Martin Luther King Jr. & The Power of Voice

Inspiration through Voice:
Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s “I Have a Dream” Speech

During the March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom on August 28, 1963, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. called for an end to racism and the enacting of civil rights legislation (see the short documentary, The March). From the steps of the Lincoln Memorial in Washington D.C., King’s speech was delivered to an audience of over 250,000 people. The speech, now known as “I Have a Dream,” is considered one of the most important moments in the American Civil Rights Movement.

On Martin Luther King Jr. Day (3rd Monday in January), take a moment to read (or listen to!) Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s “I Have a Dream.” This speech is a defining example of the power of voice. It is a reminder of how words, voice, stories, ideas have the ability to inspire and enact positive social change to better our communities and make them more resilient and compassionate.

King’s speech speaks to the value and importance of kindness through civic engagement and community service. Finding ways to serve your local community also reveals opportunities to learn something new, meet neighbors and engage in intergenerational dialogue with others. Community service is an empowering action. Not only does it enrich our local communities, but it also enriches our own experience through the learning of new skills and activities.

Download our Jan/Feb edition of Learning Ahead: Cultural Itinerary for Western Massachusetts for embedded learning opportunities found in cultural resources that exist within the geography, history, and cultural traditions of Western Massachusetts.

Annual MLK Jr. Community Celebrations in Western MA

Annual MLK Jr. Celebrations in Western MA

Martin Luther King Jr. spoke out against civil injustice and fought for the civil rights of black Americans. His work to create a just and peaceful society is a reminder of how important civic engagement and service is in sparking positive social change and the formation of ethical communities that champion diversity, openness, compassion, and solidarity. In honor of Martin Luther King Jr.’s work, many organizations and volunteers dedicate themselves to a day of community service in honor of his commitment to social justice.

On the 3rd Monday in January, the celebration of Martin Luther King, Jr. Day offers families a three-day weekend – a treasure that can be used to engage in meaningful community-based learning opportunities. Families can take advantage of this special day honoring Dr. King’s work and lasting impact on our country by taking part in community celebrations, giving their time to be part of a day of service, or attending educational screenings and performances.  Read the rest of this entry »

Sense of Place: The Power of Voice

Winter Explorations of Local Places: Winter Sports

Winter Sports in the Snow & on the Ice some, winter is greeted with a sense of reluctance – gone are the bright sunny days of summer filled with lush deciduous trees, rushing streams, colorful wildflowers, and easy temperatures. Instead, the natural landscape changes completely as do our routines and recreational activities. Whereas summer is boisterous and full, winter is quiet and still – similar to how snow quietly builds on the ground during a storm – it’s a part of what makes wintertime feel so magical.

How do we experience the outdoors during a time of year when we are often so inclined to stay indoors, looking at the outside world from the window? are many ways to remain active and engaged with the outdoors during the winter season. Nordic skiing, alpine skiing, ice skating, and snowshoeing are a few examples of different activities that encourage New Englanders to get outside, stay fit, and maintain a healthy lifestyle while connecting them to local places during the cold winter months. Although the equipment for these winter sports has changed since their original inception due to advanced technology and contemporary materials, the basic principle has stayed the same Additionally, many of these winter activities have a history deeply rooted in New England’s past thereby connecting them to our local traditions and culture!

Download our Jan/Feb edition of Learning Ahead: Cultural Itinerary for Western Massachusetts for places to ski, skate and snowshoe in Western MA.



Nordic Skiing in Western MA

Nordic Skiing in Western MA

Accessible to skiers of all ages and abilities, nordic skiing is a favorite winter activity locally. Skiers young, old, inexperienced, and expert can take advantage of local trail systems, equipment rentals, classes, and special community events in order to experience the magic that nordic skiing adds to a Western Massachusetts winter.

Originating in snowy Scandinavia, nordic skiing has been a competitive sport since the 18th century. It provides access to nature during the winter as well as the chance to explore local outdoor places and trail systems in Western Massachusetts. Many of the nordic ski centers in our region offer lessons to beginners to help inexperienced skiers learn the basic techniques of cross-country skiing. In addition to being a fun winter sport that maintains physical fitness, it is also a way to connect with friends, neighbors and the local community whether out on the trails or warming up in the ski lodge! Read the rest of this entry »

Alpine Skiing in Western MA

Alpine Skiing in Western MA

Different from nordic skiing in equipment and technique, alpine skiing is about speed. In alpine skiing the entire boot is attached to your ski whereas in nordic skiing only the toe of the boot is attached. Nordic skiers slowly traverse a variety of terrain via trail system or off trail whereas alpine skiers go down a mountain at a higher rate of speed.

Interestingly, skiing has origins in ancient history. Wooden planks of various shapes and sizes preserved in bogs in Russia, Finland, Sweden and Norway point to a certain form of skiing used to traverse snowy terrain in colder countries. In fact, some fragments of these earlier skis have been carbon dated to around 8,000-7,000 BCE! However, what we now refer to as downhill skiing began with Norwegian Sondre Norheim (1825-1897), considered a pioneer in modern skiing. His contribution included a design of different bindings and skis with curved sides to facilitate turns; as well as the Telemark ski technique (named after the Telemark region of Norway) which combines elements of Alpine and Nordic skiing. Read the rest of this entry »

Ice Skating in Western MA

Ice Skating in Western MA skating is an activity that takes practice, but even for beginner skaters it’s still a fun activity to try with a group of friends! Rinks offer neighbors and friends a chance to come together and engage in a new or beloved activity. There are many rinks, outdoor and indoor, for ice skating in Western Massachusetts. Note that the conditions of outdoor rinks can vary daily based on the weather.

The earliest form of ice skating is thought to date back to about 3,000 years ago in Finland. The original skates used were constructed with lengths of animal bone strapped to the bottom of boots.

Skating as we understand it today originated when steel blades were added to the skates by the Dutch in the 13th and 14th centuries. The Dutch sharpened the edges of the blades to aid movement. In fact, the word “Skate” derives from the Dutch word “schaats” which means leg bone – referring to the original skate material that steel replaced.

Our local skating culture traces its roots to Scottish immigrants who brought skates with them when they resettled in the U.S. Whether you like to skate slow or fast, practice turns or hold onto the wall as you go, there’s fun for all to be had on an ice skating rink.  Read the rest of this entry »

History of Snowshoeing

History of Snowshoeing you know that snowshoeing was practiced 6,000 years ago? The world’s oldest known snowshoe was discovered in September 2016 at an altitude of 10,280 ft on the Gurgler Eisjoch glacier close to the Italian-Austrian border.

While snowshoes are used recreationally in modern day New England, the original  intended use of snowshoes was survival-based, allowing people to travel and hunt in  the winter on foot, across snowy terrain. The Native Americans developed the traditional webbed design with some of the earliest snowshoe designs measuring over 7 feet long! Their design was modeled on the observation of particular animals who were able to swiftly move through deep powdery snow.

European settlers, hunters, and trappers observed the Native American snowshoes and began to use and produce them as well.  Often these were made with white ash frames and untanned animal hide.

As industry continued to flourish in the 1900’s and cities began manufacturing more goods, the need to hunt and trap food in the winter became less of a necessity.  As a result, the snowshoe’s role in human history shifted from being functional to recreational.  Snowshoes became a way for winter hikers and walkers to experience the outdoors. The materials have also changed from wooded frames to aluminum, which allow the snowshoes to be lighter and more comfortable to wear.

Download our Jan/Feb edition of Learning Ahead: Cultural Itinerary for Western Massachusetts to learn more about the history of winter sports, including ice skating, nordic and alpine skiing.



Winter Trail Days: Snowshoeing & Nordic Skiing

Winter Trail Days: Snowshoeing & Nordic Skiing

Winter Trails is a national annual event that offers children and adults new to snowshoeing and nordic skiing the chance to try out snowshoes and cross-country skis on local trails while showcasing the health benefits of these two outdoor winter activities. These low-impact aerobic sports incorporate strength and endurance training, and can help people stay active and healthy throughout the winter months when other sports are more difficult to pursue. In Western Massachusetts, Northfield Mountain in Northfield, Notchview in Windsor, and Hilltop Orchards in Richmond often participate. Find out more at

Download our Jan/Feb edition of Learning Ahead: Cultural Itinerary for Western Massachusetts for places to ski, skate and snowshoe in Western MA.


Art and the Winter Landscape

Art and the Winter Landscape

Winter sports are ways to experience nature during the cold months.  The winter landscape and its natural beauty have inspired many artists to capture the enchantment of the winter season.

Willard Leroy Metcalf, one of the American Impressionists and a Massachusetts native, painted many natural landscapes, including The First Snow (1906), currently held at the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston. How does Metcalf capture the quiet stillness of winter in his painting? How does it compare with your experience outdoors in the winter?

Take your camera with you as you explore the winter landscape, and let the images you capture inspire you to paint, draw or write about the beauty waiting to be discovered this time of year. In doing so you will discover the quiet nature Metcalf captured in his painting.

Download our Jan/Feb edition of Learning Ahead: Cultural Itinerary for Western Massachusetts for places to take your camera while exploring the winter landscape by ski, skate and snowshoe in Western MA.


Winter Landscape: History, Art, Place & Sports

Literature & Exploring the Winter Solstice through Storytelling

Winter: A Time for Sharing Stories and Connecting with Community.

The Winter Solstice marks the shortest day of the year.  From this day forward the days become longer, offering more light as the months continue.  Earlier in the season we explored old Norse traditions which are connected to the celebration of the winter solstice.  This time of the year was known in old Norse as Yule – sound familiar? The expression “yuletide” refers to this season and has been adopted to signify the holiday season.

The winter solstice is an introspective celebration for reconnecting with nature and community. As we begin to stay indoors more and spend time with families and friends, the winter season is an opportunity to disconnect from technology and reconnect with neighbors and family.  Storytelling fosters this connection through intergenerational dialogue and shared experiences.  Read the rest of this entry »

Winter Solstice Community Events

The Ripple: Take Me To the River

Older and Stronger than Mountains and Sky: The Long Body

Let me take you to the river. I want to show you something miraculous—something that lives there that has been alive longer than the sky or the mountains. The reason I want to show you this is to make you feel good. Knowing that the life we live right now is connected to all the lives around us should make you feel good, I think. (We are not alone!) Knowing that the life we live right now is older than the sky and the mountains, well, I think that might make you feel even better. (What power we carry with us that we barely even recognize because, like the breath we just breathed, we take it for granted!) Let’s go, get out of here and down to the river! Read the rest of this entry »

Living History Museums Bring the Holiday Season Alive!

Living History Museums Bring the Holiday Season Alive!

Step back in time to a simpler day when holiday celebrations involved cooking over an open fire and illuminating homes with candlelight – the holiday season offers opportunities to experience celebrations of the past at three different living history museums! Families can explore, watch demonstrations, and engage in hands-on activities in order to learn about the ways in which the holiday season was honored in early New England.

Modern technology has certainly had an impact on the ways we decorate for and celebrate the winter holidays – early winter in New England now involves strings of lights and blow-up snowmen rather than windows lit by candles and evergreens adorned with cranberry strings.

This holiday season, families can take a step back into the past, to a simpler time when holiday celebrations involved candles and open hearth cooking. By taking advantage of upcoming holiday-themed living history events, families can dive into the history and culture of western Massachusetts’ holidays past while adding a new tradition to their own celebrations! Read the rest of this entry »

Thanksgiving: Through the Lens of Poetry, Art & Literature

Thanksgiving: Through the Lens of Poetry, Art & Literature

As mentioned in the Sept/Oct 2016 edition of Learning Ahead, food connects us. The gathering of community, family, and friends around the table for a shared meal is a meaningful way to spend time together in the spirit of sharing and collaboration through food. The Thanksgiving season is one that inspires us to reflect on the people and places for which we are thankful. It’s an opportunity to express gratitude collectively.

Today, the traditional Thanksgiving meal is a celebration of the harvest season. The dinner table features the autumn bounty produced by local farms. Customary foods often included in Thanksgiving meals include corn, turkey, cranberry sauce, and fall vegetables such as squash and pumpkin pie. In fact, the traditional New England dishes often included at the Thanksgiving table have even inspired poets in their literary musings.  Read the rest of this entry »

Sense of Place: Thanksgiving

Exploring Military History through Music

Exploring Military History through Music

The Old Guard Fife and Drum Corps in the armed forces is a part of the 3rd U.S. Infantry Regiment (The Old Guard). It is stationed at Fort Myer, VA. This unique military unit performs in uniforms based on those worn by the musicians of General George Washington’s Continental Army.  Uniforms from this time included black tricorn hats, white wigs, waistcoats, colonial coveralls, and distinct red regimental coats.

The corps features two historical music ensembles.  Watch this video and listen to The United States Army Old Guard Fife and Drum Corps play historical music:

This interesting regiment recalls New England’s historic past through its music. As mentioned earlier, our state and region were a central part of the United States’ early formation. Massachusetts was one of the original colonies and many of the patriots that participated in the Revolutionary War were from Massachusetts. The music that the United States Army Old Guard Fife and Drum Corps plays is the same music that once inspired the patriots serving in the Revolutionary War. As you participate in Veterans Day ceremonies, take a moment to listen to this early music and remember those who served this nation.

Learn more about this interesting regiment at

[Photo Credit: Sienna Wildfield]

Excerpt from Learning Ahead: Cultural Itinerary for Western Massachusetts (Seasons: Nov/Dec), a downloadable 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.




Literary Lens: Walt Whitman and the Civil War

Literary Lens: Walt Whitman and the Civil War

During the American Civil War, poet Walt Whitman spent time visiting hospitalized soldiers wounded on the battlefield.  He traveled with soldiers from one hospital to another and visited wounded soldiers daily.  As the war continued, Whitman resolved to stay in the Union and serve the wounded as they recovered from their injuries.  It was a critical moment in his life and greatly affected his poetry later.

Lifelong learners and self-directed teens are invited to read Whitman’s The Wound-Dresser along with Bart Wolffe’s reading of the same in this video file:

Read the rest of this entry »

Historical Re-Enactments Bring History to Life

Historical Re-Enactments Bring History to Life

Reenactment at Historic Deerfield.

Living history programs and events in Western Massachusetts happen all year round and include local historical re-enactors portraying the life of New Englanders centuries ago at encampments and school programs.  They often showcase the skills and activities of people during war time periods such as the American Revolutionary War or the Civil War.  Participating historians help to preserve the heritage of our region’s past and the study of American history.  In addition to encampments, some units engage in battle reenactments which are rehearsed recreations of actual battles.  Read the rest of this entry »

Featured Events: Veterans Day & Military History

Featured Events: Veterans Day & Military History

November 11th is Veterans Day, a national holiday that honors American veterans of all wars. The original date has great historical significance – the armistice that ended World War I was on November 11th, 1918.

Today, Veterans Day honors all of those who have dedicated themselves to serve our country in the armed forces. Given Massachusetts’ rich history and role in the formation of the United States from colonial and Revolutionary War times to our contemporary society today, this is a day to remember the soldiers from the past as well as those today who serve our nation. As a result, there are many ceremonies and parades that happen on Veterans Day in Western Massachusetts, such as the Springfield Veterans Day Parade as well as parades and ceremonies in Greenfield, Holyoke, Northampton and Pittsfield. The celebration and recognition of Veterans Day is a reminder of our local history, our region’s historic past, and all of the women and men who served and continue to serve our nation.

Many towns host annual ceremonies and parades. Check your town web site and our list of Weekly Suggested Events for upcoming opportunities.




Volunteer & Cultural Opportunities to Honor Veterans on Veterans Day in Western MA

Volunteer & Cultural Opportunities to Honor Veterans on Veterans Day in Western MA

November 11th is the perfect chance to honor our Veterans, and there are many opportunities to do so.

When someone has lots of experience in a profession, we call them a veteran in their field – veteran teachers likely have years and years of experience, and veteran nurses have spent decades in healthcare. When we hear the word “veteran” without the name of a profession attached to it, however, it usually means only one specific thing – military veterans. While the term “veteran” is frequently associated with those former military members who have fought in wars, it actually applies to all honorably or medically discharged former military members who served for at least two years – regardless of whether or not they engaged in combat.

Veterans Day, a national holiday celebrated every year on November 11th, provides communities with the opportunity to learn about and offer appreciation for the service provided by military veterans. While many veterans fought in wars, many others served during times when the United States wasn’t engaged in combat and supported the country by participating in community projects, offering assistance during national disasters, and offering security to important government officials and locations. Regardless of your views regarding US participation in wars, Veterans Day serves as a time to thank those who have dedicated a part of their lives to serving their country.  Read the rest of this entry »

Hilltown Families on Mass Appeal: Late Fall Community-Based Learning through Engagement

Hilltown Families on Mass Appeal: November Segment
Late Fall Learning with Hilltown Families Cultural Itinerary

Hilltown Families and Mass Appeal (a weekday, hour-long lifestyle program on NBC) have teamed up to offer a live monthly segment on WWLP 22News!  Each month, Hilltown Families’ Founder & Executive Director, Sienna Wildfield,  joins Mass Appeal hosts to talk about ways to engage in your community while supporting the interests and education of your children (and yourselves!).

This monthly segment continued on Tuesday, November 1, 2016. This month Sienna and Seth talked about ways to engage in our community in the late fall. Reviewing the newest edition of Learning Ahead, Seth and Sienna talk about learning through the lens of the food, habitat and culture found in the Nov/Dec issue of Learning Ahead: Cultural Itinerary for Western MA:

Click on the video to watch.
Download a copy of Learning Ahead: Cultural Itinerary for Western MA. (38 page PDF) for the holiday season.

Mass Appeal is a live weekday program that airs at 11am on 22News (Springfield, MA).  Our next visit to the Mass Appeal studios will be the week after Thanksgiving.





Preserving the Harvest: Local Traditions, History & Culture

Preserving the Harvest: Local Traditions, History & Culture

Pumpkin Harvest in Sunderland, MA. (Photo credit: (c) Sienna Wildfield)

It’s that time of year when the fall harvest begins to wane and a golden light fills the landscape, shining on the incredible bounty that is about to enter our homes and be served on our tables.

Nothing marks New England more than its seasonality.  A sudden chill in the air and the warming spices of pumpkin pie and hot apple cider take over our hearths and palate as we prepare to embrace the beginning of winter – only just around the corner now!

Traditionally, the harvest season was seen as a way to prepare for the oncoming colder months when the land hibernates and the growing season becomes dormant.  This is the season of food – a time to gather, prepare, preserve and share in many ways.  Whether it’s the gathering of the harvests or the gathering of family and friends to eat together, this season is about self-reliance, community, fortitude, and the preservation of cultural heritage through the culinary arts. It’s a beautiful season, one to relish and enjoy in the spirit of friendship, sharing of abundance, and preserving and processing our crops and animal food sources.

Excerpt from Learning Ahead: Cultural Itinerary for Western Massachusetts (Seasons: Nov/Dec), a downloadable 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.





History of Salted Cod and Contemporary Meat Purveyors

History of Salted Cod and Contemporary Meat Purveyors

In New England, a common cured meat was dried and salted cod.

Isn’t it amazing how cultures have so much in common through the universal need of food?  Like the prosciutto in Italy, the cod in New England was traditionally dried and salted.  When the cod was ready to be used, the fish was placed in cold water to be rehydrated with the water being changed every few days.  Read the rest of this entry »

Preservation: Curing

Preservation: Curing

Canning and preserving the season’s produce is a wonderful way to enjoy the harvest year-round.  In Western Massachusetts, canning and food preservation has become a part of our cultural identity given the incredible amount of farms and local CSA’s that allow community members to purchase local food and support agriculture at a grassroots level. While it’s a part of our modern culture today, food preservation is actually an ancient practice rooted in our human history.  In fact, one of the oldest forms of food preservation is the drying of food.  In addition to drying, there are many methods of food preservation used throughout the world, including: freezing, fermenting, pickling, curing, jam and jelly, and canning.

Take prosciutto for example.  You might have tried this Italian cured meat on a sandwich, on pizza or as a part of a cold cut platter.  Prosciutto is made from ham, and the process to cure it is quite laborious. The most famous prosciutto is Prosciutto di Parma from Parma, Italy.  The ham is not cooked like a baked ham in the oven.  Instead, it is cured raw.  The sodium from the salt helps to slow down bacteria growth and prevents the meat from going rancid.  Curing meat has been around for thousands of years and is still a common practice today. In Parma, Italy, curing the leg of pork requires a lengthy salting process.  The ham absorbs the salt, thereby drying it out and preserving it.

Watch this video to see how the ham is preserved to make prosciutto in Italy.

Read the rest of this entry »

Preservation: Jams & Butters

Preservation: Jams & Butters

A common form of preservation is making jam!  It is a traditional way to preserve those delicious summer fruits (blueberries, raspberries, blackberries, peaches) and the fall harvest (pumpkin butter, apples and cranberries).

Making jam can be an intergenerational activity that allows for skill-sharing between family members and across generations.  It’s a tradition that can be passed between friends, or passed down from grandparents to grandchildren or parents to children.  It encourages self-reliance and harmony with the seasons.

Remember Lydia Maria Child, the author featured in the Sept/Oct 2016 edition of “Learning Ahead?”  Her book, The American Frugal Housewife, includes many recipes for jams and preserves.  By preserving the fruits and vegetables from the harvest, you are also preserving a piece of cultural history here in Western Massachusetts by participating in this traditional heritage.  Read the rest of this entry »

Sense of Place: Preserving the Harvest

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