UMass Lowell’s Cool Science Contest

Power of Public Art Drives Critical Thinking in Community Based Learning

Public art is designed to make us think. Whether it’s about local history, traffic safety, or our cultural heritage, public artwork sends a message. Children have the opportunity to create public artwork to send a message about climate change by participating in UMass Lowell’s Cool Science contest! Young artists can learn about climate science and art with a purpose by creating entries, and winners might get to see their art made public. Entries are due by Dec 1, 2014.

Public art plays an important role in communities throughout western Massachusetts. Murals, sculptures, chalk drawings, and installations in public spaces help to share history, culture, and new ideas with everyone who sees them. Public art is, perhaps, the most accessible of all art forms – viewing does not require intentionality, it simply requires eyes to be open to the world. One of the best parts of public art is the power that it has to spread meaningful messages – to remind us to love one another, to make us think about how we treat public spaces, and to even make us look twice before crossing the street.

Currently, students have the opportunity to submit artwork into a public art contest. UMass Lowell’s annual Cool Science artwork competition asks students in grades K-12 (or homeschool equivalent) to create works of art inspired by their learning about climate change. Winners of the contest will have their artwork displayed on clean fuel-burning city buses in Lowell, providing young artists with the opportunity to have their message-sending masterpieces turned into mobile public art.  Read the rest of this entry »

Watershed Blitz: Support the Conservation Efforts of the Westfield River

Nature Hike Offers Community Based Crash Course on Environmental Science

It’s easy to see how the turkey tail mushroom got its name. These are just a sample of the biodiversity you’ll discover in the Westfield River watershed during the Westfield River Committee’s Watershed Blitz on Sept 27!

What do green frogs, turkey tail mushrooms, and poison ivy all have in common? They’re all things that can be found in and around the Westfield River – and they’re all things that volunteers will likely encounter at the Westfield River Committee’s Watershed Blitz! Held on Saturday, September 27, 2014,  from 9am-2:30pm, the event is being held in order to honor the 20 years of conservation that the committee has accomplished. More importantly, however, the event will gather important information about the Westfield River watershed’s biodiversity general health.

Participation in the event doesn’t necessarily require extensive knowledge of local plant and animal species, but it does require certain physical abilities. Volunteers should be prepared to hike 1.5 to 2 miles of the river corridor – territory that is challenging, but can make for a great adventure. Alongside nature-loving volunteers will be experts on all kinds of biology and environmental science topics – everything from salamanders to culverts! Armed with the knowledge of experts and some good field guides, participants will be able to help discover and identify all sorts of species to whom the Westfield’s banks are a happy home. Read the rest of this entry »

High Tech Planetarium Takes Us to the Stars

Williams College Host Planetarium Show this Fall

Williams College in Williamstown, MA, invites families to experience the wonders of our universe at their Milham Planetarium, located inside the Old Hopkins Observatory at Williams College. Astronomy students at the college will host free shows for the public on Friday evenings at 8pm, September 12-December 5, 2014.

The Hopkins Observatory, built in 1836-38 by the first professor of astronomy at Williams College, Albert Hopkins, is the oldest extant observatory in the United States.

Audiences will be treated to shows hosted by Williams College students from their high-precision Zeiss Skymaster ZKP3/B opto-mechanical planetarium projector, installed in April 2005.  The Zeiss Skymaster is capable of demonstrating phenomena including: retrograde motions of the planets, phases of the moon, the varying temperatures/colors of stars, locations of neighboring galaxies, the mythological figures and zodiacal signs ascribed to constellations, the Southern Hemisphere’s sky, comets, artificial satellites, and much more.

For reservations (recommended) contact Michele Rech at 413-597-2188 or email at Others will be admitted as space permits. Large groups should call for special appointments. Shows will last about 50 minutes.

The Hopkins Observatory is on a small hill on the north side of Main Street east of Spring Street in Williamstown and just east of Lawrence Hall Drive, on which planetarium patrons share parking with the Williams College Museum of Art. A campus map showing the Hopkins Observatory’s location can be found on the or at 829 Main Street, Williamstown, MA.

- Submitted by Noelle Lemoine

STEM Opportunities at The Great Holyoke Brick Race

The Great Holyoke Brick Race: June 7th, 2014

Intergenerational collaborations can provide young students with hands-on lessons in the basic science of physics and principles of design at the 4th annual Great Holyoke Brick Race happening on Saturday, June 7th!

Take on the coolest gravity based physics experiment around at the Great Holyoke Brick Race!  Similar to the Boy Scouts of America’s traditional Pinewood Derby, the event requires that participants create their own miniature car to race down a specific track.  However, unlike Pinewood Derby, the cars are not wooden – the main piece of material is a brick!

Sponsored by Paper City Studios and the Massachusetts Cultural Council, the race is open to participants of any age and from anywhere in the world (No need to be a Holyoke native!).  Entries can be created by individuals, or by teams of any size, allowing for lots of intergenerational collaboration and knowledge pooling.

Read the rest of this entry »

100+ Science Books to Support STEM Learning at Home & in the Classroom

Science Books to Support Self-Directed Learning & Interests

Experience is always the best teacher – and this is especially true for children! However, when kids are eager to learn about a topic, the experiences available might leave some space for supplementation. After you’ve explored the woods, caught critters, messed about with materials, and exercised all five of your senses together, it might be time to turn to print materials in order to help kids add specific language and detail to their understanding of scientific topics. And, in addition to being filled with lots of useful and fascinating information, science-themed books give children valuable practice reading and interpreting non-fiction material – a skill that will allow them to develop strong skills for self-teaching and answering their own questions.

Whatever topic children are learning about, there are age- and reading level-appropriate materials available. And, thanks to the creativity of children’s authors and illustrators, they’re not only informative but engaging and filled with photographs, diagrams, drawings, and other visuals that children in comprehending text. Read the rest of this entry »

Science & Fun of Chain Reactions

Dominoes, Popsicle Sticks & Rube Goldberg Machines
The Science (and Fun!) of Chain Reactions

There are lots of concepts that children learn that involve chain reactions. The interrelatedness of nature is, for example, entirely dependent on an intricately woven set of relationships. When one thing changes – the availability of a resource or the population of an animal, perhaps – everything else is affected. Human populations experience a similar phenomenon – such relationships are all around us! However, the abstract nature of interrelated relationships can be hard for kids to grasp. Explaining difficult concepts using metaphor or visual representations can he helpful, but what about something that kids can touch and see themselves – something that perfectly illustrates the idea of interrelatedness and chain reactions, but happens much more quickly than chain reactions do in nature or within human society?  Read more (and see) about chain reactions… you’ll be amazed!

Snow Studies: Crystals & Frost

Snow Studies: Crystals & Frost

With chilly temperatures and icicles, we’re having the perfect winter for some great snow studies this year! The white coating that covers our landscape here in New England not only offers opportunities for winter sports, but it is also a great creative medium that can support science studies too!  The chemistry behind snowflakes and frost are just waiting to be discovered!


Kids can use snow, ice, and frost to learn about crystals – a concept that they’ll eventually encounter when they study chemistry, but will understand much better if they have some firsthand experience with them. Snowflakes are a beautiful form of crystals, each one showing off a microscopic symmetrical design of spears, points, indents, and cutouts. Be sure to read the book Snowflake Bentley (by the talented Mary Azarian), a true story about the Vermont man whose curiosity about snowflakes lead him to be the first to photograph them! It would be pretty tricky to make snowflakes at home, but with a magnifying glass and a small square of black fabric, you can take a semi-close look at them when you venture outside. See if you can identify a difference between the shape and size of snow flakes and the snowy clumps that fall during each snowstorm we get… Read the rest of this entry »

Sing About Science and Math

University of Washington’s Sing About Science and Math Project: Songs for Teaching, Learning & Fun

For many young learners, rhythm and repetition can be a very effective way of learning new words and remembering the names of things. Children easily learn commonly sung songs with lyrics of all kinds, and we use their ability to learn lyrics as a way to share information. Take the ABC’s for example – it’s a song that we use to teach the letters of the English alphabet, it’s fun and easy to sing, and matching the names of letters to different parts of the rhythm helps to support children in remembering the order that the go in.

Songs don’t just have to be used to convey basic ideas to the youngest of learners, though – there are educational songs for kids of all ages and about all kinds of things! The University of Washington’s Sing About Science and Math Project offers an online database of over 7,000 songs that cover an immense variety of topics in technology, biology, environmental science, physics, chemistry, math, engineering, and medicine. The database, which has been growing since 2004, includes tunes for kids of all ages – meaning there are songs about the periodic table for kindergarteners, high school sophomores, graduate students, and grandparents, too, like this one by They Might Be Giants:

The site’s search function allows for parents and educators (and older students) to search by more than just topic… Read the rest of this entry »

STEMBite: Bite Sized Videos Supporting STEM Education

STEMBite: Snack-Sized Science Videos

Add some science to these hot summer days with STEMBite, a YouTube channel that offers snack-size videos focused on topics in science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) and the things in our everyday lives that they are related to. Most of the videos are between one and a half and two minutes long, and are shot from the perspective of the narrator using Google Glass, who explores a different topic, item, and/or surroundings in each one.

Interesting topics include the form and function of animal adaptations and evolution (Form, Function, and Chickens), the physics of sound waves and the concept’s application to shower time singing (Physics of Singing in the Shower), the science and design behind the barcodes found on mass-produced items and price tags in stores (Barcodes), and many others STEM topics.

While most of the topics addressed in the videos are best for older students (grade 4 and above), the videos are short and use fairly simple terms to explain each idea. Younger students may absorb less than an older student would while watching, but that doesn’t mean that they won’t learn at all! Perusing the channel might be a great way to help kids develop curiosity in parts of science that they may not discover on their own – like simple machines or light diffusion. The narrator’s fun tone and the sometimes silly activities that he does help to draw kids in, and the examination of everyday objects helps to provide ways for students to see how each topic applies in their own lives. Try viewing videos related to some of the topics that your child studied in school last year, or ones covering some of the topics that they might encounter once they return in the fall. Not sure what they might be learning? Contact your school for a copy of the district’s curriculum frameworks, or access the Massachusetts Curriculum Frameworks for science online at

Science in the Parks this Summer

Science in the Parks in Pittsfield
A Remedy to Summer Slide

Go on a hunt for frogs and the insects they eat at Science in the Parks. Through closer examination, kids can learn the importance ecology plays in the lives of animals in various habitats , like the way this frog is camouflaged among leaf litter and woodland flowers.  (Photo credit: Sienna Wildfield)

Public parks are accessible green spaces families can visit in the summer months to both observe and explore nature. Whether they be well-manicured or allowed to grow wild and free, our local parks offer a lot to learn and explore in terms of ecology, natural & local history, and creative free play.

Science educator Lisa Provencher is holding a Science in the Parks event every Saturday from June 22-August 17 from 10am-12noon this summer, an great opportunity for young students to use their local parks to further their understanding of ecology through science based methods.  Kids of all ages can come to four different parks around Pittsfield, MA and learn about watersheds and their impact on local ecology at this free program.

Participants will have the chance to do activities like test the pH of water, identify aquatic plants, and participate in a hunt from insects and amphibians.  They will also get the chance to identify invasive species and meet some live animals up close!

Read the rest of this entry »

Citizen Scientists Wanted for Swarmageddon as Magicicada Emerge from the Warming Earth

After 17 Years, Cicadas Scheduled to Emerge from the Earth Along the Eastern Seaboard. Will They Be Emerging Here in Western MA?

This year, for the first time since 1996, a Magicicada brood will emerge from the ground all across the eastern United States.  This special species – unlike other cicadas – emerges every 17 years with the entire species growing and developing at the same time,  creating synchronized cycles of growth, reproduction, and death.  These insects go through a complicated and specialized series of stages of development as a group, taking 13-17 years to grow into adult cicadas and emerge from the ground.  They will lay eggs for the next generation simultaneously, continuing their synchronized cycle of regeneration.

Much like frogs and salamanders, the cicadas will emerge from the ground only when the temperature is right!  Magicicadas require a soil temperature of 64 degrees Fahrenheit, extending as deep as eight full inches into the ground – meaning that cicadas will show themselves much earlier further south, while southern New England soil continues to warm up.  Families can track and predict the burst of bugs by monitoring the temperature of the soil in their backyard – while western Massachusetts isn’t expected to have a huge number of cicadas (check out the web site: Massachusetts Cicadas), their existence is quite likely given that Connecticut and the Hudson River Valley in New York are both home to Magicidadas.

In order to predict the bugs’ appearance in your yard, track the soil temperature using a basic thermometer, which can be purchased online or at a gardening specialty store.  Families can also build their own cicada detectors, which will not only measure soil temperature, but will track the creatures’ movement!  Families with older students can learn valuable STEM skills by building a detector, and can use the data that they collect to contribute to cicada tracking and research.  RadioLab, an online resource for STEM-related projects and information, offers instructions for building and operating your own cicada detector, and also has information about submitting collected data.  Follow the instructions to become amateur entomology researchers, and help contribute to the recording of an unusual scientific phenomenon!

22 Community Highlights: Laura Ingalls Wilder to the Beatles. Vernal Pools to Hot Cross Buns.

One of the oldest Good Friday customs is eating hot cross buns. These small sweet buns, marked with a cross of white icing, may have originated in pre-Christian times. Early Egyptians, Greeks and Romans marked their loaves of bread with symbols to honor their gods and goddesses. Many superstitions grew out of this custom.. Read more about this and other Easter icons in our post, Legends & Lore of Easter Icons.

Laura Ingalls Wilder to the Beatles. Vernal Pools to Boreal Forests. Legally Blonde to Anything Goes…

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!

HistoryOutdoor AdventuresAnimal StudiesCommunity ServiceGeographyComicsMusicalsScience/AstronomyMuseum AdventuresParent Workshops

Read the rest of this entry »

27 Community Highlights: Bread to Sushi. Beekeeping to Bird Houses.

Citizen Scientists Wanted to Monitor Plants as the Seasons Change

Project BudBurst
Citizen Scientist Opportunity for Families & Students

For younger children, BudBurst Buddies is a companion to Project BudBurst that encourages young learners to follow the seasons by making simple botanical observations. Check it out at – (Photo credit: Dennis Ward)

Students can learn so much by following the seasonal patterns of plants found here in New England. Each plant’s cycle is different, and varies depending on factors like location and weather patterns.  Tracking a plant through its seasonal changes can help us to better understand the subtle changes that take place in our environment, and says a lot about where we live.

This spring, families can track these plant cycles by volunteering as Citizen Scientists for Project BudBurst, a national project that tracks buds, blooms, and leaves as the seasons change.  The project is used to generate useful ecological data that can be used in studies of the environment and to track annual changes of seasons and climate.  The project is open to families and educators living in any of the 50 states, and participation can be a one time project or a year-long educational expedition.

Working together to gather information to submit to Project BudBurst is a great way for youth to develop useful nature-related skills and to gain knowledge and experience in plant identification, while volunteering as citizen scientists.  Students will need to learn the anatomy of plants in order to check for specific growth patterns, and they will gain practice using field guides while working to identify the plants that they find.  They will also begin to understand the biodiversity present in the area, and will examine the relationship that changes in the sky bring to their environment.  Recording data will help with development of basic data analysis, and presenting data in a useful format is excellent practice for nonfiction writing.  Students of all ages can learn by participating in Project BudBurst, and it could be used by homeschoolers, K-12 classrooms, and higher education.

For more information on the project or to sign up to contribute, visit

30 Community Highlights: Spring Equinox to St. Patrick’s Day. Spring Musicals to Film Festivals.

Spring arrives on Wednesday, March 20th with the Vernal Equinox. Families are invited to witness the sunrise (6:45am) or sunset (6pm) at the UMass Amherst Sunwheel. Astronomers Judith Young and Stephen Schneider will discuss the astronomical cause of the suns changing position during the hour-long gatherings. They will also explain the seasonal positions of Earth, the sun and moon, phases of the moon, building the Sunwheel, and answer questions about astronomy

Annie to Oklahoma. St. Patrick’s Day to Spring Equinox. Jane Yolen to Georges Méliès… These are just a few of the learning highlights we’re featuring this week! Get out into your community and learn while you play!

LiteratureHistoryNature/Animal StudiesParent Workshops/Support GroupsSustainabilitySpring Musicals FilmSt. Patrick’s Day

And be sure to check our list of supporting book & DVD 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!

Read the rest of this entry »

35 Community Highlights: Shaker Song to Gospel Music. Sojourner Truth to George Washington.

Western MA Planetariums and Online Resources for Space Studies

Resources for Supporting the Study of Space Science

Hubble's Panoramic View of a Turbulent Star-Making Region

If, after diving head-first into all things astronomical, your student is completely enamored with space studies, consider entering Astronomy magazine’s essay contest! The grand prize is a trip to the 2013 Northeast Astronomy Forum in Suffern, NY, where the winner will be able to meet important people in the field of astronomy, learn about space programs and discoveries, and more! The topic for the contest is, “What I love most about astronomy,” and essays should be 300-500 words. Hurry, though – submissions are due by February 15th! More info at

Studies of outer space can be mysterious and intriguing to young minds and there are many resources to support a students interest in the study of space, both online and in Western MA.


The website StarChild offers a wealth of information and basic internet-based activities that help students build their understanding of outer space.  Beginning with our solar system and moving outward, the information is grouped into two levels based on degrees of difficulty and background information needed in order to understand concepts.  Students can guide themselves through each lesson, learning astronomical vocabulary and facts about the universe.  At the end of each section, there are a variety of activities to do, such as identifying planets while in orbit, matching facts to their corresponding stars and planets, and pairing planets with their many moons.

Another resource online is NASA’s Afterschool Universe, “an out-of-school-time astronomy program for middle school students that explores basic astronomy concepts through engaging hands-on activities and then takes participants on a journey through the Universe beyond the Solar System.”

If you are interested in the Afterschool Universe program, visit their website at and their Afterschool Universe YouTube channel for more demonstration videos.


To experience astronomical phenomena in real life, visit a local observatory or planetarium in Western MA!  The Milham Planetarium at Williams College in Berkshire County, the Seymour Planetarium at the Springfield Museums in Hampden County, and the Bassett Planetarium at Amherst College in Hampshire County all offer planetarium shows and other learning experiences to visitors.  For other events, resources, and community learning opportunities, the Five College Astronomy Program, Springfield Stars Club, Arunah Hill Natural Science Center in Cummington, and the Amherst Area Amateur Astronomer’s Association hold events, workshops, and other astronomy-related events for the community year-round.

[Photo credit: (ccl) NASA Goddard Space Flight Center]

Citizen Scientists Wanted for Mass Audubon Winter Bird Count

Focus on Feeders
Mass Audubon Winter Bird Count
February 2nd & 3rd, 2013

People can help their feathered friends in the coldest season by joining Mass Audubon’s annual Focus on Feeders winter bird count on the weekend of February 2-3. The volunteer survey invites participants to list individual bird species and the greatest number of each seen at one time at their feeders and in their yards during that Saturday and Sunday.   Anyone can participate—including families, first timers, and veteran bird enthusiasts. Participants will be able to learn and share information about the birds that visit their yards and feeders in winter. They will also be contributing knowledge to more than 40 years of winter bird feeder sighting information.

Does your family enjoy watching birds at your feeder during the winter?  Backyard feeders provide a consistent, easily accessible source of food for a wide variety of bird species during the winter, and feeder-watching is a great way for families to learn about the many different species who live in their neighborhood.

This weekend, Mass Audubon is offering a chance for families to put feeder-watching to good use!  Focus on Feeders – the great winter bird count – will take place on Saturday, February 2nd and Sunday, February 3rd, and is an annual event held to collect data on bird species and populations.  All that families need to do to participate is to keep a list of the types of birds seen at the feeder during the weekend, as well as the number of each type of bird seen at a time.  Then, families can submit their data for use in an actual scientific study by either entering it in online or completing a form and mailing it.  The data collected will be used to assess bird populations and habits across the state – information that can be analyzed in order to understand the effects of changes in climate and landscape.

In order to identify birds, families will need to use a good field guide.  Using a field guide to identify species allows kids to develop and practice reference skills while discovering bird characteristics of different species needed to properly identify them.  Learning about the species living in their backyard will help students nurture a sense of place while drawing closer to the natural world around them!

Deadline for submissions is Thursday, February 28, 2013.  More information at

[Photo credit: (ccl) senoracak]

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.


30 Community Highlights: Bald Eagles to Owls. Artful Dining to Outsider Art.

The Quabbin Reservoir, a man-made body of water, is home to numerous species and provides a vast amount of habitat to these creatures. Visit the reservoir on Saturday, January 19th to learn about the nearly 30 bald eagles that call the reservoir home!

30 Community Highlights: Bald Eagles to Bats. Opulent Banquets to Trolley Lines. Teen Open Mic to Nurturing Your Baby… These are just a few of the learning highlights we’re featuring this week! Get out into your community and learn while you play!


Celebrate and honor Martin Luther King, Jr. at the 29th annual MLK Community Breakfast on Saturday morning, January 19th. An Amherst tradition, the event includes performances from the Amherst Regional High School jazz band, the Hope Community Church Choir, and the Common School Chorus, and will feature main speaker Dr. John Higginson, UMass history professor. Along with breakfast, music, and celebration of civil rights and Dr. King’s life, the event will include the distribution of community awards.

Six more ways to celebrate Martin Luther King, Jr. Day take place on Monday, January 21st.

  1. Join community members in Northampton for the 29th Annual Martin Luther King, Jr. Day Celebration
  2. Volunteer for MLK Day of Service with MassAudubon in Easthampton.
  3. Old Sturbridge Village is open with special programs celebrating Martin Luther King, Jr. Day in Sturbridge
  4. The Community Music School of Springfield presents their annual musical celebration of Martin Luther King, Jr. Day
  5. Celebrate Martin Luther King, Jr. Day at the 4th Annual Interfaith Celebration of Martin Luther King, Jr. Day in Great Barrington
  6. Learn about the powerful images that Norman Rockwell created during the Civil Rights Movement of the 1960s during a guide tour of Norman Rockwell Museum in Stockbrigde

Find out about all of the events in 6 Ways to Observe Martin Luther King, Jr. Day in Western MA.


The Quabbin Reservoir, a man-made body of water, is home to numerous species and provides a vast amount of habitat to these creatures. Visit the reservoir on Saturday, January 19th to learn about the nearly 30 bald eagles that call the reservoir home! Mass Audubon hosts the event, which will include a visit to the visitor’s center in Belchertown to learn about the reservoir’s interesting history, a drive around the reservoir to visit lookout points and search for eagles, and a trek through the woods to search for other feathered wildlife.

Eagles are the only bird of prey being highlighted this week… families can also learn all about the many types of owls found in Western MA at Arcadia Wildlife Sanctuary in Easthampton on Saturday evening. Come see a puppet show of local author Jane Yolen’s picture book, Owl Moon! After the puppet show, take a walk in the sanctuary’s woods to listen for owl calls and search for signs of owls.

Long ago, animal tracking was essential to survival – now, it’s a way to learn what other creatures call the woods home, and to learn about the biodiversity of the area in which you live. Visit Laughing Brook Wildlife Sanctuary in Easthampton on Saturday morning to learn about many different types of animal tracks and signs, and explore outside to find and identify some!

The Berkshire Museum in Pittsfield is coming alive with creatures of the night – the museum’s newest exhibit is all about bats, Bats: Creatures of the Night. The exhibit opens on Saturday and there will be fun family activities all afternoon, including a scavenger hunt, echolocation experiments, and wing-making. The museum is also offering a lecture on bats later in the afternoon.

Two libraries are welcoming live animals to their stacks on Saturday to meet their youth patrons, and to be petted and read too! In the morning, kids can meet a real live llama at the Ramsdell Library in Housatonic, and in the afternoon, specially trained therapy dogs will be available as reading buddies at the Westfield Athenaeum. Both events are free.

Visit the Great Falls Discovery Center for a bear-themed Discovery Hour on Friday morning, January 25th in Turners Falls! Though the real bears are hibernating, there’s still lots to be learned about them during this free event.


Want to learn about the history of the Mount Greylock Ski Club? Join the the Williamstown Historical Society on Saturday morning, January 19th at the Milne Library in Williamstown. Club member Mary Merselis (who joined in 1965) will share nearly 75 years worth of local history, including the club’s role in building Greylock’s Thunderbolt Trail and in creating the National Ski Patrol.

Beginning Sunday afternoon, January 20th in Williamstown, Sterling and Francine Clark Art Institute will present a four-part lecture series, “A Feast for the Eyes: Food, Porcelain, Silver, and Luxury Fabrics.” Darra Goldstein, professor of Russian at Williams College, will present the first lecture in the series, “Artful Dining: The Orchestration of the Meal.” Goldstein will explore feasts, from the ribald gatherings of the European Middle Ages through the opulent banquets of the Renaissance and on to the excesses of America’s Gilded Age. Older students can get a unique view into European history.

In Springfield on Thursday, January 24th, the Mason Square Library hosts, “Circle in the Square,” an ongoing community discussion of local history and community memories. This free afternoon meeting will focus on researching local history, and special guest Ed Lonergan (librarian and neighborhood resident) will help attendees learn ways to find out history about their own homes that they may not have known! Great for students interested in researching their community – learning about local history can help students put national history into a local context that they can relate to.

In its heyday, Holyoke was a bustling hub of industry, drawing workers from all over New England, and even Canada and Europe. The Connecticut River powered the city’s many factories, and there was even a trolley line! On Thursday afternoon, January 24th at the Meekins Library in Williamsburg, local author Bob McMaster will read from his new novel Trolley Days, a coming-of-age story about two young boys growing up in early 20th century Holyoke. Best for older students, this free reading puts an exciting, fictional spin on local history and can help students to learn more about the rise and fall of local industry and life in Holyoke past.


On Saturday afternoon, January 19th learn all about Mars at Western Gateway Heritage State Park in North Adams, while celebrating the 50th anniversary of the release of Mars Attacks.

Artist, educator and author of “Cellblock Visions: Prison Art in America,” Phyllis Kornfeld, will present a slide talk on the art of inmates at the Stockbridge Library on Friday afternoon, January 25th. This presentation will be paired with a discussion of their work, common types of art produced, and its place amongst mainstream American artwork. Older students can attend the event to learn about prison culture, the universality of human artistic expression, outsider art in America, and other topics related to art, psychology, and criminal justice.


The Belchertown Teen Center is holding an Open House at the center on Saturday morning, January 19th. The center is open Tuesdays-Wednesdays afternoon every week, and offers activities, sports, homework help, and a safe place to socialize in a semi-supervised environment.

Northfield Mountain is offering a free snowshoeing workshop for women ages 16+ on Saturday afternoon! Have a mother-daughter day of learning all about the winter sport, or teens can go with their BFF! Learn everything from the specifics of snowshoeing gear, the history of the sport, and the best types of trails for snowshoeing!

Teens, make yourself heard at the Barrington Stage Company’s first ever youth open mic on Saturday evening, in Pittsfield! The free event is open to youth ages 19 and younger who are interested in sharing performance of any kind. Each performer will get a 10-minute time slot to share music, poetry, performance art, and any other creative performance! The event will take place at Mr. Finn’s Cabaret, in the lower level of the Barrington Stage Company.

Teens can dance the night away in their most elegant attire at the Hartsbrook School’s annual Viennese Ball at the Northampton Center for the Arts on Saturday evening! The event is open to youth ages 12yo+ and parents/guardians, and includes dessert & dancing.

On Wednesday evening, January 23rd, teens can sing their hearts out with Berkshire Sings!, a community singing group at the Berkshire South Regional Community Center in Great Barrington. Singers of all abilities welcomed (adults, too) to sing pop, jazz, folk, showtunes, and more.

Teens can make a masterpiece out of food at the Forest Park Branch Library in Springfield on Thursday afternoon, January 24th! Use everyday food items as materials in what could possibly be the messiest but most beautiful art you’ll make this week. There will be prizes for the least amount of food used, most amount of food used, most colorful, most creative, and other limits.


Do you know how to survive an emergency situation? On Sunday afternoon, January 20th, Earthworks Programs in Ashfield is offering a workshop for adults that will share information and teach skills for surviving everything from a power outage to being lost in the woods

A free workshop series for parents of infants (babies 0-12 months) begins Wednesday, January 23rd at the Gateway Family Center in Huntington. Titled, “Nurturing Your Baby,” the series will teach parents about infant development, sleep strategies, infant massage, and other methods of caring for your baby.

The Collaborative for Educational Services hosts, “Why Do They Do That? Challenging Behaviors and Effective Responses,” at the Ware Family Center on Wednesday evening, January 23rd. The free workshop will teach parents of toddlers and pre-school aged children about the causes of common challenging behaviors and some strategies for dealing with them effectively.

On Thursday morning, January 24th, Baystate Health in Springfield is offering a free workshop for parents on the physical and emotional changes that kids go through during puberty, and will teach ways to effectively communicate and provide emotional support throughout childrens’ transition. “Family Matters! Encouraging Healthy Choices by Promoting Positive Self-Esteem.”

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) Massachusetts Energy and Environmental Affairs]

Young Scientist Challenge: Encouraging Students to Share Their Passion for Science

Young Scientist Challenge for Youth Ages 10-14

Whether or not students win the challenge, the process of creating a project to submit can be a valuable learning opportunity in itself. For more information where educators will find Teacher Tools to full student excite about science, including lesson plans and videos & interactives.

Everything that we do has some science behind it – everyday tasks as simple as boiling water for tea and riding the school bus are all powered by fascinating phenomena, and scientific principles offer us with a wide array of possibilities for further innovation and change.  Curious about how something works or interested in making a new discovery?  Research it, and make it happen!

Students in grades 5-8 are invited to do just that in order to participate in the Discovery Education 3M Young Scientist Challenge.  The challenge – prizes for which include a mentorship with a 3M scientist, a $25,000 cash prize, and more – asks students to create a short video explaining a solution they’ve found to a problem related to how we work, play, or relax.  Students should understand the science behind the solution, whether it’s related to physics and architectural design, chemistry and food science, or biology and our own changing bodies.

The challenge presents students with an opportunity to provide scientific innovation, just as a career scientist would.  Such a project will help students to learn skills for applying their science knowledge, will encourage students to pay close attention to detail in their everyday lives, and will help them feel empowered to create and discover.

Federal Fish and Wildlife Services’ Junior Duck Stamp Program

Supplement Habitat Studies with the Junior Duck Stamp Program

The Junior Duck Stamp Program offers an educational arts and science curriculum which educators can use for incorporating science, art, math and technology into habitat conservation studies. (Photo credit: Sienna Wildfield)

Western Massachusetts is home to a wide variety of duck species.  These beautiful birds make their homes in wetland areas, a habitat in need of conservation.  Students can learn about duck species and help to promote wetland conservation by participating in the Federal Fish and Wildlife Services’ Junior Duck Stamp Program!  This contest calls for students to create their own stamps, featuring a specific duck species portrayed in its habitat.  Students should learn about their species of choice, so as to make the best and most accurate depiction possible!  Their design should reflect the group’s goal in creating the stamp – to share the beauty and importance of the species of the duck depicted.

Students should learn to understand the relationship between the duck and its specific environment, and should understand why the duck has such specific habitat requirements.  Students can also study other stamp designs to learn what makes a good stamp!

Entries in the contest will be judged in four different age groups, and the winning entry will be made into a stamp and released in June.  The contest is an opportunity for students to learn about local biodiversity, and to work on their understanding of the interrelatedness of species and their habitat.  Students can also work on their art skills, working carefully to clearly portray their duck.  The contest deadline is March 15th. For more information visit

Online resources for educators:

20 Community Highlights: First Nights to First Day Hikes. Emancipation Proclamation to John F. Kennedy.

Ring in the New Year with First Nights and First Day Hikes! (Photo credit: Sienna Wildfield)

First Nights to First Day Hikes. Emancipation Proclamation to John F. Kennedy. Dinosaurs to Bubbles… 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!


In Holyoke on New Year’s Eve, families can enjoy performances, music, museum adventures, merry-go-round rides, and a New York-style ball drop by 4pm as part of Holyoke’s First Night, Jr., a special family celebration to ring in the new year! Popular magician Ed Popielarczyk will share illusions, there will be live ice-carving, families can get unique balloon sculptures created, the merry-go-round will be offering unlimited rides, and there will be lots of other special guests and events.

Northampton’s First Night provides endless opportunities for family fun on New Year’s Eve! The 12-hour event features a wide variety of performances at spaces throughout town. Families can see puppet performances, learn about numerous types of music and instruments, watch local youth share their skills in a talent show, see incredible feats of physics performed by the A to Z yo-yo team, watch family-friendly theater, and dance along to local favorites for kids and adults.

Both Wilbraham and Orange celebrate too! Wilbraham will celebrate New Year’s Eve as part of their 250th celebration.  There will be live music, food, entertainment, and fireworks! And the 16th Annual Starry Starry Night celebrates New Year’s Eve in the heart of downtown Orange with live music, dancing, and hayrides. Puppet parade and fireworks too.

Another annual tradition is at Jiminy Peak in Hancock where there is a beautiful torchlight parade down the mountain as soon as the ski lifts close, followed by fireworks over the mountain!


What better way to usher out and welcome in a New Year than a hike through the winter woods with your family?  On Saturday, December 29th, explore Bartholomew’s Cobble with the Trustees of Reservations in Sheffield– the yearly Hot Chocolate Saturdays series begins this week! Throughout the winter, families can hike, snowshoe, and/or cross-country ski at the Cobble, and end their excursion with a cup of cocoa in the visitor center. Families can practice looking for signs of birds and mammals, and can explore the changes that have taken place to the landscape since winter set in.

On New Year’s Day, guided hikes across the country start off the new year on Tuesday, January 1 as part of a National First Day Hikes movement, a “get outdoors” initiative for people of all ages. In the morning, Mass DCR will offer a guided hiked of the DAR State Forest in Goshen. Visitors can learn about the history of the Daughters of the American Revolution State Forest and enjoy a tour of the Nature Center. Meet at the warming hut for a short (1 mile) for a free family-friendly hike.

In the afternoon on New Year’s Day, families can explore remnants of abandoned farmland, forest succession and perhaps see some wildlife at Pittsfield State Forest on a free guided First Day Hike with Mass DCR. The 45-minute, 2.5 mile trek will follow the Tranquility and Hawthorn trails – dress warmly and bring your snowshoes. Leashed dogs are welcomed too.  Meet at the State Forest Ski Lodge. Afterwards return to the rustic lodge for  hot chocolate by the fireplace.


Old Sturbridge Village is open for school vacation! Kids get free admission, and families can enjoy a host of historic and seasonal activities, including sledding and skating! There will also be indoor performances of all sorts, crafts demonstrations, and hands-on activities for kids. Families can learn about life in early New England, and the many different skills and resources that 1830’s life required.

Monday evening, December 31st, celebrate the 150th anniversary of the signing of the Emancipation Proclamation – and celebrate, the new year, too! – with historical reenactments, celebration, and more in Springfield! Taking place at the Sovereign Bank building, the city of Springfield’s unique new year’s celebration will be hosted by the Peter Brace Brigade, and will feature historical reenactors, dressed in period clothing and Civil War uniforms. There will also be music, treats, and celebratory champagne for adults.

On Tuesday, January 1st at 2pm, ring a bell to celebrate the 150th anniversary of the Emancipation Proclamation! Churches throughout the Pioneer Valley will be letting the beautiful sound of bells ring out through the crisp air in remembrance of Lincoln’s landmark policy to end slavery – celebrate in your own home by ringing bells and learning together about the history surrounding the proclamation and the changes that it brought to the country.


The Springfield Museums are alive with science adventures! On Saturday, December 29th, families can take in a performance by Dinoman Dinosaurs at the Springfield Museums. Dinoman will take the audience on a trip through the Mesozoic era, using magic, mayhem, and spectacular props. On Sunday, December 30th, the museums host BubbleMania! BubbleMania: Effervescent Entertainment is filled with comedy and wit, and will teach audience members all about the amazing magic of bubbles – all to a soundtrack of swing music. Then on Friday evening, January 4th, visit the Springfield Museums for Stars Over Springfield, an exciting skygazing event at the museums’ observatory. Hosted by the Springfield Stars Club, the event will help kids learn about the things that they see in the sky every night. In case of overcast weather, a planetarium show will be presented instead.


Opening reception for a group exhibit titled Places We Live, Play & Learn: Narratives of Life by Western MA Youth Photographers, comprising of 20 Western MA youth ages 10-18, takes place on Sunday at noon, December 30th in Cummington.  Youth participants in this group exhibit were encouraged to explore, document and share their connections to their hometowns through photographic images and an accompanying narrative. Combined, the pieces together reflect and communicate how these participating youth view and understand their local history, culture and/or community values, as well as the significance of the physical spaces surrounding them.


Make a New Year’s resolution to spend time with your husband, wife, partner and/or friends this year!  Book a babysitter or sleepover for your kids and consider these four options for a fun parents’ night out this coming week:

In Franklin County on Saturday, December 29th: Celebrate New Years Eve a few days early at the Arts Block in Greenfield! The Roger Salloom Band, Charles Neville, and Jessica Freeman will play a fantastic show at Brick Wall Bistro.

In Hampshire County on Monday, December 31st: Ring in the New Year at Popcorn Noir’s Glitter Ball in Easthampton with dinner, music and a party! There will be tarot card reading, gogo dancers, hula hooping, costumes, and more!

In Hampden County on Thursday, January 3rd: Test your knowledge together on Springfield history at a trivia-themed Culture and Cocktails event at the Springfield Museums! Guests can also explore the Wood Museum of Springfield History’s newest exhibit, titled, “The John F. Kennedy Experience!”

In Berkshire County on Saturday, December 29th: Bring your sweetheart or good friend to Hilltop Orchards in Richmond, home of Furnace Brook Winery, for a full moon snowshoe trek and bonfire.  There will also be wine tasting and live entertainment following a 1.5 hour guide trek through the woods.  Snowshoe rentals available too.  – Also in Berkshire Cty., on Friday, January 4th: Yes, Maria, Yes! You can see the David Wax Museum at the Colonial Theatre in Pittsfield! The group – named one of the best acts at the 2011 South by Southwest festival – plays a fusion of Mexican folk, American roots, and indie rock.

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]

Citizen Scientists Wanted for Annual Christmas Bird Count

Christmas Bird Count: An Annual Citizen Scientist
24 Hour Hunt for Bird Species

This beautiful Cedar Waxwing is a year-round resident and a commonly seen during the Christmas Bird Count. (Photo credit: Leslie Reed-Evans)

Leslie Reed-Evans writes:

Imagine standing at the edge of a frosty field on a chill December morning.  Out of the corner of your eye you see an electric flash of blue- a male Eastern Bluebird flying to a wild rose bush to munch on its fruit1 – This is a scene played out all over New England, and indeed the country, as bird enthusiasts get out to find, identify and count as many individual birds and species as possible as members of the annual Christmas Bird Count.

According to the National Audubon, prior to the turn of the century people engaged in a holiday tradition known as the Christmas “Side Hunt.” They would choose sides and go afield with their guns; whoever brought in the biggest pile of feathered (and furred) quarry won. Conservation was in its beginning stages around the turn of the 20th century, and many observers and scientists were becoming concerned about declining bird populations. Beginning on Christmas Day 1900, ornithologist Frank Chapman, an early officer in the then budding Audubon Society, proposed a new holiday tradition -a “Christmas Bird Census”-that would count birds in the holidays rather than hunt them. One hundred and thirteen years later, hundreds of citizen scientists head for the woodlands, fields, ponds and rivers to compete with fellow participants and find the most number of birds, building on the tradition started so long ago.  Everyone is looking for the most exciting and unusual species, but every bird sighted is a special one.

Counts may take place anytime between December 14 and January 5, and each count area is a circle extending from a center point with a 15-mile diameter, taking in as many habitats as possible.  The count period is 24 hours.  The north Berkshire count averages  between 45 and 55 species, depending on the weather of the day, and the weather leading up to the count day.  This year there have been many reports of winter finches, such as Pine Grosbeaks and crossbills, which in some years come from the north when cones or other food is in short supply.

Each of the citizen scientists who annually braves snow, wind, or rain to take part in the Christmas Bird Count makes an enormous contribution to conservation. Audubon and other organizations use data collected in this longest-running wildlife census to assess the health of bird populations – and to help guide conservation action.  Everyone who takes part in the Christmas Bird Count does it for love of birds and the excitement of friendly competition — and with the knowledge that their efforts are making a difference for science and bird conservation.

If you are interested in finding a Christmas Bird Count to take part in, visit (or contact the organizers below).

You will be participating in a tradition that you just might adopt as your own!

Western MA Area Christmas Bird Count Dates & Organizers:

  • Springfield Area Christmas Count: Saturday, December 15th, 2012. Contact: George Kingston. 413-525-6742.
  • North Berkshire Christmas Bird Count: Saturday, December 15th, 2012. Contact: Leslie Reed-Evans. 413-458-5150.
  • Central Berkshire Christmas Bird Count: Saturday, December 15th, 2012. Contact: Tom Collins.
  • Westfield Area Christmas Count: Saturday, December 22nd, 2012. Contact: Seth Kellogg. 413-569-3335.
  • South Berkshire Christmas Bird Count: Tuesday, January 1st, 2013. Contact: Rene Laubach.

Volunteer as a Citizen Scientist on the Westfield River with Hilltown Families

Hilltown Families Event
Volunteer Opportunity: Citizen Scientist
Wednesday, October 17th @ 3:30pm
West Branch of the Westfield River

“Giving families a hands-on opportunity to be engaged in the study of their local ecosystem, can stimulate an interest in science in children and an investment in their local environment,”  says Sienna Wildfield, Executive Director of Hilltown Families. “By offering field experiences that supplement the education of our children, we can help foster a connection and investment in local community.” (Collecting samples from the Westfield River last year. Photo Credit: Sienna Wildfield.)

For the third year in a row, Hilltown Families will be partnering with Biocitizen in collaboration with the MA DEP in our long-term commitment to their stream monitoring project.  Families with kids interested in science, including biology and ecology, are invited to join us on the banks of the Westfield River on Wednesday, October 17th at 3:30pm (rain date: 10/21).  We will be collecting and inventorying benthic invertebrates (water bugs) using the rapid biotic assessment (RBA) technique. The type of bugs found in our collection will give us a gauge of the river’s health.

“How many times have you looked at a river thinking, how beautiful—and pulled out your camera to capture the swells of whitewater, a striking blue heron, or blazing maple tree in the autumn overhanging its banks?” says Kurt Heidinger, Executive Director of Biocitizen School of Westhampton, MA.  “A river is not just beautiful, though; it’s alive, and those who witness this life, this bios, never look at or appreciate a river the same way again,”

Stonefly nymphs are a bug we want to catch,” shares Heidinger. “They are a primary food source for brook trout and, like trout, require clear, clean, cold oxygen-rich water. If there is too much nitrogen or potassium (from fertilizer run off) in the water, algae will bloom and suck the oxygen out of the river. You won’t find many stonefly nymphs—and therefore trout.”

Sorting though collected samples. (Photo credit: Sienna Wildfield)

By doing a Rapid Bioassessment, we will continue to monitor a section of the West Branch of the Westfield River by netting benthic macro invertebrates (underwater bugs) and inventorying them. The percentage of certain insects we collect will quickly allow us to assess the quality of the river.

Last year in the wake of Hurricane Irene, samples collected were missing the large stoneflies and teeming samples of writhing, boisterous bugs found the year before. This year we’re looking forward to samples that speak of how the river is a superorganism whose health changes in respond to climatic influences.

“Giving families a hands-on opportunity to be engaged in the study of their local ecosystem, can stimulate an interest in science in children and an investment in their local environment,”  says Sienna Wildfield, Executive Director of Hilltown Families. “By offering field experiences that supplement the education of our children, we can help foster a connection and investment in local community.”

This is a free volunteer opportunity, however, space is limited. Appropriate for kids 7yo and older. Directions will be given following sign up. Families interested in participating in this citizen scientist opportunity, or similar opportunities in the area, can contact us here:

How to Plan a Bioblitz

Organize a Bioblitz in Your Community!

For Western MA teachers, educators, and parents who are interested in learning more about using the outdoors as a living classroom, check out the Berkshire Museums Living Landscapes curriculum. Living Landscapes focuses on natural science but also includes connections to math, language arts, and visual arts, and is a terrific local resource.

Are your kids curious about all of the many different plants and animals that they find while exploring outside?  Have you ever been curious about the amount of biodiversity in your community?  Would your students benefit from a hands-on species identification project?  Do a bioblitz!

A bioblitz is a community event designed to quickly compile information on biodiversity in a relatively small area.  Community members of all ages participate in the events alongside trained naturalists and scientists to find and identify as many species of plants and animals as possible in, generally, a period of 24 hours.  A shorter bioblitz (one the length of a school day or even just an afternoon) can be organized, though – if a smaller area of land is explored, a classroom of students or even just a few families together can work their way through the identification process.

Resources for blitz-planning are available on the National Geographic website – the organization has provided everything from instructions for early planning to a suggested materials list!  A bioblitz can offer students a unique hands-on learning experience that will make them more aware of the amount of biodiversity in their neighborhood and will teach them to identify new species. Communities will benefit from the events as well – neighbors can gain a greater awareness of what’s in their backyards, and perhaps even become better connected to the natural world that surrounds them!

[Photo credit: (ccl) Katja Schulz]

DVD Giveaway: The Complete Series of The Magic School Bus

The Magic School Bus: The Complete Series

The Magic School Bus celebrates the excellent idea of field trips as a vehicle for supplementing the education of children outside of the classroom, but Ms. Frizzle takes it even further combining magic with science for animated adventures sure to enrich the learning of science with elementary children. This complete series of all 52 episodes is a resource all teachers and parents will benefit from having it in their DVD collections. Selecting episodes to supplement curriculum in the classroom or interests at home will add enthusiasm and adventures to various fields of science.

Not many children’s brands can stand the test of time, entertaining and educating multiple generations. The Magic School Bus, which recently celebrated its 25th anniversary, is one such brand. This month the Emmy Award winning TV series has been re-launcehd to DVD, The Magic School Bus: The Complete Series, bringing together all 52 episodes of the program on 8 DVDs… and Hilltown Families has a set to giveaway to one very lucky family! Deadline to enter to win is Tuesday, October 2nd by 7pm (EST). Find out how to win below.


The Magic School Bus (Scholastic) has been capturing children’s imaginations since the first book came out in 1986. Since then, the acclaimed series has sold over 60 million books and spawned a successful animated TV series, which premiered in 1994, with support from The National Science Foundation. Now the longest-running science series to air on television, the star-studded program features the voices of Lily Tomlin, Wynonna Judd, Dolly Parton, Tony Randall and Malcolm-Jamal Warner. Along with the adventurous and energetic Ms. Frizzle and her pet lizard, Liz, the entire class – along with the audience –invites students to explore volcanoes, the inside of the human body and much, much more!


Your chance to win The Magic School Bus: The Complete Series DVD collection ($79.95 value) is as easy as 1-2-3(4)!  To enter to win simply:

  • CONSIDER SHARING THIS POST ON FACEBOOK by selecting the Facebook icon below;
  • FULL NAME (first/last);
  • LIVE (TOWN/STATE) (must include your town to be eligible);
  • ACCURATE EMAIL (we never share your email address);
  • From our favorite entries (so make them good!) we’ll randomly draw a winner and will share the results below.

IT’S THAT SIMPLE! — Deadline to enter to win is Tuesday, October 2nd by 7pm (EST).

Berkshire Bioblitz Invites Families to Participate as Citizen Scientists

Berkshire Bioblitz
Burbank Park in Pittsfield
Sept 22-23, 2012

Families are invited to be citizen scientists in the Berkshires, Sept 22nd & 23rd at the Berkshire Bioblitz! From their participation in the bioblitz, kids will learn to identify plant and animal species that they see often, and learn about the role that each species plays within the local ecosystem. Great for budding naturalists! (Photo credit: Sienna Wildfield)

When learning about biodiversity, students are often shown far away landscapes – such as jungles and deserts – as examples of places with unique sets of plants, animals, and interesting terrain.  The fields, forests, lakes, and streams of Western Massachusetts, however, are bursting with a wide variety of trees, grasses, flowers, insects, birds, fish, and mammals of all sizes!

The annual Berkshire Bioblitz, a community event centered around discovering and identifying the numerous species present locally, will take place in Pittsfield’s Burbank Park on September 22nd and 23rd.  The event includes workshops and nature walks, along with a group effort to scour the park to find and identify as many different species as possible.  At last year’s blitz, over 450 different species of lichens, fungi, mammals, mosses, plants, insects and more were found (including two species of bees never before formally identified in Massachusetts!).

Participating in the bioblitz is a way for families to engage with their surroundings as citizen scientists, and to learn to identify the many different species found locally (perhaps even in your backyard!).  There will be trained biologists and naturalists on hand at the event to help participants identify what they have found, and families can also utilize field guides to pair their findings with photos, drawings, and descriptions (great practice for kids learning to use research materials).  For more information, visit

A Weekend of Astronomy in the Hilltowns

The Moon and its Craters at
Arunah Hill Days in the Hilltowns

The Arunah Hill Natural Science Center in Cummington, MA will host a family-oriented weekend of astronomy, star gazing, nature walks, and science education on Labor Day weekend, Aug 31 – Sept 2, 2012. Several large telescopes will be available for nightly viewing of the moon, double stars, galaxies, star clusters, and other wonders of the Summer Milky Way. Experienced amateur astronomers will conduct nightly “planetarium show” under the real sky, using green lasers to orient and identify constellations for observers. — All events are free and open to the public.  Novice stargazers welcome. Evening talks are suitable for children 10 and older.  Saturday family activities begin at noon and are suitable for all ages.

Spend Labor Day weekend exploring and learning all about stars, constellations, and other out-of-this-world phenomenon. Arunah Hill Days in Cummington, MA offers a plethora of activities for families curious about astronomy (or just in search of a good adventure)! The event takes place between Friday, August 31st and Monday, September 3rd.

During the day on Saturday, Sept 1st starting at 12noon, families can participate in nature walks of the grounds at Arunah, try their hand at navigation during a GPS treasure hunt, and construct and launch their own miniature rockets!

Evening activities include guest speakers (best for older students) who will address a wide variety of topics – from the history of telescope making to the uniqueness of the planet Mercury – as well as a chance to view the sky through some of the many different types of telescopes offered for use by master stargazers, and families can even learn to locate and identify stars and constellations. Detailed information on guest speakers is available here.

Each night following evening talks, there will be post-stargazing showings of hilarious (but terribly filmed) sci-fi movies during their “Really Bad SciFi Theater” screened in the pavilion. Limited camping is available for families who wish to sleep under the stars after learning about them! Read the rest of this entry »

« Older entries

%d bloggers like this: