Mead Art Museum Supports Community-Based Education

Family Fun Days at the Mead Art Museum in Amherst

“Family Fun Days have been so popular in the past, we decided to make them even more frequent,” noted Wendy Somes, Coordinator of Community Programs. The increase is part of the Mead’s ongoing mission to connect families, teachers, and community organizations with their local art museum, she said. “We believe that museums are educational AND fun places for families to learn together.”

When we think of places in our community we can visit to support our children’s interests and education, museums are often the first institutions we think of… and rightly so! Their exhibit-filled galleries offer lots of educational potential, with both permanent and changing exhibits families can use to learn about a variety of topics throughout the year. However, without interpretation or support, the vast amount of information present in museum exhibits can be difficult to navigate and make accessible for children with little background knowledge.

Keeping this in mind, the Mead Art Museum in Amherst, MA, is now offering monthly Family Fun Days, making museum-based learning not only more accessible for families with younger children, but a whole lot of fun too! Family Fun Days aren’t new to the Museum,  but their popularity has encouraged the Museum to host them as a monthly event! Each month brings a new theme that matches an exhibit hanging in the museum’s galleries, and families will get a chance to learn about the theme through hands-on activities, guided gallery tours, read-alouds of children’s books, and group discussions. Not only will the educational potential of the museum be unlocked by museum guides and interpreters, but children will be able to learn in a collaborative, multi-age environment where they share their thoughts and observations with others and gain insight from information shared by other visitors.

February’s Family Fun Day will be held on Saturday, February 15th from 11am-2pm – and admission is free! This month’s theme is feasts and medieval life, and will include a kid-friendly tour of the museum’s Rotherwas Room. Read the rest of this entry »

Historic Museum in Western MA Hilltowns Celebrates 50 Years!

Kemp-McCarthy Museum: Historic Museum in the Hilltown Highlandss

Families can learn all about the history of life in the Hilltowns at the Kemp-McCarthy Museum, the town of Rowe’s fantastic resource for learning about local history! The Museum with be celebrating its 50th anniversary on Sunday, June 30th from 2-4pm!

A typical weeknight in a modern day Hilltown household might include driving to sports practice, using the internet to complete homework assignments, cooking dinner together on an electric stove in a well-lit kitchen, and searching for constellations in the night sky using a cell phone app.  Nothing unusual – just some typical childhood activities and family downtime in a modern day society…

Rewind a full century.  What would this typical weeknight have looked like during the early 20th century?  Or what about fifty years earlier than that, even?  Families in the Hilltowns during generations past similarly spent their evenings together at home, but their time was filled with very different activities.  Instead of electricity- and technology-dependent pastimes, they played musical instruments together, did laborious household chores, and relied on woodstoves in order to do their cooking…

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Local History: Greenfield Home to First Dinosaur Museum in the Country!

Greenfield’s Lost Museum: Dexter Marsh and the Dinosaur Tracks

The town of Greenfield was once home to a world famous museum – it drew a stunning 3,000 visitors in just 7 years! The museum, opened during the mid-19th century by a local jack-of-all-trades named Dexter Marsh, was home to the first ever dinosaur tracks to receive a thorough and official scientific examination. What happened to the tracks? And what happened to the museum? Find out more about this fascinating piece of Pioneer Valley past at Greenfield Community College’s Sloan Theater on Wednesday, May 8, 2013, at 7pm. Presented by the Pioneer Valley Institute. 1 College Drive. Greenfield, MA. (FREE)

Many local people know that Dexter Marsh (1806-1853), quarrier — stonemason, janitor, handyman, and jack-of-all-trades in 19th-century Greenfield, MA — was among the first to discover dinosaur footprints, but how many know that he opened one of the first dinosaur museums in the country? In 1835, when he first saw the prints, he thought they had been left by very large birds — and professional geologists agreed with him. These became the first known tracks in the world ever to receive a thorough scientific examination, performed by a professor at Amherst College named Edward Hitchcock.

In the following years, the largely self-educated Marsh learned about paleontology and built an extra room onto his house to exhibit his collection. From 1846 to 1853, an astonishing 3,000 people signed the visitors’ register of his house-museum, including such famous Americans as Oliver Wendell Holmes and even travelers from Europe and the Near East. At his early death in 1853, Marsh’s museum was dispersed at public auction, split mostly between Amherst College and what is today the Boston Museum of Science.

By looking into his daybooks and visitors’ registry in the archives at Amherst College, Dr. Robert Herbert has given Dexter Marsh the most thorough examination to date, bringing the man and his museum from obscurity back into the light. On Wednesday, May 8, 2013, at 7pm, using maps, photographs, and illustrations, Dr. Herbert will give a lively talk about this brilliant day laborer whose curiosity moved him into another world. It is our great good fortune that Dr. Herbert, formerly an art historian at Yale University and later Mount Holyoke College, has long been interested in the history of geology. In recent years, he has written about Edward Hitchcock and Orra White Hitchcock and continues to delve into the history of dinosaur footprints in the Connecticut River Valley.

Dr. Herbert’s talk will take place at Greenfield Community College, Main Campus, Sloan Theater (Main Building, South Wing).  For more info contact Cynthia Herbert at

Submitted by Cynthia Herbert. Photo courtesy of the Historical Society of Greenfield.

Family Fall Adventures at MASS MoCA

Family Programming at MASS MoCA: Fall 2012

Kidspace visitors can delve into a world of dinosaurs, superheroes, dragons, cowboys, and monsters at the newest exhibition, Curiosity.

Fall is the perfect season for children and families to explore MASS MoCA in North Adams together. Educational programming at the museum abounds, with the exhibition Curiosity and art-making at Kidspace, curriculum-based performances through Art Assembly, a Halloween-themed gallery quest, and the Muppet Music Extravaganza concert (All this within the restored campus of 19th-century factory buildings, making MASS MoCA the largest center for contemporary art in the country!).


Kidspace at MASS MoCA, a child-centered art gallery and hands-on studio, collaborates with professional artists to present exhibitions and educational experiences for children and families. Right now, Kidspace visitors can delve into a world of dinosaurs, superheroes, dragons, cowboys, and monsters at the newest exhibition, Curiosity. Chock-full of unexpected, outlandish, fantastic objects-turned-artworks that kids likely already have questions about, this exhibition instills a sense of wonder in visitors of all ages. Curiosity features nine internationally acclaimed artists, each of whom inspires viewers to indulge the urge to investigate.

Colin Boyd of Troy, New York, weaves elements of folklore, natural history, and the future into his large-scale sculptures of a mastodon and an elephant bird in the exhibit, Curiosity.

For starters, Colin Boyd of Troy, NY, weaves elements of folklore, natural history, and the future into his large-scale sculptures of a mastodon and an elephant bird. Former comic-strip artist Dave DeVries renders children’s artworks into images with a striking realism.  Ephraim & Sadie Hatfield of Adams, MA, re-imagine Renaissance cabinets of curiosity (which originally contained natural and human-made wonders collected by kings and queens). Kids can open drawers and doors of the cabinets to uncover mysterious specimens!

Curiosity also includes several LEGO sculptures by Nathan Sawaya (including the frozen Hans Solo from Star Wars), Muir Vidler’s photograph of grandparents with wild tattoos, Yoram Wolberger’s lifesize sculpture of a blue cowboy, and other treasures. In addition to viewing art, kids and families can also create their own at the Art Cabaret, Curiosity’s hands-on studio, which serves up inspiring art-making challenges for tactile learners. Kidspace is open from 11am-5pm every day except Tuesdays; art-making takes place Fridays through Sundays and during school holidays.


You can also download an Educators’ Guide for the Sol LeWitt Retrospective and plan your own tour and activities!

School groups are invited to attend Art Assembly performances throughout the academic year. These live events are educational, entertaining, and designed to adhere to the Massachusetts Learning Standards. Before the performance, teachers receive a curriculum guide chock full of pre- and post-performance activities to prepare their students for the experience. Activities might include writing exercise, movement games, instrument-making, readings on history, or group brainstorming projects. For more information about upcoming Art Assembly programming, or to reserve space at an upcoming performance, contact Courtney Parker, Assistant to the Manager of Performing Arts, at 413-664-4481 x8109.

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A Family Guide to Norman Rockwell

Norman Rockwell: Pictures for the American People
A Family Guide

Designed specifically for families interested in extending art studies past a museum trip, the Norman Rockwell Family Guide is full of Rockwell’s work and includes information and questions to keep in mind while examining the images.

The month of February is artist Norman Rockwell’s birthday month!  His birthday was on the 3rd, and to celebrate, the Norman Rockwell Museum in Stockbridge, MA continues to offer resources for families to learn about his art.  In addition to the works available in the museum’s galleries, families can take an even greater in-depth look at Rockwell’s art using information available on the museum’s website.  There is a biography page, which includes a timeline of Rockwell’s life and work.  Another page offers information on exhibits past and present of Rockwell’s work, as well as a slideshow of the collection.  There is accompanying information for many of the images- it’s a great way to prepare for a visit to the museum or to get a glimpse in to his artwork if you’re not able to go.

Also, newly added to the site is a special Family Guide you can download.  Designed specifically for families interested in extending art studies past a museum trip, the guide is full of Rockwell’s work and includes information and questions to keep in mind while examining the images.  Questions range from plain observations to more critical questions about what you can deduce about the inspiration for the painting, the creation process, or the cultural context of an image’s creation just by looking at a piece of art.  The available resources can supplement learning done while visiting the museum or be used at home along with studies of other artists.  Rockwell’s work is particularly useful for teaching kids to look critically at images because most of his paintings are depictions of everyday events.  The images that kids will be considering are similar to the types of illustrations that they see in picture books- it’s a logical place to begin!

For more formal educators, the museum also offers a downloadable Educator’s Resource Packet and lessons plans for secondary students, as well as programs for schools (K-12) and both a Girl & Boy Scouts.

Norman Rockwell Museum is located on 36 park-like acres in Stockbridge, Massachusetts, Rockwell’s hometown for the last 25 years of his life. The Museum is open year-round; closed Thanksgiving, Christmas, and New Year’s Day. For more information visit the Museum online at

Beneski Museum of Natural History at Amherst College

Beneski Museum of Natural History
Home of the World’s Largest Collection of
Dinosaur Tracks

Beneski Museum of Natural History

Click on the image to see 360° views of the Beneski Museum of Natural History at Amherst College. - The ground floor displays the world’s largest collection of dinosaur tracks (primarily from the Connecticut River Valley), skulls of a Tyrannosaurus rex and a Triceratops and a diorama with a model showing what some of our local dinosaur species might have looked like. There is also a cast of a dinosaur track “book” that visitors can handle.

Did you know that the world’s largest collection of dinosaur tracks is housed at Amherst College in the Beneski Museum of Natural History?  The Museum offers opportunities for families and students to learn about the natural history of the Pioneer Valley and many other parts of the world.  There are over 1,700 specimens (including skeletons of a mammoth, cave bear, and saber-tooth cat, and skulls of a tyrannosaurus rex and a triceratops!), some from as far away as Patagonia, housed at the Museum, along with several collections, including anthropology, ichnology, meteorites, mineralogy, osteology, paleobotany and taxidermy.

There are three levels to the museum, with an entire floor dedicated to local geological phenomena, such as glaciation and mountain building- point out the Holyoke Range to your kids on you way to visit, then learn how it was created at the museum.

  1. When you arrive you will find on the Entrance Level Ice Age Mammals and the Evolution of the Horse.
  2. Travel to the Upper Level to see Human Evolution, Geology of the Connecticut River Valley and Bedrock Geology Model.
  3. The down to the Lower Level to check out the Hitchcock Ichnology Collection and Mesozoic Reptiles.

The museum’s resources offer several ways to supplement lessons on natural history.  Before arriving, print out their self guided tour of the Vertebrate Fossils in the museum, and go on a quest with your kids/students when you arrive to locate and learn about vertebrate fossils.  And get your kids excited about their  Oddities of the Natural History Museum Collection by screening an audio slide show together online beforehand.

To arrange a guided tour of the museum for your youth group or school, email Alfred J. Venne, Museum Educator, at – The museum’s regular hours are Tuesday-Sunday from 11am-4pm, and Thursdays from 6-10pm. Admission is free.  For more information visit

A Day at the Children’s Museum in Holyoke

Children’s Museum in Holyoke

It’s winter here. The ground is cold, but not yet snow-covered. The days have been getting shorter and we’ve hit the point at which they will grow longer again. We spend our time at home with playdough, legos and K’nex. My two older kids, Henry and Isaac, are at school. Weekends have been filled with cookie-baking and holiday traditions of many kinds. Henry is tired from school. Isaac is busy with friends and homework. I still have a preschooler home most of the time, even while I learn to parents a soon-to-be adolescent. It’s my youngest son, Theo who requires keeping busy during these winter months. He wants and needs to run, jump, climb, crash, spill and splash. At a friend’s house, he begged for the pool so he could float some boats. The thermostat said 17 degrees. I shuddered to think of it, but I do see his point: cabin fever.

I’ve been looking for a few spots worthy of the preschooler’s outing: either in the morning before his afternoon preschool starts, or on Fridays, which for Theo are currently school-free, stay at home with mom days. The Children’s Museum at Holyoke is a fantastic winter spot for preschool aged kids looking to get out some energy. Henry is on the younger side for 1st grade, and I will absolutely return during one of our vacation weeks because I think he’d enjoy it as well.

The first thing to know is that the museum is not big. You can take a preschooler there for an hour or so, so you don’t have to wait for the weekend when it may be more crowded. We picked up our library passes from the Forbes Library in downtown Northampton so it was a free visit for the two us.

What Theo loved the most was the over-sized water table. It is really more like a water-course with multiple levels. He is at an age where engineering the course of the flowing water was interesting to him and he set about it very diligently in a scientific way. I am at an age in which I am pleased to sit down on the bench and take out my knitting while he did that for as long as he liked (about 25 minutes – I counted just out of curiosity.)

There is a 2-3 story indoor climbing structure. As a playground, it isn’t much — but in the dead of winter, while stuck inside, it really captured my little guys’ attention. I kept sending him back up over and over to see how long I could keep his body moving — again, me with the knitting and verbal encouragement from the bench.

There were some areas for pretend play such as an ambulance, a restaurant and grocery store. Theo buzzed through these a bit in favor of more physical activities but if your toddler or preschooler is deep into pretend and dress-up, they’d be very satisfied.

Other exhibits that attracted Theo were anything that he could call science. He has learned from his brothers that science is cool. He played with the gravity maze for such a long time — arranging and rearranging tubes to make ping-pong balls travel down a complex path — that I began to wonder if I should make one whole wall of his bedroom magnetic. We’ve bumped into that same gravity maze at the Cup and Top Cafe in Florence, MA where it will entertain him while I chat with grown-ups and drink my tea before it gets cold.

The Children’s Museum at Holyoke is open Wednesday – Saturday from 10-4 and on Sundays from 12-4. There are bathrooms, water fountains and the ground level has indoor picnic tables that look like you could pack a quick bite if there is no birthday party or field trip taking up the spot. In warmer weather, we will go back and hit the Holyoke Merry-Go-Round as well. It was a lovely trip and a sweet reminder to me that I still do have a very young child at home and taking him on his own adventure is very satisfying for both of us.  For m0re information visit:


Karen Bayne

Karen grew up in Manhattan and lived in Connecticut before moving to Northampton with her husband Matt to raise their boys. Her sons Isaac, Henry and Theo are 11, 6 and 4,  leaving Karen on a search for all the “just right adventures” that will wow them and wear them out.  She works as a birth doula, childbirth and parent educator in the greater Northampton area. She writes about mothering at Needs New Batteries and about birth in our culture at Gentle Balance Birth.

Spring Festival at HSV: Baby Animals on the Shaker Farm

Hancock Shaker Village
8th Annual Spring Celebration
April 3rd through April 25th, 2010 in Pittsfield, MA

Hancock Shaker Village (HSV) kicks off its 50th anniversary as a living history museum with Baby Animals on the Shaker Farm, running April 3rd through April 25th, 2010. This annual spring celebration is one of the most exciting times of the year at the Village, when scores of baby lambs, piglets, calves, goats, ducklings, and chicks arrive at the historic Round Stone Barn. Constructed in 1826, the Round Stone Barn is the only circular barn ever built by the Shakers and originally stabled 52 milk cows.

The animals represent livestock once kept by the Shakers, beginning in the 1700s and continuing into the 1960s. In addition to the heritage breed animals raised by HSV year round, this event includes “guest” livestock raised by local farms and 4-H clubs. Visitors get to meet and greet the baby animals and participate in farm chores, such as helping to feed the animals and to save seeds. They may also participate in fun Shaker-themed craft activities, such as basket weaving, making and decorating seed packets, and weaving on a small loom.

The weekend of April 17th – 18th is Sheep Shearing Weekend. In addition to the regular farm activities, Sheep Shearing Weekend will feature shearing of the Village’s Merino sheep and special hands-on textile demonstrations and activities that will be conducted by volunteers from three local spinning and weaving guilds. On Saturday, April 17th, there will also be live, family-friendly music and children’s crafts. ($)

Another event happening during the HSV Spring Festival happens on Earth Day, Thursday, April 22nd at 2:00pm. There will be family-friendly event to tour the Hancock Shaker Village’s historic-to-modern green and environmentally-friendly features. Included will be information on sustainable agriculture, renewable energy, architectural design and construction, smart growth town planning, and more. There will be a demonstration of the 1858 water power turbine in Laundry and Machine Shop and up-close investigation of the historic passive solar features of Shaker buildings, compared with Hancock Shaker Village’s new solar photovoltaic array. Free with general admission.

Daily during the Spring Festival, Behind-the-Scenes Farm Tours will be available at 2 pm. Families can get up close and personal with the animals on these private guided tours, which include special access to the newborns, helping at feeding time, gift bags with a variety of toys and games from the Village Store, and a group photo to commemorate the visit. Reservations may be made for this tour by calling 413.443.0188 x213. ($$)

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