Sewing Skills Connect Local Culture, Local History, and Self-Sufficiency

Sewing Skills Connect Local Culture, Local History, and Self-Sufficiency

While hand-sewn clothes have largely been replaced by factory-made ones, the ability to sew remains a useful skill. For children, learning to sew can present opportunities not only to learn a new skill, exercise creativity, and hone fine motor skills, but it can lead to community-based learning about local culture and local history, as well!

Learning to sew can be difficult, but by starting small, families can share (or learn together) the basic needle skills necessary for hand sewing. Adults or teens who are able to stitch using a simple needle and thread can share that skill with children, allowing them to learn how to patch together fabrics or perhaps mend their own clothes. Families who have sewing machines at home can share machine skills with older children who are able to control the machine’s pedals, buttons, and dials while still keeping a good stitch pace. Read the rest of this entry »

4 Outdoor Adventures for Exploring Geology and Local History

Community-Based Resources to Support an Interest in Geology & Local History

Digging deep into local history this summer can reveal opportunities for community-based learning about geology and early Hilltown industries. Western Massachusetts is home to some incredible gems like mineral dig sites, abandoned quarries, and former mines, studies and explorations of which can lead to valuable learning about the area’s history – both local and natural.

Western Massachusetts was once filled with numerous mining and quarry operations, and studies of geology and local history overlap with explorations of former mine and quarry sites! We’ve highlighted four such gems that families can easily visit this summer.  Read the rest of this entry »

Exploring Local History Through Textiles

Common Thread: Exploring Local Industrial History Through the Lens of Silk

Discover Northampton’s silk history via this handpainted silk quilt displayed at the Neilson Library at Smith College in Northampton, MA, one of many community-based resources to support an interest in local history and textiles. For a virtual tour, click on the quilt.

Once upon a time, the Pioneer Valley’s mills bustled with activity, producing all sorts of goods and providing a boost to the local economy. Today, many of these mills are filled with offices, art studios, and spacious high-ceiling apartments.

Despite the creative reuse of such industrial spaces, the area’s ties to industries of the past can easily be explored. In particular, the Pioneer Valley’s connection to the textile industry can be studied through self-guided explorations, museum visits, tree identification and hands-on learning opportunities taking place during the next few months. Read the rest of this entry »

The Fabric of History in Western Mass Weaves a Tale

Historic Deerfield Celebrates 50th Anniversary of Their Textile Collection

Early 19th-century tartan wool cloak.

On June 4, 1965, the brand new Fabric Hall was opened to the public at Historic Deerfield (then known as The Heritage Foundation).  Situated behind the Silver Museum in a renovated 1870s barn (now Historic Deerfield’s History Workshop), Fabric Hall showcased the museum’s growing collection of clothing, needlework and domestic textiles.  The gallery, which included innovative ambient lighting, air conditioning, and radiant floor heat, conveyed an early awareness of the need to monitor environmental conditions to protect fragile items.  Fabric Hall was the dream of Helen Geier Flynt (1895-1986) who, along with her husband, Henry N. Flynt (1893-1970), founded Historic Deerfield. No longer limited to the small spaces of the historic house museums, Fabric Hall allowed Mrs. Flynt free reign to display a range of items in the collection, from more exotic and opulent textiles to historic fashions and textiles demonstrating aesthetic or technical excellence. Read the rest of this entry »

Connect to Your Community & Follow the Path of History

Join the Dots of Local History Through
Place-Based Educational Walking Tours

Families can explore local connections to important moments in national history by participating in walking tours of Florence, offered by the Sojourner Truth Memorial Committee. Held monthly, tours weave stories together with exploration of local landmarks to make for a place-based exploration of history.

This summer, national history becomes place-based through a series of walking tours in Florence. Offered by the Sojourner Truth Memorial Committee, these tours will shed light on local connections to abolition, the Underground Railroad, and, of course, the many remarkable historical figures who spearheaded the radical movements of the 19th century.

Following the path of one of 25 great local walking tours, each expedition will include a thorough look at notable Florence landmarks and will tie each important location to people and events linked to some major parts of history. Among such locations are Park Street cemetery, final resting place of at least four former slaves; the Nonotuck Silk Mill dam, located near a mill where abolitionists processed sugar beets – grown as an alternative to sugar cane; and the Florence Congregational Church, where greats such as Frederick Douglass spoke beneath a 150-year-old old growth pine. Read the rest of this entry »

Digging Northampton’s History: A Community Archaeology Project

Digging Northampton’s History: A Community Archaeology Project

On Tuesdays through Saturdays from May 19 through June 6, 2015, an archaeological excavation is being conducted in Northampton at the site of the Parsons House, built in the early 1700s by Nathaniel Parsons, the grandson of Joseph Parsons, one of the founders of the city.

What good does collecting trash do when you’re studying history? A whole lot of it, if it’s the right trash! Local historians and archaeologists, both professional and amateur, will set about collecting historic trash for the community project, Digging Northampton’s History. An archaeological exploration of the history of Historic Northampton’s Nathaniel Parsons House, the project aims to collect artifacts so as to learn more about the lives of women and children in Northampton during the 18th century. Read the rest of this entry »

Hilltown Families on Mass Appeal: Celebrating Local Culture Through Sheep & Wool

Hilltown Families on Mass Appeal: April Segment
Celebrating New England Culture Through Sheep & Wool

Hilltown Families and Mass Appeal (a weekday, hour-long lifestyle program on NBC) have teamed up to offer a live monthly segment on WWLP 22News!  Each month, Hilltown Families’ Founder & Executive Director, Sienna Wildfield,  joins Mass Appeal host, Ashley Kohl, to talk about ways to engage in your community while supporting the interests and education of your children (and yourselves!).

This monthly segment continued on Thursday, April 23, 2015, highlighting community-based resources and events that use sheep and wool as a lens for learning about our local culture and history.  Sienna and Ashley talk about events and activities families can access to support learning this time of year as it relates to our cultural heritage and learning connections with sheep and wool:

In the early spring, New England history and culture come alive with the arrival of newborn lambs and the shearing of sheep for the production of wool. The wool industry has strong ties to western Massachusetts, with annual events that celebrate our historical past and other events which showcase modern day shepherds and their flocks.  Discover local events and resources that make connects and support learning in our post, New England Culture & Learning Through the Lens of Sheep & Wool.


Mass Appeal is a live weekday program that airs at 11am on 22News (Springfield, MA).  Our next visit to the Mass Appeal studios will be Thursday, May 28!

Glory! Glory! Hallelujah! Time for History Learning Through Music

New Album Inspires Civil War History Education Opportunity

Use music as a lens for learning about history – Lloyd Miller (of The Deedle Deedle Dees fame) has just released a new Civil War-themed album filled with traditional and original music. Using a curriculum created by Miller, as well as a wealth of other resources, families can use music as an entry point for learning about an important time period in American history.

Glory, glory, hallelujah! Lloyd Miller‘s newest album offers opportunities for learning about the Civil War through the lens of music! Titled, Sing-a-long History, Vol. I: Glory! Glory! Hallelujah!, the album is filled with a mix of traditional songs from the late 19th century, historic pieces of writing set to original music, and Civil War-themed songs created just for the album. Overall, the album provides an engaging musical examination of many of the big ideas involved in studying the Civil War – abolition, the Underground Railroad, warfare tactics, and the experience of slavery. Simply adding the album to a family CD rotation would spark lyrics-based learning, but thanks to a handful of other resources, families and educators can use Miller’s album to spark experiential, multidisciplinary learning about the Civil War! Read the rest of this entry »

New England Culture & Learning Through the Lens of Sheep & Wool

Sheep & Wool: Catalysts for Community-Based Education in Western MA

In the early spring, New England history and culture come alive with the arrival of newborn lambs and the shearing of sheep for the production of wool. The wool industry has strong ties to western Massachusetts, with annual events that celebrate our historical past and other events which showcase modern day shepherds and their flocks.

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Four community events take place this spring that are rich in learning opportunities! Baby animals, history, animal husbandry, and even fiber arts, are all great catalysts for learning through community engagement at these annual events: Read the rest of this entry »

5 Community Walks Lead Towards Seeing a Hidden Landscape in the Hilltowns

Hidden Walls, Hidden Mills: Exploring the Plainfield Landscape

Click to enlargeJoin the Plainfield Historical Society for five free walks and talks exploring and interpreting our forested historical landscape this spring and summer! Starting on Saturday, April 25, 2015, with the Plainfield Aquaduct Company, the first commonly-held utility in Plainfield history.

Sinking deeply into spring mud, as most families living in the Hilltowns are doing, reminds us of the abundance of water that once made Plainfield a center of industrial farming, a boomtown of sorts in which land speculation went hand in hand with great civic efforts to build a community. In five guided talks/walks, learn to see old Plainfield in the landscape, about the mills, springs, and wells, “read” stone foundations and walls like so many tablets, interpret trees and plants to find cellar holes, and enrich your understanding of this beautiful Hilltown.

All tours meet behind the Shaw Memorial Library (Plainfield, MA) at 1pm and are free (donations welcomed). There will first be a “show and tell” of the historical research involved in creating the walk, followed by a walk or hike.  Read the rest of this entry »

Discovering History Through Pottery-Based Learning

Local Pottery Resources Provide History Education

A part of cultures around the world for thousands of years, pottery is fascinating – both as a functional art form and as an entry point for studying history. Utilizing local resources, children’s literature, and online tools, families can explore art, history, culture, and science through pottery-centric studies!

Pottery has been a part of human civilizations around the world ever since the Neolithic era – which was over 10,000 years ago! Much more than just a means of making dishes, pottery serves as a creative outlet for many artists, and the slow development of the art and technology surrounding pottery speaks volumes to the changes that human civilization has undergone, both long ago and more recently. Additionally, while pottery can be found in countless cultures all around the world, techniques, styles, and uses vary between cultures, and close study of various pieces of pottery can speak to the similarities and differences between cultures near and far. Read the rest of this entry »

Photographs: A Lens for Learning About the Past

Photographs as Primary Source Tools to Support Integrated Learning

Pictures are worth a thousand words, and are essentially invaluable in studies of history! Families can take advantage of a local exhibit and online archives in order to use the power of observation to learn about life in the past, both in western Massachusetts and across the country.

Though a bit cliché, the saying that a picture is worth a thousand words is entirely true – especially when it comes to using photographs as an educational tool. The power of observation alone can reveal a lot of information, making historic images an especially useful primary source resource for learning about the way people lived and looked in eras past. Available only since the mid-1800’s, photographs show real humans living within a very real – yet presently physically inaccessible – context, allowing us to visually access the time period in which they lived.

Utilizing online resources, families can support studies of the past by using the power of observation to gather information about life in a particular era or within a particular context. Whether examining photographs of Civil War soldiers in a Union encampment to imagine life as a 19th century soldier or inspecting a landscape photograph of a familiar location for signs of human-driven change over time, families have much to learn from the hundreds of thousands of photographs available online.  Read the rest of this entry »

Historical Lecture Series: Immigrant Communities in the Pioneer Valley

Paddy on the Railway: Irish Laborers and the Building of the Great Western Railroad

Were your ancestors immigrants? Are you finding a need to better understand the immigrant experience in Western Massachusetts? Wistariahurst Museum has lined up a series of historical lectures to examine various immigrant communities in the Pioneer valley and to better understand the cultural enrichment these folks brought with them.

As part of Wistariahurst’s Spring Lecture Series, Dennis Picard tells the story of the challenges of building the Western Railroad of Massachusetts linking the Boston & Worcester Railroad to the New York state line on Monday, March 16 at 6 p.m. at the Wistariahurst Museum in Holyoke.

The Western Railroad of Massachusetts was chartered in February of 1833. This transportation construction project was to link the Boston & Worcester Railroad to Springfield, across the Connecticut River and on to the New York state line. This undertaking, which only took five years to reach that goal, required hundreds of skilled and unskilled workers to complete. Though many ethnic groups were represented among the crews the vast majority of the labor was done by those of Irish birth or heritage.

On Monday, March 16 at 6pm, come hear some of the stories of the trails and successes of this unique and very mobile workforce that called our area home for a few months and then was gone.  Read the rest of this entry »

Clark Lifts Lid on Major 20th Century Modernist Movement

Machine Age Modernism Exhibit At Clark Art Institute Captures Turmoil & Upheaval

Clark Art Institute’s Machine Age Modernism exhibition explores groundbreaking printmaking and offers community-based learning opportunity on art history. Exhibition opens February 28, 2015 in Williamstown, MA.

The Clark Art Institute considers the history and politics that inspired many artists working during and between World Wars I and II in the exhibition Machine Age Modernism: Prints from the Daniel Cowin Collection. Influenced by such prewar movements as Futurism and Cubism, and using innovative techniques developed by artists associated with London’s Grosvenor School of Modern Art in the 1930s and 1940s, artists of the Machine Age defied aesthetic and technical conventions in order to convey the vitality of industrial society and changed printmaking in the process. Machine Age Modernism will be on view in the Clark Center February 28–May 17, 2015.
Read the rest of this entry »

Springfield Armory: A National Historic Site

Kids Can Learn About Local History and Become Junior Rangers at this Community-Based Resource

Tying local history with important national and international events, the Springfield Armory provides visitors with a glimpse into the history of military arms manufacturing and the history of the industrial revolution. In addition to opportunities to learn about history from exhibits, families can learn to be Junior Rangers or participate in special hands-on programs held during school vacation week!

Opened as an arsenal to support George’s Washington’s troops during the Revolutionary War, the Springfield Armory served as a major arms manufacturing center for over two centuries. Closed since 1968 – but designated as a National Historic Site – the armory provides families with opportunities to explore the intersection of local and national history. Weaving together the stories of major industrial innovations and the workers themselves with national and international military history, the armory’s exhibits and educational programs provide context for some of American history’s major events.

As part of the National Parks system’s Junior Ranger program, the Springfield Armory offers young visitors the opportunity to become Junior Rangers – a rank that requires visitors to first learn about the site’s history and relevance! Aspiring rangers ages 6+ can explore the museum’s exhibits guided by a special Junior Ranger packet that will lead them to make specific discoveries. As part of their self-guided training, Junior Rangers will learn about Civil War rifles manufactured in Springfield, the local inventors and inventions that helped drive the Industrial Revolution, and a special kind of counter-intuitive gun that saves lives!  Read the rest of this entry »

Remembering the Lost Towns Through Swift River Historic Photos

What’s in a Name? Villages, Hamlets and Hollows of the Swift River Valley

An exhibit of historic photographs, What’s in a Name? Villages, Hamlets and Hollows of the Swift River Valley, opens at the Great Falls Discovery Center in the village of Turners Falls, MA, with a public reception on Saturday, February 7, 2015, 1-3pm.

Seventy-six years ago four towns in west-central Massachusetts were destroyed to construct the Quabbin Reservoir—to quench the thirst of the growing city of Boston to the east. In addition to the four “lost towns”— Dana, Enfield, Greenwich, and Prescott—land was purchased from nine other towns: Belchertown, Hardwick, New Salem, Orange, Pelham, Petersham, Shutesbury, Ware, and Wendell. These towns were made up of small villages and even smaller hamlets and hollows. People settled near each other for one reason or another— perhaps they were extended family, or worked in a mill or factory. Sometimes the name of the village or hamlet gives us a clue as to its origins, for example, the names Atkinson Hollow and Cooleyville came from families, Bobbinville from the factory that made bobbins, and Soapstone Station from the quarries nearby.

An exhibit of historic photographs of villages, hamlets and hollows, reproduced from the collection of the Swift River Valley Historical Society, is opening at the Great Falls Discovery Center in Turners Falls on Saturday, February 7th. The public is cordially invited to an opening reception from 1 to 3 pm. On view are images of families, houses, stores, mills, factories, schools, churches, and scenic vistas. The family-friendly exhibit includes an interactive area inspired by village schoolhouses and colorful 3-D art by Pioneer Valley Regional School District students under the guidance of their art teacher, Althea Dabrowski.

Read the rest of this entry »

Black History Month at Westfield State

In Living Color: Westfield State celebrates Black History Month, bridges racial gap

“I hope to bring awareness and a different perspective,” Richeme said. “Black History Month is not just about Martin Luther King, Rosa Parks, and Ferguson. It’s more than just African American history as well. My hope is for attendees to see beyond the typical themes of the month and learn while enjoying themselves. Each program has its own definition, unique style, and is educational.” [Oil painting from exhibit]

Westfield State University will celebrate Black History Month by hosting a month-long celebration of events ranging from poetry performances, panel discussions, and interactive experiences.

Since 1974, Westfield State has held special events during the month of February dedicated to informing students, faculty, and staff as well as the community about the importance of black history, culture, and traditions. Black History Month is organized by a committee of faculty and staff.

For the first time, Black History Month celebrations are themed this year. The theme is “In Living Color,” a play on the 90’s sketch comedy of the same name, which utilized comedy, fashion, satire, and other media to captivate audiences. Black History Month Committee Chair Ashiah Richeme, staff assistant in Residential Life, said it was important for her to organize a variety of events including some contemporary discussions.

Director of Diversity, Inclusion, and Student Activities Jessika Murphy said the plethora of events allow students to understand the time table of racial injustice: “We want to bridge the gap, to show where we as a country started, notice the positive changes we’ve made, and to look forward to ways will still need to grow,” Murphy said.

While the university has held events around Black History Month for 40 years, it recently began expanding cultural awareness programs, including its first recognition of Latino Heritage Month last fall.

“Part of our job as educators is to provide students with the opportunity to learn beyond their comfort zone, which includes learning about different cultures,” Murphy said. Read the rest of this entry »

Ice Harvesting in Western MA

Five Ways to Learn about the History of Ice Harvesting in Western MA

Ice Harvesting, Massachusetts, early 1850s. [Source: Gleason's Drawing Room Companion, 1852, p.37]

Ice harvesting is an industry of the past, and one whose roots lie only in cold climates – like western Massachusetts! Done both as a necessity in early New England and as a profitable industry more recently, ice harvesting plays an important role in local history. Over the course of the next few weeks, numerous opportunities exist for families to learn about and take part in ice harvesting!

In the days of western Massachusetts past, when refrigerators weren’t standard kitchen equipment, ice was quite a luxury during the summer. In order to have ice after the spring thaw began, early New Englanders would have to harvest and strategically store ice from local lakes and ponds. Kept in the proper conditions (in the dark, and surrounded by insulation – usually sawdust), the harvested ice would last much longer than the cold weather did.

In addition to providing cool comfort at home during a New England summer, Massachusetts’ past ice harvesting industries sent locally frozen chunks all over the world. Begun in 1844 by Frederic Tudor, the local ice industry shipped ice first to London, then to warmer climates all over the world where, before electric refrigeration, ice was essentially unheard of. By the early 20th century, ice was one of America’s biggest crops (measured by weight).

Part of a rich history of economic pursuits driven by available natural resources, ice harvesting plays an important role in the history of communities all over western Massachusetts. Throughout the upcoming month, local historical societies and museums offer families opportunities to learn – in some cases, experientially – about the process of ice harvesting.  Read the rest of this entry »

Western MA Resources Support Community-Based Learning While Strengthening a Sense of Place

A Diversity of Learning Right On Your Doorstep

Western Mass is home to an incredible array of community-based resources that offer a diversity of embedded learning opportunities. From historical societies to libraries, trails to art galleries, there are numerous opportunities to connect with your community and embrace your sense of place. Read on to see what treasures rest on your doorstep.

Community-based learning is not a product of simply one resource or another. Instead, it is the product of many different local resources, the offerings of which pool and connect in order to create a web of educational connections and opportunities. Families in western Massachusetts are lucky in that this web is especially strong, thanks to the many well-stocked libraries, beautiful trails and outdoor centers, active historical societies, gallery-filled museums, and supportive family centers. Together, these types of resources help to provide opportunities for unique and authentic community-based learning, wherein families are able to explore broad concepts within a local context.

LIBRARIES

With over 1,700 libraries in the Massachusetts Library System, families have access to thousands of book.  But our local libraries are not solely a book-based resource. In addition to volumes upon volumes of reading material, libraries offer opportunities to explore and discover new interests through more nontraditional resources like musical instruments, games, and exploration kits. Amherst’s Jones Library, for example, has instruments to lend, including child-size violins, ukeleles, guitars, and even a glockenspiel! The Meekins Library in Williamsburg offers discovery kits that promote hands-on exploration of interesting topics like salmon and local rivers, and important social reformers, civil rights, and human rights leaders in American history. Additionally, many local libraries allow patrons to borrow passes to local museums – helping to make these similarly valuable resources more accessible. And as for community sustainability, libraries are one of the oldest and most common forms of collaborative consumption that we’ve got here in western Mass! Read the rest of this entry »

Six Meaningful Ways to Celebrate Martin Luther King, Jr. Day, 2015

Meaningful Ways to Celebrate Martin Luther King, Jr. Day in western Massachusetts, 2015

Next week, the celebration of Martin Luther King, Jr. Day on Monday, January 19th, 2015, presents families with a three-day weekend. Instead of spending your extra day off sleeping in and lazing around the house, highlight the historical significance of the holiday for your family and find a way to make it meaningful. Families can find special events and service opportunities taking place across western Massachusetts, each of which presents students with the chance to learn experientially about the history of oppression in our country, community activism, and the importance of kindness and a commitment to serve others. Here are six ways to celebrate with your community and family in meaning ways in western MA: Read the rest of this entry »

From Neighborhood Grocer to the Modern Supermarket

The Big Y: From Neighborhood Grocer to the Modern Supermarket

This exhibit tells the story of community development and business innovation and how this local grocery store impacted the food industry. Through photos and memorabilia, the story of its evolution unfolds and connects visitors to a piece of western MA history.

When you think about shopping local, do you think of Friendly’s Ice Cream? Yankee Candle? The Big Y?  All three of these successful businesses had their beginnings here in Western MA!

A new exhibit at the Lyman and Merrie Wood Museum of Springfield History traces the journey of Big Y Supermarkets from a small neighborhood grocery store to one of the largest independently owned supermarket chains in New England. The exhibit, entitled The Big Y: From Neighborhood Grocer to the Modern Supermarket, is now on permanent view at the Wood Museum. In close proximity are displays honoring other local success stories like Friendly’s Ice Cream and Smith & Wesson. Read the rest of this entry »

Greenfield’s Museum of Our Industrial Heritage New Web Exhibits

When the Connecticut River Dammed Us All To A Different Topography

In centuries past, before car travel was the norm and the Connecticut River had been dammed to generate electricity, boats and barges on the river helped to connect communities in the Pioneer Valley to the small cities and towns further down the river’s bank. Throughout the Pioneer Valley, there are traces leftover from the days before automobile and if you know where to look, these traces can help to teach about the development of these local communities.

Greenfield's Museum of Our Industrial Heritage New Web Exhibits

One such place that gives clues as to its past is a village in the southeastern end of Greenfield. Originally called Cheapside, all that’s left of this early 19th century hub is a street bearing the former port’s name. Cheapside Street runs parallel to the western shore of the Connecticut River, and marks what was once Cheapside Port, a bustling barge stop. Read the rest of this entry »

Behind the 12 Days of Christmas

Christmas Classic is a Literary & Cultural Symbolism Goldmine Where Learning Just Keeps Coming!

There is just so much to the 12 Days of Christmas song beyond the 2 turtle doves.

By the end of the popular Christmas carol, “The Twelve Days of Christmas,” the lucky (and truly loved) gift recipient has accumulated quite a holiday haul – nearly 400 gifts have come their way, and with quite a stunning amount of variety, too! Items as varied as gold rings, dancing men, and partridges have been given in bulk in the name of Christmas – but why?

Families can discover the roots and possible hidden meanings of the gifts described in “The Twelve Days of Christmas” with local author Dr. Thomas Bernard! On Saturday, December 13th at 2:30pm, the Jones Library in Amherst, MA, will host a talk by Dr. Bernard, who will lead participants in an exploration of the possible secondary symbolic meanings of each of the gifts described in the song’s lyrics. A professor Emeritus of Psychology at Springfield College, Dr. Bernard’s work on the subject grew simply out of sheer curiosity about the odd combination of items described by the song, and he is the author of The Twelve Days of Christmas: The Mystery and The Meaning. Read the rest of this entry »

Halloween Links to Local History Learning Opportunities

7 Halloween-Themed Events that Spotlight Western MA History

On Saturday, October 18 and Friday, October 31, come to Wistariahurst Museum in Holyoke, MA, for ghoulish fun and eerie entertainment. Tour the ghostly Skinner Mansion by candlelight or take a bone chilling walk through the cemetery!

As the hills and valleys of western Massachusetts brighten with the changing of seasons, the evenings become just a bit darker and a bit spookier. While we enjoy the harvest and enjoy our fair share (at least) of apples, squash, and all things pumpkin, the days shorten and darken around us – serving as a reminder that Halloween is creeping up on us. In addition to Halloween’s costume frenzy and the potential for candy accumulation that the holiday presents, the spooking season brings with it a myriad of ways to learn about local history!

This area of New England is rich with history, and much of it spooky and surrounded by mystery. Towns across western Massachusetts are home to potentially haunted historic buildings, controversial centuries-old community history, and cemeteries that are the final resting place of folks who may have met questionable ends. All of these eerie tales amount to more than a good, healthy scare – they offer entry points for learning about the history of many small communities, as well as the western portion of the state as a whole.

Additionally, an examination of the history of a single community can help children to understand the history of the region and country better, as it provides context for understanding the specifics of a large, broad look at the events and aesthetic of a particular era. Learning about Civil War-era community members, for example, can help students imagine life during that time period, as they’ll be able to imagine the surroundings in which such people existed. Trying to understand life in the past without context, on the other hand, may lead to more guesswork on the child’s part – something that exercises their imagination but may not lead to as thorough an understanding (and definitely will not lead to developing deeper ties to their local landscape!).

To begin exploring local history through the lens of spooky history, take advantage of one (or all!) of the many upcoming Halloween-themed events that spotlight local history:
Read the rest of this entry »

The Lost Art of Cursive

The Lost Art of Cursive
New Exhibit Debuts at Hatfield Fall Festival

What ever happened to the art of cursive writing?  Find out about cursive writing and interesting related historical facts at the Hatfield Fall Festival on Sunday, October 5, 2014, from 11am-3pm.  There will be exhibits related to local history and fun activities for the entire family. During the Fall Festival, stop by the Historical Museum (2nd floor of Hatfield Public Library) for a new exhibit titled, “Simple Tools, Elegant Script: The Lost Art of Cursive.”

Did you know that the Declaration of Independence was written with a quill pen? Or that feathers from the left wings of birds were favored by right-handed people? Did you know that children’s school work, and business and municipal records up until the 1920s and ’30s were mostly written using dip pens? Come see how the tools have changed over time and what handwriting looked like when writing was an art.

To complement the exhibit, organizers will be offering an all-ages activity, “Calling All Scribes!” where you can try your hand at writing using old-fashioned tools, led by Hatfield resident and calligraphy neophyte Hollington Lee. (Located in the Children’s Room, 1st floor of the Hatfield Public Library.).

Does handwriting matter in modern times? Are your kids learning cursive writing in school? Psychologists and neuroscientists say new evidence suggests that the links between handwriting and broader educational development run deep. Check out these articles and share your thoughts:

Graveyards Inspire Curiosity and Learning in October

Learning Lurks Amongst the Gravestones in Historic Cemeteries

Rich with community history, cemeteries across western Massachusetts offer families a variety of rich learning experiences this fall. From gravestone rubbings to tours of historic burying grounds, there are many ways in which families can tap into the knowledge buried amongst the graves.

Accompanying fall’s spook-filled Halloween celebrations come opportunities to explore and learn about cemeteries and graveyards across western Massachusetts. Filled with stone markers that chronicle a community’s history, local cemeteries can provide visitors with a look deep into the past. Some local communities have been existed for over 300 years, and gravestones in such places speak volumes about centuries past. Everything from the names of buried people to the style of the stone can tell visitors something about the time period to which that a headstone dates back. And on top of learning about the history of a place, visitors can celebrate and honor the things that members of generations past have contributed to their present day community.

A study of a local cemetery (or a few of them!) can help students to understand how individuals’ life stories contribute to the re-telling of history. For young cemetery explorers, making gravestone rubbings is a fun way to introduce the study of headstones, and can help children learn that cemeteries don’t have to be scary. Turning the beauty of hand-carved headstones into a similarly beautiful art-producing activity adds to the intrigue of a cemetery, but decreases the fear factor.

Boden Cemetary - Letterboxing-3

To broaden and deepen independent cemetery studies, browse through resources offered by The Association for Gravestone Studies. The locally-based organization offers resources for learning to preserve and conserve cemeteries, support for decoding the symbolism found on headstones, and extensive online archives. For a look at cemeteries a bit further from home, apply what you’ve learned by exploring nearby burial grounds to images historic headstones from around New England.

In addition to self-guided studies of cemeteries are many upcoming opportunities for community-based learning surrounding cemeteries. From walking tours to stone carving, these intergenerational community events offer a wide range of exciting learning opportunities! Read the rest of this entry »

7 Living History Events in Western Mass this Fall

Living History Events Bring Multi-Faceted Education Experience for All Ages

Combining the magic of theater and the mystique of history, living history events provide families with the opportunity to experience the past (and its people) as they were – in character and in context. By teaching history with a theatrical – yet incredibly realistic and accurate – approach, the age range to which a topic appeals becomes wider, allowing younger children to learn about the aesthetic aspects of certain historical eras, while their older counterparts explore the culture, politics, and relevance of the same time periods

Season of Thanks: Society of the 17th Century, Hall Tavern Visitor Center, Historic Deerfield, MA.

Early fall in western Massachusetts brings with it this year a wealth of immersive living history events, affording families a multitude of opportunities to learn experientially about a variety of historic eras, events, people, and practices. By attending one (or many!) of the upcoming living history events, families can explore new ideas and deepen their preexisting understanding of the roots of modern American society. Read the rest of this entry »

Stroll through History & Culture on a Housatonic Heritage Walk

Housatonic Heritage Walks Highlight Berkshire Natural, Cultural and Historic Heritage

Housatonic Heritage Walks take place Sept 20 & 21 and then again Oct 4 & 5. Don’t miss these  community-based educational opportunities taking place in Western MA this fall!

Rich with cultural heritage and fascinating history, explorations of western Massachusetts’ Berkshire region lend themselves to studies of the local flora and fauna, watersheds and river ecology, local and national history, and even great literature. A home to everything from prehistoric landforms to icons of the wealth of members of generations past, the Berkshire are a perfect place for adventurers of all ages to explore and learn about.

This year’s Housatonic Heritage Walks bring nearly sixty opportunities for families to engage in inter-generational community-based learning about science, history, culture, literature, and more. Held over the course of two weekends, the walks aren’t all technically walks. While most of the events in the series involve walking tours, exploratory hikes, or other activities that take place on foot, families can take part in canoe and bicycle trips as well!

On Saturday, September 20th, and Sunday, September 21st, exciting events begin at 9am and continue throughout the day – all over the Berkshires! Families can tour the historic Colonial Theater, paddle the Housatonic, walk with cows at a local farm, and learn about the plants of the Berkshire Botanical Garden. Each and every event highlights a different – and very important – part of the Berkshires’ cultural heritage, and teaches participants about the roots of the Berkshire communities that we know today.

Additionally, on Saturday, October 4th and Sunday, October 5th, similar events will be held. Read the rest of this entry »

Clark Art Institute Exhibit Stars in Film Series

Film Series Pays Homage to “Radical Words: From Magna Carta to the Constitution” Exhibit; Gives Context in Popular Culture

In conjunction with the Clark Art Institute’s recently opened exhibition, Radical Words: From Magna Carta to the Constitution, the Institute offers a series of three free Saturday films beginning Saturday, September 20 at 2 pm. “Documents of Freedom: A Film Celebration” features three films centered around some of the documents in the exhibition, which offers a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to see an original 1215 Magna Carta alongside the Declaration of Independence, the U.S. Constitution, and other key documents in the founding of America.

The family-friendly matinees are as follows: Read the rest of this entry »

Experiential Learning at Historic Deerfield

Immerse Yourself in Fall & Uncover Its Traditions

Late summer and autumn were busy times in early American kitchens. The abundance of fresh produce needed to be processed and preserved for the winter. This fall, Historic Deerfield interpreters will be cooking dishes featuring apples, pumpkins, and corn.

As brightly colored leaves replace the lush green of summer, sweaters and sweatshirts emerge on chilly mornings, and fresh, local apples become a daily staple. A full calendar of events at Historic Deerfield offers families countless ways to learn about fall in early New England. Families can visit the 350-year-old village for demonstrations and hands-on experiential activities so as to learn – through immersion – about the changes that fall brought to some of western Massachusetts’ earliest settlers.

Of course, some fall traditions remain a part of New England culture today. Exploring Historic Deerfield can help families to uncover the roots of some of their own fall activities and traditions, and can help children to understand the season-related reasons for the timing of certain cultural events. Harvesting the last of the summer’s bounty, for example, and celebrating the changing of the seasons through food of all kinds is a seasonal activity that families will easily relate to. A visit centered around learning about the settlers of Deerfield’s open-hearth cooking style and the crops that they harvested in fall can help children to compare and contrast the things that happen during their own lives in the fall with the events of autumn for early New Englanders. Read the rest of this entry »

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