100+ Suggested Resources & Learning Opportunities in Western MA: April 11-17, 2020

Awarded the “Essential Agent of Change Award” by the MDPH’s Massachusetts Essentials for Childhood, Hilltown Families is recognized as a leading family strengthening initiative in the region, promoting “positive parenting through the social norm of community social connectedness.” Serving Western Massachusetts since 2005, Hilltown Families continues to support the development and enhancement of our local economy and community. Local businesses, farms, individuals, schools, and non-profit organizations are invited to collaborate with Hilltown Families in their community outreach. With nearly 10,000 opt-in subscribers and 2.6+ million visits to our web site alone, Hilltown Families can deliver your message to thousands of families living throughout the four counties of Western MA! Find out about our affordable advertising options and how you can partner with Hilltown Families in your online marketing by contacting us at info@hilltownfamilies.org… and scroll down to discover community-based educational opportunities to explore at home this weekend and next week.

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Featured Summer Programs & Camps

Check out our Summer Directory for nearly
60 summer camps & programs in and around Western MA!

Jun 8 – Aug 7

Amherst Montessori School Summer Discovery. Amherst, MA. Amherst Montessori’s Summer Discovery offers playful adventures tailored to children ages 12 months to 12 years. Preschool/kindergarten children will have so much fun jumping through sprinklers, playing outside, and exploring weekly themes, including Geology, Insects, Building, and more. Infants/toddlers ages three and below will love AMS’s nurturing environment with outdoor play, songs & movement, water play, and sensory exploration, all with emphasis on building independence. The amazing Michelle Risch leads three weeks of Lego building and creativity with millions of Legos for Elementary children to build wherever their imagination takes them. Varying schedules with extended hours. Dates: Jun 8-Aug 7; Age Range of Participants: 15mos-12yo. Contact: 413-253-3101. sthompson@amherstmontessori.org. amherstmontessori.org.

Jun 26 – Aug 18

Rockin’ the Summer. Goshen, MA. IMA’s residential music programs give girls access to top-notch facilities & instruments, to veteran professional musicians & teachers, and musical exploration & collaboration. Explore Rock ‘n Roll (Jun 24–28; Aug 19-23) offers girls 9-12 opportunity to explore instruments, to begin writing songs, and to participate in a concert. Rock ‘n Roll Performance (Jul 10-19; Jul 24-Aug 2) offers girls 13-19 an opportunity to speak their truth through the medium of rock ‘n roll, gain confidence in performance abilities, improve musicianship, and develop collaborative leadership skills. Studio Recording & Production (Aug 6-16) offers hands-on studio recording seminar for women 16-22 who are ready to record their work and/or interested in engineering and producing. Dates: Jun 26-Aug 18; Age Range of Participants: Girls/Young Women 9-22yo. Contact: 413-268-3074. info@ima.org. www.ima.org.

Jun 29 – Aug 21

Summer at The Academy at Charlemont in Charlemont, MA. The Academy at Charlemont Summer Programs. Multiple programs for grades 3-12 running from late June to late August. Week of June 29-July 3 – Arts and Crafts for grades 3-6, 9am-3pm. Week of July 6-July 10 – Maker’s Camp 8:30am-11:30am and Ultimate Frisbee 12:30pm-3:30pm, grades 7-12. Week of August 3-7 – Music Camp 9am-12pm. Week of August 17-21 – Arts and Crafts for grades 7-12, 9am-12pm. Financial aid is available. Participants are asked to bring water bottles, snacks and/or lunch.Dates: Jun 29-Aug 21; Age Range of Participants: 8-18yo. Contact: 413-339-4912. jmitchell@charlemont.org. www.charlemont.org

Jul 6-23

Smith Vocational and Agricultural High School Summer Youth Programs. Northampton, MA. Smith Vocational and Agricultural High School is pleased to announce its 2020 Summer Program offerings for students entering grades 6, 7, and 8. Programs include: Entering the World of Cosmetology; Tour de Cuisine: Cultivating the Young Culinarian; Criminal Justice League; Build Your Own Longboard. Weekly programs from July 6-July 23 half-day runs 8:30am- 12:30pm. Full-day programs run 8:30am – 3:30pm. Students can prepare amazing food, practice beauty techniques, build longboards, or learn about law enforcement. For full course descriptions, including which weeks they will run and to register for a Summer Youth Program, please see their website. Dates: Jul 6-23; Age Range of Participants: 11-14yo. Contact: 413-587-1414 x3406. dcarver@smithtec.org. www.smithtec.org/summer.

Jul 6 – Aug 21

Riotous Youth. Lenox, MA. These fun and inspiring 2-week summer theatre programs introduce students ages 7-17 to Shakespeare’s language, his stories, characters, and themes using imaginative and playful methods. Each session ends with a performance piece based on the kids’ experience of the play, which they share with family, friends, and Company members on the final day of the session. Dates: Jul 6-Aug 21; Age Range of Participants: 7-17yo. Contact: 413-637-1199 x172. mmarchione@shakespeare.org. www.shakespeare.org

Jul 6 – Aug 28

Claws, based out of Northampton, MA.Claws camping trips take students 11-17 into wild places. They climb mountains, ford rivers and sea kayak. Students test their edges and boundaries as they learn skills needed to overcome challenges. They move through fascinating terrain and waters, having fun while practicing mindfulness. They gain the ability to control their thoughts and movements, like seal, fish, and birds, bears, and bobcats do. They learn to read the great patterns of biomes, of weather, witnessing grand forces and elements expressing themselves. Claws go into the wild because the wild is where they can grow—where they can grasp life, grip it tight and carry it aloft. This year they’re going to the White Mountains and Casco Bay in Maine. There are trips to the Sierras, too. Dates: Jul 6-Aug 28; Age Range of Participants: 11-17yo. Contact: 413-320-0522. info@biocitizen.org. ma.biocitizen.org.

Jun 29 – Jul 2

“Brave” Dance Camp with Celtic Heels & Devine Dance in Greenfield, MA. Experience the joy of dance at the “Brave” themed dance camp. Celtic Heels & Devine Dance are offering students the opportunity to attend a four-day workshop incorporating Irish Step, Tap, Lyrical, Musical Theatre, and more. In addition to dance classes, students will create craft projects, learn new rhythms and cadences and improve their balance, posture, and flexibility. With such a variety of styles, there is something for everyone, and a summer workshop is a great way to experience their individually tailored lesson plans as well as the inclusive atmosphere they create with and for their students. Dates: Jun 29-Jul 2; Age Range of Campers: 7-12yo. Contact: 413-475-4726. celticheels@gmail.com. www.CelticHeelsDance.com.

Jul 6 – Aug 21

The Children’s Ballet & Movement Co. Theater & Dance Summer Camp/Summer Dance Intensive in Hadley, MA. The Children’s Ballet & Movement Co. offers two separate dance camps this year! Theater and Dance Summer Camp (ages 4-8) provides a variety of dance forms, arts and crafts, play, swimming, set design and more! Summer Dance Intensive (ages 9-15) offers Ballet, Pre-Pointe/Pointe, Acro Dance, Jazz, Modern, Contemporary, Yoga, and more! Both camps are Monday-Friday from 9am-4pm with Full Day and Half Day options. Whether your child is new to dance or a seasoned dancer, Children’s Ballet & Movement Co. dance camps are sure to please! Dates: Jul 6-Aug 21; Age Range of Participants: 4-15yo. Contact: 413-478-1944. cassieferr@gmail.com. www.childrensballetmovement.com

Jun 22 – Aug 21

LSSE Summer Sports Programs and Day Camps. Amherst, MA. Spend the summer with Amherst Leisure Services! At the LSSE Sports Programs and Day Camps, children will have the opportunity to participate in arts, crafts, games, nature activities, sports programs, and swimming lessons. Their caring and experienced staff will make this a summer to remember. They offer free breakfast and lunch to Early Adventures and Adventure Playground day campers thanks to the ARPS School Nutrition Department. Visit the LSSE website for more information and to find the perfect sports or day camp for your child. Dates: Jun 22-Aug 21; Age Range of Campers: 5-14yo. Contact: 413-259-3065. lsse@amherstma.gov. LSSE.org.

Jun 22 – Aug 28

Rattlesnake Adventure Camps at Morse Hill Outdoor Center. Shutesbury, MA. This is Morse Hill’s 30th year offering fun outdoor activities that facilitate children’s self-awareness, confidence, trust, communication, problem-solving, & teamwork skills. With a foundation in physical & emotional safety, our programs include on-site low & high ropes courses & team-building initiatives, as well as off-site rock climbing, canoeing, raft building, mountain biking, caving, hiking, & more. The 85-acre property by Lake Wyola in Shutesbury includes bike trails, campsites, cabins, and discovery elements. Transportation is available from Amherst & Northampton. Whether campers choose day, overnight, or expedition camps, they will develop their outdoor skills & knowledge while building relationships with counselors & friends. Dates: Jun 22-Aug 28; Age Range of Campers: 8-18yo. Contact: 413-253-1807. summer@morsehill.com. www.morsehill.com

April 11-17, 2020

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Monday, April 13Tuesday, April 14Wednesday, April 15
Thursday, April 16Friday, April 17

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Resources and opportunities below are shared as a courtesy. While we do our best to share accurate and up-to-date information, please take the time to confirm age appropriateness, registration requirements, and associated costs.

Read the rest of this entry »

CBEdu Resource: Bees and Flowers

Native Species: Community-Based Educational Resources

Human beings have been harvesting honey and keeping hives for around nine thousand years. Traditional cultures in Africa, Northern Europe, Asia, and the Mediterranean have worshiped bee goddesses as a way of venerating these amazing creatures. In Lithuania, for instance, the traditional bee goddess is known as Austeja. It is said that in traditional Lithuanian communities, it is forbidden to argue or quarrel in the presence of a bee, and if one comes upon a dead bee, it is buried ceremonially. Closer to home, the custom of “telling the bees” was practiced as a tradition in early America, a custom brought over from Europe. After a death in the family, the beekeeper would “tell the bees” so they too could enter proper mourning. It was thought that otherwise the bees might not produce honey or leave the hive to pollinate our crops. — And why is it that bees are so revered across cultures and time? Could it be that their contributions towards pollination is vital to the survival of 80% of the world’s plant species? Bees and flowers have an amazingly close relationship. Flowers need bees 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:

“Over the past 15 years, numerous colonies of bees have been decimated throughout the world, but the causes of this disaster remain unknown. Depending on the world region, 50% to 90% of all local bees have disappeared, and this epidemic is still spreading from beehive to beehive – all over the planet. Everywhere, the same scenario is repeated: billions of bees leave their hives, never to return. No bodies are found in the immediate surroundings, and no visible predators can be located.” Want to learn more? Check out a copy of More Than Honey from your local library, a documentary that explores the effects of colony collapse disorder, the phenomenon responsible for bees’ recent scarcity.


Rowan Jacobson wrote a book, published in 2008, called Fruitless Fall. He identifies multiple causes of stress to the bees, showing how they all work together to contribute to colony collapse. He also interviewed several beekeepers (some local to him in Vermont) who are having success at building stronger and more resilient colonies. Superb book, very readable and informative about bees in general, and groundbreaking in its approach to colony collapse.

Other resources to check out from your library include these titles: The Life and Times of the Honeybee [Ages 5+]; Honey Bees: Letters from the Hive [Ages 11+]; and The Backyard Beekeeper – Revised and Updated: An Absolute Beginner’s Guide to Keeping Bees in Your Yard and Garden.

“Bee Song” written by Lui Collins, music by Lui Collins and Anand Nayak,
©2009 Lui Collins, Molly Gamblin Music/BMI and Dizzy Dog Music/ASCAP

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 dozens of 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 museums to community organizations to art spaces, 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 »

5 Featured Pottery Studios in Western MA

Hear Me Roar: Pottery Studios in Western Massachusetts

Getting Your Hands Dirty
By Cheryl Allan Carlyle

Pottery, one of the oldest forms of art, has been in existence since before the Neolithic period, dating back to 29,000 BC! These ancient artifacts have been discovered by archaeologists across the world, most notably in Japan, China, Europe, Sub-Saharan Africa, and South America. The origins of pottery are purely utilitarian in that they were made to serve a specific, useful purpose – cups, plates, and bowls are among the most common items found. Because clay is inexpensive, abundant, and adaptable, it was an ideal medium for creating these necessary items. Beyond its practical use, clay was also used in early cultures to create figurines and vases as a form of artistic expression. Today, pottery remains a timeless and valuable art form. Read the rest of this entry »

Need Help Paying for Childcare?

FYI: Childcare Subsidies Are Available Now!

The Hilltown Community Development Corporation, funded by a Community Development Block Grant from the Massachusetts Department of Housing & Community Development and the Town of Chesterfield, is now administering childcare subsidies for working families with children ages 0-5 residing in the towns of Chesterfield, Cummington, Goshen, Peru, Plainfield, and Worthington. Parents must be working, or in a vocational or educational program during childcare hours to qualify.

If your gross household annual income is below the limits listed, you may be eligible for assistance in paying for your childcare costs:

  • Household of 2 – $51,200
  • Household of 3 – $57,600
  • Household of 4 – $64,000
  • Household of 5 – $69,150
  • Household of 6 – $74,250

Please contact Steve Herzberg for an application – 413.588.6693 or steven_herzberg@msn.com.

6 Community Resources & Annual Events for Sustainable Living

Community Resources and Annual Events for Sustainable Living

Community Involved in Sustaining Agriculture (CISA)
CISA is a  Western Massachusetts organization that “strengthens farms and engages the community in building the local food economy.”  CISA connects community members with the farms and farmers that produce food in our region to help ensure food security and fortify the relationship between the land and our dinner tables. CISA offers many workshops and community events to provide folks with the opportunity to learn more about sustainable agriculture such as winter vegetable cultivation, homestead woodlot management, farm financing, making the most out of pasture and hayfields, maple sugaring at home and many other subjects throughout the year!  CISA’s website also connects you to nearby farms where you can source your food as well as find resources and recipes.  Consider volunteering with CISA in celebration of Earth Day and sustainable agriculture!

Local Ecological Art
Local Williamsburg artist Todd Lynch creates ecological art installations throughout Western Massachusetts communities at different natural sites to help foster a dialogue between people and the landscape.  One of his installations, the Flotsam Weirs Installation, utilized woven fences made of material found on-site to create an environmental sculpture that helped people learn about hydrology and ecology as well as how structures in the natural world decay throughout time.  The piece is a way to witness the process of nature and to understand the beauty of its ecology through an artistic lens.It is located in Williamsburg, MA.  Pictures are found at www.ecotropy.net.

Pedal People
Local business Pedal People practice sustainability every day when it comes to trash and compost pickup!  Serving the Northampton area, this group of cyclists utilize bikes to tote away trash and compost from Northampton homes instead of driving fuel-reliant cars and trucks! http://www.pedalpeople.coop

Seed Swaps
Seed swaps are a chance for community members to meet one another, gather together and share gardening tips, ideas, and, more importantly, seeds!  Many local libraries in the Hilltowns and Pioneer Valley host seed swaps in early spring to encourage togetherness, sharing and collaborative consumption by providing the space for people to get together and share the food and plants they grow.  Check out these local libraries for nearby seed swamps. Read more about the embedded learning found in seed saving in our post, Seed Capital Provides Return for Nature-Based Education.

Amherst Sustainability Festival
Every year, the town of Amherst celebrates Earth Day with an annual Sustainability Festival. Usually, during the week of Earth Day, this festival includes performances on the town common, workshops to learn more about how to live more sustainably at home, family entertainment, and local farm animals from the 4-H club!

Earth Day at UMass
The University of Massachusetts celebrates with an Earth Day Festival every year with student groups that host booths, a farmers’ market featuring student grown produce, live music, and art activities.  Each year is different, so best to check the UMass website to see what is on the schedule for this year’s Earth Day Festival at UMass.

The Silence of Snow: Meditation & Mindfulness

Silence of Snow: Peaceful Places

Snow can make you feel as though the world has stopped around you.  During snowstorms, travel is suspended, and, for a day or two, the quiet of the outdoors reminds us to simply enjoy the moment and to be mindful.

Meditation is a practice in which awareness is focused on the present moment.  There are many different ways to meditate and be mindful of the present moment.   It’s something you can practice in any space and at any time.  The rhythm of snow falling and the slower pace of winter provide a contemplative setting for the practice of slowing down in order to focus on the moment.

Additionally, as the season of giving thanks has ended, wintertime is now an occasion to set the year’s intentions and reflect.  Traditionally, intentions are set on New Year’s Eve; however, the pensive nature and silent voice of winter provide the atmosphere to connect with your inner self and meditate on personal intentions.

Curious to explore mindfulness and meditation? In Western Massachusetts there are many community-based resources and spaces for people to learn about and practice mindfulness: Read the rest of this entry »

Explore History & Culture through Food

Explore History & Culture through Food

One way to get some inspiration for your next winter culinary adventure is to visit living history museums such as Historic Deerfield and Old Sturbridge Village.  Both institutions offer hearth cooking classes.  Additionally, a stroll through Old Sturbridge Village during the winter time offers you a peek into New Englanders’ daily living routines and food preparations from the 19th century.  Visitors can see firsthand what types of recipes 19th century Americans were preparing during the cold months of the year.

Sample dishes that were prepared during the winter season include chicken pie, broiled sweet potatoes, stewed beets, soup, hot cakes, Indian Pudding, and breads.  Be sure to remember hot chocolate and coffee too! 19th century New Englanders roasted and brewed coffee at home. It was a season for lots of baking, hearty soups/stews and meats.

Don’t forget to revisit Lydia Maria Child’s The American Frugal Housewife. Her section on vegetables explains how vegetables should be stored during different seasons.  To read an excerpt, download our Jan/Feb edition of Learning Ahead: Cultural Itinerary for Western Massachusetts.

In addition to learning about history through the lens of food, food can also be a great catalyst for learning about other cultures. Read the rest of this entry »

Hilltown Families on Mass Appeal: Holiday Strolls & Community Singing

Hilltown Families on Mass Appeal: Holiday Segment
Learning with Holiday Strolls and Caroling

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 Tuesday, November 22, 2016. In this segment, Sienna and Lauren talked about engaging and learning with holiday strolls and community singing during the holiday season.

Click on image to view video.

Download a copy of Learning Ahead: Cultural Itinerary for Western MA for Nov/Dec. (38 page PDF) for the holiday 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 December 26th, 2016!




Hilltown Families on Mass Appeal: Late Fall Community-Based Learning through Engagement

Hilltown Families on Mass Appeal: November Segment
Late Fall Learning with Hilltown Families Cultural Itinerary

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 Tuesday, November 1, 2016. This month Sienna and Seth talked about ways to engage in our community in the late fall. Reviewing the newest edition of Learning Ahead, Seth and Sienna talk about learning through the lens of the food, habitat and culture found in the Nov/Dec issue of Learning Ahead: Cultural Itinerary for Western MA:

Click on the video to watch.
Download a copy of Learning Ahead: Cultural Itinerary for Western MA. (38 page PDF) for the holiday 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 the week after Thanksgiving.





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 »

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.

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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 »

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.
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“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.

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