Let Them Grow: Baking with Toddlers Offers Sensory Learning & Creative-Free Play

Let Them Grow by Candice Chouinard

Baking With Toddlers

Some of my favorite time with children is spent baking. Children love it, and if I am not too performance driven, I love every minute, too! Baking with toddlers can also be a disaster, if you are not prepared or try to make extravagant things with too many steps. Baking should be fun. Baking can also be a math lesson, an art lesson, and a culinary experience. It is a time to bond and a time to create. I have two favorite things to make with toddlers, especially around the holidays: bread and apple crisp, two easy baking projects. Here are the recipes!  Read the rest of this entry »

Let Them Grow: Pumpkins Support Sensory Learning & Creative-Free Play

Let Them Grow by Candice Chouinard

Fruit of the Season

It’s pumpkin time in Western Massachusetts, surrounding us with their plump beauty of orange (and even white, red and yellow!). I try to stretch the pumpkin and squash season out to make the most of this harvest season. Working with toddlers makes me really appreciate the sensory experience a fruit can give them.

This week we talked about: orange, soft, seeds, and squishy. We talked about: tasty, stringy, tough skin, and soft innards. We talked about bake goods like pumpkin pie, pumpkin bread, and pumpkin muffins. We talked often about the way pumpkins grow and what they can give us. Toddlers can begin to understand that this fruit has numerous uses — some productive and some really fun! We are going to focus on the fun.!

Last year I did a post about the fun new ways to decorate pumpkins. This year, it’s all about sensory exploration!  Read the rest of this entry »

Pumpkins: History, Culture, and Community Celebration

Pumpkins: History, Culture, and Community Celebration

Called “pompions” by the first European colonists, pumpkins were a food essential to winter survival – and they were grown in many more varieties than they typically are today.  The custom of carving pumpkins into Jack O’Lanterns was introduced to American culture by Irish immigrants, influencing our cultural landscape to this day. Traditionally carved from root vegetables, including  turnips and potatoes, new hybrids of pumpkins are grown specifically for carving.

Annual October events that bring communities together through the lens of food (pumpkins) and culture (Halloween). Check our list of Weekly Suggested Events and our Facebook page for community-based educational opportunities coming up this season and mark your calendars for these annual events: Read the rest of this entry »

Community-Based Education Resource: Pumpkin Patches

From the Pumpkin Patch to Home: History through Food

There are so many different uses for pumpkins!  One of America’s oldest native crops, modern day uses include carving as ornaments for Halloween, prepared as pies, and highlighted as a main attraction in agricultural fairs (largest pumpkin contests) and fall festivals (pumpkin roll & pumpkin games).  Needless to say, pumpkins are an integrated part of our fall traditions in Western Massachusetts.  Read the rest of this entry »

How Pumpkin Pies Support Interests & Education

Pastry Arts: Support an Interest in Colonial History through Seasonal Pies!

While Colonial Americans did not celebrate Halloween, their interest in pumpkins was food-based rather than a holiday decoration. Support a farm to table interest by incorporating fresh pumpkin into your culinary adventures. Remember Lydia Maria Child from September’s apple itinerary and her recipe for apple pie? Pumpkin was also considered a common pie in 19th century New England. Her recipe from 1832 is as follows:  Read the rest of this entry »

Think About This: Pumpkins and a Sense of Place

Learning Ahead: Sept & Oct Cultural Itinerary for Western MA

Learning Ahead:
Cultural Itinerary for Western Massachusetts
Seasons: Sept & Oct

Who am I? Where am I? These are the fundamental questions proposed by the humanities. Inquiries related to local history, literature, and education, inspire us to think deeply about the places where we live and how our identity fits into the context of our community and the seasons.

Learning Ahead: Cultural Itinerary for Western Massachusetts is a new bimonthly publication produced by Hilltown Families that sheds light on embedded learning opportunities found in cultural resources that exist within the geography, history, and cultural traditions of Western Massachusetts.

With these downloadable seasonal itineraries, self-directed teens, lifelong learners, and families are encouraged to engage together in cultural opportunities that support similar interests, resulting in a shared history, strengthening sense of place.

Looking through a seasonal lens, our debut Cultural Itinerary for Western Massachusetts is for the months of September and October and includes:

  • Participation in local CULTURE: Agricultural Fairs and Fall Festivals
  • PLACEMAKING through annual events: Guided Tours and Plein Air Paint Outs
  • Gathering and preparing seasonal FOOD: Apples and Pumpkins
  • VALUE based engagement: Intergenerational, Skillsharing, and Community Meals
  • Marking the SEASON with annual events: Back-to-School and Halloween
  • Engage in local HABITAT: Nature Trails and Fall Foliage
  • INTEREST based learning: Domestic Arts, Pastry Arts, and Paranormal

Click here to download PDF (38 pages).

Mass Humanities This program is funded in part by Mass Humanities, which receives support from the Massachusetts Cultural Council and is an affiliate of the National Endowment for the Humanities.








Autumn Icons: Apples, Pumpkins, Autumn Foliage & Fall Festivals

Western Massachusetts’ Fall Classics Inspire Community-Based Learning

Another glorious New England autumn is here, bringing with it shorter days, cooler nights, and a cornucopia of seasonal and cultural darlings to celebrate! Families in western Massachusetts can celebrate fall by visiting local farms, enjoying fall-harvested foods,  leaf-peeping, and engaging in cultural celebrations honoring the season.

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Apples, one of the earliest (and most delicious) signs of fall, have been an important part of New England agriculture for centuries. McIntosh apples are undeniably the most iconic of New England’s apples, and make up over two thirds of the regions apple crop! Macs and countless other delicious and fascinating varieties of apples are grown at orchards across western Massachusetts, and families can enjoy this year’s fantastic apple crop by visiting an orchard to pick or purchase a bushel. Find an orchard to pick your own by taking advice from our readers or perusing our list of local PYO orchards.

Learning how to pick apples can be an excellent mini lesson in botany.  In this short video, from the New England Apple Growers Association, not only do they share the etiquette of PYO orchards, but the how to properly pick:

Harvested later than apples, pumpkins are yet another sure sign of fall that somehow make their way onto our front steps and into our food just as the chilly air of fall arrives. Called “pompions” by the first European colonists, pumpkins were a food essential to winter survival – and they were grown in many more varieties than they typically are today. Keep the history of pumpkins in mind this fall while eating, picking, and decorating with the squash cultivars, and be sure to visit a local farm for pick-your-own pumpkins. After Halloween, leave your family’s jack-o-lanterns around and watch them rot – it makes a cheap, easy, and disgusting (yet fascinating) science project!

In the late fall, just after Thanksgiving, tree farms open, giving families an opportunity to pick the perfect locally grown evergreen tree for their holiday celebration as fall departs and winter arrives.

For more information about fall pick-your-own opportunities, check out Berkshire Grown’s Map-O-Licious and CISA’s local foods Farm Guide.


In addition to bountiful harvests, autumn brings with a dramatic change in the color scheme of the local landscape. Leaf peeping is a favorite activity of folks from out of state – and for good reason! Make time to get outside as a family this fall and explore the brilliant red, orange, and yellow that the woods have to offer. The best leaf peeping excursions are ones that include not only woods walking but a view from a high place. We recommend…

Pioneer Valley:


Berkshire County


After apple-picking, pumpkin carving, and leaf peeping have all been crossed off of autumn bucket lists, there are still numerous fall festivals to enjoy! Local festivals held during the autumn months celebrate not only to bounty of the season, but the local cultural traditions associated with it.

The first of such festivals is the annual North Quabbin Garlic & Arts Festival held in Orange on September 26th and 27th. Self-described as, “two days of peace, love, and garlic,” the festival draws crowds to celebrate local art and agricultural, and showcases the best that the region has to offer within these realms.

Following the Garlic & Arts Festival is Conway’s Festival of the Hills, the highlight of which is a skillet toss competition. Held on Sunday, October 5th, the Festival of the Hills also features a log-splitting contest (with both men’s and women’s divisions), a 10k road race, and children’s activities.

During Columbus Day weekend, families can head into the northern hilltowns for the beloved Ashfield Fall Festival, which fills downtown Ashfield with delicious fall food, local vendors, and – best of all – a midway filled with kid-made and kid-run games! This year’s Ashfield Fall Festival will be held on October 11th and 12th, and will feature a special PumkinGames event (think musical pumpkins, pumpkin bowling, etc.) at 12noon on the 11th. Further fall frolicking and pumpkin-rolling can be done at the Westhampton Fall Festival, a late-October event which features the Great Pumpkin Roll – an annual tradition that sends scores of pumpkins rolling down a very steep hill.

Western Massachusetts’ fall festival season concludes with the 21st annual Franklin County CiderDays, held on November 7th and 8th. A weekend jam-packed with educational opportunities, tastings, tours, and more, CiderDays spotlights the tradition of cider-making in Franklin County by honoring the history of the art in local communities and bringing cider-makers together to share the tips, tricks, and taste of the trade. While some CiderDays events require tickets to be purchased in advance, many tastings, tours, and other events are free and open to all ages – and all require a visit to the beautiful hills of the northeastern corner of our region.

Let Them Grow: 4 Pumpkin-Based Arts & Crafts

Let Them Grow by Candice Chouinard

What Else to Do with that Pumpkin

Pumpkin time is here!  I thought of all the basics of what to do with the pumpkins outside our door: cook them; paint them; smash them; carve them. I love all of these ideas, because I just love pumpkins! Most of all I love carving pumpkins. But, having infants and toddlers around makes pumpkin carving a little more interesting, a little less mainstream, and a lot less intricate. I went from detailed mountain scene to a face that not a face at all, but more like two juxtaposed triangles and a rectangle block mouth. I thought to myself, pumpkins should be more than that… They deserve more than that! And so do the kids! This month I’m sharing four pumpkin-based projects you can do with your toddlers that support creative-free play while celebrating the season! Read the rest of this entry »

Q&A: Family-Friendly Farms for Pumpkin Pickin’ in Western MA


Where’s a good place to pick pumpkins with the kids in Western MA?

  • Patricia McCarthy Krutiak recommends, “Whitney’s Farm Stand. Route 8. Cheshire, MA.” (Berkshire Co.)
  • Heather Dunham Katsoulis recommends, “Westview Farms Creamery in Monson (Hampden Co.); Austin Brothers Valley Farm in Belchertown (Hampshire Co.); and Fletcher Farm in Southampton (Hampshire Co.).
  • Jessica J Logsdon recommends, “Whitney’s Farm in Cheshire.” (Berkshire Co.)
  • Nancyjo Craig Rongner recommends, “We always go to McCray’s Farm in South Hadley. You can visit the animals, grab ice cream or lunch, and head out to their pumpkin patches via wagon ride. Mt. Tom provides a really pretty fall backdrop as the leaves change.” (Hampshire Co.)
  • Rebecca Sutton Heath recommends,” Ioka Valley Farm in Hancock… hay rides pumpkins, animals and games… oh, and corn maze- so much fun!” (Berkshire Co.)
  • Kate Erickson recommends, “Fletcher Farm  in Southampton off Route 10. Free hay rides and a kid play area.” (Hampshire Co.)
  • Amanda Florek recommends, “We are heading to McCray’s Farm this weekend!” (Hampshire Co.)
  • Jennifer Hoffman recommends, “Apex Orchards. Shelburne.” (Franklin Co.)
  • Heather Richardson recommends, “Randall’s Farm and Greenhouse in Ludlow.” (Hampden Co.)
  • Rebecca Trow Addison writes, “I haven’t found any places in the Greenfield/Amherst/Northampton areas.”
  • Anna White recommends, “Howden Farm in Sheffield, MA.” (Berkshire Co.)

“That’s How A Pumpkin Grows” is Brian Vogan‘s first music video from his debut children’s CD, Little Songs.

Direction and illustration by Alberto Cerriteno and animation by Fashionbudda Studio.

[Photo credit: (ccl) Stephanie Wallace]

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