Self-Directed Learning in the Kitchen

Self-Directed Learning in the Kitchen

One of the best “classrooms” is right in your own home … your kitchen! Planning and preparing meals with your family can support an interest in culinary and pastry arts while exposing kids to a wide variety of embedded learning opportunities. Classic subjects like math, chemistry, and humanities are readily supported in the kitchen, along with general technical skills and valuable life skills.

  • Any pastry chef will tell you about the importance of kitchen math for making great pastries, including an understanding of fractions and measurement units, and the practice of addition, subtractions, and division.
  • Lessons in chemistry are supported when young chefs learn the science behind the use of baking soda and baking powder and what happens on a molecular level to a protein molecule when heated.
  • Nutrition can be outlined by understanding which foods have carbohydrates, proteins, and/or fats. Sharing the story behind your grandmother’s delicious cookie recipe or researching the history of pancakes online supports lessons in the humanities.
  • Knives skills, operating ovens, and handling food help a young chef gain technical expertise in the kitchen.
  • And life skills to carry on into adulthood can be explored, like how to plan, organize, and purchase ingredients.

A kitchen is a mini-lab and learning space. It is a place to not only expand and support interests but also to connect with family and to appreciate where your food comes from and how it was prepared. There are plenty of recipes to be found online, in books, or handed down from family members from which you can select. Just follow your child’s tastes and food preferences and let it lead the way towards learning in the kitchen!

Example questions and online learning opportunities:

Why does bread turn brown in the toaster?

Why do cookies spread?

What is a carbohydrate?

Can we make s’mores indoors?

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Seasonal Baking Contests Highlight Creativity and Family Culture

Seasonal Baking Contests Highlight Creativity and Family Culture

Food and culinary arts provide a vehicle through which families can examine world cultures, history, science, math, and even creative arts – and as the holiday season approaches, opportunities to engage in such learning abound! During this time of year, seasonal opportunities to engage in baking-centric community-based learning intersect with ongoing opportunities to explore the culinary arts – making for a deliciously fascinating learning landscape.

The food that we make tells a story, and nothing illustrates this better than family recipes. Whether handed down for generations, carefully honed over the course of a few years, or recently chosen as a family favorite, family recipes stand as a glimpse into the unique culture of the family from which they emerge. Historic Deerfield offers families a chance to showcase their own family recipes this month – the third annual King Arthur Flour Heritage Recipe Cookie Baking Contest calls for families to enter cookie recipes paired with stories that illustrate why their recipe is special to them. The deadline for entries is today (Monday, November 2nd), and fifteen finalists will be chosen to bring a batch of their special cookies to Historic Deerfield on Saturday, December 5th, 2015.  Read the rest of this entry »

37 Community Highlights: Ice Harvest to Winter Farmers’ Market. Chinese New Year to Tu B’Shevat.

This weekend, January 26th & 27th, Old Sturbridge Village celebrates Fire and Ice Days! Families can visit the village to take part in the annual event, which includes many of the activities typical to an 1830’s New England winter. Families can skate on the pond, go sledding on vintage sleds, take a horse drawn sleigh ride, and learn about (and try!) ice harvesting. Indoor activities include a fireside magic show, a talk on the history of ice skating, a thaumatrope-making craft, and opportunities to learn about 19th century methods of staying warm throughout the village. Pair a visit to the village with studies of American history and culture or a look at the evolution of technology, and compare the ways that early New Englanders battled winter to the ways we have adapted to handle cold weather today. Kids get free admission through the month of January!

Ice Harvest to Winter Farmers’ Market. Chinese New Year to Tu B’Shevat. Wind Turbines to Meteorology. Hendrix to Ben-Hur… These are just a few of the learning highlights we’re featuring this week! Get out into your community and learn while you play!  And be sure to check our list of supporting book titles to supplement the learning on the different topics highlighted each week. Purchase them for your family library, or check them out from the public library!

It’s that time of the year when families are being to think about their next step with their children’s education. Several schools will be offering open houses this weekend, along with a preschool resource fair for families just starting their investigation in various learning institutes and establishments offered in the region. Here are seven upcoming opportunities:

  1. Saturday, Jan 26th at Montessori School of the Berkshire in Lenox Dale from 9-11am
  2. Saturday, Jan 26th at The Common School in Amherst from 10am-12noon
  3. Saturday, Jan 26th at UMass OFR Preschool Resource Fair in Amherst from 10am-1pm
  4. Saturday, Jan 26th at Hartsbrook School in Hadley from 10am-12noon
  5. Sunday, Jan 27th at The Academy at Charlemont from 1-3pm
  6. Sunday, Jan 27th at Cloverdale Cooperative Preschool in Florence from 1-3:30pm
  7. Next Sunday, Feb 3rd at Greenfield Center School from 1-4pm


Celebrate the Chinese New Year with the Pioneer Valley Chinese Immersion Charter School on Saturday afternoon, January 26th in Northampton! Families can learn about Chinese culture, as well as the traditions surrounding the event. Then later in the week, pay a visit to the Smith College Museum of Art’s Asian art exhibit to learn more about Chinese culture – it opens on February 1st!

In the morning on Saturday, celebrate the Jewish holiday of Tu B’Shevat – also known as Jewish Earth Day- with Jewish entertain-ucator Felicia Sloin and puppeteer Kate Holdsworth at Temple Beth El in Springfield. This free performance is filled with music, puppets, and stories that will teach kids about the holiday. The show is designed for young children, but all are welcome to come and learn about Jewish culture and traditions. Then on Sunday morning, January 27th, continue the celebration at Temple B’Nai Israel in Northampton! Tu B’Shvat is a celebration of trees, and calls for reflection on our relationship with the natural world. Families of all backgrounds can take part in this free celebration, which will include lots of fruit and environmentally-themed games.


Celebrate CISA’s Winter Fare Week at the Northampton Farmers’ Market and the Springfield Winter Market this Saturday, January 26th. These markets are filled with a wide variety of local produce and locally produced foods – shop tables filled by farms, bakeries, orchards, and more to find foods your family will love. At the Northampton event there will be special workshops on food preservation, sustainability, and self sufficiency, too! Families who preserve their own food can participate in a barter market, too – trade your homemade pickles for local blueberry jam, or eggs from your chickens for homemade local applesauce. At the Springfield event, stop by the market for workshops and fun kids’ activities. The workshops offered will be on teaching kids to cook and preparing efficient, eco-conscious, and affordable family meals.

Another way to enjoy food locally is by joining in a community dinner or breakfast! This Sunday morning, January 27th, bring your family to fill up on pancakes with the Belchertown Fire Department at a community pancake breakfast! … Maple season is just around the corner! Get your pancake chops ready now!

STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering & Math)

This Saturday morning, January 26th, learn how to be a mad scientist – safely! – using ingredients found in your kitchen! Kitchen Ka-Boom at the Berkshire Museum in Pittsfield is a special program filled with wacky kid-safe experiments that can be easily replicated at home and will help kids learn about basic scientific principles.

In the afternoon on Saturday, kids can build crazy LEGO creations at the Dickinson Library in Northfield! LEGOs are a great creative medium for kids interested in design and architecture, and can help them develop their own creative stories based on characters and structures that they build.

On Wednesday evening, January 30th, the Collaborative for Educational Services is offering a free parent workshop, “Tech for Tots,” focused on developmentally appropriate use of technology. The workshop takes place at Hatfield Elementary School, and parents will learn about the impact of use of technology on normal child development – technology use can impact social skills, learning, and brain development if not done appropriately.

Students at the Great Barrington Rudolf Steiner School will present their own unique, independent science research on Wednesday evening, January 30th, at the school’s annual science fair! Students choose their own topics to research, then are mentored by an expert in the field that they have chosen in order to help them learn how to do accurate research, provide them with necessary background information, etc. The process helps students learn how to be a scientist, and the role that scientific research plays in our lives. Families can learn about many different scientific phenomena by viewing the exhibits, and can learn about ways to conduct their own scientific research at home.

On Thursday afternoon, January 31st, meet an actual television meteorologist! Sprout Homeschool Science Program is offering a field trip to a television station in Springfield where kids will be able to learn about how air temperature, the water cycle, weather monitoring, and knowledge of climate all help meteorologists make their weather predictions. Kids will be able to see meteorology equipment and can ask questions, too! Fits perfectly into elementary-aged studies of earth sciences, especially the water cycle and climate.

Also on Thursday afternoon, in preparation for the Science and Sustainability Expo happening in April, there will be a KidWind Workshop for educators and parents of youth in grades 4-12 to learn how to build a mini wind turbine in Greenfield. Build and take home a free model electricity generating wind turbine with your own blade design. Learn about the knowledge, skills and resources needed to bring wind energy education to your youth using standards-based activities in an engaging, hands-on manner.


Enjoy some mid-day Baroque music at the Pelham Library on Saturday at noon, January 26th! The library’s monthly tea will feature a free performance by The Montague Consort, featuring music for piano and recorder. Great for older students interested in learning about music history!

On Saturday evening, The Academy of Music Theater in Northampton screens Hendrix 70: Live at Woodstock, a documentary about Hendrix’s road to Woodstock, as well as footage of his most famous (and probably most memorable) performances. Young music buffs will love seeing Hendrix’s Woodstock performance and hearing live version of his classic songs. Older students interested in music history can learn about the early days of classic 70’s rock and will learn more about the history behind the sounds that influenced much of today’s music. Then on Sunday, January 27th, head over to the Springfield Museums to check out GUITAR: The Instrument That Rocked the World, an exhibit which shares the history and science behind this iconic musical instrument. Families can also learn about over 60 rare, unique, and antique instruments, learn about playing music through hands-on interactive exhibits, and more!

The Clark Museum’s Widescreen Wonders series continues on Saturday in Williamstown with a free screening of Ben-Hur, a 1959 epic about the Roman Empire in Palestine. The film, directed by William Wyler, included a cast of thousands of actors and swept in eleven Oscars. Older students interested in film will love seeing this classic!


Celebrate the 151st birthday of prolific writer Edith Wharton on Saturday, January 26th at The Mount in Lenox Wharton’s beautiful and historic home! The mansion will be open for visitors of all ages to explore for free – guides will be available for tours throughout the day. Kids can do a scavenger hunt and make their own journals to write down their thoughts and ideas – just like Edith! Tie the celebration into family studies of classic literature and/or historic homes and architecture.

Monday evening, January 28th is the first meeting of First Steps to Reading, a free workshop series for parents of kids from birth to five years old in Belchertown. Parents will learn ways to prepare their children for reading at home by sharing books, writing, playing, exploring and singing. The workshops run weekly through March 4th, and each meeting will focus on a different aspect of reading preparation, teaching parents how to support their children’s budding literacy.

Families with early readers can take part in a free literacy workshop at the Lee Library on Tuesday morning, January 29th! The workshop is part of a six-week series, and is open to families with kids ages 5 and younger. The program will focus on teaching skills that will eventually help children learn to read in school – parents can work on these basic skills at home with their kids in order to help them be ready to read!

Do you ever wish that you could recommend your favorite books to other library visitors? The Forest Park Branch Library in Springfield invites Forest Park Reads, a free series where families can read new books (or chapters of books) and then rate them using a star system so that other library visitors can choose great new things to read on Tuesday afternoon, January 29th!


Snowshoe under the full moon at Pleasant Valley Wildlife Sanctuary in Lenox on Saturday evening, January 26th, or spend the entire day and evening outdoors on Sunday, January 26th, snowshoeing, cross country skiing, and snow hiking at Stump Sprouts Cross Country Ski Area in Hawley!

Learn about the secret lives of amphibians on Saturday afternoon, January 26th at the Berkshire Athenaeum in Pittsfield. Berkshire Community College professor Tom Tyning will present information about frogs and salamanders, as well as his new book – A Guide to Amphibians and Reptiles.


Smith College’s National Girls and Women in Sports Day celebration takes place in Northampton on Sunday afternoon, January 27th! This free event, open to girls in 3rd-5th grade, celebrates girls and women participating in sports at all levels – from professional ice hockey to high school basketball to recreational summer soccer. Girls participating in the event will learn about (and get to try!) many of the sports played by women at the collegiate level, including rugby, cheerleading, field hockey, soccer, lacrosse, rock climbing, and more. The event is a great opportunity for girls to learn about advanced levels of sports, and the female athletes they meet can serve as role models for budding athletes of all abilities.

If your girls are interested but can’t make the Smith College event, girls in grades 3-8 can participate in a similar free event on Saturday, February 2nd at Massachusetts College of Liberal Arts’ National Girls and Women in Sports Day event in Williamstown! There will be separate workshops for kids and adults, all of which will teach girls and women about participating in sports and the many different athletic opportunities available to them. The event celebrates the female presence in athletics, and young participants will learn about the hard work that it takes to be a higher level athlete.


By special arrangement with Hilltown Families, Shakespeare & Company in Lenox is pleased to offer our readers a rare opportunity to take in a classic Shakespearean performance paired with a guided tour backstage. On Friday, Feb. 15th at 10am, schools and homeschooling families are invited to a performance of A Midsummer Night’s Dream at the Tina Packer Playhouse, followed by a backstage guided tour where participants can learn how the process of theatre is crafted in the costume shop, prop studio, and production workshop. Tickets for this package are only $8/person and a Study Guide for educators is available to download before attending. To reserve discounted tickets, contact Alexandra Lincoln, and let her know you are a Hilltown Families reader: 413-637-1199 x131. Shakespeare & Company is located at 70 Kemble Street in Lenox.

List of Weekly Suggested EventsFind out about these events and over 100 other events & activities happening all next week in our List of Weekly Suggested Events. All of our listed events are “suggested.” Please take a moment to confirm that these events are happening as scheduled, along with time, place, age appropriateness and costs before heading out.


22 Community Highlights: Boreal Forest to Kitchen Science. Symphony to Contra Dance.

Looking for a non-commercial gift to give your kids? One that promotes creative-free play while offering lessons in chemistry and math… and doesn’t cost that much? Why not put together a box of kitchen ingredients with directions on how to make gak, slime, play dough, bubbles,  paint and chalk?! Check out the July post of, “Let’s Play: Tactile Play” by Hilltown Families Contributing Writer, Carrie St. John. She includes recipes to print out for all of these, and your kids will have a blast getting icky, goopy and gloppy in the kitchen!

Boreal Forest to Kitchen Science. Papercrafts to Winter Crafts. Symphony to Contra Dance… These are just a few of the learning highlights we’re featuring this week! Get out into your community and learn while you play!  And be sure to check our list of supporting book titles to supplement the learning on the different topics highlighted each week. Purchase them for your family library, or check them out from the public library!


Volunteer as a Citizen Scientists this Saturday, Dec. 15th as a participate in the annual Mass Audubon Christmas Bird Count! The event relies on citizen scientists to locate and count species of birds – and the data collected is used to assess local bird populations. Kids can learn to identify and find species of birds, practice using field guides, and learn how to draw conclusions from their own data. Contact a CBC facilitator nearest you.

Explore Notchview’s Boreal Forest with Aimee Gelinas and the Trustees of Reservations this Saturday too. Learn to identify trees such as spruce, fir, and Christmas fern, and search for signs of intrepid winter-battling mammals. Happens in Windsor.


Inspiring interest and encouragement in reading and writing can come to children in many ways. Having a themed celebration inspired by a book, storytimes, reading to dogs or even meeting authors, all have the potential inspire a love for reading and writing.

On Saturday morning, Community Action is hosting Snow Day, centered around Ezra Jack Keats’ well-known children’s book, The Snowy Day. Celebrate winter by making snowflakes and ornament, and enjoying a storytime in Greenfield. Every child will receive a free copy of their very own book!

Later in the day on Saturday in Westfield, young readers can Read with Rover at the Westfield Athenaeum. Specially trained therapy dogs will be at the library to serve as patient, calm, non-judgemental reading buddies for kids who are working on reading aloud.

In Stockbridge at the Red Lion Inn, also on Saturday afternoon, families can meet four local authors! Sarah Sedgwick Genocchio (A Stockbridge Childhood), Pat Pope (Johanna’s Gift), Janet McKinstry (Rosie and Friends, Unleashed in Berkshire County), Susan Geller and Susan Merrill (I Live in Stockbridge) will all share their books. Older children can find inspiration in writing short stories by hearing these authors share what it takes to be a published author and by asking them questions about their experiences as a writer.


STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering & Math) based learning opportunities can be found in simple play, papercrafts and even in the mixing of ingredients found in your kitchen. For example, basic math, physics and engineering skills can be practiced with LEGOs. Several libraries offer their youth patrons a chance to participate in free LEGO clubs, including: Sunderland Library on Saturday morning; Ramsdell Library in Housatonic, also on Saturday morning; and the Berkshire Athenaeum in Pittsfield on Wednesday afternoon, Dec. 19th

Origami and papercrafts are a way to practice geometry. The Arms Library in Shelburne Falls hosts Paper Capers on Saturday afternoon, a free event that includes papercrafts of all kinds. Families can make accordion books, ornaments, beads, and more!

Get a taste of chemistry as a mad scientist at Kitchen Kaboom! at the Berkshire Museum in Pittsfield on Saturday morning! Along with the help of the museum’s very own crazy chemist, kids can learn how to do exciting and surprising (and safe!) experiments with regular household materials.


We’ve mention a couple of ways recently to explore history at two ongoing December events, including Old Sturbridge’s Christmas by Candlelight and Historic Deerfield’s Heritage Holiday. Another opportunity is by learning about the origins of the holiday carol, 12 Days of Christmas. On Saturday afternoon, find out about the possible symbolism behind the carol at the Jones Library in Amherst, where Dr. Thomas Bernard (professor at Springfield College) will share his ideas.


There’s still time to make your own holiday gifts! Sunday, Dec. 16th, is the Make-and-Take Craft Fair with fun and interesting holiday crafts at the Montague Grange! The fair will include activities for crafters of all ages, including beeswax candles, miniature terrariums, jewelry, and ornaments.

Then on Wednesday evening, visit Art Party Studio in Easthampton for an evening of wintry holiday crafts. There will be all sorts of special holiday materials to use – experiment with unique media (like glittery twigs, bells, and more!), and create a holiday masterpiece to give or decorate with.

What grandmother won’t love a hand-knitted scarf from their grandchild, dropped stitches and all?! Kids ages 7-11 can spend Thursday afternoon, Dec. 20th, knitting away at the Monson Library. Instruction will be available for casting on and off and doing basic knit and purl stitches. Kids who are ready to move on to more difficult projects can get support, too!


Hear the Pioneer Valley Symphony play holiday favorites at the annual Family Holiday Concert in Greenfield on Saturday evening. The show will also feature performances by the Pioneer Valley Symphony Chorus and the Greenfield High School Chorus.

Go contra dancing on Saturday evening in Lenox. Dances are a great way to get exercise, learn about rhythm, and gain better balance and movement skills. Contra dancing provides a friendly intergenerational environment in which people of all ages can contribute and participate equally.

Sing along to songs for the holidays at the Hubbard Library in Ludlow on Tuesday evening, Dec. 18th. David Polansky will share songs for Christmas, Hanukkah, Kwanzaa, and the entire winter season.


Join the Berkshire Natural Resources Council in exploring the Clam River in Sandisfield on Wednesday morning. The evergreen-filled property bumps up against the river – explore the area, search for animal signs, and enjoy the winter air.

Hike Chapel Brook with the Trustees of Reservations in Ashfield on Thursday morning. The easy to moderate hike will include lots of opportunities to spot animal signs, enjoy the crisp winter air, and get some great exercise.

Northfield Mountain celebrates the solstice this year with a hike on the cross-country ski trails on Friday evening, Dec. 21st. BYO headlamp to light the way! The trek will be filled with facts and quotes about (and celebrating!) the winter solstice.

List of Weekly Suggested EventsFind out about these events and over 100 other events & activities happening all next week in our List of Weekly Suggested Events. All of our listed events are “suggested.” Please take a moment to confirm that these events are happening as scheduled, along with time, place, age appropriateness and costs before heading out.


[Photo credit: (ccl) Mike Allyn]

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