to take home and hang on the tree at A Notion to Quilt. 413-625-9644. 623 Mohawk Trail, Shelburne, MA. (FREE w/a canned good for the food pantry)
Saturday, December 19; Sunday, December 20, 12pm-4:30pm
Give a handmade gift to someone special on your list this year. Choose from three gifts to make at Historic Deerfield. 413-774-5581. 84B Old Main Street, Deerfield, MA. (FREE Members and Deerfield Residents, $ Non-members)
BERKSHIRE GROWN HOLIDAY FARMERS’ MARKET
Saturday, December 19, 10am-2pm (Great Barrington)
Sunday, December 20, 10am-2pm (Williamstown)
While summer is a robust growing season, there are an amazing variety of hardy vegetables that continue to grow into the winter months! This is also a time to explore the cheeses, baked goods, meats, and crafts produced by those in your community. The Berkshire Grown Holiday Farmers’ Market will be open to help you choose locally-sourced goods for your upcoming holiday meals and celebrations. Learn where your food comes from and share your experience at family dinner time. The festive atmosphere will be further enhanced by music and activities for kids. SNAP accepted.
Monument Valley Middle School, 313 Monument Valley Road, Great Barrington, MA. (MARKET)
Williams College Towne Field House, Latham Street, Williamstown, MA. (MARKET)
AMHERST WINTER FARMERS’ MARKET
Saturday, December 19, 10am-2pm
Explore the sometimes surprising bounty of the winter harvest, and explore other wonderful, local delights such as honey, breads, pastries, cheeses, jewelry, and more at the Amherst Winter Farmers’ Market, which runs most Saturdays through April 2, 2016. SNAP accepted throughout the market. Amherst Regional Middle School, 170 Chestnut Street, Amherst, MA. (MARKET)
SENSE OF COMMUNITY
Farmers’ markets are not only great places to purchase locally grown healthy food, but also opportunities for our communities to make connections with neighbors and friends. Read more in our post, Farmers’ Markets Feed a Sense of Community.
COLONIAL HISTORY/CULINARY ARTS
Saturday, December 19; Sunday, December 20, 10am-4pm
To make the holidays special, we often splurge on things we wouldn’t buy at other times of the year. In the time before easy international transportation, that included cooking ingredients such as chocolate, citrus, cinnamon, ginger, and sugar. In the open-hearth cooking demonstration “Sugar and Spice – Holiday Baking,” the cooks at Historic Deerfield will prepare traditional holiday recipes. Also, it’s hot chocolate season, and we have the Aztecs to thank for the sweet, comforting drink we all enjoy. More than 500 years ago, in current-day Mexico, they mixed cacao with water and flavored it with chili, honey, and spices. Later, Europeans added sugar and milk. Make your own hot chocolate mix from a colonial recipe too. 413-774-5581. 84B Old Main Street, Deerfield, MA. (FREE Members and Deerfield Residents, $ Non-members)
This holiday, start a new tradition… dig out your old recipe cards, and host a Holiday Food Share, where family members and friends cook a recipe that’s most meaningful to them, while sharing a memory of what makes it so special. What a great opportunity to bake that casserole your great aunt was known for, and to share stories rich in history and nostalgia. Read more in our post, Our Growing Roots: Connecting Across Generations Through Food Traditions.
ARCHITECTURE/CREATIVE FREE PLAY
Saturday, December 19, 12pm-2pm
Test your design skills by building a house (or church or barn) from edible items at the Monson Free Library‘s Gingerbread House Contest. What works best for trees? How can you make a sturdy structure? Materials provided. For grades 5-12. Registration required. 413-267-3866. 2 High Street, Monson, MA. (FREE)
FOOD AS ART/CREATIVE FREE PLAY
Saturday, December 19, 4pm
Gingerbread houses were first made in Germany in the early 19th century, perhaps inspired by the edible house in Grimm’s fairy tale “Hansel and Gretel.” Kids can build their own structures out of edible items at the Hatfield Public Library. 413-247-9097. 39 Main Street, Hatfield, MA. (FREE)
Saturday, December 19; Sunday, December 20, 10am-4:30pm
Put away your electronic devices and try your skill at some colonial games at Historic Deerfield. Learn to play checkers, fox and geese, merelles, table-top nine pins, Jacob’s ladder, and ball and cup. Engaging in game play stimulates visual and spatial perception (How do these checkers move around the board?), encourages the making and testing of predictions (If I place my playing piece here, will I block her move?), and enables us to see physics and mathematics at work (At what angle should I roll the ball to knock down the most pins?) Special group games and songs at 11am and 2pm. 413-774-5581. Visitor Center at Hall Tavern, Old Main Street, Deerfield, MA. (FREE Members and Deerfield Residents, $ Non-members)
Tuesday, December 22, 6pm-7pm
The Free All-Ages Chess Club at the Sunderland Public Library starts from square one, so beginners and more advanced players are all welcome. Club leader Andy Morris-Friedman will guide you as you learn how to play the game, use different techniques and strategies, and use all of your pieces to your best advantage. The club will study famous games and will help you discover new ways to improve your play. Chess is one of the great classic games of the world. It teaches sportsmanship and cooperation, builds confidence, and exercises your brain. Children in third grade or below must be accompanied by an adult. 413-665 2642. 20 School Street, Sunderland, MA. (FREE)
Saturday, December 19, 11am, 1pm, and 2pm
Step into the world of Emily Dickinson at Christmastime as the Emily Dickinson Museum presents “A Dickensian Christmas with the Dickinsons.” Take a guided tour of the Homestead and the Evergreens, in their Victorian holiday finery, and hear, in their own words, how the Dickinsons celebrated the season. Following the tour, enjoy an intimate reading of Charles Dickens’ A Christmas Carol by award-winning children’s author Tony Abbott. Advance purchase of tickets is highly recommended. Interested in more literature-based learning in our region? Check out our post, “Readers Rejoice!” 413-542-8161. 280 Main Street, Amherst, MA. ($)
Western Massachusetts is a treasure trove for community-based studies of literature and literary history! Including historic homes, local landmarks, beautiful trails, and more! Here in the western half of the state, community-based educational resources for explore American literary history are plentiful. In addition to the Emily Dickinson Museum, check out this post for more community-based educational resources for literary learning: 10 Resources for Literary Learning in Western MA.
Saturday, December 19, 11:30am
Humans have an innate love of stories. Through the ages, storytelling has been used to pass on family history, spark imagination, and teach values. Try your hand at storytelling, or just listen to others, at the Storytelling and Writing Group at Emily Williston Memorial Library. Open to kids and adults. Meets the third Saturday of every month. 413-527-1031. 9 Park Street, Easthampton, MA. (FREE)
Saturday, December 19; Sunday, December 20, 2pm & 7pm
What does it mean to embrace the spirit of the season? How do our words and choices affect the lives of those around us? Explore these essential questions in the Berkshire Theatre Group‘s annual performance of Charles Dickens’ A Christmas Carol, which runs December 12th-December 22nd. The story follows miserly Mr. Scrooge as he encounters four spirits which help him discover the values which underlie Christmas celebrations. 413-997-4444. The Colonial Theatre, 111 South Street, Pittsfield, MA. ($$)
TRADITIONAL STORIES/SLEEPING BEAUTY
Saturday, December 19, 1pm and 4pm
Amherst Ballet presents Sleeping Beauty, the traditional ballet by Marius Petipa, condensed to about one hour, and presented without intermission, at Bowker Auditorium. Watch the captivating story of Princess Aurora, who, cursed by an evil fairy to die on her 16th birthday, is rescued by a good fairy and instead put to sleep for 100 years. A century hence, she is awakened by her prince’s kiss and lives happily ever after. Appropriate for ages 4 and up. 413-549-1555. UMass, Stockbridge Hall, 100 Holdsworth Way, Amherst, MA. ($$)
CLASSICAL MUSIC/THE NUTCRACKER
Sunday, December 20, 12:55pm (Amherst)
Sunday, December 20, 1pm (Great Barrington)
Experience the legendary Bolshoi Ballet performing The Nutcracker in HD at the Amherst Cinema and the Mahaiwe Performing Arts Center. This classic story, told through dance with music by Tchaikovsky, is about a girl who receives a wooden nutcracker for Christmas, which comes alive at midnight, along with all the other toys. It has delighted young and old alike for generations.
413-253-2547. 28 Amity Street, Amherst, MA. ($$)
413-528-0100. 14 Castle Street, Great Barrington, MA. ($$)
Saturday, December 19, 2pm-3:30pm
Do you have (or know) a child who loves to tinker and create? Check out the ARPS-Jones Library Makerspace, where kids can try out robotics kits, 3D printing, littleBits circuitry components, die-cut shape makers, LEGOs, and an assortment of craft supplies. An adult facilitator will be present to help participants explore new materials, but the session is, by design, very open-ended, and everyone is welcome to pursue her/his own interests and ideas! Intended for ages 8-13. Pre-registration requested. 413-259-3090. 43 Amity Street, Amherst, MA. (FREE)
Saturday, December 19, 11am-1:30pm
Who can resist slime? It’s a viscous substance, which means it acts like both a liquid and a solid. Come to Meekins Library for a winter-themed STEAMcraft program and make arctic slime while learning about the science behind slime. 413-268-7472. 2 Williams Street (Route 9), Williamsburg, MA. (FREE)
Tuesday, December 8, 3:30pm-4:30pm
LEGOs are the quintessential toy for open-ended play. They can be snapped together in an infinite number of ways, to make anything a child can imagine. There are lots of LEGOs and big ideas at the Meekins Library LEGO Club! This month’s theme is “Winter Wonderland.” For school-aged children. Young children must have caregiver supervision. 413-268-7472. 2 Williams Street (Route 9), Williamsburg, MA. (FREE)
Saturday, December 19, 6:30pm
Brighten this season of darkness with stories, music, puppets, and juggling at the
Center for Cultural Evolution‘s 30th Annual Winter Solstice Celebration, held in The Round House. All proceeds benefit the Food Bank of Western Massachusetts and partners in Health. Please bring donations for the Franklin County Survival Center. 413-624-5140. 68 Van Nuys Road, Colrain, MA. (SUGGESTED DONATION $$)
Sunday, December 20, 1pm-4pm
Celebrate the start of winter at Singing Bridge Performing Arts Lodge‘s Honoring the Winter Solstice. Appearances by the Ice Queen and Snowflake Fairy, family art projects, interactive song and movement, and a solstice ritual. Wear white and bring food to string and hang on the Wild Animal Tree. Snack provided. 617-623-3521. 21 West Main Street, Cummington, MA. ($)
Monday, December 21, 7am and 3:30pm
As long ago as 4,800BC, people used sunwheels to track the change of seasons and solar cycles. Stonehenge is the most famous sunwheel. On the shortest day of the year, experience the winter solstice directly as you watch the sun rise and/or set straight over the tall standing stones of the UMass Sunwheel. Learn about solstices and equinoxes, seasons, and the phases of the moon. Honoring seasonal cycles connects us with other cultures throughout space and time. 413-545-4311. Rocky Hill Road, Amherst, MA. (DONATIONS APPRECIATED)
WINTER SOLSTICE/COMMUNITY CELEBRATION
Monday, December 21, 7pm
Gather around a bonfire on the Town Green for an annual Winter Solstice community celebration. and share hopes and intentions for the new year. Juggler Meadow Morris Men will prance and singing and celebrating. Celebration continues at Elmer’s. Town Common, Ashfield, MA (FREE)
Tuesday, December 22, 5:30pm-8:30pm
Since mid-June, our minutes of daily sunlight have been steadily decreasing, leading us towards the winter solstice, the “shortest” day of the year. The winter solstice marks an important seasonal transition, when we begin to add minutes of daylight back into our lives and offers an opportunity to reflect on embracing inevitable changes. Celebrate this year’s solstice at Arcadia, a Mass Audubon sanctuary, with songs, warm drinks, and a crackling bonfire. 413-584-3009. 127 Combs Road, Easthampton, MA. (FREE)
DRUMMING/CREATIVE FREE PLAY
Tuesday, December 22, 4-5pm
Learning an instrument promotes whole-brain engagement, self-discipline, and academic achievement…plus it’s a fun way to express oneself! Kids can learn bucket drumming during “Rock the Stacks” sessions at the Mason Square Branch of Springfield City Library. Community Music School Instructor Rick Marshall will lead the class in using five-gallon pails as instruments, an inexpensive and creative way to make music. Participants will have an opportunity to be part of the bucket-drumming ensemble performing in the community-wide Dr. King Day celebration at the MassMutual Center on January 18, 2016. Ages 6-14. Sessions continue on 1/5, and 1/12. 413-263-6853. 765 State Street, Springfield, MA. (FREE)
- Read more about this series in our post, Rock the Stacks with the Music School of Springfield.
Wednesday, December 23, 8am-8pm
Do you know a child interested in playing the piccolo, oboe, or clarinet? He or she can try these and more wind instruments for free at the Community Music School during the whole month of December. Music lessons improve academic, physical, and social skills and develop discipline and self-esteem. Call to schedule a free trial lesson. 413-732-8428. 127 State Street, Springfield, MA, (FREE)
LOS POSADAS/HOLIDAY CELEBRATION
Saturday, December 19, 6pm-9pm
Florence will be aglow with candlelight during the 14th Annual Luminary sponsored by the Florence Civic & Business Association. The tradition of lighting roadways at Christmas time can be traced to 16th century-Spain. There, people built bonfires to guide the faithful to midnight mass on the last night of La Posadas, the reenactment of Mary and Joseph’s search for lodging in Bethlehem. The tradition traveled to Spanish-held territory in North America in the form of candles placed in sand in paper bags. This Southwest custom has now spread throughout the country and is generally considered secular in nature. Bring the family to enjoy live entertainment, horse-drawn hayrides, a bonfire, and refreshments. Luminary bags will be for sale at many local merchants. 413-584-5048. Florence Civic Center, 90 Park Street, Florence, MA. (FREE)
[Photo credit: (cc) Marc Garrido Clotet]
Learn Local. Play Local. is supported in part by a grant from the Buckland, Colrain, Cummington, Deerfield, Hadley, Longmeadow, Montgomery, New Salem, Plainfield, Shelburne, Sunderland, Westhampton, and Worthington Cultural Councils, local agencies which are supported by the Massachusetts Cultural Council, a state agency.