26 Community-Based Educational Highlights: Physiology to Physics. Marionettes to Guided Hikes.

Dance Party to Fairy Tales. Marionettes to Guided Hikes. Physiology to Physics. These are just a few of the community-based learning highlights we’re featuring this week!

Peruse our list below and make plans to get out into your community and learn while you play!

Featured community highlight this week:  Are you someone who always picks a horse on the inside of the carousel, or do you ride one on the outside? All merry-go-round horses make one complete circle in the same amount of time, but the interior horses travel a much shorter distance in that time than the outer ones do, resulting in very different linear speeds. And what happens when you choose a stationary horse versus one that gallops up and down? Experience the fun of physics by bringing your kids, or grandkids, for a ride on the Holyoke Merry-Go-Round. Known as “Holyoke’s Happiness Machine,” the antique carousel with brightly painted wooden animals and calliope music is a sensory treat for young and old. It was once part of Mountain Park, an amusement park on the side of Mt. Tom, and was moved to Holyoke Heritage Park when Mountain Park closed in 1987. It will be open during school vacation week, Monday-Wednesday 12pm-4pm and Thursday 10am-4pm. 413-538-9838. 221 Appleton Street, Holyoke, MA. (<$)

Science FictionBird StudiesPuppetsOutdoor AdventuresFirst Day HikesFilm StudiesChoral MusicContemporary ArtPhysicsIce SkatingCarouselMagicMuseum AdventuresPhysiologyArts & CraftsMusic StudiesDance Party

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Science Fiction

Have you seen The Force Awakens yet? Return to the three movies that started it all with a Star Wars Marathon at Ramsdell Public Library. Each movie can generate family discussions about a number of topics, from systems of government, to robotics, to identity, to kinship, to spirituality. Viewers can also compare the cinematography and visual effects used in these three original Star Wars movies with what they observe in the prequels and the newest movie, out this season. Please call to register. 413-274-3738. 1087 Main Street, Housatonic, MA. (FREE)

  • Wednesday, December 30, 1:30pm-4pm: Star Wars: A New Hope (PG, 1977), which introduced the world to the iconic cast of characters who lived “a long time ago, in a galaxy far, far away.” There will be pizza after the movie.
  • Wednesday, December 30, 4:30pm-7pm: Star Wars: The Empire Strikes Back (PG, 1980).
  • Thursday, December 31, 11am-1:30pm: Star Wars: Return of the Jedi (PG, 1983).

Interested in diving even deeper at home or in the classroom? Explore Star Wars in the Classroom, a resource dedicated to sharing the subject-based and interdisciplinary lessons and ideas embedded within this popular science fiction movie series.

And how about those lightsabers? Go behind the scene with Star Wars creator George Lucas, actor Mark Hamill, and sound designer Ben Burtt to hear their discuss on the concept and creation of the lightsaber.


Wednesday, December 30, 10:30am-11:30am
What makes a bird a bird and not, say, a snake? Find out at Watershed Wonders, a story hour with crafts and games at the Great Falls Discovery Center. Learn bird basics, and some specifics about avian life in the Connecticut River watershed. Also admire the work of young people in the Junior Duck Stamp Art Display in the Great Hall. Take your newfound knowledge home and see the birds in your yard in a new light. For ages 6-8, with a caregiver. 413-863-3221. 2 Avenue A, Turners Falls, MA. (FREE)

There is incredible diversity in the bird life we have here in Massachusetts. How many of these have you seen in your own neighborhood, schoolyard, or backyard? If your family does not already keep a birding journal (in which you keep a record of the species you’ve spotted), wintertime is a great time to start!


Monday, December 28, 3:30pm
Wednesday, December 30, 3:30pm
Marionettes are puppets that are controlled from above using wires or strings. This mechanism enables the marionettist to create unique, beautiful movements in his or her puppets. Enjoy a marionette performance of Grimms’ fairy tale Rapunzel at Ventfort Hall, created by puppeteer Carl Sprague and his vintage collection of Czech marionettes. This classic story about a young girl held captive by an evil witch as a result of her mother’s greed is rich with moral issues that will prompt meaningful family discussions afterward. The audience will have a chance to meet Sprague and enjoy punch and cookies after the performance. Reservations recommended. 413-637-3206. 104 Walker Street, Lenox, MA. ($$)

Tuesday, December 29, 11am
Let your imagination run wild with a spacey dress up puppet show and some wild anti-gravity dancing when Toe Jam Puppet Band presents “Toe Jam in Outer Space” at the Springfield Museums. They’ll also perform original songs from their CD. Part of the museums’ Week of Wonder, which includes planetarium shows, art activities, and family science adventures. 413-263-6800. Davis Auditorium, D’Amour Museum, 21 Edwards Street, Springfield, MA. ($$)

Tuesday, December 29, 11am and 2pm
Candy for breakfast? Never!! Well, maybe just for one day, and only if it’s the best lollipop ever. In Lollipops for Breakfast, a solo performance by puppeteer Bonnie Duncan at the Eric Carle Museum of Picture Book Art, Sylvie (played by Duncan) and her pet bird (a hand puppet) pursue lollipop perfection as they search for missing ingredients, wrestle with giant candy machines, and get lost in a magical pop-up cookbook. Watch how the puppeteer acts as a human character and also controls the puppet and the puppet’s unique voice and “personality.” For ages 3 and up. 413-658-1126. 125 West Bay Road, Amherst, MA. (<$)

Follow up your puppet show experience (or drum up pre-show excitement) with some puppet making at home! Visit our post, Let’s Play: Puppets and Creative Free Play,” to learn how and why puppets make great crafts and learning tools.

Outdoor Adventures

Sunday, December 27, 10am-12pm
After all those indoor celebrations, head for the open spaces of Hollow Fields with the Berkshire Natural Resources Council. Clear your head, stretch your muscles, and fill your lungs with fresh air on a relaxing hike. Take in views of Yokun Ridge on this easy-paced, two-mile hike with moderate elevation gain. Bring water, a snack, and plenty of layers. See website for directions. 413-499-0596. Perry’s Peak Road, Richmond, MA. (FREE)

Friday, January 1, 10am
Start off the new year with some fresh air and scenic views by joining Williamsburg Woodland Trails for its First Day 2016 hike. The hike will proceed down Valley View Road and into the woods, to Mass Audubon’s O’Neil Hill property and back. It will last 1.5-2 hours and is over easy terrain. Park and meet at the Dunphy School lot in the center of town. 413-268-7523. 1 Petticoat Hill Road, Williamsburg, MA. (FREE)

Friday, January 1, 11am and 1pm
Get the new year off to a healthy start by joining MassParks and people at state parks across the country for a First Day Hike. Meet at the DAR State Forest in Goshen (Day Use Parking Lot off Route 112) at 11am, the Great Falls Discovery Center in Turners Falls at 1pm, or Mt. Greylock Reservation (Visitor Center) in Lanesborough at 1pm. Hiking promotes mental and physical well-being, and we have so many interesting, diverse state parks in Western Massachusetts to explore! If you’d like to identify other family hikes to keep you warm and healthy this winter, visit our post, “State Forests & Parks: Treasure for all to Enjoy”. No matter what your outdoor adventure, wear sturdy shoes and dress for the weather! 617-626-1450. Various locations, MA. (FREE)

Film Studies

Saturday, December 26, 10am
In The Polar Express (G, 2004), Billy wants to believe in Santa, despite what his family might think, and is vindicated when a mysterious locomotive pulls up in front of his house and takes him on a magical journey to the North Pole. The movie, based on the picture book by Chris Van Allsburg, is shown as part of the Family Film Series at Amherst Cinema. If your family is not already familiar with the story, borrow the book from a friend or local library and read it together beforehand. This offers everyone a nice background understanding of the story, and sets the stage for making meaningful comparisons between the book and movie versions. 413-253-2547. 28 Amity Street, Amherst, MA. (<$)

Saturday, December 26, 11am
Enjoy the Christmas comedy Elf (PG, 2003) at the Lee Library. 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. 413-243-0385. 100 Main Street, Lee, MA. (FREE)

Saturday, December 26, 2pm
In Pixar’s animated film Inside Out (PG, 2015), eleven-year-old Riley’s family is moving from Minnesota to California, and she’s not happy about it. Watch her inner turmoil as Joy, Sadness, Anger, Fear, and Disgust struggle for control inside her head. Younger kids will enjoy the colorful, active animation, while older kids may find some self-understanding through Riley’s emotional ups and downs. At the Sunderland Public Library. Bring pillows or blankets for kids who wish to sit on the floor, though seating will be provided. 413-665 2642. 20 School Street, Sunderland, MA. (FREE)

Tuesday, December 29, 2:30pm
The Clark Art Institute presents Babe (G, 1995) as part of its Free Family Film Festival. When Farmer Hoggett wins a piglet at the county fair, he plans to serve him for Christmas dinner but soon decides instead to raise him to show. Babe wins the heart of a motherly border collie and learns to herd sheep but is not accepted other animals. This live-action movie will generate conversation about fitting in (or not) and pursuing one’s dreams despite society’s expectations. Some scenes may be disturbing for young viewers. 413-458-2303. 225 South Street, Williamstown, MA. (FREE)

Choral Music

Sunday, December 27, 4pm
Did you know that children who participate in a chorus have been found to achieve more highly in school compared to classmates who weren’t involved in chorus, and that being a part of a singing group helps to ward off depression and loneliness? Given these benefits, not to mention the beautiful sound of choral music, you have good reason to believe that a community singing experience will be a hit with your family. Come sing beautiful music (or just listen) at the 51st Annual Messiah Sing! at the Village Congregational Church. Composed by George Handel in 1741, The Messiah tells the story of Jesus Christ and is one of the most frequently performed choral works in Western music. Soloists and the Cummington Philharmonic Orchestra will perform. 413-634-5320. Main Street, Cummington, MA. (FREE)

Art Studies

Saturday, December 26-Thursday, December 31, 10am-5pm
Vacation weeks offer a great opportunity to visit a gallery and explore an exhibit you’ve been wanting to check out! Right now you can brighten up your winter with Sol LeWitt’s wall drawing, #1089, and many other fine works of art at the Williams College Museum of Art, which is open for special post-holiday hours. Walk through the galleries with your children and discuss the stories, seasons, time periods, people, and emotions represented in various works. Bring your inspiration home and create art of your own in a style you saw at the museum or following your own muse! 413-597-2429. 15 Lawrence Hall Drive, Suite 2, Williamstown, MA. (FREE)

While in Williamstown, have a visit to MASS MoCa to see more of Sol LeWitt’s work, A Wall Drawing Retrospective. Open New Year’s Eve and New Year’s Day.


Monday, December 28, 10am-10:50am
An ice skating rink is a wonderful physics laboratory! What happens when you push yourself away from the wall? Where will you go if you lean on your left foot? What is the same and different between a hockey stop and using your toe-pick? Get some exercise and test your ideas while gliding across the ice (or maybe just standing up) at West Springfield Parks and Recreation‘s free skating event at Amelia Park. For West Springfield residents only; must show proof of residency to get free skate voucher at the Parks & Rec office ahead of time. Parental signature required for children under 18. Skate rentals $3/person. Helmets recommended. 413-263-3284. 21 South Broad Street, Westfield, MA. (FREE)

Not a West Springfield resident? Not a problem! You can find another Western Mass skating rink near you! And once the mercury drops, there will be plenty of outdoor ice skating opportunities to be had too!

Monday, December 28, 12pm-4pm
Are you someone who always picks a horse on the inside of the carousel, or do you ride one on the outside? All merry-go-round horses make one complete circle in the same amount of time, but the interior horses travel a much shorter distance in that time than the outer ones do, resulting in very different linear speeds. And what happens when you choose a stationary horse versus one that gallops up and down? Experience the fun of physics by bringing your kids, or grandkids, for a ride on the Holyoke Merry-Go-Round. Known as “Holyoke’s Happiness Machine,” the antique carousel with brightly painted wooden animals and calliope music is a sensory treat for young and old. It was once part of Mountain Park, an amusement park on the side of Mt. Tom, and was moved to Holyoke Heritage Park when Mountain Park closed in 1987. It will be open during school vacation week, Monday-Wednesday 12pm-4pm and Thursday 10am-4pm. 413-538-9838. 221 Appleton Street, Holyoke, MA. (<$)


Have you ever wondered exactly how it is that magic tricks work? Great magicians manage to perform seemingly impossible feats not through any mysterious form of magic, but through the magic of psychology – the magic of which lies in the ability to subtly influence decisions and attention. Easy to study at home and at community events, magic can be an interesting entry point for studies of psychology and, in addition to gaining a better understanding of the human brain, perhaps families can learn a few tricks for themselves in the process!

The Springfield Museums offer two fun magic experiences this week as a part of their Week of Wonder, which includes planetarium shows, art activities, and family science adventures, too. You won’t believe your eyes when magician Scott Jameson makes umbrellas appear out of nowhere and drawings come to life at the on Monday, December 28 at 11am. You’ll be amazed by his juggling skills as well. On Wednesday, December 30 at 11am, you can get your funny bone tickled and your imagination sparked when Robert Clarke presents a charming show featuring sleight of hand, tricks that defy physics, and comedy. This fun performance includes audience participation! 413-263-6800. 21 Edwards Street, Springfield, MA. ($$)

Families can learn together about the connection between magic tricks and psychology by exploring research done by researchers at McGill University and the University of British Columbia. Titled “Psychology of Magic”, the project explores human decision making – specifically, the choosing of cards from a standard deck. Research has shown that, when asked to choose any card from a deck, people choose aces much more frequently than any other card and, in particular, they most prefer the ace of spades.


Monday, December 28, 1pm-2pm
Everything we know about the world, we’ve learned from one of our five senses — sight, hearing, taste, smell, and touch. Explore the senses with Miss Lorin through fun, hands-on activities at the East Longmeadow Public Library. For ages 6 and up. Registration required. 413-525-5400, ext. 1511. 60 Center Square, East Longmeadow, MA. (FREE)

Tuesday, December 29, 11am-7pm
How does sound travel through the air into our ears and get interpreted by our brains? What does 20/20 vision really mean? Explore the five senses through science, art, and math activities at Think Tank in the activity room at the East Longmeadow Public Library. 413-525-5400, ext. 1511. 60 Center Square, East Longmeadow, MA. (FREE)

Crash Course A&P continues the journey through sensory systems with a look at how your sense of hearing works. Check out this video to learn about the sense of hearing, and then check out these videos to discover all manner of anatomy and physiology.

Arts & Crafts

Monday, December 28, 1pm-4pm
Drop In on Art at the Norman Rockwell Museum all through school vacation! Write your own story lines, develop characters and plots, and create settings, using pieces on display as inspiration. Engaging in art builds motor skills, promotes language development, and strengthens decision-making abilities. Monday through Saturday, except Friday, January 1. Every day is different, with art educators who promote experimentation with materials and techniques. Open to all ages. 413-298-4100. 9 Route 183, Stockbridge, MA. (FREE Members, $$ Non-members)

Tuesday, December 29, 9:30am-4pm
Enjoy crafts and special performances at Old Sturbridge Village during school vacation week. Dip candles the old-fashioned way and participate in other hands-on activities. 800-733-1830. 1 Old Sturbridge Village Road, Sturbridge, MA. ($$)

Thursday, December 31, 3pm-4:30pm
Snow or no snow, you can create your own wintry scene at Meekins Library. They’ll have lots of art supplies on hand so you can let your imagination run wild. 413-268-7472. 2 Williams Street (Route 9), Williamsburg, MA. (FREE)

Music Studies

Sunday, December 27, 2pm-3pm
Kick of the Springfield Museums‘ Week of Wonder with a lively, interactive show by Otha Day called Drum to the Beat. Otha believes that rhythm can build community, promote well-being, and create joy. For all ages. Planetarium shows, art activities, and family science adventures take place at various times during the day throughout the museums. 413-263-6800. SIS Hall, Wood Museum of Springfield History, 21 Edwards Street, Springfield, MA. ($$)

Monday, December 28, 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)

Wednesday, December 30, 2pm
The ukulele is one of the simplest instruments to play. By learning three chords — C, F, and G7 — you can begin playing songs. It’s also a social instrument, fun to play and sing along to in groups. Give it a try at the Whately Library. Ukuleles provided. For ages 8 to adult. 413-665-2170. 202 Chestnut Plain Road, Whately, MA. (FREE)

Family Dance Party

Friday, January 1, 10am-12pm
Save your celebrating for New Year’s Day and bring the family to the New Year’s Day Music Party, presented by Hilltown Families and Flywheel Arts Collective. Enjoy pancakes, fruit, and juice while being entertained by Scotty Swan Puppet Co. and The Magic of Jeff P. Then hit the dance floor with DJ Youthelectronix for the “best dance party before noon.” Bring your friends and make new ones at this fun community party! This event is a fundraiser for Hilltown Families and Flywheel, and is the first in a series of three this winter! (Mark your calendars: our next event is scheduled for Saturday, February 13th, 2016, from 10am-12pm, supported by the Easthampton Cultural Council.) 413-527-9800. 43 Main Street, Easthampton, MA. (FUNDRAISER,; >$)

[Photo credit: (cc) MOTT]

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.

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