Community-Based Resources: Plein Air Painting in the Autumn

Plein Air Painting

En plein air is a French expression meaning “in the open air.” It’s used in English to describe a painting style that occurs outdoors. Made possible historically by the manufacturing of paint into tubes, artists no longer had to mix their paints in the studio from chemical compounds, freeing them to travel outdoors for inspiration. When participating in plein air painting, artists become fully engaged with the fall landscape through perspective, composition and, most importantly, color! Watercolors are the most portable and easiest to clean up, but plein air painting can be done in any medium – oil paint, acrylic, pastels, etc. – and by any age.  Read the rest of this entry »

Hilltown Families on Mass Appeal: October Cultural Itinerary

Hilltown Families on Mass Appeal:
Foliage, Pumpkins & Hauntings

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 hosts 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 Monday, September 26, 2016. This month Sienna and Seth talked about fall foliage, pumpkins and haunted history featured in the October section of Learning Ahead: Cultural Itinerary for Western MA:

Click here to see video clip.

Click here to see video clip.

Download your very own copy of Learning Ahead: Cultural Itinerary for Western MA. (38 page PDF) for Sept/Oct (FREE).  Read the rest of this entry »

Community-Based Education Resources: Explore Your Interests in the Domestic Arts

Hilltown Families on Mass Appeal: Debut of Seasonal Cultural Itinerary

Hilltown Families on Mass Appeal: August Segment
Debut of Learning Ahead: Cultural Itinerary for Western MA

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 hosts 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 Monday, August 29, 2016. This month Sienna and Lauren talked about agricultural fairs, fall festivals, one room schoolhouses and apples featured in the debut of Learning Ahead: Cultural Itinerary for Western MA:

Download a copy of Learning Ahead: Cultural Itinerary for Western MA. (38 page PDF) for the fall season.

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 September 26th, 2016!




Astronomy Learning this Leading Up to the Autumnal Equinox… and Beyond!

Astronomy Learning this Leading Up to the Autumnal Equinox… and Beyond!

An interest in studying astronomy can develop from an interest in mathematical calculation, or a simple appreciation for the beauty of the sky. Observing the stars can be an act of scientific or spiritual curiosity, or both. While some people lament the shorter days of fall and winter, longer nights provide more chances to learn about astronomy through observations of the night sky!  Read the rest of this entry »

Lifelong Learning Resources in Western MA

Adult Education and Lifelong Learning Resources in Western MA

It’s back to school season for many. Some families are buying school supplies and adjusting to new schedules. Autumn is a time for learning, no matter your age. Western Massachusetts is home to many resource centers for adult education, often providing classes on topics related to workplace readiness and self-directed interests. Courses tend to be highly individualized, and focused on helping students reach their professional and personal goals. There are also subject-specific opportunities for learning about everything from mathematics to photography to bicycle repair!  Read the rest of this entry »

Web-Based Space Explorations Blast Off Through NASA Kids’ Club

Web-Based Space Explorations Blast Off Through NASA Kids’ Club

Offering a wealth of space-based information presented in a playful way, NASA’s online Kids’ Club presents opportunities for studies of a fascinating yet largely inaccessible realm. Relevant for most ages and easy to use, the Kids’ Club can be a great resource for space enthusiasts!

Space is a fascinating place, and a big part of its appeal is the fact that it’s just out of reach for most human beings. While curious kids aren’t very likely to be able to visit space anytime soon, NASA offers a kid-friendly online space filled with information about the many different missions, projects, and technologies that the organization is responsible for – allowing aspiring astronauts to learn about the ways in which humans research and explore the vast wilderness that is outer space.

The NASA Kids’ Club is an easy to use portal that connects kids to a wealth of information in many forms. The Kids’ Club offers everything from printable games and coloring pages to detailed descriptions of specific aircraft and their uses. Highlights of the website include a section dedicated to NASA’s current and recent missions and a photo gallery filled with images of the many people involved in NASA’s programs at work on a variety of tasks. Smaller sections within the site offer a look at nutrition and menu planning in space, the locations and inhabitants (both human and nonhuman) of NASA center’s across the country, the reasons behind the exploration that NASA guides, and the difference in time and gravity on each of the planets in our solar system.

Read the rest of this entry »

3D Printing Resources at Local Libraries Supporting STE(A)M

3D Printers as Community-Based Resource

3D printing, a type of industrial robot which can synthesize three dimensional objects for a variety of purposes, is one of the most exciting technological, scientific, and creative innovations of recent years. Local libraries and other learning centers have begun to support an interest in engineering, technology, and creativity by housing 3D printers and providing demonstrations of the technology. 3D printers can be incorporating into makerspaces (read more in our post, Maker Spaces: Community-Based Opportunities to Think, Make, Do, Learn and Share!) or they can stand alone as a resource.

There are several upcoming opportunities for families to learn about and utilize this new technology their your own projects.

Read the rest of this entry »

Summertime Sensory Resources in Western MA

Sensory Experiences in Summer

Summer, a time of hiking, biking, camping, and swimming, can be a joyful time. For children sensitive to sensory integration, however, it can be an overwhelming season full of stimulation. Children, in general, are highly sensitive. Some seek out stimulation and some limit it. Luckily, here in western MA there are inclusive resources and activities for both sensory-seeking and sensory-limiting children and their families.


Children who love sensory input will most likely have a great time at one of the many Western Massachusetts museums, including the Springfield Museums, Eric Carle Museum in Amherst, Berkshire Museum in Pittsfield and the Holyoke Children’s Museum.  Read the rest of this entry »

Exploring Athletics and Sports History Through Community-Based Resources

Exploring Athletics and Sports History Through Community-Based Resources

Western Massachusetts is known for a great many things, but sports aren’t generally one of them. Nevertheless, the region is filled with opportunities to learn about (and participate in!) sports of all kinds. Western Massachusetts can claim itself as the birthplace of at least two sports played worldwide, is home to a handful of semi-professional teams, and offers opportunities for youth to explore athletics of all kinds. Local families can even find ways to explore sports and sports history through the arts! From spectator opportunities and museum visits to full-on participation, sports-related learning opportunities exist locally all year round.

In terms of sports fame, the area is probably best known as the official birthplace of both volleyball and basketball. Springfield’s Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame is a landmark in the city, and honors the city’s claim to fame as home of basketball and its inventor, James Naismith. Created in 1891 in order to offer athletes an exciting and physically challenging indoor sport, basketball is now internationally known and loved. The Basketball Hall of Fame itself includes thousands of square feet of basketball history exhibits, as well as a 300+ member hall of fame commemorating the contributions and achievements of notable players, coaches, and others who’ve been a part of the sport.

A few years after basketball’s invention, volleyball was created in Holyoke – pitched then as a sport offering excitement similar to that of basketball but slightly less physical intensity. The International Volleyball Hall of Fame in Holyoke spotlights the sport’s history and local roots, as well as exceptional players from the nearly century and a quarter that the sport has existed. Visitors can learn about the 125 people from 21 countries whose accomplishments have been significant within volleyball history, and can also view exhibits that offer a glimpse at the evolution and international growth of the sport.

Read the rest of this entry »

Hilltown Families on Mass Appeal: River Walks & Nature Centers

Hilltown Families on Mass Appeal: June Segment
Nature-Based Learning through River Walks & Nature Centers

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 hosts 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 Monday, June 20, 2016. This month Sienna and Lauren talked about intergenerational ways to engage in natural resources to support interests and education, including River Walks and Nature Centers:

Click here to view video.

Learn more about River Walks and Nature Centers in Western MA:

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 July 18th, 2016!



Urban And Rural River Walks and Trails Highlight Natural and Human History

Urban And Rural River Walks & Trails Highlight Natural and Human History

Housatonic River in Great Barrington, MA.

Western Massachusetts’ landscape is filled with rivers. They run like veins between our ancient hills, and give life to human and non-human communities alike as they flow constantly onward. The warm months of the year are the best time to engage in experiential learning about local rivers, a task made more inviting through a handful of riverwalks and river-following paths found locally. Through explorations of a variety of local rivers, families can explore local ecology, connect with local history, and deepen their sense of place. In particular, comparisons of urban rivers and rural rivers can illuminate the ways in which humans past and present have depended upon our rivers.  Read the rest of this entry »

Great Big Story Shares Highlights of Human Experience

Great Big Story Shares Highlights of Human Experience

Created specifically to share human interest stories separate from daily current events news, CNN’s Great Big Story (or GBS, for short) is aptly named. The web-based project publishes videos at a rate of 3-5 per day, spotlighting cultures, communities, creatures, and other curiosities from all around the world. In doing so, GBS allows viewers to educate themselves about everything from emergencies in outer space to doctors making home visits to the homeless. While the project’s target audience is young adults, the information presented in GBS’s videos is accessible to teens and tweens, and perhaps even to older children.

While the project’s videos are numerous and their topics varied, each mini-documentary links viewers back to the same big idea: the untold stories of the world. A great many web-based projects aim to do essentially the same thing, but many emphasize the “wow” factor of such stories, and miss the true meaning behind the people, places, and ideas they spotlight. GBS, however, does both: each video features something or someone that is truly amazing, and does justice to the person or place’s story – allowing truth to be shared, and allowing viewers to utilize GBS videos as a resource for learning about the human experience and life on earth.  Read the rest of this entry »

Resources for Learning About the Experiences of People With Disabilities

Resources for Learning About the Experiences of People With Disabilities Encourage Families to Learn About the Human Experience

Throughout life, the experiences that we have amongst others allow us to learn about the human experience. At any age, we are able to make observations about others’ appearance and actions, and to gain insight (however basic or complex it may be) by processing these observations. Sometimes, our understanding of the life experiences of others is limited, though. By filtering everything we see and hear and contextualizing it within our own perspective on the world, we make meaning of our observations – but often, the things that we learn by watching and interacting with others lack input from the perspective of another. We do our best to understand those around us, but without considering their appearance and actions from another perspective, our understandings are limited.

In order to support children in developing a critical understanding of the experiences of others, families can engage in meaningful learning surrounding the experiences with physical and cognitive disabilities. By utilizing books, videos, podcasts, and both online and community-based educational resources, families with children of any age can begin to examine the experiences and perspectives of those with disabilities.

Spotlighting the abilities and life experiences of children, teens, and adults with diverse abilities, the resources highlighted below offer families support in digging deep into the experiences of people with physical and cognitive disabilities, as well as their family, friends, and fellow community members. While our suggestions for such studies certainly do not cover all of the physical and cognitive disabilities that members of our local community experience, they offer families a place from which to begin examining the experiences of others. Read the rest of this entry »

Community-Based Resources for Film Studies in Western MA

Studies on Screen: Community-Based Resources for Film Studies

Booked with a full schedule of films for the second half of winter, the big (and small) screens of a handful of western Massachusetts venues are set to feature a host of great films in the coming weeks – from Oscar-nominated recent releases to original works by local youth.

Families can explore the art that is film-making through intergenerational film appreciation groups, kid-centric screenings of beloved classics, and multiple film series events catering to a variety of ages and interests – all community events that both encourage appreciation of the creative process behind the making of films and the use of film to support learning.  Read the rest of this entry »

10 Resources for Literary Learning in Western MA

Readers Rejoice! Community-Based Educational Resources for Literary Learning Abound

Luckily for literature lovers, western Massachusetts is a treasure trove of opportunities to engage in community-based learning about literature, literary history, and the process of creating writing that is inspired by a local community or the local landscape. Made up of landmarks, historic homes, museums, trails, and real-life human beings, western Massachusetts’ connections to the world of literature are strong.


Berkshire Gardens- The Mount, Edith Wharton's Home, Lenox, MA; photo credit David Dashiell- FlowersHome to beautiful hills and winding rivers (with quaint towns nestled amongst them), Massachusetts’ Berkshire region has been a favorite locale for artists and authors alike for centuries. Among the most notable literary greats to call the Berkshires home is Edith Wharton, whose self-designed home The Mount now serves both as a monument to Wharton’s career and as a year-round cultural center. Located in Lenox, The Mount offers opportunities to learn about Wharton’s remarkable literary achievements (40+ books in 40 years and a Pulitzer Prize), experience art and cultural events, and to learn about life in the early 1900’s.

Arrowhead, PittsfieldIn nearby Pittsfield, Herman Melville’s Arrowhead offers opportunities to learn about the author’s American Renaissance career. Made up of Melville’s historic home, beautiful grounds, and a working farm, Arrowhead offers opportunities to learn not only about Melville’s life and significant works, but the lives of all those living in the Berkshires during the 19th century.

Read the rest of this entry »

3 Support Groups for Grandfamilies

Grandfamilies Offers Unique Support to Families

A support group for families in which a relative parents another relative’s children, Grandfamilies offers support for adults navigating both the joy and challenges of such a family structure.

Communities are made up of families of all kinds, and the United Arc is offering local families a new resource for support. Located in the Hilltowns and Franklin County, Grandfamilies is a support group for families in which a relative cares for another relative’s children. This type of family structure is not uncommon, and can happen for a multitude of reasons. Grandfamilies offers folks who have such a family structure with a space in which to share the joy and satisfaction of raising children, and also serves as a source of support for the grief, financial strain, loss of independence, and other challenges that can accompany this type of family situation.

Grandfamilies groups provide families with the opportunity to learn about other useful community resources, share stories, and connect with other community members who are also raising a relative’s children. Grandfamilies group meetings are relaxed, and offer a friendly and supportive atmosphere within which participants can engage in essential and meaningful self-care.  Read the rest of this entry »

Beyond Affliction: Disability-Centered Take on History

Radio Series and Online Museum Provide Disability-Centered Take on History

While learning the history of a place or a people, the most well-rounded understandings of gradual change are developed when history has been considered from multiple perspectives and through multiple lenses. These days, it is no longer uncommon to consider American history from the perspective of women, immigrants, and other groups whose experiences have been defined by historical context, and we teach students to consider the experiences of diverse groups of people – rather than the experience of a single group – in order to think critically about our history.

Thanks to the Disability History Project, a new resource is available for considering history from another perspective: that of people with disabilities. Beyond Affliction, a four-part radio series, serves as an auditory resource for learning about the experiences of people with disabilities since the beginning of the 1800’s. Created for broadcast on National Public Radio, Beyond Affliction features six hours of documentary radio centered around the experiences of people with disabilities and their families during the last two centuries. The project not only teaches about the lives of people with disabilities in times past but allows listeners to learn about the gradual change that has taken place by highlighting the contrast between the experiences of long ago and the experiences of today.  Read the rest of this entry »

Using Community Resources to Support and Inspire an Interest is Art

Local Resources Support Community-Based Studies of Art

Park Hill Orchard in Easthampton is home of “Art in the Orchard,” an orchard-based gallery of outdoor sculptures and installation art to peruse with family. Bringing “Culture into Horticulutre,” the orchard features the work of 28 artists whose work is brought to life amongst the apple trees and changing landscape as we move from summer to fall.

Art is ever-present in life, and serves as an important means of communication and self-expression. Much of childhood is spent adding art to the world, and there is much to learn from exploring art and engaging in methods of creation!

Resources abound for learning about everything from art history to art materials, and here in western Massachusetts, the bulk of art-related learning resources are community-based.

From websites to studios to community organizations, there are endless ways for families to learn about and engage in the arts… and we have a great list for you!  Read the rest of this entry »

Community-Based Education Makes Every Day Back-To-School Day

Hilltown Families: Your Back-to-School Resource, All Year Long!

During the summer months, most children have enjoyed following their interests through outdoor play, reading books they have selected, day-trips with their family, and adventures out in their community. Once late August and early September roll around however, these carefree months of following their own interests and daily rhythms turn towards more organized learning experiences; and for many, the excitement starts to build as families become involved in back-to-school preparations. Maybe this school year will be your child’s first time away from home, or your child is mentally preparing for middle school, or this is their final year in high school… whatever the case, back-to-school can be an exciting time of year for most.

Whether or not your kids are excited about going back to school, or maybe your family homeschools or unschools, that freedom of self-directed learning experienced in the summer months can continue all year round through community engagement outside of the classroom day via community-based education. Read the rest of this entry »

Maker Camp Makes Camp Come to You

Virtual camp brings a world of learning to kids in their own homes!

Held on weekdays from July 6th-August 14th, Maker Camp offers a new theme each week and, in addition to daily project tutorials, each week’s theme includes a virtual field trip or two.

This summer, Google and Make: are offering hands-on kids and teens an alternative to the traditional summer camp. Instead of following the typical camp structure that involves trails in the woods, friendship bracelet crafts, and canoe lessons, Maker Camp is totally web-based, and engages kids in creative and educational DIY activities in their own homes – and best of all, it’s completely free!

Offering six weeks worth of programming, the 2015 Maker Camp is filled with activities and virtual field trips that match the interests and abilities of an incredibly wide range of learners. Held on weekdays from July 6th-August 14th, Maker Camp offers a new theme each week and, in addition to daily project tutorials, each week’s theme includes a virtual field trip or two. Check the Maker Camp schedule for these weekly themes.
Read the rest of this entry »

“What’s the Big Idea?” Challenges Kids to Think Critically & Philosophically

Film Project Poses Intellectual Challenges to Energize the Mind

In order to raise children who will grow up to be critical thinkers, it is essential that we not only present them with intellectual challenges while they’re young, but – as the goal of “What’s the Big Idea?” states – we must also teach them the skills that they will need to tackle complex ideas. By exposing children to philosophical ideas and questions early in life, we create opportunities for them to learn how to think critically about major topics. And if we provide the proper support, we allow them to do this big thinking in a context where they’re supported throughout their learning.

A project of Mt. Holyoke College professor Tom Wartenberg and local filmmaker Julie Akeret, “What’s the Big Idea?” introduces middle school students (12-14yr) to philosophy through film. Pairing commentary with pertinent clips relating to the themes addressed by the project, “What’s the Big Idea?” takes common tween-age dilemmas and presents them to students in a way that not only allows them to learn how to handle such situations, but encourages them to think deeply about the larger ideas that lay behind common life experiences and situations. Clips from iconic movies including The Karate Kid, Mean Girls, Liar Liar, and even High School Musical help to teach students to think critically about peer pressure, bullying, lying, and friendship. The project even offers resources for developing discussions and activities after tackling each theme – resources that can easily be used by educators of all kinds.

Read the rest of this entry »

Calling All Budding Botanists: Audio Tour at Lyman Conservatory

Calling All Budding Botanists…
Smith College’s Lyman Conservatory Offers Audio Tour for Kids & Adults!

The audio tour can be tailored to visitors’ particular interests, and there are separate tours available for kids and adults. The kids tour contains thirty different recordings spread out through the nine differently themed houses of the conservatory.

With winter approaching, fall is transitioning from a brightly colored celebration of cooler weather to a chilly, shadowy, hunkered-down, hollowed-out version of its former self. While the change in seasons is fascinating to watch, it’s not unreasonable to long for greener surroundings. Luckily, Smith College’s Lyman Conservatory in Northampton has just what you need to enjoy a day full of bright, summer-style plant life!

With ten different indoor exhibits to explore, the learning possibilities offered by the conservatory are endless. Tours are available to large groups of visitors, but families and individuals are welcome to visit during the conservatory’s regular hours to explore the hundreds of different plants housed there.

Despite the lack of human tour guides for smaller groups of visitors, tours are still available! Throughout the conservatory are quick response (QR) codes which, when scanned by a smart phone, generate an audio recording of information about a particular climate or type of plant. Visitors who don’t have smart phones can rent audio tour wands (which serve the same function) for $1 per person… Read the rest of this entry »

Online Resources to Support East Asian Studies

Online Resources to Support East Asian Studies

Creating lessons and finding materials to support students’ learning can be easy if you’re working on a popular topic, like the Revolutionary War or simple machines. Finding resources for less commonly studied topics can prove much more difficult, though!

Studies of east Asian culture and history can be particularly difficult to teach, as it is a topic not often included in curriculum guides or textbooks, and even if it is mentioned, it is generally only in high school level materials. However, thanks to the Five College Consortium, educators can find a wealth of easily accessible internet-based resources for teaching and learning about all things fascinating in eastern Asia. The Five Colleges’ website offers a categorized list filled with information-rich links – there’s everything from Asian news websites to web-page activities, travel information to online galleries of east Asian art: Online Resources to Support K-14 East Asian Studies.

The resources are broken down by country, topic, and purpose, and can be used by educators working with kids in grades K-12 (or older!), and homeschoolers of all ages. Some of the resources are best for educators to learn from before planning lessons, while others offer student-friendly formats. Integrating some web-based learning into a unit can not only broaden the scope of learning materials, but it can help students develop basic computer skills while working on a structured project.

For more opportunities to support east Asian studies, visit the Smith College Museum of Art, where an exhibit titled Collecting Art of Asia is on display in the galleries through May 26th, 2013.

[Photo credit: (ccl)]

5 Resources to Supplement & Support Asian Studies in the Pioneer Valley this Winter

Asian Studies Supplemented in the Pioneer Valley
Exhibit, Educator Workshop, Guided Tours, Performance Art & Free Family Day

Image credit: Yue Minjun. Chinese, born 1962. The Grassland Series Woodcut 1 (Diving Figure), 2008 Woodcut on medium weight lightly textured cream wove paper. Gift of Pace Editions Incorporated and Ethan Cohen Fine Arts courtesy of Ann and Richard Solomon (Ann Weinbaum, class of 1959) and Ethan Cohen Photograph by Petegorsky/Gipe.

Educational opportunities are numerous over the next few months for those interested in teaching and learning about Asian art!  The Smith College Museum of Art in Northampton, MA will be opening a new exhibit on Asian art beginning February 1st through May 26th, 2013.  Titled, Collecting Art of Asia, the exhibit celebrates the 100th anniversary of the museum’s first acquisition of Asian art and includes work from the museum’s permanent collection, as well as promised gifts to the museum.  Work included in the two-floor exhibit comes from China, Japan, Korea, and much of south and southeastern Asia, and highlights significant movements and people in the history of Asian art, as well as significant and historic gifts to the museum’s collection.

Educators can attend a workshop hosted by the museum that will share suggestions for teaching about the interdisciplinary connections found between Asian and Western art objects.  Open to K-12 teachers, the workshop will also include an overview of “Collecting Art of Asia,” and resources for teaching shared by Five College Center for East Asian Studies director Anne Prescott.  The workshop takes place on February 6th from 10am-3pm ($).  Registration required – call 413-585-2781 or e-mail to sign up.

The Smith College Museum of Art welcomes groups of students to visit, and offers guided tours of the museum.  Classes, homeschool groups, and other groups of learners from PreK-12th grade can visit the museum to supplement their studies of Asian art, culture, and history.  Tours can be designed to fit specific needs, or groups can participate in the general tour designed to accompany the exhibit.  Educators can use a visit to the museum to supplement explorations into the history of Asian art, as well as studies of Asian culture and history.

On Saturday, March 2nd from 10am-3pm, Smith College Museum of Art will host a free family day. Billed as “Art of Asia,” families can participate in hands-on projects that were inspired by fishermen, flowers and fireworks, all on view in the Collecting Art of Asia exhibition.  Projects are perfect for families with PreK-12th youth and their guardians.

Finally, at the UMass Fine Arts Center in Amherst will host Chinese Theater Works performing Toy Theater Peony Pavilion as part of the Global Arts: Performances for Schools series.  The performance, open to grades 3-8, will take place at 10am on March 7th, 2013.  The show combines the 16th century Chinese Kun Opera with modern Western styles of puppetry to create a unique and beautiful story, following a young maiden through her dreams.

Studies of Asian art and performance can provide a window through which to examine Asian history and culture, and can help provide students with a critical understanding of the evolution of Asian cultures.  A look at Asian traditions can also help older students put relations between the United States and east Asian countries such as China and Japan into cultural context.  For more information on either the exhibit or the performance, contact the Smith College museum of Arts at 413-585-2781 or the UMass FAC at 413-545-2511.

Social Learning Made Easy with Sophia

Sophia Flips the Classroom with New Social Education Platform

Are there topics that you want your kids to learn that haven’t yet been (or aren’t) covered in their school’s curriculum?  Are you a teacher looking for online information to supplement your student’s textbook or classroom notes, or a place to share your own curriculum?  Are you a homeschool or unschool learning facilitator wishing you had a map of topics in multiple disciplines? Sophia, an online learning resource, offers validated crowdsourced educational material that supports all these needs, and much more!

The site ( offers a wealth of information – presented in a way that is social and conducive to learning – and is divided up into categories based on discipline, then broken down by specific topics and grade level appropriateness.   You can find anything from a unit on molecular structure for 10th-12th graders to a tutorial on the preterite and imperfect tenses of the Portuguese language!

Each topic section is also divided into units (arranged in a logical order) that, if followed closely, can lead a learner to a much deeper understanding of a topic.  The site isn’t, however, just another online textbook-style resource.  Within each topic are a variety of ways to learn, and users are able to choose which structure best fits their goals and/or learning style.  Within the website’s solid structure is a surprising amount of freedom!  Users can simply read up on a topic, or dig deeper by taking quizzes, playing games, create their own flashcards, etc.  The site is a great resource for parents, teachers, and students – especially as a supplement to other learning materials!  Check out this video to learn more:

Bring a StoryWalk to Your Neighborhood

Berkshire Athenaeum Has Pre-Made StoryWalks for Borrowing!

The Berkshire Athenaeum in Pittsfield, MA has over 20 StoryWalks for patrons to borrow for free!  StoryWalks are great way to promote literacy in young children while having them engage in outdoor activities.

Reading a book and taking a walk outside share many similarities for children – they are, first of all, things that take place frequently in the life of a young person.  Stories and time outdoors are also ways that kids learn about the world around them.  Books offer a look into other places, contexts, and cultures, and can teach kids about virtually any subject.  Out-of-doors trips are learning experiences, too – kids observe their environment, learn how to interact with it, and make discoveries about the world.  So why not combine the two!?  A StoryWalk does just that!

What is a StoryWalk?

Originating in Montpelier, VT, the concept takes classic children’s books (think Chicka, Chicka, Boom Boom and Where the Wild Things Are), enlarges them, divides them up into sections, and then posts them throughout an area like a park, downtown district, or a playground for families to read while they explore!  StoryWalks are a great way for kids to discover new stories – moving from section to section allows time for kids to process what they’ve read, ask questions, and share their thoughts just as they might in between pages during a normal read, but without the sitting still necessary for read-alouds at home.

Local Resource to Aid in Hosting a StoryWalk

StoryWalks can be used at schools, community centers, and daycares; they add learning experiences to community events and festivals; and promote literacy and literary appreciation!  Wish you could offer one to your students, share one with your neighborhood, or add one to an event?  The Berkshire Athenaeum has pre-made StoryWalk portfolios for borrowing!  There are stories of all types, ranging from Jan Brett classics to books about counting.  Each set includes laminated posters, instructions, and other useful resources (including some added by fellow StoryWalk borrowers).

The Berkshire Athenaeum has over 20 StoryWalk portfolios available to lend, including these titles:  Read the rest of this entry »

Food Security Resources for Families During Summer Months

Food Bank of Western MA Offers Food Resources for Families During Summer Months

Working with more than 350 member agencies that make up the emergency food network in our region, The Food Bank of Western Massachusetts provides food to 15,000 people every week. Thirty-one percent of households who seek emergency food from those agencies have at least one working adult, but still do not earn enough to make ends meet. Nearly half of the families say they must make tough choices between paying for food and paying for utilities, heating fuel, rent, mortgage or medical care, because they don’t have enough money to meet all these basic needs.

Nearly 20 percent of all kids under 18 in Western Massachusetts live in food insecure households, and don’t always have enough to eat. As school lets out for summer, we are reminded that the next three months will be even harder for these kids. Without school meals, grocery budgets are stretched to the brink, and many parents find it difficult to replace the two to even three free meals they receive five days a week during the school year.

Luckily, many of the agencies The Food Bank works worth address this increased need directly by providing summer grocery bag programs and daily meals to help fill in the gaps.

Here are several area resources to help children and their parents during the summer months in the four counties of Western MA:

Read the rest of this entry »

Seven Western MA Community Coalitions To Know About

Seven Community Coalitions
Supporting and Serving Families in Western MA

Communities that Care Coalition brings together youth, parents, schools, community agencies, and local governments to promote the health and well-being of young people in Franklin County and the North Quabbin region. Programs include Healthy Youth Initiative (youth nutrition and physical activity), Bullying Prevention Workshop, education on parent social norms, mini grants to recognize youth for their contributions to the community, and more. For more information, visit

North Quabbin Community Coalition is a community-wide alliance committed to improving the quality of life for all those living and working in the North Quabbin region. Their focus areas are liaison between the rural community and local legislators, task force groups to address local issues (substance abuse, economic development, etc.), and monthly forums to share information among community service providers. For more information, visit

Northampton Prevention Council. This group’s mission is to prevent youth substance abuse in Northampton. They serve all youth who live in, go to school in, or work in Northampton, with programs such as parent education, compliance checks of liquor retailers, training for those who serve or sell alcohol, and more. For more information, visit

Northern Berkshire Community Coalition. The mission of the Coalition is to improve the quality of life for people in Northern Berkshire by organizing, supporting, and empowering the community. Programs include substance-free performing arts events for youth, teen writing workshops, youth leadership programs, community forums, and more. For more information, visit

South Berkshire Community Coalition. Their mission is to prevent youth alcohol and drug abuse in South County in a long-term and sustainable manner. Programs include building community dialogue, coordinating prevention activities, conducting trainings, sponsoring workshops, and more. To learn more, visit

Southern Hilltown Domestic Violence Task Force covers nine rural towns which in Hampshire and Hampden counties, and meets monthly to develop and support local direct service projects and to launch a variety of prevention, outreach, training, and service coordination efforts. The Task Force works with local law enforcement, schools, and businesses on domestic violence prevention and education. For more information, email, or visit their Facebook page.

SPIFFY Coalition is made up of over 60 community groups working together to improve the lives of youth in Hampshire County. Programs include parent education, community task forces, educator training, and youth engagement. Check out their awesome project PhotoVoice, which allows youth to express their views on underage drinking while learning photographic skills. For more information, visit

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