Learning Landscape for April: Spring’s Big Night & Vernal Pool Habitat

Learning Landscape for April: Spring’s Big Night & Vernal Pool Habitat

Every month, Hilltown Families features a new Learning Landscape, which aims to inspire learning along with a common theme easily spotted in our surroundings that month. The hope is to bring a little bit of the outdoors inside for inspection, dissection, identification, creative play, art projects, and lots of other educational activities. Download this month’s Learning Landscape to help open up children’s eyes to the unique attributes of each season, and to help them learn how to see these things in nature for themselves.

The April Landscape

April is a month of massive transition here in New England. March’s maple sugaring season often runs
into the month’s earliest days, while the tail end of April is filled with new life and much green. Spring emerges
on its own time, and its arrival varies from year to year. Regardless, the pattern of melting, emergence, and
growth remains the same annually, and the events outlined in this Learning Landscape follow the same
trajectory at some point between mid-March and mid-April every year.

This month, we focus on the annual Big Night of springtime – the moment at which frogs and salamanders (and occasionally other damp-dwelling creatures) emerge from their winter hibernation to mate and lay eggs. Frogs and salamanders both burrow deep down in the muddy ground for the winter, lowering their body temperatures to make it through the cold. Then, when the timing is just right, they’ll come out.

The night when amphibians return to the spring landscape is often referred to as the Big Night, and it happens on the first rainy night when temperatures surpass 40 degrees. Generally, this happens once most snow has melted, but sometimes the Big Night takes place when there are still lots of patches of snow around. Frogs and salamanders can be found in ponds and in vernal pools, special (and essential) habitats for these creatures. Explore your surroundings to locate amphibian habitats, and use these spaces as a catalyst for learning about early spring’s burst of life.

Read the rest of this entry »

Learning Landscape: Putting Food on the Table in Late Winter

Every month, Hilltown Families features a new Learning Landscape, which aims to inspire learning along with a common theme easily spotted in our surroundings that month. The hope is to bring a little bit of the outdoors inside for inspection, dissection, identification, creative play, art projects, and lots of other educational activities. Download this month’s Learning Landscape to help open up children’s eyes to the unique attributes of each season, and to help them learn how to see these things in nature for themselves.

Learning Landscape: Putting Food on the Table in Late Winter

The February Landscape

Humans much prefer February (and its early season equivalent, December) to January for its lengthening days, warmer temperatures, and gentler storms. But for those whose lives are dictated strictly by the natural elements, February can be a harsh month depending on the status of local food stores.

During a mild winter, most animals will easily be able to find what they need in order to survive throughout the season. When conditions are harsh, however, food sources can become scarce while the effort necessary to access them can become much greater.

Whether a winter falls towards one of these extremes or is somewhere in the middle, it’s worthwhile to know how to identify, locate, and even consume a few common winter wildlife food sources. If you know who eats what and when, you’ll have a greater chance of learning to track local species. Monitoring likely meal sites over time can alert you to the patterns of the creatures you share your natural space with, and can bring you into closer alignment with the natural world.

Exploring outdoors in February is generally quite enjoyable; temperatures regularly surpass the freezing point, the sun shines often, and if you’ve been active throughout the season, you’ll likely have a good walking path packed down by late winter. This month, pay special attention to a few common wildlife food sources. Note the changes that each feeding area experiences to understand the role that it plays within the local ecosystem. Read the rest of this entry »

Learning Landscape for January: Tracking to Learn Winter Habits

Learning Landscape for January: Tracking to Learn Winter Habits

Every month, Hilltown Families features a new Learning Landscape, which aims to inspire learning along with a common theme easily spotted in our surroundings that month. The hope is to bring a little bit of the outdoors inside for inspection, dissection, identification, creative play, art projects, and lots of other educational activities. Download this month’s Learning Landscape to help open up children’s eyes to the unique attributes of each season, and to help them learn how to see these things in nature for themselves.

The January Landscape

January in New England is bleak. Deep snow covers the ground, and temperatures hover – unwavering – right around zero. Modern humans instinctively shy away from what we see as a harsh landscape, but all around us, creatures are going about their lives. If we project our human interpretation of winter upon the landscape, it appears dormant, bleak, perhaps even depressing – how could anything be alive within it? Yet all around us, the natural world is indeed very much alive, simply experiencing winter as another moment in its existence. Creatures roam about, insects are literally snug as bugs underground, and trees stand tall and unfrozen, filled with natural antifreeze.

This is not to say, however, that winter does not have an impact on nature. Each species changes its patterns in order to live in alignment with its surroundings, and just as January elicits certain behaviors and attitudes from humans, it does in animals as well.

You can prove this to be true yourself by exploring the natural world during this frosty month. Look for signs of life, and compare the winter habits of familiar creatures to their habits in other seasons. Notice how well they align with the conditions afforded by the season; their survival depends upon it. Read the rest of this entry »

Learning Landscape for December: Shed Light

The December Landscape

Every month, Hilltown Families features a new Learning Landscape, which aims to inspire learning along with a common theme easily spotted in our surroundings that month. The hope is to bring a little bit of the outdoors inside for inspection, dissection, identification, creative play, art projects, and lots of other educational activities. Download this month’s Learning Landscape to help open up children’s eyes to the unique attributes of each season, and to help them learn how to see these things in nature for themselves.

After the first snow of the season, December is blank – the blank white canvas the perfect backdrop upon which to begin to notice the particulars of nature. The early winter landscape is devoid of the brilliant color that marks all other seasons, and for once, the absence of all of nature’s magnificent detail is a treat! Suddenly, tracks abound, meal waste litters the ground, and scat is cast with abandon.

Without the richness of what the natural world usually has to offer, early winter draws attention to the things that otherwise blend in. The tracks of chickadee feet and blue jay wings; the apples smashed by deer hooves and pinecones decimated by chipmunks; fox, coyote, and a mysterious other – none far from the dooryard.

These small discoveries feel new in a snowy landscape; but is it possible that they’re always there? Learn the landscape this December by shedding light on that which surrounds you. Read the rest of this entry »

Nature Table for November: Dead and Brown

Nature Table for November is Dead and Brown

Every month, Hilltown Families features a new nature table whose contents inspire learning along with a common theme easily spotted in our surroundings that month. A tradition carried out by teachers, environmental educators, and nature-curious families, nature tables bring a little bit of the outdoors inside for inspection, dissection, identification, creative play, art projects, and lots of other educational activities. The idea behind a nature table is to help open up children’s eyes to the unique attributes of each season and to help them learn how to see these things in nature for themselves. A nature table can include a variety of items and is often accompanied by a set of books and/or field guides so that children can take part in further learning at their own will.

Slowly but surely, summer’s lush green has turned into the distinct brown that both late fall and early spring wear so well. Our eyes, currently calibrated to notice bugs more than anything else, have helped us to recognize that as the season has changed, so have the habits of the creatures we’ve been watching. What we missed out on, however, was the slow change that the vegetation around us was experiencing – and now there’s nothing much left save for a few patches of hardy lawn grass.

“Wait – what happened?” tiny naturalists want to know. They’re not mystified that the change took place – being old enough to take the seasonal change for granted, they’re more in tune with nature’s details at this stage of life. So it’s not the passing of summer and the coming of winter that has us hooked, it’s the actual science behind the change.

How did the plants die?

Is plant death the same as creature death?  Or human death?

And what happens next?

Theorizing together, our young naturalists were able to come up with some good guesses themselves. Almost-daily expeditions into our small patch of woods have alerted us to the fact that not all of the plants around us died at the same time. We’ve also noticed that while the early fall weather made us take off layers, we now wish we had more layers to add on. The agrarian background that some of us bring to our naturalist work told us that to keep garden plants alive; we can cover them to protect them from frost.

Do you see a pattern here? We did. Read the rest of this entry »

Nature Table for September is Pupating

Nature Table for September

Every month, Hilltown Families features a new nature table whose contents inspire learning along a common theme easily spotted in our surroundings that month. A tradition carried out by teachers, environmental educators, and nature-curious families, nature tables bring a little bit of the outdoors inside for inspection, dissection, identification, creative play, art projects, and lots of other educational activities. The idea behind a nature table is to help open up children’s eyes to the unique attributes of each season, and to help them learn how to see these things in nature for themselves. A nature table can include a variety of items, and is often accompanied by a set of books and/or field guides so that children can take part in further learning at their own will.

This month’s nature table was inspired by a likely seasonal catalyst, but is filled with very unlikely specimens, given where we started. What began as a discussion of seasonal foods has somehow evolved into the creation of a horde of young entomologists! (Or perhaps it would be more fitting to say that the topic has pupated.)

Rather than a collection of the numerous varieties of both cultivated and wild apples that can be found in orchards, farms, and backyards, this month’s nature table is a terrarium filled almost to capacity with more species of caterpillars than I, the head naturalist, have ever noticed while experiencing nature. We have the classic monarch, the hated hornworm, the fear-inducing hickory tussock, and at least twelve other species – some of whom we haven’t been successful in identifying.

How did we get here?

“Ms. Huntley, I have an apple tree at home!”

Most of us do around here.

“It’s so tall!  And it always drops apples on me while I wait for the bus!”

Mine are up to similar antics, yes.

AND it’s FULL of CATERPILLARS!  They’re eating ALL of its leaves!”

Oh – now we’re interested!

This moment – the one intended to spark a foray into local culture, local history, pollination, and a host of other topics – has steered us in a completely different direction. We discussed the eastern tent caterpillar with disdain, told stories of the browntail moth, and shared opinions on the legitimacy of using woolly bears to predict the severity of a winter. I thought we might return to apples the next day, or perhaps the one after, but young minds are not easily swayed, and now I am responsible for upwards of twenty impossibly small and squashy beings.

As it turns out, caterpillars are a perfect topic of study and are the easiest and most entertaining of all the live specimens I’ve allowed to be kept as “pets.” A simple terrarium with a few inches of dirt and a tightly attached screen lid is a perfect home, though I’ll admit that trial and error during our early caterpillar days lead to the unfortunate death of more than a few specimens.

Together, we’re learning how to watch them, how to identify them, and how to care for them. We’ll watch as some pupate and emerge as winged beasts before the morning chill lasts all day, and we’ll wait to see which ones burrow and make their grand entrance in the spring. We’re exploring new field guides, noticing details, and even conquering our fears – but the best part of our learning is that we are truly learning together. The young naturalists are at this point perhaps even more expert on the subject of caterpillars than I am. We’re truly in this experience together.

Common species in New England include:

  • Monarch
  • Milkweed tussock moth (caution: tussocks can feel like stinging nettle to some hands)
  • Hickory tussock moth
  • Tomato hornworm
  • Gypsy moth
  • Woolly bear
  • Cabbage worm

Tips for keeping caterpillars for study:

  • Collect a small portion of the plant you found the caterpillar on – it’s probably its food.
  • Mist your terrarium a few times a day; otherwise, it will dry out, the food plants will dry out, and your caterpillars will begin to dry out as well.
  • Give your caterpillars a few sticks to climb on.  Many of them like to climb, and others need sticks for their cocoons and chrysalises.
  • Keep a few inches of soil at the bottom for burrowing species.
  • Be sure to put your terrarium outside for the winter, but make sure it’s protected (unheated garage, tool shed, etc.).
  • Be prepared to struggle with identification!  There are many, many species, and it can be very difficult to find names for all of them if you’re not an expert.

Robin Morgan Huntley, Community-Based Education Correspondent

A native to Maine, Robin joined Hilltown Families in early 2011 as an intern and remained over the years volunteering as a community-based education correspondent until moving back to Maine in 2016. Robin is a graduate of Antioch University with a masters in education. Her interests within the field of education include policy and all types of nontraditional education. For her undergraduate project at Hampshire College, Robin researched the importance of connecting public schools with their surrounding communities, especially in rural areas. Robin currently lives with her husband, cats and rabbits in Maine and is a 5th grade public school teacher.

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Nature Table for August: Autobiography

Nature Table for August

Every month, Hilltown Families features a new nature table whose contents inspire learning along a common theme easily spotted in our surroundings that month. A tradition carried out by teachers, environmental educators, and nature-curious families, nature tables bring a little bit of the outdoors inside for inspection, dissection, identification, creative play, art projects, and lots of other educational activities. The idea behind a nature table is to help open up children’s eyes to the unique attributes of each season, and to help them learn how to see these things in nature for themselves. A nature table can include a variety of items, and is often accompanied by a set of books and/or field guides so that children can take part in further learning at their own will.

August is heavy in the air. Slightly shortened days, daytime humidity, and a slight evening chill are the hallmark (and ominous) signs of a summer that has begun to give way to fall. As always, we’re attuned to the changes happening in the natural world around us, yet somehow our emotional response to the change in seasons can cloud our ability to notice the natural phenomena nearby. Rather than marveling in the shifts taking place all around us (dandelions are scarce, baby birds have fledged, berries are almost out of season), August tends to make us nostalgic – the impending ending inspiring reflection rather than observation.

As a compulsive treasure collector, I gather small souvenirs wherever I go. My house, my car, my backpack, my pockets, and the house, car, backpack, and pockets of everyone I adventure with are littered with tiny specimens. Sometimes delicate and always fascinating, these treasures hold stories. Not only are they emblematic of a certain type of habitat, a growing season, or the cycle of life and death, they serve as narration for my summer adventures. The small pile that has accumulated is a double autobiography: it shares the story of the landscape, and shares my story as well. The way that I have moved through the landscape and the ways that I have interacted with my surroundings all become clear in this mini-museum of summer’s artifacts.  Read the rest of this entry »

Bird Language Connects Citizens to Their Habitat

Bird Language Connects Citizens to Their Habitat

Why do birds vocalize simple chirps sometimes while at other times they emit elaborate, melodious songs? “Bird language” is a term referring to the combined chirps, songs, and behaviors which allow birds to communicate with each other. Humans can study the sounds and behaviors of birds in order to gain an understanding of what they are communicating.

The following video gives examples of bird sounds and their meanings:

Why study bird sounds? The study of bird language intersects with the broader topics of animal studies and biology, and can connect people to their local habitat through a greater level of awareness of animal interaction. Learning about bird language, and identifying birds by sound, requires concentration and careful listening skills. An interest in ornithology can thus improve our listening skills in general. Quieting the mind and tuning in to particular sounds and sensations is a skill which can be applied to mindfulness, and even music studies. Bird songs have in fact had a great impact on human music, and as a result, culture. Read the rest of this entry »

Community-Based Educational Highlights: Rare Books to Grist Mills. Lebanese Mountain Bread to Independent Cinema.

Each year, approximately 2 billion popsicles are sold worldwide. But where did the idea for this tasty treat come from? Find out more in this TED-Ed lesson: How the popsicle was invented by Jessica Oreck.

Rare Books to Grist Mills. Lebanese Mountain Bread to Independent Cinema. These are just a few of the Learning highlights we’re featuring this week!

Click on link to view our suggested event or video and make plans to get out into your community and learn while you play!

Featured community highlight this week:  Does your child aspire to be a playwright or actor? Thespians ages eight through twelve are invited to two workshops with the Piti Theatre Company for a crash course in contemporary drama. On Saturday, July 15 from 10am-12pm, a playwriting workshop will lay the groundwork for a complete “Play in a Day” production. The following Saturday, July 22, this play will be rehearsed and performed. Both events will take place at the Greenfield Public Library. Experience all of the excitement of playwriting and acting in just two weekends. 413-772-1544. 402 Main Street. Greenfield, MA. (FREE)


DramaEntomologyCivil RightsAstronomy ♦ Service LearningLocal HistoryCulinary Arts  ♦ TranscendentalismLinguisticsMusic StudiesBears  ♦ Shakespeare ♦ PlacemakingPotteryFilm Studies ♦ EngineeringMakerspace


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[Photo credit: (cc) Annie]


Learn Local. Play Local. is supported in part by a grant from the Belchertown, Buckland, Chicopee, Colrain, Cummington, Gill, Hadley, New Salem, Plainfield, Shelburne, Westhampton, and Worthington Cultural Councils, local agencies which are supported by the Massachusetts Cultural Council, a state agency.

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10 Community-Based Educational Highlights: Solar Science to Paleontology. Arts & Crafts to Creative-Free Play.

As you gaze at the base of a pinecone, did you know that you’re regarding an incredible example of mathematical reasoning? Nature’s patterns, as it happens, are deeply rooted in the Fibonacci Sequence and the Golden Ratio. It’s the ultimate in a marriage between the aesthetic beauty of nature, and its mathematical base that makes it make sense. To discover what a learning opportunity this is for the family to share, read our post, Nature’s Patterns Reveals Mathematical Reasoning.

Fermentation to Nature-Based Learning. Chemistry to Dinosaurs. Citizen Science to Arts & Crafts. 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:   Wistariahurst, former home of prominent silk manufacturer William Skinner, now serves as a cultural and educational center. Wistariahurst helps to preserve Holyoke history through educational programs, exhibits and special events. This 1874 estate is listed in the National Register of Historic Places. Visitors are invited to engage in self-directed tours, Sundays through Tuesdays, including tours of the art gallery. Group tours (5+ people) are available additional hours by appointment. 413-322-5660. 238 Cabot Street. Holyoke, MA. (DONATION)


Solar SciencePaleontologyLanguage ArtsLepidopterologyStorytellingCreative-Free PlayMathAmerican Sign LanguageZymologyIndependance Day


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[Photo credit: (cc) Felipe Del Valle]


Learn Local. Play Local. is supported in part by a grant from the Belchertown, Buckland, Chicopee, Colrain, Cummington, Gill, Hadley, New Salem, Plainfield, Shelburne, Westhampton, and Worthington Cultural Councils, local agencies which are supported by the Massachusetts Cultural Council, a state agency.

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Six Community Organizations that Support Learning on the River

Six Community-Based Resources Support Learning on the River

Our river ecosystems are about more than just water – they about thousands of species of plants and animals, fascinating natural history, and the connections between humans and their surroundings. By utilizing resources made available by a handful of local community-based organizations and events, families can learn about and connect with our local landscape.

The Westfield and Connecticut River are ecosystems made up of beautiful landscapes and filled with fascinating natural history, home to a great many creatures of all shapes and sizes. By utilizing resources offered by community organizations and plugging into local networks, families can access the many community-based learning opportunities that our local habitat affords us. From species identification to Native American culture, the our rivers are filled with opportunities to engage in community-based education… Read the rest of this entry »

Nature Table for June: For the Love of Weeds

Nature Table for June

Every month, Hilltown Families features a new nature table whose contents inspire learning along a common theme easily spotted in our surroundings that month. A tradition carried out by teachers, environmental educators, and nature-curious families, nature tables bring a little bit of the outdoors inside for inspection, dissection, identification, creative play, art projects, and lots of other educational activities. The idea behind a nature table is to help open up children’s eyes to the unique attributes of each season, and to help them learn how to see these things in nature for themselves. A nature table can include a variety of items, and is often accompanied by a set of books and/or field guides so that children can take part in further learning at their own will.

It is hard to believe that we had forgotten the look of a landscape cloaked in green, but we had. The entire outline of our landscape has fluffed its green, leafy feathers into a brilliant and rounded version of its former self. The bones we had grown so accustomed to seeing have thrown themselves triumphantly at the sun – and suddenly there’s more green than we could ever have imagined.

In a landscape so lush and laden with countless shades of the same hue, it takes close observation to take note of the subtle differences from green to green. From a distance, oak leaves blend near-seamlessly with pine needles and dandelions camouflage themselves in even small expanses of lawn.

It is in this early part of summer that we re-ignite our feud with weeds, those specific green-and-leafiest that we have deemed inferior within our landscape. At the onset of summer (and especially in years like this), we still cling tightly to the tendrils of the young plants we have helped take root in our once inhospitable clime. We so enjoy our suddenly lush lawns, our patches of fresh herbs, our blooming bushes, and our seedling vegetables that we take the invasion of alien life quite seriously. Dandelions are eradicated with trowel and claw or beheaded by a mower, unruly grass species are cut short, and rogue wild berry bushes are hacked back. It’s a bit gruesome, really, and certainly lots of work! Read the rest of this entry »

25 Community-Based Educational Highlights: Picasso to Elephants. Intelligent Design to Honeybee Evolution.

“Bees and flowers have an amazingly close relationship. Flowers need bees in order to reproduce, and bees need flowers to feed their colonies. Take away one, and the other would disappear too. It begs the question: When it comes to evolution, which came first, the bees or the flowers?” Find out in this video by It’s Okay to Be Smart.

Physics to Chemistry. Picasso to Elephants. Intelligent Design to Honeybee Evolution. 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: Street festivals encourage people to check out new towns, or new areas of their own towns that they haven’t seen before. Easthampton’s annual Cultural Chaos Saturday, June 10, 12pm-5pm will feature music, puppetry, a farmers’ market, vendors, a petting zoo, and much more. Visit the Cultural Chaos website for a full list of performances and activities for this day-long, family-friendly event! Meet other art lovers and support local art. Various locations. Easthampton, MA. (FREE)


PhilosophyFood StudiesSTEMChemistryIchthyologySkillsharingUpcyclingHistoryOutdoor AdventuresArt StudiesZoologyPollinatorsBeavers YogaService-Based LearningSocial Justice


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33 Community-Based Educational Highlights: Mesic Forest to Anadromous Fish. The Odyssey to Thomas Paine.

When looking to attract wildlife for children to observe, we often choose birds. Bird feeders and houses can be fairly simple to create and, especially in terms of food and birds are a very “if you build it, they will come” type of creature. But what if there was another creature in need of support who could just as easily be housed and fed in your yard via DIY projects? It’s no secret these days that bee populations are quickly declining, and as it turns out, families can take some very simple steps in order to offer bees with lots of appropriate habitats. Read more in our post, Bee Condos: Steps Away from Sweet Educational Opportunities.

Emily Dickinson to The Odyssey. Soil to Etiquette. Bald Eagles to Hummingbirds. 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: Fans of the performing arts do not want to miss the Ashfield Town Spectacle and Culture Fair! Double Edge Theater, along with tons of Ashfield community members, will perform an array of music, dance, and other performing arts on Saturday, June 3 and Sunday, June 4, from 1pm-9pm. There will be art exhibits to peruse as well. The event will feature the Spirit of the Hills Community Choir, Tim Eriksen and the Trio de Pumpkintown, a film by Galen Knowles, Ashfield Tae Kwon Do, Ashfield Community Band, artwork by Robert Markey and Sue McFarland, and more, on June 3 and 4. Visit the Double Edge Theater website or call 413-628-0277 for more information. Various locations. Ashfield, MA. (FREE)


PhilosophyBooks ClubsLiteracyAgricultureService-Based LearningNature-StudiesHabitat9StargazingIchthyologyLimnologyEntomologyTheatreOutdoor AdventuresCanoeingLocal HistoryComputer ProgrammingPlacemakingMusic StudiesOrnithologyArt StudiesDance Studies


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20 Community-Based Educational Highlights: Beavers to Biomimicry. Urban Landscape to Theater.

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. Read more in our post, Sheep & Wool: Catalysts for Community-Based Education in Western MA.

Religion to Woolcraft. Colonial History to Art History. Beavers to Biomimicry. 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: Join the Sojourner Truth Memorial Committee on Sunday, May 28, 12pm as they celebrate the 15th annual commemoration of the Sojourner Truth statue. The gathering will honor her legacy and recognize the next generation of young people who follow in her footsteps. This year’s celebration will include an address by Ingrid Askew, theater artist and cultural activist, and a performance by the Amherst Area Gospel Choir. To be recognized at the event are this year’s recipients of the Sojourner Truth Scholarship for Social Justice. The day’s events will start with a walking tour of “Sojourner Truth’s Footsteps in Florence.” After the celebration, the David Ruggles Center, located at 225 Nonotuck Street in Florence, will be hosting a reception and open house. All are welcome to attend. In case of rain, the celebration will be indoors at the Florence Community Center, just across Pine Street fro


Memorial DayPhilosophyFiber ArtsAnimationTheaterOrnithologyLocal HistoryUrban LandscapeEntrepreneurCulinary ArtsBiologyCommunity MealSheepArt HistoryFalconryGuided WalksBusiness


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32 Community-Based Educational Highlights: Bobolinks to Marc Chagall. Free Press to Pseudoscience.

Whether identifying clouds as animals or by their proper scientific names, families can look into the sky for opportunities to engage in meaningful cloud-inspired learning. In addition to creating a deepened sense of place through observations, families can help young scientists learn about climate, weather, and the atmosphere by tracking the things they see in the sky. Read more in our post, Cloud Studies Connect to Citizen Science, Language Learning, and Weather Studies.

Automotive History to Physics. Child Development to Journalism. Pollinators to Bicycles. 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:

Typically, bicycling attire for a modern American involves flexible athletic clothing and sneakers. But at the beginning of cycling history, during the early 19th century, cyclists wore their typical, everyday clothing even when using bicycles for transport. In fact, women’s fashion of the time was a hindrance to their ability to ride, and this was a catalyst for change in women’s style of dress and in the design of the bicycle as manufacturers began marketing towards women. Learn more by reading our post, Exploring the History of Fashion through Bicycling.

You can discover what it was like to bike in traditional attire by participating in Sweet Spoken’s third annual Spring Tweed Ride on Saturday, May 21, 2pm-5pm. All ages are welcome. Northampton, MA. (DONATION)


PhilosophyPlacemakingTransporation ♦ ♦ Plant SalesOrnithologyGuided WalksPoetryFashion HistoryHealth & WellnessLanguage ArtsMusic StudiesCreative-Free PlayEntomologyCultural StudiesLatin AmericaArt StudiesService-Based Learning


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Nature Table for May: A World Beneath the Water

Nature Table for May

Every month, Hilltown Families features a new nature table whose contents inspire learning along a common theme easily spotted in our surroundings that month. A tradition carried out by teachers, environmental educators, and nature-curious families, nature tables bring a little bit of the outdoors inside for inspection, dissection, identification, creative play, art projects, and lots of other educational activities. The idea behind a nature table is to help open up children’s eyes to the unique attributes of each season, and to help them learn how to see these things in nature for themselves. A nature table can include a variety of items, and is often accompanied by a set of books and/or field guides so that children can take part in further learning at their own will.

Though the weather has finally warmed, the landscape has cloaked itself in green, and birds and peepers have returned in full force, it’s not at all summer yet. April’s forced buds satiated our appetite for natural brilliance and staved off our impatience for all things warm, but the itch is back, the rain is relentless, and the chill in the air lingers each morning. Despite the wet weather, many watery elements of our landscape are off limits: spring rains have filled rivers and streams to capacity, the rushing, rollicking waters lapping against rocks and trunks not accustomed to being a part of the river’s flow.

Regardless of the river’s springtime “off-limits” designation, wet weather calls for wet learning, and our young naturalists have channeled their already damp enthusiasm into explorations of an oft forgotten soggy habitat: the bottom of the pond.  Read the rest of this entry »

24 Community-Based Educational Highlights: Mother’s Day to Bike Week. Edible Flowers to Switchel.

An important aspect of culinary arts is learning how to pair flavors which complement each other. This is a skill and an art form, similar to an artist’s knowledge of color palettes. You can learn about, and sample, ideal pairings of tea and chocolate at the Sunderland Public Library on Saturday, May 13, 2pm-3:30pm. In this program, attendees will also learn about the history and health benefits of both chocolate and tea! Please register in advance at the library. 413-665-2642. 20 School Street. Sunderland,

Multidisciplinary Learning to Food History. Glassblowing to Neuroscience. Edible Flowers to Earth Science. 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:  Did you know that before inventing the world’s the first successful airplane, Orville and Wilbur Wright owned a bicycle shop? Bike maintenance has the potential to teach kids all kinds of subjects and skills including math, science, reading, writing, problem-solving, and working toward a goal. You can learn about how the Holyoke Urban Bike School supports this type of learning, and join in a leisurely, family-friendly community bike ride in Holyoke on Wednesday, May 17, 5pm-6:30pm! The ride will last about forty-five minutes and afterward, participants are invited to check out the HUBS space and learn about their work. Steady rain cancels the event.Holyoke Urban Bike School. 160 Beech St. Holyoke, MA. (FREE)


PhilosophyService-Based LearningPlant SalesPoetryLocal HistoryNatural HistoryCulinary ArtsArt StudiesMindfulnessLabyrinthsMuseum StudiesBicyclingCollaborative ConsumptionSTEMOrnithologyBird WalksCommunity MealsCivil War


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30 Community-Based Educational Highlights: Service-Based Learning to Placemaking. Pride Parade to Bird Festival.

Arcadia Wildlife Sanctuary is kicking off a week of intergenerational birding activities, starting on Saturday, May 6 from 9am-2pm with a Bird Festival! Individual adults and families can take guided walks of the grounds and learn about bird banding through demonstrations. “Bird banding” refers to the process of catching birds, marking them with an identifying band, and setting them free again. The data gathered from this process can assist in ornithological and biological research and can be part of tracking reproductive success and population rates. All day during the festival, you can learn how to engage in citizen science and get involved helping Neighborhood Nest Watch to band birds. Visit the Arcadia Wildlife Sanctuary webpage for a full schedule of activities. 413-584-3009. 127 Combs Road. Easthampton, MA. (FREE)

Empiricism to Transcendentalism. Activism to Ornithology. Business History to Yoga.  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:  Open Street events support placemaking as they bring community members together in an unusual way, by closing the streets to vehicular traffic and encouraging people to get out and about on feet! On Sunday, May 7, 11am-3pm during River Roll and Stroll, traffic will be closed down the Route 116 Bridge between Holyoke and South Hadley. There will be live music, art, and food trucks at this family-friendly event. This event marks the official kickoff of Baystate Bike Week. Vietnam Veterans Memorial Bridge. Holyoke and South Hadley, MA. (FREE)


PhilosophyScienceParentingTransportation History ♦  BicyclesService-Based LearningArtificial IntelligenceSpring Clean-UpsBird WalksWomen’s HistoryNatured-Based LearningPlacemakingBotanyArt StudiesSocial JusticeLocal HistoryPsychology


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36 Community-Based Educational Highlights: Earth Day to Spring Pollinators. Sustainability to Placemaking. STEM to Ecology.

Difficult problems sometimes lead to creative, inspiring solutions. Nat Turner is using his passion, vision, and innovations to help restore New Orleans Lower 9th Ward post-Hurricane Katrina, transforming Blair Grocery, an abandoned grocery store, into a youth farm-based education center. You can learn about Nat Turner and others working for food security by attending a screening of the 2015 documentary Reversing the Mississippi on Saturday, April 22, 5pm-8pm. This screening at North Star: Self-Directed Learning for Teens will also include servings of jambalaya (regular and vegetarian). Discuss the film with others interested in working towards greater food security. Meet North Star self-directed teens who recently visited New Orleans and work with Mr. Turner at his school, Our School at Blair Grocery. 413-582-0193. 45 Amherst Road. Sunderland, MA. (Photo credit: Sienna Wildfield)

Earth Day to Food Security. Pollinator Gardens to Indonesian Music. Dilbert to Screen Time. 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:

Young people are often very passionate about political issues and personal interests. Teaching your children about sustainability can spark change on a community level. Families are invited to learn and get involved by attending the Amherst Sustainability Festival on Saturday, April 22, 10am-4pm. There will be stage performances all day. Learn about climate change by talking to advocacy groups and visiting vendors of renewable energy products and sustainable crafts! Visit the Town of Amherst website for a full list of performances, demonstrations, and recycling collections. Town Common. Amherst, MA. (FREE)


PhilosophyChild DevelopmentHorticultureHistory Service-Based LearningGuided HikesOrnithologyCollaborative ConsumptionAgricultureActivismEcologyEntomologyMusic StudiesCultural StudiesIchthyologyPlacemakingSTEMHomeschool


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Nature Table for April: Buds & Blooms

Nature Table for April

Every month, Hilltown Families features a new nature table whose contents inspire learning along a common theme easily spotted in our surroundings that month. A tradition carried out by teachers, environmental educators, and nature-curious families, nature tables bring a little bit of the outdoors inside for inspection, dissection, identification, creative play, art projects, and lots of other educational activities. The idea behind a nature table is to help open up children’s eyes to the unique attributes of each season, and to help them learn how to see these things in nature for themselves. A nature table can include a variety of items, and is often accompanied by a set of books and/or field guides so that children can take part in further learning at their own will.

The long, patient wait for the weather that we qualify as spring usually takes longer than expected. Mother nature teased us with warm, melty weather more than once this year before spring truly came, and though the seasons changed with the vernal equinox weeks ago, springtime’s leaves, flowers, and creatures have yet to grace us with their presence. Mud season reigns – rivers are running high, driveways are rutted, and boots are still a necessity.

This month’s nature table honors the impatient naturalist: those who need a taste of spring before the earth is ready in order to truly believe that there is an end in sight. April’s collection is made up of branches cut from trees and shrubs for the purpose of forcing buds. Quite common in New England, where spring really takes its time waking up, the practice of forcing buds is both scientifically fascinating and morale boosting. Naturalists can study the process of leaf out and bloom that various trees and bushes go through, and those who cannot await spring with patience can enjoy an indoor dose of spring a few weeks ahead of schedule.  Read the rest of this entry »

18 Community-Based Educational Highlights: Reality to Electricity. Rivers to Flutes.

https://hilltownfamilies.wordpress.com/2017/04/14/cbe-highlights-46/#6

Reality to Electricity. Eclipse to Pastels. Rivers to Flutes. 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:  The annual Earth Day Festival at UMass Amherst next  Friday, April 21, 8am-4pm, will feature over 30 student, faculty, staff, and community groups, showcasing the work they do to increase sustainability and fight climate change on a community level and beyond. The festival will also include a farmer’s market, performance art, music, tie dye and more! The Earth Day celebration takes place in conjunction with UMass Amherst’s 1st Annual Green Commute Day, encouraging people to bike, walk, carpool or take public transit for the day. Come get inspired about the small changes you can make in your life to have a positive impact. Student Union North Lawn. Amherst, MA. (FREE)


PhilosophyAstronomyPhysicsEcologyArt StudiesService-Based LearningOrnithologyRiversMusic StudiesHistorySustainability


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32 Community-Based Educational Highlights: Pompeii to Blackout Poetry. Kora to Pinwheels.

Community art projects encourage intergenerational learning, self-expression, and creative free play! The 3rd Annual Hilltown Draw-Around invites people of all ages to help create a giant mandala, or add self-portraits to the community gallery. On Saturday, April 8, 12pm-12am, come get inspired by other artistic community members, and participate in workshops! There will be storytelling and live music as well during this 12-hour event. Participants will have 4,000 square feet of drawing space to work with. All proceeds support ARTeens, a pay-what-you-can after-school program of the Shelburne Falls Art Garden. All activities will take place in the Cowell Community Gym. 413-625-2782. 51 Maple Street. Shelburne Falls, MA. (FREE)

Teen History to Vernal Pools. Stringed Instruments to African Music. Scientific Process to Pinwheels. 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:  Art is inextricably tied to culture; therefore, historic art can teach us a great deal about historic cultures. The Smith College Museum of Art is offering a Free Community Day full of learning about Ancient Rome on Saturday, April 8, 11:30am-3:30pm. Visitors can explore the exhibition, Leisure and Luxury in the Age of Nero: The Villas of Oplontis near Pompeii, enjoy a storytime, taste olive oil and explore a sensory recreation of a Roman Garden! Studying the city of Pompeii also ties into learning about geology and archaeology. At the event Smith College geoscientists will explain the science behind volcanic rocks and archaeology students will demonstrate what it’s like to excavate a site like Oplontis. All ages are welcome. Visit the Smith College Museum of Art website for more details. 413-585-2760. 20 Elm Street. Northampton, MA. (FREE)


PlacemakingAstronomyLiteracyWorld StudiesPhilosophyRomeCommunity ArtTeen ShowcaseHistoryEcologyService-Based LearningMusic StudiesParentingWorld LanguageFiber ArtsOrnithologyGuided HikePhysicsCosmologyPoetryFarming


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31 Community-Based Educational Highlights: Reasoning to Education. Fashion History to Sewing.

Wordplay requires intelligence and creativity. To tell or even merely to understand a pun requires communication between the right and left hemispheres of the brain (Scientific American). The 2017 Lenox Peeps Show invites people of all ages to create a diorama combines humor (in the form of puns), literacy, and visual creativity on Wednesday, April 5, 10am-3pm. This year participants will be creating dioramas using peeps to depict their favorite story or book, with extra credit given to those who use puns in their concept or title. All entries must be delivered to Ventfort Hall before 3:00pm on Wednesday, April 5th. Visit the Ventfort Hall website for full details. 413-637-3206. 104 Walker Street. Lenox, MA. (FREE)

Reasoning to Astronomy. Scavengers to Education. Fashion History to Sewing. 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: Vernal pools, by definition a temporary habitat, provide the perfect breeding ground for spotted salamanders, wood frogs, tiny mussels, fairy shrimp, and many other creatures. Families can learn more about vernal pools and their inhabitants through humorous skits at Arcadia Wildlife Sanctuary’s “Big Night” on Saturday, April 1, 5:30pm-9pm. Guided tours will leave the nature center every 15-minutes to travel a 45-minute forest trail where you will meet costumed characters. There will also be games and presentations. This event is best suited for youth ages 4 through 16 and their caregivers. Call 413-584-3009 to register. 127 Combs Road. Easthampton, MA. (<$)


PhilosophyAerospaceAnimal StudiesWhalesWomen’s StudiesCivic EngagementArt StudiesFiber ArtsDance StudiesEcologyVernal PoolsLanguage ArtsMusic StudiesImmigration StudiesHistoryLiterature in TranslationOrnithologyCreative-Free PlayBotanySeed Saving


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Learning Ahead: Spring Birds

Sense of Place: A Birds Eye View

Springtime is filled with sightings of all kinds of exciting natural wonders. The season’s outdoor appeal makes it a perfect time of year not only for enjoying our natural surroundings, but for learning about conservation and species preservation, too!

In particular, springtime is the season for bird sightings as Western Massachusetts becomes filled with a variety of migrating bird species in the early spring months. Species to look for in the spring include Baltimore Orioles, Eastern Bluebirds, Eastern Whip-Poor-Wills, American Kestrels, Indigo Buntings, Cedar Waxwings, American Robins, Carolina Wrens, American Goldfinches, Great Blue Herons, Red-winged Blackbirds, and many others! Knowing the names of the birds we share our home with and being able to identify them by their songs and behavior helps us connect to the seasons and strengthens our sense of place.  Read the rest of this entry »

Birds in your Backyard and Environment

Investigating Nature at Home:
Birds in your Backyard and Environment

Land Trust: Supporting Community & Local Wildlife

Nesting boxes for any species of bird can bring them to your backyard for observation and inspiration!

There are many local organizations in Western Massachusetts that support species habitat and nesting opportunities for birds. Kestrel Land Trust, based in Amherst, MA, offers a unique volunteer opportunity to be a Kestrel Nest Box Monitor. Nest Box Monitors visit the Kestrel nest boxes regularly to keep track of their use during the breeding season starting in late March. It’s a chance to learn more about kestrels and their nesting patterns, and to observe these beautiful birds of prey locally in Western MA.

Bird Feeders: Supporting Language Arts

What better way to learn more about birds in early spring than in your own backyard! Like poets William Cullen Bryant and Emily Dickinson, you can observe the birds that frequent your backyard feeder and later reflect on their characteristics to write interesting and poetic descriptions that utilize metaphors and similes to convey the bird’s behavior through creative language. If you don’t yet have a bird feeder, building one can be a self-initiated project that may include a variety of skills including math, architecture, woodworking and the decorative arts. You can continue to use your bird feeder throughout the winter months by keeping it stocked for those birds that don’t migrate.  This will help birds have a source of food during the year’s coldest season. As a result, you can continue to watch birds in your backyard and gain a better sense of Western Massachusetts’ bird populations and the species with whom you share your natural surroundings. Perhaps you’ll begin to feel inspired similarly to Bryant and Dickinson!  Read the rest of this entry »

33 Community-Based Educational Highlights: Earth Hour to Modern Art. Puppets to Pottery.

The harp is an ancient stringed instrument which dates back as early as 3500 BC. Harps were popular in Europe during the Middle Ages and Renaissance but fell out of popularity with many types of harps no longer being used. The harp has historically been used across many continents and culture and can be an essential element to certain traditional genres of music. On Saturday, March 25, 7:30pm, James Ruff plays the wire harp in his performances of early opera pieces, contemporary works, as well as early Gaelic and Scottish songs. You can hear the harp live and discover its role in Gaelic and Scottish music by attending his performance at the McCulloch Auditorium. Mount Holyoke College. College Street. South Hadley, MA. (FREE)

Seed Saving to Spanish. Earth Hour to Modern Art. Astronomy to Technology. Nutritional Anthropology to Philosophy. 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: Kuruma Ningyo or “cart puppets” are a style of Japanese puppetry which draws from classical Japanese literature and religious stories. Unlike many forms of puppetry in the United States, Kuruma Ningyo is entertainment for people of all ages, not associated strongly with children. American puppeteer Tom Lee and Japanese Master Puppeteer Koryu Nishikawa V will be performing this style of puppetry in their show Shank’s Mare at UMass Amherst on Thursday, March 30, 7:30 pm. This multi-media performance combines live music and video production with traditional Japanese puppetry for a unique, cross-cultural experience. Bowker Auditorium. 100 Holdsworth Way. Amherst, MA. ($; Five college students and 17 and under <$)


BotanyPhotographyDendrologyHistoryWorld LanguageEcologyCitizen ScienceBiologyTheaterCriminal JusticeArt StudiesJapanese StudiesPotteryMusic StudiesPaleontologyMindfulnessService-Based LearningCareer DevelopmentSeed SavingSpanishEarth HourModern Art. AstronomyTechnologyNutritional AnthropologyPhilosophy


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Nature Table for March: Maple Buds and Bark

Nature Table for March

Every month, Hilltown Families features a new nature table whose contents inspire learning along with a common theme easily spotted in our surroundings that month. A tradition carried out by teachers, environmental educators, and nature-curious families, nature tables bring a little bit of the outdoors inside for inspection, dissection, identification, creative play, art projects, and lots of other educational activities. The idea behind a nature table is to help open up children’s eyes to the unique attributes of each season and to help them learn how to see these things in nature for themselves. A nature table can include a variety of items and is often accompanied by a set of books and/or field guides so that children can take part in further learning at their own will.

The surest sign of spring in western Massachusetts is the appearance of buckets and tubes on trees lining our winding rural roads. Sugar season marks the end of winter’s harshest weather, as the sap begins to flow only when daytime temperatures are above freezing. From living history to delicious meals, there is a multitude of community-based ways to engage with this sweet element of our natural and cultural history, but the naturalist’s way of learning about sugar season is not to simply observe it, but to learn to become a part of it!

The specifics of sugaring are basic enough, so long as you have sufficient trees to make the time spent worthwhile – which is where the first challenge of sugaring lies! There are thousands of species of maple trees in the world, and at least 13 of these are native to the United States. Of these native to our country, at least 7 different native maple species can be found here in western MA. When leaves are in season, it’s easy enough to distinguish sugar maples from non-sugar maples. In the absence of leaves, however, sugar maples are much more difficult to spot!  Read the rest of this entry »

16 Community-Based Educational Highlights: Dance Party to Italian Cuisine. Hubble Telescope to Spring Equinox

Is it true a raw egg can only be balanced on end during the equinox? Where did this theory come from and is it fact or fiction? Find out!

Maker Spaces to Italian Cuisine. Bike Repair to Hubble Telescope. Spring Equinox to Saturday Morning Music Party. 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:  Join us, Hilltown Families, in person for a morning of music, dance, and pancakes on Saturday, March 18, 10am-12pm! This Saturday Morning Music Party, co-hosted with Flywheel Arts Collective, is great for both kids and parents who love to dance. In addition to music and food, there will be a performance by The Fuzznogginz Puppet Party! All events in this Morning Music Party series are a fundraiser for both Flywheel and Hilltown Families, with a “pay what you can” admission to attend with your family. Flywheel Arts Collective, 43 Main Street. Easthampton, MA. ($)


STE(A)M ♦  Music StudiesWomen’s HistoryTheaterCulinary ArtsMechanicsWorld LanguagesPoetryUnderground RailroadRoboticsU.S. HistoryAstronomy  ♦ OperaSeasons


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25 Community-Based Educational Highlights: Economics to Biology. Saint Patrick to Mozart.

April and May might be filled with the blossoms of spring, but there is no need for flowers when we have sweet maple syrup to enjoy on our pancakes with family and friends! Read more in the March/April issue of Learning Ahead: March & April Cultural Itinerary for Western MA.

Maple Syrup to Apples. Financial Literacy to Molecular Biology. Saint Patrick to Mozart. Sustainability to Criminal Justice. 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:

The ground is thawing, the snow is melting, and the sap is running for maple season! Maple sugaring is a centuries-old tradition in New England, and the seasonal industry remains an important part of the foundation upon which local agricultural is built. On Saturday, March 11, 9am-12pm at Chester Hill’s 32nd Annual Maple Fest and Craft Fair, you and your family can witness old time sugaring and enjoy a pancake breakfast with local maple syrup, at the First Congregational Church. Chester, MA. (<$)


 Sugar SeasonPlant StudiesFood HistoryEconomicsAviationWomen’s HistoryPolitical ActivismArt StudiesCulture StudiesLanguage ArtsMusic StudiesNutritionBird StudiesTheaterPolitical Science


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