Get involved! Service-Learning Opportunities in Western MA

Get involved! Service -Learning Opportunities in Western MA

How better to participate and learn through your community than a service-learning project? Service-learning projects can help youth connect with others while learning about their world.

Since just about anything can be a learning experience, this list will include both opportunities where the learning is obvious, along with opportunities where the learning is more subtle.

While there are lots of “Projects,” and opportunities for children to volunteer, why not just ask an organization that you respect if they need some help? Most groups need regular help with administrative tasks, including Hilltown Families. Asking is an easy way to get your family involved in something that you care about. Just about every social service agency, not for profit, and community can benefit from the support of others.

Here are some specific projects to check out:

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6 Western MA Naturalists and Educators

Naturalists and Educators to Know About in Western MA

Award-winning musician and author Sarah Pirtle founded Journey Camp twenty years ago. As a peacebuilding camp Journey Camp has impacted the lives of many young people by providing a vision of social change while connecting with the the natural world through the expressive arts.

Support your live, local, free-lance, free-range, grass-fed naturalist!

Some naturalists and educators are funded by a school or a camp. Others hang up their shingle and take the kids into the woods. This post offers a smattering of freelance naturalists in Western MA. They are people who are highly qualified and experienced educators and naturalists who teach children about their local environment, wilderness survival skills, nature science and social skills. I interviewed many of these people in preparing this post, and I regret not being able to capture the joy in their voices when they talked about how much they love what they do!

Sarah Pirtle

Twenty years ago, Sarah Pirtle created Journey Camp, a peace-building camp that helps children develop earth awareness while fostering their creativity. Her goal is for children to have a “deep experience of feeling close to nature.” As a prolific creator, Sarah also writes books, curriculum, and songs that support a world in which humans respect each other and the natural world.  She loves to combine ecological awareness and the arts, and recently created an 18 feet humpbacked whale puppet that a dozen kids can get inside and move!

At Journey Camp, the students create characters and stories which help them to understand the connection that people have to the earth. Sarah has two summer programs.  One is based out of Woolman Hill in Deerfield, MA.  A newer one was launched in the Hilltowns at Taproot Commons Farm in Cummington, MA a few years ago with the help of Hilltown Families founder, Sienna Wildfield.

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10 Featured Citizen Scientist Projects for Families

Citizen Scientists are Studying All Over the World

From ladybugs to sunflowers to birds to babies… there are a number of ways average families can participate as citizen scientists and time of year!

You’ve got to love technology! Never before in the history of time have people from all over the world been so easily able to learn about and participate in true science.

Citizen Scientist projects are research based investigations that involve regular people in actual research experiments. By engaging the general public, professional scientists are able to amass a huge amount of data. The observers and data collectors get to learn more about the scientific process and whatever the scientists are studying.

Often in this column I focus on events that are coming up in Western MA; however, the thought of having a list with all of my favorite citizen science projects in one place proved irresistible.

So, here is a sample list of family friendly, year round, citizen science projects that involve the natural world, and sound intriguing:

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8 Western MA Farm Programs Offer Education for Families

Learning on the Farm

Red Gate Farm is located in Buckland, MA, and provides opportunities for school groups to visit and engage in the daily life of a working farm. School groups can visit for three days, during which they take care of the farm animals, buildings and people. There is more information available at (Photo credit: Sienna Wildfield)

There is no better place to learn than your neighborhood farm and no better time than the spring and summer!

Whether you are looking for a place to go with your family on the weekend, your home-schooling group during the weekdays, or a summer camp for your kids, the following list of farm based learning opportunities are great places to check out. Many of them even have programs just for adults! No need for the kids to have all of the fun.

  • Winterberry Farm in Colrain, MA, is a small, family teaching farm. They have farm and fiber programs throughout the year. One of their most interesting programs is Sheep Week for kids during April vacation week. Each child is assigned a ewe and her lambs to care for during the week. The kids weigh, feed, and get to participate in all aspects of the care of their own sheep family. They even get to watch the video of their home-birth! There are also courses for adults. There are private fiber and soap making classes, as well as custom made workshops for scout groups or homeschool groups. They host camps on vacation weeks as well as Summer Camp. Learn more at
  • Berkshire Botanical Gardens in Stockbridge, MA offers programs for both children and adults. They run a Farm in the Garden Camp, which is a full-day summer camp for children ages 5 to 10. For adults, the choices are impressive. They offer courses on fruit production, growing with perennials, and building dry stone walls, among other things. You can learn more at
  • Crimson and Clover Farm in Florence, MA hosts courses and summer camps through the Farm Education Collaborative. There are home-school programs, parent child gardening programs, an after school farm club and workshops for adults. There is more information available at
  • Farm School in Athol, MA helps people connect with the land. Visiting schools can spend three days fully immersed in the work and life of the farm. Adults who want to learn about animal husbandry, vegetable production and homesteading skills can participate in the Practical Farm Training Program. There is even a one-room school house for middle school students. It offer a rigorous education in a joyful, beautiful setting. You can learn more about their programs at
  • Farm and Garden Camp in Amherst, MA is a program through the Farm Education Collaborative based at Hampshire College that has an intentional focus on growing and harvesting the food we eat and fibers we use. It offers weekly summer day camp programs to young people from 4-14 years old during the months of July and August. Learn more about the program at
  • Hartsbrook School in Hadley, MA offers a Waldorf inspired camp during vacation weeks and Farm Camp during the summer. Children ages 4-15 enjoy caring for a variety of farm animals, participating in agricultural crafts and preparing their harvests in the kitchen.You can learn about it at
  • Open View Farm in Conway, MA was founded in 2005 with the goal of creating a welcoming environment in which people of all ages and backgrounds could connect with nature. They have events throughout the year, including sheep shearing, work projects, and social gatherings. Open View has created an especially welcoming farm for the families of people in the LGBQT families. They have a program called CampOUT which is for children from LGBQT families to get to experience farm life and companionship. Open View farm also offers fellowships for private and public school teachers who need a retreat to create curriculum that supports Peace and Justice or Sustainable and Responsible living. You can learn more about Open View Farm at

The soil is warming up for you and your children. Go and make something grow.


Theresa Heary-Selah — Theresa is a teacher and a freelance writer, making her home in Greenfield, MA and Wright, NY with her family.  She teaches at S.H.I.N.E. (Students at Home in New England), a social and academic support program for middle school students in the Pioneer Valley, and writes about home-schooling and technology.  Theresa’s interests include home-schooling, gardening, cooking, hiking, and dancing.

Maple Syrup Time: Eight Featured Sugar Shacks in Western MA

Maple Syrup Season

The moment that we have been waiting for all winter is here: Maple Syrup Time!  The ground is thawing, and the sap is running… maple sugaring is everywhere, giving great reason to get out with your family to learn about the maple sugaring process while enjoying the first harvest of the year!

Below, I have listed several sugar shacks where there is a restaurant, and the sap run is a sweet and joyful event.  However, do not disregard the people around the corner or the trees in your own back yard! A directory of sugar shacks in Massachusetts is available at Check to see if there is someone making syrup in your neighborhood that you do not know.  Call ahead to see if they are boiling and if you bring your kids to come to watch the process.

Sugar Shacks with Breakfast

If you want a list with highlights, this is the list for you:

  1. Williams Farm Sugarhouse in Deerfield
  2. North Hadley Sugar Shack
  3. High Hopes Farm Sugar House in Worthington
  4. Red Bucket Sugar Shack in Worthington
  5. Gould’s Maple Sugarhouse in Shelburne
  6. Hanging Mountain Farms & The Strawbale Cafe in Westhampton
  7. Davenport Maple Farm Restaurant in Shelburne
  8. Steve’s Sugar Shack in Westhampton

For a quick, complete, and unannotated list, with hours, dates and directions, check out the Mass Maple Sugar House with Restaurant directory.  And while there is a definite joy in celebrating the harvest with comrades and pancakes, have you considered tapping a tree or two yourself?  Here is a quick guide from the Massachusetts Maple Producers Association to get you started: Make Your Own Maple Syrup.

[Updated: 03/17/19]

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Land of Lanolin: 5 Ways to Learn About Sheep & Wool this Spring

Honor Your Woolies

It is quite possible that you have on a wool sweater, right now! You might even buy sweaters from consignment shops to make cute little wool pants for your toddler. Thank goodness for sheep, farmers, and wool. We would all be colder without them.

In the next few months, you might be able to put your woolies away until next winter. What better way to commemorate the event than to spend time with sheep? Farmers around Western MA will free their sheep from the hairy locks that bind them and allow their skin to feel the glorious sun shine.

Here’s a sheep shearing demo from a previous season at Red Gate Farm in Buckland, MA:

Sheep shearing is a great opportunity to learn about animals and textiles. It is also a great excuse to visit a local farm! To follow is a rundown of what is happening in the land of lanolin this spring (and late winter) in Western MA:

  • Shearing Day at Winterberry Farm, in Leverett will be on Saturday March 10, from 9:30-4:30: With only a couple of weeks left of winter, the sheep will be shorn! Actual shearing is from 10:30am-12noon. They will shear 30 sheep this year, as there were no losses to coyotes! There will be great food, lots of music and gorgeous wool in many forms. There will also be fiber and herding demos, sheep and angora rabbits, goats, poultry and a llama named Sam. There is no charge- but contributions to the farm scholarship fund cheerfully accepted. If you just want to buy fiber, come by on Sunday March 11 from 2-4pm. Winterberry farm is located at 21 Teawaddle Hill Road in Leverett, MA. For more information, visit (DONATION)
  • The 39th Annual Massachusetts Sheep and Woolcraft Fair, at the Cummington Fair Grounds, will take place on Saturday, May 25th and Sunday, May 26th from 9am-4pm: This event has it all! There will be fiber and woolcraft vendors, sheep shearing demonstrations, sheep dog trials, fiber and woolcraft workshops for adults and children, sheep shows, a fleece show and sale, a fleece to shawl competition and food booths. It is sponsored by The Pioneer Valley Sheep Breeders Association, the Massachusetts Federation of Sheep Associations and the Massachusetts Dept. of Agricultural Resources.  For more information and map, go to ($)
  • Sheep Shearing Weekend at Hancock Shaker Village, in Pittsfield MA is on April 27th and 28th from 10am-4pm: In addition to the regular farm activities, the Village’s Merino sheep will be shorn and there will be special hands-on textile demonstration and activities conducted by volunteers from local spinning and weaving guilds. For more information on the event, call 1-800.817.1137 or visit ($$)
  • Wool Days at Old Sturbridge Village will be on Memorial Day weekend, May 25th -27th: The Museum is open from 9:30am-5pm. In addition to all of the learning experiences that are usually at OSV, there will be a full schedule of events, including herding, carding, dying with natural sources, exploring wool from different kinds of animals, knitting, crocheting, and much more.  The schedule of events is at ($$$)

  • The 10th Annual Sheep to Shawl Festival at Sheep Hill, in Williamstown will be on May 4th and 5th from 11am to 3pm, rain or shine: The Williamstown Rural Lands Foundation (WRLF) hosts this great event. It occurs on a beautiful hill, which allows participants a wonderful view of the sheep and the dogs as they move around. There will be food to purchase, activities for children and fiber arts and herding demos. WRLF is located at 671 Cold Spring Road, Williamstown, MA. ($)

Don’t settle with wearing a sweater. Learn how to make one!


Theresa Heary-Selah — Theresa is a teacher and a freelance writer, making her home in Greenfield, MA and Wright, NY with her family.  She teaches at S.H.I.N.E. (Students at Home in New England), a social and academic support program for middle school students in the Pioneer Valley, and writes about home-schooling and technology.  Theresa’s interests include home-schooling, gardening, cooking, hiking, and dancing.

Learn About Bats: Interactive Exhibit, Facts & Habitat

Berkshire Museum presents
Bats: Creatures of the Night
Learn the true story of the only flying mammal
from January 19 to May 12, 2013

Discover bat habitats and where the different species live around the globe at the Berkshire Museum exhibit, Bats: Creatures of the Night. Match different kinds of bats with their preferred foods. Explore life-size models of a variety of bats, from the Fisher Bat and the Honduran White Bat to the Gray-headed Flying Fox Bat. View exciting photographs of bats in action, featuring the Gambian Epauleted Fruit Bat and the Mexican Free-tailed Bat, among many others. Exhibit opens January 19th and run through March 12th, 2013.

Forget the myths and learn the truth about bats: they are gentle, beneficial animals that play an important role in our planet’s ecology. With larger-than-life models and interactive stations, visitors to Bats: Creatures of the Night at the Berkshire Museum in Pittsfield can experience the sensitivity of bat hearing, discover how bats find their way in the dark, and understand how mother bats locate their young. The exhibition opens January 19 and runs through March 12, 2013.

Bats use echolocation to navigate the dark, and at the Berkshire Museum, you and your family can try it out! Echolocation is just one of the many bat-related concepts highlighted in Bats: Creatures of the Night. The exhibit features a rich array of video, photography, life-like models, and interactive stations to inform museum guests about how interesting–and vital–bats are. The interactive stations sound particularly interesting, including opportunities to simulate echolocation, learn how mama bats keep tabs on their young, and trying on bat “ears.”

The exhibit runs from January 19th through May 12, 2013. The Exhibition Opening Day happens on Saturday, January 19th from 1-3pm, with a number of activities appropriate for all ages. Kids can experiment with echolocation, go on a scavenger hunt through the museum, or get crafty and make a pair of batwings. There will be an introductory slide show at 4pm, and a preview reception from 5-7pm (museum admission is free after 5pm). There is also a gallery walk about bats with an expert on February 9 at 11am. You can read more about it at:


Bats are fascinating. The largest bats have a wingspan of 6 feet and the smallest weigh as much as a dime. They can eat 2,000-6,000 mosquitoes per night and digest fruit in 20 minutes. Of the more than 1000 species of bats around the world, only three are “vampire” bats, who drink the blood of live animals. While vampire bats have sullied the reputation of this useful and gentle mammal, they are intriguing. Vampire bats have an anti-coagulant in their saliva that keeps the blood flowing as long as they are feeding, but allows the animal to heal quickly upon their departure. Vampire bats are also particularly social and have been known to bring food to elderly or sick bats. Bats play an essential role in the ecosystem, as pollinators, seed dispersers and pest managers.

Books to consider for exploring bats at home:


Want to attract bats around your home? Put up a bat house! Families can make their own bat house at an Audubon workshop to be held on Saturday April 13, 2013 at 1:30 at the Audubon Society in Lenox . The program begins with a slide show about bats in our area, as well as their natural history. While there is a registration fee, it includes the materials to construct one bat house. Be sure to bring a hammer. The workshop is suitable for children over 5, as long as they are with an adult. You can read more about it at – If you can’t make the workshop but still want to make a bat house with your kids, check out these DIY Bat House Kits..


Theresa Heary-Selah — Theresa is a teacher and a freelance writer, making her home in Greenfield, MA and Wright, NY with her family.  She teaches at S.H.I.N.E. (Students at Home in New England), a social and academic support program for middle school students in the Pioneer Valley, and writes about home-schooling and technology.  Theresa’s interests include home-schooling, gardening, cooking, hiking, and dancing.

[Photo credit: Evergreen Exhibitions]

A Look at the History of Holiday Traditions in Western MA

History and Traditions for the Holidays

When did decorating a Christmas tree become a holiday tradition? Where did the practice of giving gifts originate? The Wistariahurst Museum in Holyoke, MA writes, “During the Victorian Era, Christmas bloomed into a season full of tradition when a London newspaper published a drawing depicting the royal family of Queen Victoria and Prince Albert adorning a Christmas tree with lighted candles, tinsel, ribbon, and paper chains.”

The holiday season is full of opportunities to teach your kids about the origins of holiday traditions, getting a glimpse into history and cultures.  The Historic Deerfield and Old Sturbridge Village offer opportunities throughout December for holiday history lessons that are fun and engaging!


Historical Deerfield has a month long series of traditional festive activities for families to enjoy in December. Visitors can learn about open hearth cooking, holiday traditions, take a horse-drawn wagon ride, and make simple gifts to take home.

Last weekend, silhouette artist and historical actress Lauren Muney was at Historic Deerfield in period dress cutting portraits out of paper.  The art of silhouettes was very popular in the 1800’s, and Lauren’s interpretation of the work of itinerant artists from the past, who cut likenesses of people from black paper using just scissors, was an engaging way to explore the history of folk art.

This weekend visitors of Historic Deerfield can make their own simple gifts to give this holiday season, including woodland figures made from natural materials, paper quillwork ornaments, and spiced hot chocolate mix. There will also be horse-drawn wagon rides through the streets of Historic Deerfield.

Historic Deerfield’s  program has a refreshing lack of the man in red! If you would prefer your family to take in some history without a distracting bearded figure, this is the museum for you. It is delightfully low key and fun, even for families with young children. The programs run from December 1st-30th, excluding December 24th and 25th, from 9:30am-4:30pm. Open Hearth Cooking starts at 10am, and gift-making starts at 12noon. December 15th-16th will be the final days for enjoying horse-drawn wagon rides. You can get all of the details at

OLD STURBRIDGE VILLAGE: Christmas by Candlelight

For an all-engaging sensory experience, check out the Old Sturbridge Village’s “Christmas by Candlelight.” The staff at Old Sturbridge goes all out to create magic for your family. There are carolers, horse-drawn carriages, dances, a bonfire, mulled cider, Santa Claus, a gift-making workshop… the list goes on! True to the mission of the museum, all of the fun is organized to help visitors understand New England in the early 1800s. Visitors will be able to learn about the origins of the Christmas Tree, Poinsettias, and fruit cake, among other things, and have the opportunity to create their own gifts and decorations. You can read more about it at Christmas by Candlelight.

For more learning opportunities this holiday season, check out Hilltown Families Friday column, Learn Local. Play Local.


Theresa Heary-Selah — Theresa is a teacher and a freelance writer, making her home in Greenfield, MA and Wright, NY with her family.  She teaches at S.H.I.N.E. (Students at Home in New England), a social and academic support program for middle school students in the Pioneer Valley, and writes about home-schooling and technology.  Theresa’s interests include home-schooling, gardening, cooking, hiking, and dancing.

[Image credit: (ccl) Royce Bair]

A Look at the Girl Scouts: Science Curriculum & Healthy Relationships

The Girl Scouts: So Much More Than Cookies

Have you checked out the Girl Scouts recently? What an impressive institution! They are celebrating their 100th anniversary and they are better than ever. You probably know that the Girl Scouts support growing girls by encouraging responsible citizenship, generosity, and camaraderie. You might not realize, though, that there is a strong academic component to the organization.

The Girl Scouts have an actual curriculum with engaging and interactive materials. It is known as the Journeys (National Leadership Journeys) curriculum and it covers a lot of the same ideas considered in science class, but it is much more fun. Each scout gets a cheerful, but appropriately challenging, book full of activities and projects. One Journey, for example, is called “Power it Up.” In this Journey, according to the Girl Scouts website, “Girls learn about electronics and circuitry through a series of hands-on investigations. They explore Snap Circuits, learn about basic electronic components, and build different kinds of circuits. Rounding out this unit, girls develop soldering skills and make circuits that they can take home.“ Yes, Girl Scouts are wiring the world!

Another journey is called “ThrillBuilders,” in which girls explore the fundamental concepts of mechanical engineering to produce their own model circus. The ThrillBuilders curriculum comes with a box full of materials ready for a group of girls to explore.  In this video four hands-on activities girls complete with this program-in-a-box are illustrated:

Girl scouts have always worked to earn badges. The requirements for all of the badges have even been correlated by grade level, to state and national educational standards. What an asset to teachers and meticulous home-schoolers! More information about the state standards is available here: Program Connections to State (and National) Curriculum Standards.

The Girl Scouts, as an organization, are aware of the big picture. While the girls are learning about electricity, the Girl Scout Leadership Institute is thinking about things like: Real to Me: Girls and Reality TV (2011), The Resilience Factor: A Key to Leadership in African American and Hispanic Girls (2011), Beauty Redefined: Girls and Body Image Survey (2010), Who’s That Girl: Image and Social Media Survey (2010). They are actively working to understand the challenges that girls are facing! Furthermore, the Girl Scouts encourages all of this learning while also emphasizing the development of healthy relationships, the prevention of bullying, and the creation of peacemakers.

If you are interested in learning more about the Girl Scouts, meetings and troops are forming right now in Western MA. The Girls Scouts even have a program for girls who want to be “virtual” members and are seeking a safe place to be online. The Scouts are always seeking new troop leaders and there are many other ways to volunteer with the organization.  Here are some useful links to learn more about the Girls Scouts of Central and Western Massachusetts and the programs they offer that are unique to this council:

UPCOMING EVENT: November 16, 2012

100th Anniversary Reception of the Girl Scouts of America

Girls enjoy Camp Bonnie Brae in Otis in the 1940s. Camp Bonnie Brae is one of the two Girl Scouts camps in the Berkshires; pictures and items from it and the other Girl Scout camp, Camp Marion White in Richmond, are part of an exhibit currently on display at the Stockbridge Library’s Museum & Archives. The exhibit also includes local historical uniforms and other memorabilia in celebration of the 100th anniversary of Girl Scouting. (courtesy photo)

The Stockbridge Library Museum & Archives has partnered with the Girl Scouts of central and western Massachusetts to present an exhibit on the more recent history of scouting. This exhibit, A Century of Girl Scouting, includes photographs, manuals, and other memorabilia associated with Girl Scouting.  Camping, which has long been a part of scouting, will be highlighted.  Numerous uniforms worn by the different levels of scouts also will be on display.  In connection with this exhibit, the hope is gather more information about the history of local troops.  Former scouts and friends are invited to a reception on Friday, November 16, 2012, from 6-8 pm.  They are also are interested in capturing local memories on tape as part of the Museum & Archives’ Oral History Collection; please contact Curator Barbara Allen at 413-298-5501 or to set up an appointment.  The Stockbridge Library is located at 46 Main Street,  Stockbridge, MA.


Theresa Heary-Selah — Theresa is a teacher and a freelance writer, making her home in Greenfield, MA and Wright, NY with her family.  She teaches at S.H.I.N.E. (Students at Home in New England), a social and academic support program for middle school students in the Pioneer Valley, and writes about home-schooling and technology.  Theresa’s interests include home-schooling, gardening, cooking, hiking, and dancing.

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