Halloween Math: Counting Kit Kats & Charleston Chews

Masking Math in Halloween Adventures

Before Halloween, think of a question that you could research as a family, something that leads to collecting some basic data on Halloween night, and mask informal math studies with collecting and counting candy and costumes!

Of all of the subjects that are taught in elementary school, math can be the hardest one to explore creatively at home. Simple exercises in counting and basic addition and subtraction can be integrated into daily routines, and math concepts arise in cooking and baking projects, but more challenging and content-specific math concepts can be difficult to weave into day to day activities at home.

However, the candy collecting done on Halloween presents an opportunity for some informal at-home math studies! Even kids who are too old to trick-or-treat (or those who don’t collect candy) can use the holiday as an opportunity to practice what they know about basic logic, data collection, and statistical analysis…

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Annual Geography and Science Expo Invites Self-Directed Studies of World History, Culture, and Science

Annual Geography and Science Expo Invites Self-Directed Studies of World History, Culture, and Science

The Annual Geography and Science Expo is an inter-generational geography fair featuring the work of students from all school choices throughout Berkshire County and beyond. It’s free to participate and open to all, taking place every Spring in central Berkshire County. Want to participate? Pick your country, state or region, sign up, and get busy studying and preparing your presentation! Sign up details below.

Where in western Massachusetts can families sample international cuisine, learn about world history and science, examine foreign landmarks, and collect passport stamps? The annual Geography and Science Expo offers all this and more – and now is the time to become a part of this unique educational celebration!

Held every Spring since 2008, the Geography and Science Expo showcases the work of self-directed learners from all over western Massachusetts. Participants spend weeks (or even months!) independently researching a country, culture, region, moment in history, scientific discovery and create museum-like displays to share what they have learned and to educate visitors to the event about their chosen topic. Displays can teach visitors about a topic through text, images, and/or models, and can also include experiential components – giving young learners the opportunity to imagine the best way in which to teach others about what they’ve learned. Common experiential learning elements to expo displays include samples of traditional foods and crafts or games derived from a specific culture. And this year, they’ve added Science! Read the rest of this entry »

Literary Guide for Jonathan Bean’s “This is My House, This is My School”

Literary Guide for Jonathan Bean’s “This is My House, This is My School”

Download literary guide for This is My Home, This is My School

Jonathan Bean’s This is My Home, This is My School introduces young readers to the idea of self-directed learning. Centered around a somewhat chaotic household and its many inhabitants, the story points out that, for the homeschooled narrator, home and school are one and the same – making home a place for living and a place for learning. Based on the author/illustrator’s childhood, the book helps readers see the ways in which a family can use their everyday experiences to support the acquisition of almost any kind of knowledge.

Beginning with pages that repeat the story’s title, the book follows the narrator through a quick tour of his home, wherein it is learned that his siblings are his classmates, his mom is his teacher (and dad the substitute), his kitchen is his cafeteria, his back yard is his playground, his family van is his school bus, and all of the rooms of his home (as well as the outdoor spaces nearby) serve as his classrooms. Readers see family members (students!) engaged in a wide variety of activities during the tour, from traditional “school-style” activities like computer research and worksheets to less structured activities like basement science experiments, cooking projects, family music jams, treehouse building, and stream exploration. Read the rest of this entry »

Literary Guide for Lucy Frank’s “The Homeschool Liberation League”

The Homeschool Liberation League
by Lucy Frank

Download Literary Guide for Homeschool Liberation League

Speaking to teenagers’ need for independence, author Lucy Frank’s The Homeschool Liberation League follows Katya on her search for an alternative to traditional public education. Katya – who until recently went by Kaity – has just returned from a summer spent in the outdoors, immersed in experiential environmental education. While away from home at camp, she recognizes how liberating it is to be in a learning environment in which she has the freedom to let her curiosity lead her learning, and how powerful it is to have adult support while engaging in self-directed learning.

Back home in Connecticut, however, Katya’s new-found independence and worldview (and not to mention name) don’t mesh well with the firm belief in public education held by her parents. Katya is able to convince her parents to let her try homeschooling, even though their idea of homeschooling looks almost exactly like school – except that it takes place in her mother’s beauty salon. While spending time with her mother’s geriatric regulars turns out to be much more educational than anyone anticipated thanks to the power of intergenerational environments, Katya still feels stifled by the predetermined curricula fed to her via daily instructional matrices.  Read the rest of this entry »

Literary Guide for William Steig’s “Sylvester and the Magic Pebble”

Sylvester and the Magic Pebble
by William Steig

A Caldecott Medal-winning book, William Steig’s Sylvester and the Magic Pebble has been well-loved by multiple generations of children. Published in 1969, Sylvester and the Magic Pebble seems timeless – the fable-like quality of the story paired with Steig’s simple illustrations have allowed the book to appeal to young readers for decades without the story losing its popularity as American culture evolved.

An excellent read for children who are early on in their elementary school careers, the story is about a young donkey named Sylvester and his discovery of a surprising pebble that grants wishes. Unfortunately for Sylvester, however, soon after his discovery of the pebble and its magical powers he encounters a lion, and wishes to be a rock so that he doesn’t have to be afraid. Of course, the pebble turns him into a rock and, as his rock-body has no arms, Sylvester drops the pebble – making him incapable of wishing himself back to being a donkey. Months pass, and his family and neighbors miss him terribly and search high and low for him. One day, his miserable parents decide to have a picnic in order to cheer up. In a serendipitous chain of events (the likes of which can only be found in children’s books), Sylvester’s parents happen upon the magic pebble and accidentally-on-purpose wish him back into their lives. Read the rest of this entry »

Literary Guide for Arthur Dorros’ “Abuela”

by Arthur Dorros

Literature Guide: Abuela

Set in urban Manhattan, Arthur Dorros’ story Abuela combines magic, memories, and bilingual text to tell a beautiful and imaginative story about childhood, family, immigration, and Hispanic culture. Paired with beautiful images created by illustrator Elisa Kleven, Abuela is an excellent example of a bilingual and multicultural children’s book.

In the story, young Rosalba and her abuela (grandmother) are returning by bus from a trip to feed the birds. During the ride – perhaps inspired by recent interactions with feathered friends – Rosalba wonders what it would be like to fly, and to see the city from the sky. She and her grandmother go on a wonderful imaginary adventure, exploring some of Manhattan’s greatest sights from a new angle. They examine the shapes of clouds, pay a visit to the Statue of Liberty, and greet the rooftops from above. Alongside the events of Rosalba’s imaginary journey are stories that her grandmother tells of her life before she immigrated to New York. Inspired by Rosalba’s ideas, the stories teach Rosalba (and readers of the story) about her abuela’s cultural roots and what her life was like before she immigrated to New York City.

Abuela is a fantastic story to pair with studies of Hispanic culture, and presents families with an opportunity to learn some basic Spanish phrases together. Read the rest of this entry »

Literary Guide for Esther Averill’s “The Fire Cat”

The Fire Cat
by Esther Averill

Sometimes, you just need a silly story.

And Esther Averill’s The Fire Cat is exactly that.

A Harper Collins I CAN READ book, and originally published in 1960, The Fire Cat tells the story of a spotted cat named Pickles, who has big paws and lots of trouble figuring out what to do in life. After bumbling around a bit, and receiving help from the wonderful Mrs. Goodkind, Pickles is eventually adopted by a fire department, and learns to be a fire cat! He uses his big paws to do all sorts of fire cat jobs, and grows into himself more and more the longer he stays at the fire house. Read the rest of this entry »

Literary Guide for Patricia Polacco’s “My Rotten Redheaded Older Brother”

My Rotten Redheaded Older Brother
by Patricia Polacco

Beloved children’s author and illustrator Patricia Polacco has written countless classics, covering everything from dyslexia to raising chickens. In My Rotten Redheaded Older Brother, Polacco shares a story of sibling rivalry infused with aspects of the Ukrainian culture in which she was raised. Set in Michigan on Polacco’s grandparents’ farm, the story follows Patricia through a variety of older-brother-related frustrations, mostly based in his habit of challenging her to contests that he always won. In the story, Patricia endures intense frustration and anger – the special kind unique to childhood. Eventually, Patricia beats her brother at something, but it involves riding the carnival merry-go-round for so long that she faints and falls off! Her determination to win the contest is obvious when her brother discovers what has happened, and their relationship is forever changed.

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Literary Guide for Elly Mackay’s “If You Hold a Seed”

If You Hold a Seed
by Elly Mackay

Looking for ways to enhance you family reading time? Hilltown Families has a wealth of resources for supporting families with kids of all ages in expanding the stories that they read together into deeper learning experiences.

Our 2014 Summer Reading Resource series will be featured here on Hilltown Families every week throughout the summer, sharing downloadable guides to children’s literature written by graduate students in the Integrated Learning teacher preparation program at Antioch University New England. Each literary guide pairs a featured book with suggestions for ways to help children expand their thinking, create connections to the text, and allow their literacy skills to grow. These guides contain outlines with discussion topics, critical thinking questions, and suggestions for many other activities that are designed for use in classrooms but can very easily be adapted for supplemental education use at home. Weekly featured titles will cover a wide variety of themes, lengths, and levels of difficulty – meaning there’s something for every family, and for every reader! Some are classics and some are lesser-known gems, but all of the books present lots of potential for helping families use their reading as a foundation for further learning.

The books included in the series include both picture and chapter books, and cover all of the ages and developmental capacities typically found in grades K-5. Check back weekly for a new guide, or check out the resources offered in our 2013 series.

The first guide in this summer’s series is Canadian author/illustrator Elly Mackay’s book, If You Hold a Seed.

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7 Literary Guides for Expanding Family Reading Time

Literary Guides for Expanding Family Reading Time

Our Reading Resource series was featured here on Hilltown Families this past summer, sharing downloadable guides of children’s literature from graduate students in the Integrated Learning teacher preparation program at Antioch University New England.

Looking for ways to enhance your family reading time? Hilltown Families has a wealth of resources for supporting families with kids of all ages in expanding the stories that they read together into deeper learning experiences.

Our series, Summer Reading Resource: Literary Guides for Expanding Family Reading Time, features teacher-written guides filled with lessons and activities to accompany some fantastic children’s books. Though the guides are designed to be used by educators, their contents can be easily adapted for use at home for parents looking to supplement their children’s learning. Within each guide, parents will find detailed outlines for activities and lessons to do after reading each story, as well as sets of discussion topics, suggestions for further reading with similar themes, and ideas for tying in math, science, social studies, art, and other topics into your work with the book.

The books included in the series include both picture and chapter books, and cover all of the ages and developmental capacities typically found in grades K-5, and can be divided into three categories…

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Literary Guide for Astrid Lindgren’s “Ronia, The Robber’s Daughter”

Ronia, The Robber’s Daughter
by Astrid Lindgren

Our Summer Reading Resource series is coming to a close with our seventh and final installment, Astrid Lindgren’s Ronia, The Robber’s Daughter.

Originally written in Swedish, this a tale of adventure that shares themes with literary classics such as Romeo and Juliet and The Adventures of Robinhood. The story’s protagonist – Ronia – is, as the title states, the daughter of Matt, the fearsome leader of a band of robbers. Ronia is raised at her parents’ fort, the headquarters for Matt’s ring of bandits. Surrounding the fort is a vast, dense, and magical forest, which provides beautiful scenery and fodder for Ronia’s childhood adventures.

The major conflict within the story is centered around a friendship that Ronia develops with a boy named Birk, who is just about her age and is every bit as interested in exploring the forest as Ronia is herself…

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Literary Guide for Robert McCloskey’s “Make Way for Ducklings”

Make Way for Ducklings
by Robert McCloskey

Make Way for Ducklings, written and illustrated by Robert McCloskey, is our featured title this week in our Summer Reading Resource series.  Make Way for Ducklings tells the story of the Mallard family – made up of a mama duck, a papa duck, and eight little ducklings with silly rhyming names. After investigating New England’s rural landscape, the Mallards decide that the countryside is filled with too many threatening predators for their liking (and for the safety of their future ducklings). They settle, instead, in busy Boston, and hatch their eggs amongst skyscrapers and busy streets. Once the ducklings are born, readers travel throughout the city with them, experiencing all of the excitement that Boston has to offer from a duckling’s perspective, and discover – with the Mallards – that city life presents its own unique set of obstacles, just like country life. Their main problem? Cars won’t stop for the family to cross the street! Luckily, the Mallards find a friendly police officer to help them, which leads to citywide police escorts helping to ensure their safety…

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Literary Guide for Kevin Henkes’ “Lilly’s Purple Plastic Purse”

Lilly’s Purple Plastic Purse
by Kevin Henkes

This week as part of our Summer Reading Resource literary guide series, Kevin Henkes’ classic, Lilly’s Purple Plastic Purse is featured. Lilly’s Purple Plastic Purse, a silly yet meaningful story, is the tale of a young mouse who is quite enamored with some of her most favorite possessions and has trouble containing her excitement! Lilly, an elementary school student, brings her favorite purple plastic purse to school, filled with fancy movie star glasses and three big, shiny quarters. She is eager to show of her goodies with her classmates, but isn’t able to find a way of doing this that fits with the class routine and expectations. Unfortunately, her teacher (whom she normally loves) takes away her purse and its contents until the end of day, leaving Lilly frustrated and disappointed. She even draws a mean picture and puts it in her teacher’s bag in order to get back at him.

By the end of the story, Lilly has learned a few important lessons. Able to share her prized items the next day at school, she learns the proper etiquette for bringing things from home into the classroom. She also learns to apologize, and learns that in working to curb her excitement, she can avoid such situations in the future…

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Literary Guide for Kate Banks’ “Max’s Words”

Max’s Words
by Kate Banks

Learning words can be incredibly exciting for young children, especially those who are just beginning to read and are developing the skills to decode words on their own. Kate Banks’ book Max’s Words captures this time in life beautifully, and uses a boy’s enthusiasm for vocabulary to weave together a tale of collecting, autonomy, and developing self-confidence, and is the featured title this week in our Summer Reading Resource literary guide series. Young and old readers alike can enjoy the book, but it speaks in particular to early elementary-aged students, as they likely share similar experiences with the protagonist…

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Literary Guide for Roald Dahls’ “Danny the Champion of the World”

Danny the Champion of the World
by Roald Dahl

Beloved and quirky children’s writer Roald Dahl is known for his strange yet fascinating tales that capture the curiosity and imagination of kids of all ages. Dahl’s characters are often just on the verge of being unbelievable – they are balanced perfectly in between the real world and the realm of Dahl’s imagination. Each story creates a world for the reader that features a special kind of fantasy – the events that take place could never happen within the reader’s world, yet somehow they are not out of place within a similar context in the story.

Our Summer Reading Resource literary guide series continues this week with Danny the Champion of the World, one of many Roald Dahl classics. The story focuses on Danny and his father, an oddball pair who live in a gypsy wagon behind a combination gas station/repair shop. The two are often bullied by their wealthy (and snobby) neighbor Mr. Hazell, and their mutual dislike for the man leads to the pair hatching a plan to exact revenge upon him. However, in the process, Danny ends up learning one of his father’s biggest secrets – a secret that leads to Danny grappling with a challenging moral dilemma. In the end, the two beautifully execute a hilariously sneaky (yet morally questionable) endeavor that does, in fact, satisfy their desire to teach Mr. Hazell a lesson…

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Literary Guide for Mo Willems’ “City Dog, Country Frog”

City Dog, Country Frog
by Mo Willems

Our Summer Reading Resource literary guide series continues this week with Western Massachusetts author Mo Willems’ City Dog, Country Frog,  a beautiful tale of friendship throughout the seasons. The tale begins in the summer, when the weather is warm, plants are green, and flowers are in bloom. City Dog visits the country, where he meets Country Frog – a curious amphibian whose habits, games, and surroundings are quite different from those of City Dog. Nevertheless, the two become great friends, and they discover that they each have much to teach the other. City Dog visits Country Frog during each of the seasons, and their activities reflect the energy and aesthetic of the transformation of their surroundings. During the summer, they focus on fun and games in the warm sun, and in the fall they decide to play remembering games – an activity that allows them to think and reflect, and to take in the beauty of the fiery fall leaves and the still, crisp air. When winter comes, City Dog takes a visit to the snowy countryside only to discover that his froggy friend is nowhere to be found. He waits for him to appear, but to no avail – Country Frog is mysteriously gone. Once spring comes and the ground thaws, City Dog visits again. Country Frog doesn’t turn up, but City Dog makes a new friend, Country Chipmunk, and the clever ending implies that they two are about to embark on a journey of friendship that will reflect the changes in season just as beautifully as City Dog’s adventures with Country Frog did.

While the text is fairly simple – making it ideal for younger students – the themes presented within the story can be accessed by students of all ages…

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Literary Guide for Jane Yolen’s “Letting Swift River Go”

Letting Swift River Go
by Jane Yolen, Illustrated by Barbara Cooney

Our new Summer Reading Resource series will be featured here on Hilltown Families every week throughout the end of August, sharing downloadable guides of children’s literature from graduate students in the Integrated Learning teacher preparation program at Antioch University New England. Each literary guide pairs a featured book with suggestions for ways to help children expand their thinking, create connections to the text, and allow their literacy skills to grow. These guides contain outlines with discussion questions, art projects, outdoor adventures, and many other activities that are designed for use in classrooms but can very easily be adapted for use at home for supplemental education. Weekly featured titles will cover a wide variety of themes, lengths, and levels of difficulty – meaning there’s something for every family, and for every reader! Some are classics, some are lesser-known gems – but all of the books present potential for helping families build upon the stories that they read together.

Our first featured title is this series of literary guides is Letting Swift River Go by Jane Yolen, illustrated by Barbara Cooney…

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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 museduc@smith.edu 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 (www.sophia.org) 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:

6 Resources for Learning at Home During Frankenstorm While the Lights are On!

Hurricane Sandy and Halloween Offer Learning Opportunities Online

Hurricane Sandy might have schools closed while we await her arrival, but the learning can continue at home (so long as you have power!). Check out these online resources to brush up on math, chemistry, physiology, language arts and world & local history:


After you’ve battening down the shutters and have prepared your home & family for Hurricane Sandy (and still have power), let’s to use this event for real-world applications for learning. One online resource is “Math in the News” who takes current events as seen through the prism of mathematics every week. They are currently looking a probability maps for Hurricane Sandy.  Take a look with your kids at Math in the News and practice math skills:


Who has Halloween candy laying around right now from events this past weekend or for passing out on Halloween night? Did you know you can use candy to conduct science experiments in the kitchen with your kids! Experiments include Acid Test using Pixy Stixs, Chromatography using M&M’s, Density experiment with Skittles, and many others!  Check out our post from last year, “Science Experiments with Candy” for ideas.


Here’s a succinct video about the history of Halloween produced by the History Channel: “Straddling the line between fall and winter, plenty and paucity, life and death, Halloween is a time of celebration and superstition. It is thought to have originated with the ancient Celtic festival of Samhain, when people would light bonfires and wear costumes to ward off roaming ghosts. In the eighth century, Pope Gregory III designated November 1 as a time to honor all saints and martyrs; the holiday, All Saints’ Day, incorporated some of the traditions of Samhain. The evening before was known as All Hallows’ Eve and later Halloween. Over time, Halloween evolved into a secular, community-based event characterized by child-friendly activities such as trick-or-treating. In a number of countries around the world, as the days grow shorter and the nights get colder, people continue to usher in the winter season with gatherings, costumes and sweet treats.”


Are your kids all about Zombies this Halloween? In this animated video from TEDed, Tim Verstynen & Bradley Voytek apply the various human medical possibilities that make zombies…zombies. Find out the physiology behind what’s happening in their brains to make them act as they do.  After watching this video check out the full lesson.


H-A-Double L-O-W-Double E-N spells Halloween! Remember that song when you were a kid just learning to spell? Here’s a cool video for this song for your young kids to watch for a fun way to learn how to spell Halloween


Are your kids learning about or interested in the Salem Witch Trials?  National Geographic has an interactive resource on the Salem Witch Hunt, Discovery Education has tips for teachers and home educators on the Salem Witch Trials for grade level 5-8, the National Teacher Training Institute offers lesson plans on the The Salem Witchcraft Trials and The Crucible for grades 5-12, and Historian Elizabeth Reis uses primary sources in an education video on the history of the Salem Witch Trials at Teaching History.  The History Channel offers this short video to help tell the tale of this event in Massachusetts history:

Free Friday Mornings at Tanglewood for Families & Educators this Summer

Students Can Discover the Symphony During Free Friday Mornings at Tanglewood: Summer 2012

(Photo credit: Sienna Wildfield)

This summer, the Boston Symphony Orchestra and Tanglewood are offering a unique FREE musical learning opportunity for kids in Lenox. MA!  Every Friday morning through August, the orchestra rehearses – and families, educators, homeschool groups, musicians, and other community members are invited to attend the rehearsals for free!

Before each rehearsal, there will be a Youth Music Presentation (including a “Quiz the Kid” Q+A), an engaging and informational tour of Tanglewood, and a pre-rehearsal talk on the music to be played, instruments in the orchestra, and fun facts about the music!  Those participating in the program are offered shed seating at the rehearsal, though kids under the age of 8 are asked to enjoy the show with their grown-ups from the lawn.

Attending the Free Friday Mornings program can teach kids about classical music, and its place within music history (and modern music!).  Kids will also learn about the many different instruments that make up the orchestra’s beautiful sound.  Older students can use the program to supplement studies of physics (think sound waves!), history, and material culture (take a look at how instruments have evolved over time, and how pieces reflect certain cultural eras).  

Education highlights include:

  • A pre-rehearsal youth music presentation and instrument demonstration.
  • An engaging and informative Tanglewood tour—different each week!
  • High level musician educators will give a talk about specific music topics directly related to the upcoming rehearsal (geared for middle school to adults)
  • Shed seating for a closed rehearsal of a Boston Symphony Orchestra performance.
    All ages are welcome, bring the whole family! (Children 3rd grade and up may listen in the Shed, while younger children are invited to enjoy the music from the lawn)
  • Following the rehearsal, guests are welcome explore the grounds, listen to a second hour of rehearsal music from the lawn, or enjoy a picnic lunch under the trees


It is ultra easy to come to a rehearsal, it is done by email. To reserve free Shed seating, simply EMAIL your request to Darlene White at dwhite@bso.org with the number of participants in your party. If you are a parent, educator or a community or youth leader, simply email your request, be sure to include phone and contact information, and your affiliation (such as teacher, parent, etc.).  Also include what Friday (or Fridays) you would like to attend, and how many persons will be attending in your group. If some in your group will be listening from the lawn, let Darlene know that as well. If you like, you can reserve more than one week in advance.


The education program runs year round and they have some great education resources, so If you are a teacher, let Darlene know your school, grade level, and subject.


Because Shed seating is limited, reservations are confirmed on a first-come-first-serves basis. Groups are welcome, and it is best – especially for groups – to reserve early.

For more information, email Darlene White at the Boston Symphony Orchestra Berkshire Education and Community Programs Office: dwhite@bso.org.

“This Day in History” Video Series

Discovering New England History with
The Freedom Trail Foundation Daily Video Series

Are your kids interested in Colonial History? Boston’s Freedom Trail Foundation offers a daily dose of history on their YouTube channel!  Every day, the group debuts a new clip (generally 30-40 seconds) offering information about an event that took place on that day in early American history!  Centered around the Revolutionary War, the clips feature historical re-enactors dressed in period costumes.  The information they offer covers a variety of topics- everything from the aftermath of the Boston Massacre to the settling of new areas surrounding Boston.

Of course the videos are presented in chronological order, but you don’t have to see every single one!  Watching a few a week can provide a way for families to learn about history together and extend their study of the American Revolution and Colonial Studies throughout the entire year.  Even watching the videos occasionally can be a fun learning activity- think together about all of the changes that have taken place in American society between the event discussed in the video and the events taking place today!

Here’s an example of what you can view:

The foundation’s YouTube channel can be found at

12 Years of World Class Performances for Students at MASS MoCA

Art Assembly Program in the Berkshires

For the 12th consecutive year, MASS MoCA presents a series of student programming, featuring live music, dance, storytelling, film, and theater performances that give regional students the opportunity to see world-class performers, including Lady Bee, Alloy Orchestra and Zany Umbrella Circus. (Courtesy photo)

MASS MoCA has released this year’s schedule of performances for kids! The shows are designed to allow students a chance to learn about the arts, and the museum offers free curriculum materials for educators to use before and after the performances. This year’s shows include music and dance with Lady Bee, musical ensemble Alloy Orchestra, and the Zany Umbrella Circus! Educators can use the performances as a platform for discussion that touches on topics in language arts, history, social studies, and perhaps even science! (Talk about the physics of music, for example!)

All school choices are welcomed. “Registering in advance is helpful, because there are study guide companions for each performance,” writes Courtney Parker, Assistant to the Managing Director of Performing Arts + Film at MASS MoCA. “If you are unable to register in advance, we are happy to include you and your children on the day of the performance. Not a problem.”

For more information, call 413-664-4481 or e-mail Courtney at cparker@massmoca.org.

GIS Day During National Geography Awareness Week at WSU

Westfield State University ‘Discovers the World’ through Geographic Information Systems

Braun, a Geography and Regional Planning/Environmental Science Professor, who also acts as the Campus GIS Coordinator, emphasizes of the importance of understanding modern technology. “Many people still think geography means drawing maps and memorizing the atlas. Today, we make maps using a GIS and we use maps more than ever as tools,” Braun said, citing that the power outage maps seen during last week’s storm were from GIS.g “I hope that folks realize that this technology is already part of our daily lives and that we can, fairly easily, use this technology ourselves,” he said. “GIS and the related technologies (GPS, Google Earth, Smart Phones) are cool and fun to use and give us a way to hopefully get folks interested in geography and regional planning.”

Westfield State University will host GIS (Geographic Information Systems) Day free events on Wednesday, November 16th and Thursday, November 17th as part of National Geography Awareness Week, inviting high school students and teachers to attend.

More than 10,000 organizations and 80 countries hold local events for GIS Day, which illustrates how GIS technology can be applied to our everyday lives. Global Positioning Systems (GPS), Google Earth, and Smart Phones are commonly used, related technologies.

On Wednesday from 7-9pm and Thursday from 5-7pm, there will be several events, including informal workshops teachings on how to use Google Earth to create 3D maps with embedded videos and photographs. These will take place in Bates Hall 022 and seats are limited by computer availability. Contact Carsten Braun at cbraun@westfield.ma.edu to reserve your seat.

A GPS Treasure Hunt around campus from 12-5pm and a GIST Center Open House from 3-5pm in Bates 022 also will be offered on Thursday.

All events are free and open to the public.

Learn more about GIS in the short informative video:

Food Bank Offers Resources for Teaching About Hunger

Youth Against Hunger (YAH!)
Curriculum for Teaching About Hunger

The YAH! curriculum is designed for students grades K-12. Activities help pave the way for service projects and discussion addressing hunger and inequity in the United States.

The Food Bank of Western Massachusetts provides food and resources for people all over the region, and involvement with the organization is a great service learning opportunity for kids.  The Food Bank’s website includes a section for educators on ways to use involvement with the food bank to help kids learn about food insecurity and issues of inequality and socioeconomic status.

On their website is a curriculum, called Youth Against Hunger (YAH!), which can be used in classrooms or families supplementing their children’s education at home to raise awareness and knowledge of how hunger affects their community- it would be particularly effective in conjunction with a visit to the food bank and/or a classroom, family, or neighborhood food drive or fundraiser.

They have also put together a suggested reading list for children to further supplement hunger education.

For more information, visit www.foodbankwma.org.

Local History, Natural Science & Art at the Springfield Museums

Educational Programs for Kids at the Springfield Museums

One educational program the museums host is "Eye Spy." This program encourages young artists to look beyond the canvas into the details, textures, materials and stories that make up a work of art. Curriculum connections include discussion, questioning, listening and vocabulary/concept development. Click on the image to see all programs offered at the Springfield Museums!

There are numerous educational opportunities and adventures to be had at the Springfield Museums!

Visitors can explore topics and ideas anywhere from important figures in local history to coral reef ecosystems.

There are five different museums, each with a theme of local history, natural science, and art. The museums offer guided tours as well as self-guided tours (which are really educational odysseys!) to groups both big and small. Classrooms, schools, homeschool groups, youth groups, etc. can all benefit from a museum tour tailored specifically to fit the group’s needs!

For more information on tours and to check out options, visit www.springfieldmuseums.org or email schooltours@springfieldmuseums.org.

Student Tours at Hancock Shaker Village

Student Tours at Hancock Shaker Village

Hancock Shaker Village in Pittsfield is a fantastic resource for learning about local history and Shaker culture, and the village even offers educational group tours!  Designed specifically to fit within the state’s learning standards, the tours teach kids all about life during the 19th century.  Though the tours are designed for classes, homeschool groups, scout troops, and other groups of kids can do the tours, too!  During November, 90 minute guided tours of the village are available by appointment.  This is a great way to supplement learning about local pioneers!  To learn more, visit www.hancockshakervillage.org.

TICKET GIVEAWAY: Medieval Faire at Ventfort Hall

Medieval Faire & Armored Tournament
Ventfort Hall in Lenox, MA
Sunday, October 9 from 10am-5pm

Medieval Faire Ventfort Hall Mansion and Gilded Age Museum

3rd Annual Medieval Faire with displays of armored combat; equestrian demonstrations; medieval arts, crafts, and clothing; strolling troubadours; and lectures on feudalism and medieval society. (Courtesy Photo, Kevin Sprague)

Medieval chivalry comes alive in the Berkshires at the Ventfort Hall 3rd Annual Medieval Faire & Armored Tournament in Lenox, MA on Sunday, October 9th from 10am-5pm … and Hilltown Families has a family 4-pack of tickets to giveaway to one lucky family!

The Medieval Faire & Armored Tournament is an excellent way to learn about medieval society through demonstrations and enactments. There will be strolling troubadours, lectures, people dressed in period costumes, medieval arts, armored combat demonstrations and much more!

Enter to win a family 4-pack of tickets.  Deadline to enter to win is Wednesday, 09/28/11 @ 7pm (EST). Details below.

ABOUT The Medieval Faire & Armored Tournament

Medieval chivalry and armored tournaments are not dead, but alive and thriving. Ventfort Hall Mansion and Gilded Age Museum will host the 3rd annual Medieval Faire at the historic Jacobean-Revival mansion in Lenox on Sunday, October 9 from 10am to 5pm. The series of events will include exciting displays of armored combat every hour, equestrian demonstrations, medieval arts, crafts and clothing, strolling troubadours and musicians, and lectures on feudalism and medieval society. Men in armor and women in period costumes will take part in the action.

Heading the program is Jeffrey Mann,  a member of the Society for Creative Anachronism, one of the world’s largest medieval living history organizations, for nearly 30 years. Mann’s specialty is the study of the evolution of armor through the Middle Ages, how it is made and tournament combat. For over 20 years, Mann, his squire and retainers have taken their interest and knowledge of medieval life to schools, nursing homes and scouting organizations, bringing the Middle Ages alive.

Mann states, “Our lively presentation helps sort fact from fiction and explain how many of our modern customs evolved from then till now.”


Ventfort Hall is an imposing Jacobean Revival-style mansion built in 1893 for Sarah Morgan, the sister of J. P. Morgan. Designed by the architects Rotch & Tilden, it is located in Lenox, Massachusetts. Listed on the National Register of Historic Places, and declared an official project of “Save America’s Treasures,” a Millennium program of Hillary Rodham Clinton and the National Trust for Historic Preservation, Ventfort Hall is the home of The Museum of the Gilded Age.

Ventfort Hall was one of the approximately seventy-five so-called “Cottages” built in Lenox in the last century when the village became a popular Gilded Age resort. Through lectures, exhibits, theatrical performances and other events, The Museum of the Gilded Age interprets the great changes that occurred in American life, industry, and society during the Nineteenth Century, a fascinating period of American history.  For more information visit www.gildedage.org.


Your chance to win a family 4-pack of free tickets to the 3rd Annual Medieval Faire & Armored Tournament at the Ventfort Hall Mansion and Gilded Age Museum on Sunday, October 9 from 10am-5pm in Lenox, MA is as easy as 1-2-3 (4, 5)!

To enter to win simply:

  1. CONSIDER SHARING ON FACEBOOK by selecting the Facebook icon below.
  2. TELL US ABOUT YOUR FAVORITE WAY TO SPEND AN AUTUMN DAY IN THE BERKSHIRES WITH YOUR KIDS  below (one entry per household), and be sure to tell us your
  3. FULL NAME and where you
  4. LIVE (TOWN/STATE). Must include your town to be eligible.
  5. ACCURATE EMAIL IN THE EMAIL FIELD BELOW (we never share your email address).

IT’S THAT SIMPLE! We’ll randomly draw a winner and will share the results below. Deadline is Wednesday, 09/28/11 @ 7pm (EST)

Read the rest of this entry »

10 Western MA Museums Offer Educational Opportunities This Fall

Museums10 Gears up for Fall Education Outreach

Beneski Museum of Natural History at Amherst College. A young visitor looks up at the Ice Age mammals skeletons. (Photo credit: Sam Masinter, courtesy The Trustees of Amherst College)

This fall as area colleges and schools get ready to welcome students and families, Museums10, a collaboration of 10 college-affiliated museums in the Pioneer Valley of western Massachusetts, announces fall activities to interest visitors of all ages.

“Museums10 is an excellent resource and destination for area educators and students to explore the worlds of art, history, literature and science,” said Alexandra Kennedy, Executive Director of The Eric Carle Museum, who also chairs Museums10’s executive committee. “Six out of the ten museums are free and all welcome field trips. The variety of hands on workshops, classes, programming, exhibitions, and teacher training offered by Museums10 members is unparalleled.”

Highlights for the fall are:

  • GEOLOGY: Discover the Connecticut River Valley geological phenomena and the world’s largest collection of dinosaur tracks at the Beneski Museum of Natural History at Amherst College in Amherst, MA. Hours: Tuesday-Sunday, 11am-4 pm, also Thursdays 6 pm-10 pm. Tel: 413-542-2165. Free Admission.
  • LANGUAGE & CULINARY ARTS: Participate in the annual Poetry Marathon and Baking Contest, September 24th at the Emily Dickinson Museum in Amherst, MA. Hours: Wednesdays-Sundays,11am-4 pm. Tel: 413-542-8161.
  • PICTURE BOOK ART: See the original art from Eric Carle’s new book: The Artist Who Painted a Blue Horse (Sept. 20, 2011 – Mar 20, 2012) and Growing Every Which Way But Up: The Children’s Book Art of Jules Feiffer (Oct 25, 2011 – Jan 22, 2012) at The Eric Carle Museum of Picture Book Art in Amherst, MA. Hours: Tuesday-Friday 10 am- 4 pm, Saturday 10 am-5 pm, Sunday 12-5 pm. Tel: 413-658-1100.
  • CONTEMPORARY ART: View contemporary art at the Hampshire College Art Gallery in Amherst, MA. Hours: Monday-Friday 10:30am-4:30pm. Closed in August. Tel: 413-559-5544. Free Admission.
  • HISTORY: Attend Open Hearth Cooking or Made-by Hand: Trades of the Past demonstrations or join the Harvest Baskets family activities at Historic Deerfield in Deerfield, MA. Open daily from 9:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. Tel: 413-775-7214.
  • HISTORY: See Disunion! The American Civil War 150 Years Later, a special installation of 15 paintings, sculptures, photographs and prints marking the sesquicentennial of our country’s bloodiest conflict. Until December 31 at the Mead Art Museum at Amherst College in Amherst, MA. Hours: Tuesday-Sunday 9am-5pm. Tel: 413-542-2335. Free Admission.
  • SOCIAL STUDIES: Explore Life in the Ancient World: Egypt, Greece, and Rome. Special workshops for school groups offer direct experience with artifacts and original works of art and the opportunity to learn about history, world cultures, art, and archaeology. Mount Holyoke College Art Museum in South Hadley, MA. Hours: Tuesday-Friday 11am-5 pm, Saturday-Sunday 1-5 pm. Tel: 413-538-2245. Free Admission.
  • LANGUAGE ARTS: Visit the new family exhibit You Know More Yiddish Than You Think opening September 18 at the Yiddish Book Center in Amherst, MA. Hours: Monday-Friday: 10am- 4pm, Sunday 11am – 4pm. Tel: 413-256-4900.
  • WORLD ART: Discover Art from at least four continents on display this fall: Africa, Asia, Europe and the Americas. Join the Free World Art! Family Day, November 5, with hands-on art projects for kids inspired by works from each of these continents. The Smith College Museum of Art in Northamtpon, MA. Hours: Tuesday-Saturday 10am-4pm, Sunday 12pm-4pm. Tel: 413-585-2760.
  • ART: Watch the video exhibition by renowned Korean artist Kimsooja, Sept 21 through Dec 11, 2011. Kimsooja’s work combines performance, video, and installation, addressing issues of the displaced self. University Museum of Contemporary Art in Amherst, MA. Hours: Tuesday – Friday: 11:00am-4:30pm, Saturday-Sunday: 2pm-5pm. Closed in August. Tel: 413-545-3670. Free Admission.

Find out more at www.museums10.org

Ticket Giveaway: Redcoats & Rebels Weekend at Old Sturbridge Village

Redcoats & Rebels
at Old Sturbridge Village
Weekend of August 6th & 7th

History comes alive for families at one of our local living history museums! Enter to win a family 4-pack of tickets to "Redcoats & Rebels" at Old Sturbridge Village for the weekend of August 6th & 7th, 2011. Details on how to enter to win below. Deadline to enter: August 3rd.

History comes alive as Redcoats & Rebels, New England’s largest military reenactment, returns to Old Sturbridge on August 6th & 7th … and Hilltown Families has a family 4-pack of tickets to giveaway to one family for the weekend!

Redcoats & Rebels is an excellent way to explore early American history with the family at one of our local living museums, including fashions and customs from Colonial America,  marching and drill demos, fife and drum music, medical procedures, Revolutionary War reenactments, and much more!

Enter to win a family 4-pack of tickets for the weekend.  Deadline to enter to win is Wednesday, 08/03/11 @ 7pm (EST). Details below.


See the largest military re-enactment in New England — nearly 1,000 soldiers portraying British, Irish, Welsh, German, Scottish, French and Colonial troops. The Village is transformed into a military camp from the time of the War for Independence, as it was known in early New England. Come see what it was really like for those who fought to win America’s freedoms.

Following a parade of British troops through the town, the Village fields will become the site of a mock battle each afternoon. Troops will reenact a battle scenario where Americans and their allies attack a British-occupied town. Visitors can see surgeons “treat the wounded” and see the American troops get their smallpox inoculations. Throughout the day they can tour behind-the-scenes in both the British and American camps to learn what life was really like for these 18th-century soldiers. See how laundry was done, and meet the surgeons who tended to the wounded and administered smallpox inoculations.

Other events designed to provide a look into the lives of soldiers include reconnoitering with a Ranger from Peter’s Corps, and a prisoner exchange between the Americans and British (Saturday only). Special events on Sunday include a Sunday Service for the troops, the arrival of American soldier’s pay and uniforms, and a court martial trial with the HMS Somerset. Young visitors will enjoy learning the real words to “Yankee Doodle,” making tri-cornered hats, and drilling with the Second Massachusetts Regiment.

In addition, visitors can learn about the fashions and customs of the time during programs like “Mrs. Peabody’s Levee” – a look at 18th-century foundation garments presented by the group “Ladies of Refined Taste,” which will also present “Runaway Runway” – a look at civilian clothes in the late 1700s. Military fashions through the years will be presented by the Tenth Massachusetts Light Infantry.  On Saturday, music, dancing, and ball games will be featured. A complete schedule of activities can be found at www.osv.org.


Old Sturbridge Village celebrates life in early New England from 1790 – 1840. Located just off the Massachusetts Turnpike and Routes I-84 and 20 in Sturbridge, Mass., OSV is open year-round, but hours vary seasonally. Currently, the Village is open seven days a week from 9:30 a.m. – 5:00 p.m. Admission is: $20 for adults; $18 for seniors; $7 for children ages 3-17; children under 3 are admitted free. Each admission includes free parking and a free second-day visit within 10 days. For details, visit www.osv.org or call 800-733-1830.


Your chance to win a  a family 4-pack of tickets to Redcoats & Rebels for the weekend of August 6th & 7th at Old Sturbridge Village in Sturbridge, MA is as easy as 1-2-3 (4)!

To enter to win simply:

  1. CONSIDER SHARING ON FACEBOOK by selecting “Like” below
  2. TELL US ABOUT YOUR FAVORITE WAY TO SPEND A DAY OUT AND ABOUT IN WESTERN MA WITH YOUR KIDS (any season) below (one entry per household) and be sure to tell us your
  3. FULL NAME and where you
  4. LIVE (TOWN/STATE) Must include your town to be eligible.
  5. ACCURATE EMAIL IN THE EMAIL FIELD BELOW (we never share your email address).
  6. We’ll randomly draw a winner and will share the results below.

IT’S THAT SIMPLE! — Deadline is Wednesday, 08/03/11 @ 7pm (EST).

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