26 Community-Based Educational Highlights: Jazz Music to Woodworking. Radio Drama to Pumpkins.

The Ashfield Fall Festival will take place this weekend on both Sat & Sun from 10am-5pm up and down Ashfield’s Main Street. A quintessential New England fall celebration; engaging connects families to their local culture alongside neighbors and friends. Ashfield, MA (FREE)

Jazz Music to Colonial History. Antiques to Woodworking. Stop-Motion Animation to Radio Drama. 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 highlights this week:  Scarecrows are an old and practical invention, used to frighten away birds which harm crops. The history of scarecrows begins in Egypt, where the earliest records of the use of scarecrows have been found. Rather than using models of humans, farmers along the Nile River built wooden frames with nets in their wheat fields, and used their scarecrow-like devices to trap quail who would visit their fields to feast on wheat. So, rather than scaring away birds, these early scarecrow-users actually protected their crops and caught their dinner at the same time!  This practical invention has also made a strong cultural impact and led to people creating scarecrows for decorative purposes, particularly in the spooky fall months. You can engage with this local agricultural history and cultural tradition by attending this Scarecrow Stuffing Party on Saturday, October 8, 12pm-2pm. There will also be a bake sale. Call to reserve your scarecrow. 413-863-2116. Unity Park. 56 First Street. Turners Falls, MA. (<$)

PhotographyHomeschoolingMusic StudiesJazzCivic EngagementSTEMComputer ProgrammingPumpkinsColonial HistoryWorld HistoryTransportationRadio DramaShakespeareComedy HistoryFilm StudiesIce HockeyScarecrowsDendrologyLanguageWoodworkingAntiquesPlacemakingFall Festivals

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Photography… it’s shaped the world and impacts how we remember our past and think about people and places we’ve never visited.  But what were the origins of the camera? Starting with the camera obscura, photography has evolved into cameras we carry in our back pockets everywhere we go! In this TED-Ed Talk, Eva Timothy tracks the trajectory from the most rudimentary cameras to the ubiquity of them today.

View more of this lesson:
Illuminating photography:
From camera obscura to camera phone – Eva Timothy

Saturday, October 8, 8am-11am
Photography is an interests which easily intersects with a love of nature. If you enjoy art, and spending time outdoors, you can learn techniques from a professional photographer while taking in the natural beauty of Graves Farm Wildlife Sanctuary. Photographer and naturalist John Green will teach participants how to use natural lighting and other techniques in photography. He will teach about the ethics of photographing in nature, such as how to avoid disturbing wildlife. Meet at Graves Farm Parking Lot. Bring a tripod if you have one. Registration is required. Call 413-584-3009. Adams Road. Haydenville, MA. ($)

Friday, October 14, 10am-12pm
Do you enjoy architecture, photography, history, or all three? Individuals and families with children ages 8 and older (siblings welcome) are invited on a 1.8 mile walking tour which will explore Holyoke’s local history of textile and paper mill industry. Participants will explore the architectural and decorative aspects of old mills and capture them through photography. Bring a camera, smart phone, or binoculars. Meet in front of the Visitor Center of Holyoke Heritage State Park. Children must be accompanied by an adult. Rain cancels. 413-534-1723. 221 Appleton Street. Holyoke, MA. (FREE)

Want to see a real-life camera obscura? Warner Farm in Sunderland has one you can check out while exploring photographic optics through hands-on engagement. Now is the perfect time to visit the farm while they have their corn maze and other fall activities taking place.


Wednesday, October 12, 6pm
Public school is not for every child, or every parent. But homeschooling your child can be a daunting task. How do you learn about homeschooling, and how would you get started if you decide that is the best educational path for your child? This workshop, How To Get Started Homeschooling Wednesday, at the East Longmeadow Public Library, will teach you the specifics of how homeschooling works. Registration is required. This program is presented by Advocates for Home Education in Massachusetts (AHEM). 413-525-5432. 60 Center Square. East Longmeadow, MA. (FREE)

Music Studies

Thursday, October 13, 6pm
The famous trumpet player Louis Armstrong is one of America’s most enduring musicians, whose influence persists to this day. Armstrong experienced a difficult childhood in early 20th Century New Orleans, and went on to become a jazz performer in Chicago, Harlem, and Hollywood. The musical group Dixieland Stomp will be telling the story of Armstrong’s life through his music at the Holyoke Public Library. 413-420-8101. 250 Chestnut Street. Holyoke, MA. (FREE)

Civic Engagement

Wednesday, October 12. 5:30-7:30pm
What do gambling slots, marijuana, farm animals, and schools have in common? They’re all tied to important questions that will appear on the ballot when Massachusetts residents vote this November. To help voters understand what a “yes” or “no” vote means for each question, the Springfield City Library will be holding a “Slots, Pot, Veal, and Schools” event. Attendees can expect to hear from speakers on both sides of each issue and will have the opportunity to pose questions to the representatives. Attendees may also register to vote, check their registration status, and verify their polling place. 413-263-6828. 220 State Street. Springfield, MA. (FREE)


Monday, October 10, 5:30pm-7:30pm
Some educators in the field of computer science have taken up the motto that, “Coding is the new literacy.” Programming languages, the logic used to build tools such as websites and video games, do have similarities with the written word. Lab nights at Holyoke Codes
offer unstructured time for participants to work on any project, independently or in groups. People of all ages are welcome to attend. Visit the Holyoke Codes website for more information. 413- 552-4900. 100 Bigelow Street. Holyoke, MA.

Thursday, October 13, 6pm
Did you know that pollinators can transmit plant diseases? Matthew Boyer will be discussing this phenomenon at the OEB Science Cafe. Science Cafes aim to bring science outside of the university walls. Lifelong learners, unaffiliated with local schools, are encouraged to attend. Kids are also welcome. Nacul Center. 592 Main Street. Amherst, MA. (FREE)

Harvest Traditions

There are a myriad uses for pumpkins!  One of America’s oldest native crops, modern day uses include carving as ornaments for Halloween, prepared as pies, and highlighted as a main attraction in agricultural fairs (i.e., largest pumpkin contests) and fall festivals (i.e., pumpkin roll & pumpkin games).  Needless to say, pumpkins are an integrated part of our fall traditions in Western Massachusetts. Read more in the October section of our Sept/Oct edition of Learning Ahead: Cultural Itinerary for Western Massachusetts.

Saturday, October 8, 10am-4pm
In addition to pumpkin painting, Pumpkin Fest at Look Park will feature bounce houses, carnival games, and live entertainment! Ed Popielarczyk will perform magic, followed by Tom Knight’s puppet show. This event is great for children, who will have a blast playing carnival games. Celebrate fall with other families at this year’s Pumpkin Festival. Ball Field. 413-584-5457. 300 North Main Street. Florence, MA. (<$)

Sunday, October 9, 6pm-8pm
Pumpkin carving isn’t just a seasonal tradition, it’s an art! Local artists, students, volunteers, and other community members will hand-carve 150 pumpkins to be displayed at Wistariahurst during Next Stop Holyoke. In addition to seeing their work, you can engage in crafts, games, and snacks on the lawn as the sun sets. All are welcome! 413-322-5660. 238 Cabot Street. Holyoke, MA. (FREE)


Sunday, October 9, 2pm-5pm
Historical societies help to preserve our collective memory and strengthen communities by educating community members on local history. You can learn about 16th century life with a visit to the 1775 Wilder Homestead. Participants will learn about history through activities and demonstrations of Colonial era tasks such as open hearth cooking, weaving, spinning, chair caning, spinning, quilting, folk painting, and cider pressing. There will also be music of the 1700s and Morris Dancers. Contact the Buckland Historical Society for more information. 413-625-9763. 32 Upper Street. Buckland, MA. (<$)

Sunday, October 9, 11am, 12pm, and 1pm; Monday, October 10, 11am, 12pm, and 1pm
Join Enchanted Circle Theater and The Trustees at the William Cullen Bryant Homestead for a unique living history experience! A Fiery and Still Voice: William Cullen Bryant at Home is a site-based history play where past and present converge to bring the Homestead to life! This is a play about love, passion and social justice. The audience will travel through several rooms in the house as well as outdoors. Tickets are limited, so be sure to reserve in advance. 413-532-1631 x 3110. 207 Bryant Road. Cummington, MA ($)

Thursday, October 13, 12:15pm-1pm
How civilizations deal with death, dying, and mourning reveals much about their cultural values and beliefs. You can find out about the values of ancient Greeks societies, as well as their beliefs about dying, burial, and immortality, at this Springfield Museums lunchtime lecture. Attendees will see images of ancient objects and monuments from the 8th to the 4th century BCE in the presentation, “Stones & Bones: The Art of Death in Ancient Greece.” The audience is invited to bring a lunch to enjoy during the program. This program will be followed by a Museum members-only Continuing Conversation with docent Dave Carlson. 413-263-6800. 21 Edwards Street. Springfield, MA. (<$)

Friday, October 14, 3pm-3:30pm
Aerial tramways, which transport people up mountains, were an exciting and possibly frightening invention when they were new. Riding one for the first time can be somewhat intimidating, especially for those who are unfamiliar with how they work. People ages twelve and up, and their caregivers, are invited to Skinner State Park to learn about the history of the tramway and the mix of feelings of 19th century visitors had when riding it. Meet at the summit house. 413-586-0350. 20 Skinner State Park Road. Hadley, MA. (FREE)


Sometimes our imagination can be more terrifying that reality! Radio dramas heighten our imagination through dialogue, music and sound effects, helping the listener visualize the story and characters.  Once a popular form of entertainment, radio theater is a performance art that is nearly 100 years old. No thanks to the television, radio dramas thrived for only a few decades. Podcasts, their modern day versions, still survive and old episodes of audio dramas can be found online. Here’s an episode of Radio Mystery Theater’s audio play of The Hound of the Baskervilles by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle:

Saturday, October 8, 7pm
Remember when The Lone Ranger, Grand Central Station! and The Green Hornet kept us riveted to the radio with the actors’ expressive voices and, of course, the sound effects?  Artistic Director Kandie Carle returns to Ventfort Hall Mansion and Gilded Age Museum with members of her East Haddam Stage Company presenting Sherlock Holmes and the Adventure of the Speckled Band.  The live-action “radio” drama features Victorian superstar actor William Gillette’s actual 1930 radio script, complete with sound effects, audience participation and four actors portraying seven characters. Gillette, a native of Connecticut, was a prominent American actor-manager, playwright and stage manager in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. He is best remembered for portraying Sherlock Holmes on stage (1,300 times over 30 years) and in a 1916 silent film.  His portrayal helped create the modern image of the fictional detective.  Gillette’s use of the deerstalker cap and curved pipe became enduring symbols of the character.  He is also known for introducing realism to the theater with new types of sets, costumes, props, sound effects and a new form of acting.   This show at Ventfort Hall, Sherlock Holmes and the Adventure of the Speckled Band, will consist of classic sound effects and a real 1930 radio script performed by four actors playing seven parts. 413-637-3206. 104 Walker Street. Lenox, MA. (Adults $; Children under 12 <$)

Saturday, October 8, 7:30pm; Friday, October 14, 7:30pm
Amazingly, Shakespeare’s poetry and plays from the 16th and 17th century are still read and analyzed regularly, and appear on required reading lists in high school and beyond. The world seems to agree that he is one of the greatest writers of all time. You can get a crash course in the plots of Shakespeare’s plays by attending Silverstone Theater Comany’s performance of The Complete Works of William Shakespeare (Abridged). This play is a comedic take on Shakespeare’s work, representing all 37 of Shakespeare’s works (poems included) in one evening’s entertainment. The performance will take place at The Arts Block. Reserve over the phone at 413-768-7514. 289 Main Street. Greenfield, MA. ($)

Friday, October 14, 2pm-3:30pm
Much has been said about the philosophy behind comedy and what makes something funny.Carol Burnett famously stated, “comedy is tragedy plus time.” But what we consider funny, and the kind of humor which appears in media, differs over time and across cultures. You can learn about the history of comedy at the Berkshire Museum series, “A Serious Look at 20th Century Comedy.” Fridays through October 28 (no session October 7), learn about the impact of silent film, radio, and early television through video clips, photos, illustrations and discussion. Drop-ins welcome, no registration required. 413-443-7171. 39 South Street. Route 7. Pittsfield, MA. (<$)

Film Studies

Saturday, October 8, 2pm; Sunday, October 9, 12:30pm
The 2016 animated film Kubo and the Two Strings (Rated PG) is an action-adventure set in a fantastical Japan. The kindhearted Kubo tells enchanting stories to the people of his seaside town, and accidentally summons a mythical spirit from his past and must flee and battle gods and monsters. Families are invited to Images Cinema to join Kubo on his journey. Older children and adults may be interested in the stop motion animation style of the film, a cinematic technique which combines movable models with photography. 50 Spring Street. 413-458-5612. Williamstown, MA. (<$)


Saturday, October 8, 1pm-3pm
Do you have a daughter who enjoys rollerblading, biking, or skating? Maybe she would like ice hockey too! Hockey is a fast-paced, exciting sport combining skating skills with other feats of strength and hand-eye coordination. Girls ages four and up can try hockey, no experience necessary, at Try Hockey for Free Day! Skate rentals will also be provided. Bring winter gloves and a bicycle or hockey helmet. You can register in advance online. For more information, contact Karen Skolfield at skolfield@engin.umass.edu. UMass Mullins Center Community Rink. Commonwealth Avenue. Amherst, MA. (FREE)


Used around the world for millennia, scarecrows are without a doubt an icon of the Halloween season. By studying scarecrow history and participating in community celebrations, families can learn about the agricultural necessity of the bird-deterrents and find a seasonal outlet for creativity! Read more in our post, Scarecrow Studies Illuminate Cultural History and Creative-Free Play.

Saturday, October 8, 12pm-2pm
Scarecrows are an old and practical invention, used to frighten away birds which harm crops. The history of scarecrows begins in Egypt, where the earliest records of the use of scarecrows have been found. Rather than using models of humans, farmers along the Nile River built wooden frames with nets in their wheat fields, and used their scarecrow-like devices to trap quail who would visit their fields to feast on wheat. So, rather than scaring away birds, these early scarecrow-users actually protected their crops and caught their dinner at the same time!  This practical invention has also made a strong cultural impact and led to people creating scarecrows for decorative purposes, particularly in the spooky fall months. You can engage with this local agricultural history and cultural tradition by attending this Scarecrow Stuffing Party! There will also be a bake sale. Call to reserve your scarecrow. 413-863-2116. Unity Park. 56 First Street. Turners Falls, MA. (<$)


“The older the word, the longer (and more fascinating) the story. With roots in Old English, ‘true’ shares etymological ancestors with words like betroth and truce…but also with the word tree. In fact, trees have been metaphors for steadfastness and faithfulness for as long as the word true has defined the same qualities. Gina Cooke describes the poetic relationship between ‘tree’ and ‘true.'” – TED-Ed

View full lesson:
The true story of ‘true’ – Gina Cooke

Saturday, October 8, 9:30am-12:30pm
What do rocks and trees have to do with each other? Find out on a three mile hike of Mount Holyoke. You will learn how rocks affect trees, and how you can tell by looking at the trees what kind of rocks you might find near them. This program is appropriate for ages twelve and up. Please bring water, bug spray, and sunscreen and wear appropriate clothing and footwear. Meet at the Notch Visitor Center of Mount Holyoke Range State Park.. 413-253-2883. 1500 West Street. Amherst, MA. (FREE)

Sunday, October 9, 10:30am-11:30am
Ever wonder what kind of trees live near you? Naturalists from Great Falls Discovery Center can teach you about local trees, their names, and their identifying characteristics. Meet at the entrance. Recommended for children ages 4-8, accompanied by an adult. Friends and siblings are welcome to join in an exploration of the Canalside Rail Trail. Please bring water and wear layers and sturdy shoes. 413-863-3221. 2 Avenue A. Turners Falls, MA. (FREE)

Sunday, October 9, 10:30am-4pm; Monday, October 10, 10:30am-4pm
Carpenters not only build furniture, but all sorts of artistic and functional works. Woodworking has been around for centuries, and carpenters had a working knowledge of the types of wood trees produced and respect for their different qualities. Learning the woodworking techniques and styles of a particular time period can be an interesting way to engage with history with linking an interest in trees. Come to Historic Deerfield for a demonstration of 18th-century woodworking techniques. Craftsman Craig Farrow will teach you how early New Englanders made and obtained furniture. For more woodworking and blacksmithing resources, check out our post, Inspiration for Aspiring Woodworkers & Blacksmiths. 413-774-5581. 80 Old Main Street. Deerfield, MA. (FREE)


Antiques provide historical insight, telling us about how people once lived through everyday objects they used and possessed. Families, life-long learners and self-directed teens can learn about history, art, and architecture through visiting historic house museums where primary source materials are on display. Here is a list of a few historic house museums in Western MA to add to your itinerary featured in our post, Historical Learning Through Art and Antiques.

Saturday, October 8, 11am-6pm; Sunday, October 9, 11am-5pm
Antiques provide historical insight on a highly personal level, teaching us about how people once lived through the everyday objects they used and possessed. 2016 ADA/Historic Deerfield Antiques Show will bring together antique dealers from across the country. Browse fine art and rare objects –from furnishings to carpets to quilts. Admission to the show includes access to the Flynt Center of Early New England Life and the Apprentice’s Workshop at Dwight House. Deerfield Academy Hockey Rink. 413-774-5581. Albany Road. Deerfield, MA. ($)


Saturday, October 8, 10am-11pm; Sunday, October 9, 10am-8pm
Celebrate art, music, and local food culture in Holyoke! Next Stop Holyoke on October 7 through October 9, will provide activities for people of all ages. Next Stop Holyoke will connect residents and visitors with the rich culture of Holyoke through tours of historic buildings, an artist marketplace, performances, a community picnic, crafts for kids, more. You can view architectural works of art at Wistariahurst, bring your children to the Children’s Museum, the Holyoke Merry Go Round, or the Volleyball Hall of Fame. For a full schedule of events taking place at these, and other locations, visit the Next Stop Holyoke website. Holyoke, MA. (FREE admission. MARKET/SALE)

Fall Festivals

Saturday, October 8, 10am-5pm; Sunday, October 9, 10am-5pm
The Ashfield Fall Festival will take place up and down Ashfield’s Main Street all weekend – rain or shine. The annual festival offers craft and art exhibits by more than 50 exhibitors, locally-grown and prepared foods, live music and dancing, face-painting and other children’s activities, and book and tag sales. Main Street. Ashfield, MA (FREE)

Saturday, October 8, 10am-5pm; Sunday, October 9, 10am-5pm
Harvest festivals celebrate the bounty of fall. Combined with tag sales, they can be opportunities for collaborative consumption as well as placemaking. The 82nd annual Berkshire Botanical Garden Harvest Festival will feature family fun, great food, local craft vendors, a farmers market, giant tag sales and so much more. All proceeds from the festival will benefit the Garden’s education program. 413-298-3926. 5 West Stockbridge Road. Stockbridge, MA. (<$; Children under 12 and members FREE)

Learn Local. Play Local. is supported in part by a grant from the Amherst, Blandford, Bernardston, Chesterfield, Erving, Holyoke, Montague, Montgomery, Pelham, Shutesbury, South Hadley, Springfield, Warwick and Williamsburg Cultural Councils, local agencies which are supported by the Massachusetts Cultural Council, a state agency.

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