HFVS Adapted Story Episode with Guest DJs, Lee & Katie of the Story Pirates (Radio Show/Podcast)

Hilltown Family Variety Show

Adapted Story Episode with Guest DJs, Lee & Katie of the Story Pirates

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The Story Pirates take stories written by real kids and turn them into sketch comedy, songs, books, and a podcast. In today’s show, hosted by Lee from the Story Pirates, they play some of their songs based on kids’ stories, plus the songs that inspired them!

Saturday from 9-10am & Sunday from 7-8am
May 25 & 26, 2019
WXOJ LP – 103.3 FM – Valley Free Radio
Northampton, MA

Featured Video: “All 8 Unicorns,” based on an original story by Cece, age 4, from Brooklyn, NY.

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  • The Story Pirates – “Nothing Is Impossible” [Nothing is Impossible]
  • Keala Settle & The Greatest Showman Ensemble – “This Is Me” [The Greatest Showman (Original Motion Picture Soundtrack)]
  • Queen – “We Are The Champions” [The Platinum Collection]
  • Carole Shelley & Idina Menzel – “The Wizard And I” [Wicked (Original Broadway Cast Recording)]
  • The Story Pirates – “Riding A Seagull Was Good” [Nothing Is Impossible]
  • Chromeo – “Fancy Footwork” [Fancy Footwork]
  • Phoenix – “Lisztomania” [Wolfgang Amadeus Phoenix]
  • Santigold – “Disparate Youth” [Master of My Make-Believe]
  • The Story Pirates – “Fart Out Loud Day” [Nothing Is Impossible]
  • Chic – “Everybody Dance (12″ Mix)” [Dance, Dance, Dance: The Best of Chic]
  • Isaac Hayes – “Theme From Shaft” [Greatest Hits Singles]
  • The Story Pirates – “All 8 Unicorns” [Nothing Is Impossible]




HFVS Harmony Episode with Guest DJ, Renee Stahl of Renee & Friends (Podcast/Radio Show)

Hilltown Family Variety Show

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Harmony Episode with Guest DJ, Renee Stahl of Renee & Friends

The theme of HFVS this week is harmony. Our guest DJ, Renee Stahl of Renee & Friends, has been singing harmony as long as she can remember. It’s something that comes naturally to her. However, this has been a blessing and a curse, as she hears harmony in everything, from the starting of her computer to the telephone ringing. The basic definition is “ when two things come together and create a pleasant effect,” Harmony is something you need more than one person to do (unless you’re recording). She loves collaborating and singing with others and hopes listeners enjoy this episode and find someone in which to harmonize.

Saturday from 9-10am & Sunday from 7-8am
April 13 & 14, 2019
WXOJ LP – 103.3 FM – Valley Free Radio
Northampton, MA

Featured Video: Gather Round

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  • Renee and Jeremy “Wishing Well” { C’mon}
  • James Taylor “Shower the people” {In the Pocket}
  • Petra Haden “Look Both Ways Before” You Cross { Imaginaryland}
  • Toto“ Africa” {Toto IV}
  • Jennifer Paskow “Make a Circle” {Make a Circle}
  • 10CC “The Things We Do For Love” {20th Century Masters- The Millennium Collection}
  • The Rankin Family “Chi Mi Na Morbheanna” {The Planet Sleeps}.
  • Renee and Friends “Starfish and Coffee” {Simpatico}
  • Sarah Sample, Edie Carey “All the Pretty Little Horses”{Til the Morning : Lullabies and Song of Comfort}
  • Caspar Babypants “Turtle Train” {Away We Go}
  • Earth Wind and Fire “ September “ {September}
  • Saint Paul Orchestra & Bobby McFerrin “ Minuet from String Quintet No 1 in E Major” {Paper Music}
  • Renee and Jeremy “Night Mantra” It’s a Big World
  • Elizabeth Mitchell & Suni Paz “ Tres Pajarito ( Three Little Birds){Tú eres mi flor: Songs for Children en Español}
  • The Open Sea “ Starlight” {Little Apple}
  • The Story “In the Gloaming” { Grace in Gravity}
  • Crowded House “Better be home soon”{ Temple of Low Men}

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HFVS Animal Episode with Guest DJ, Flor Bromley (Podcast/Radio Show)

Hilltown Family Variety Show

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Animal Episode with Guest DJ, Flor Bromley

Animal Fun! Join Flor Bromley as she takes you on a journey through all of the different kinds of animals. We will learn about animals and dance to songs about farm animals, pet animals, jungle animals… all sorts of animals!

Saturday from 9-10am & Sunday from 7-8am
April 6 & 7, 2019
WXOJ LP – 103.3 FM – Valley Free Radio
Northampton, MA

Featured Video: In this video, Flor tells the story of a tiny mouse and a big lion. Will they get to be friends? Illustrations by Jerry Pinkney. Let’s have fun storytelling!

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  • Savage Garden – “The Animal Song” [Affirmation]
  • Joanie Leeds – “All the Animals” [What a Zoo!]
  • 123 Andres – “The Two Cows” [Arriba Abajo]
  • Mister Q- “Turkey Rap” [Thanksgiving with Mister Q]
  • Vered- “Galloping Horse” [Hello My Baby]
  • Flor Bromley – “Kitty” [Chiqui Music Boom]
  • The Hipwaders- “My Dog Steve” [The Golden State]
  • Laurie Berkner – “The Goldfish” [Victor Vito]
  • Mi Amigo Hamlet – “Pajarito” [Happy Land Tierra Feliz]
  • Suzi Shelton – “Ladybugs” [Hand In Hand]
  • Miss Nina – “How Do Dinosaurs Say Goodnight” [Sha Doo Be Doop]
  • Rolie Polie Guacamole – “Jungle Friends” [Rolie Polie Guacamole]
  • Priscilla Ahn – “Elephant” [LA LA LA]
  • Andrew & Polly – “I Want to Be a Giraffe” [Ear Snacks: Songs from the Podcast]
  • Flor Bromley – “The Zoo” [Chiqui Music Boom]
  • Laura Doherty – “Domingo The Flamingo” [In a Heartbeat]
  • Eric Herman and the Invisible Band – “Dance Like an Animal” [Snow Day!]
  • Ylvis – “What Does The Fox Say?” [The Fox (What Does The Fox Say?]

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HFVS The Art of Storytelling Episode with Guest DJ, Flor Bromley (Podcast/Radio Show)

Hilltown Family Variety Show

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The Art of Storytelling Episode
Guest DJ, Flor Bromley

Join us this week at the Hilltown Family Variety Show where guest DJ Flor Bromley, a children’s singer-songwriter, storyteller and puppeteer, will take you on an adventure through the art of storytelling. We will be listening to songs with stories, stories with a song and a live storytelling of “The Lion and the Mouse” by Flor herself. From Laurie Berkner to Pink Martini, Dragons to Bears, and a special appearance by Archie the puppet, you will enjoy all the characters we have compiled for you in this hour of fun and storytelling! – www.florbromley.com

Saturday from 9-10am & Sunday from 7-8am
Feb 4th & 5th, 2017
WXOJ LP – 103.3 FM – Valley Free Radio
Northampton, MA

Featured Video: Flor Bromley sings “Kitty” at her album release concert for “Chiqui Music Boom” at the Sugar Hill Children’s Museum of Art and Storytelling in Harlem, NYC on October 1st, 2016 with band members Sinuhe Padilla, Erik Barragan, Hector Iván Ortiz and Vanessa Caycho.

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  • Station Id: Steve Weeks [www.steveweeksmusic.com]
  • Flor Bromley – “Hola/Hello” [Chiqui Music Boom]
  • Caspar Babypants – “Annabelle Pancake” [Away We Go!]
  • Dan Crow – “Jack the Giant” [SoundSongs Revisited]
  • Flor Bromley – “Kitty” [Chiqui Music Boom]
  • Pink Martini – “Lilly”  [Hang On Little Tomato]
  • Asheba -“No More Monkeys” [No More Monkeys]
  • Miss Nina –“The Brown Bear Rap” [Sha Doo Be Doop]
  • Flor Bromley –“I am Crazy for Books” [Chiqui Music Boom]
  • Keith Munslow – “Dragon Breath” [Can’t Sit Still]
  • Laurie Berkner – “Do the Dragon” [Under a Shady Tree]
  • Live story by Flor Bromley – “The Lion and the Mouse”
  • The Tokens -“The Lion Sleeps Tonight” [The Lion Sleeps Tonight]
  • Sir Crazy Pants – “Susy” [Caddywhompus]
  • Two of a Kind  – “Tell Me You Story” [Sing Me Your Story]
  • The Okee Dokee Brothers – “Mr and Mrs Sippy” [Can You Canoe?]



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

Learning Ahead: Nov & Dec Cultural Itinerary for Western MA

Learning Ahead: Cultural Itinerary for
Western Massachusetts
Seasons: November & December

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

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

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

Looking through a seasonal lens, our Cultural Itinerary for Western Massachusetts for November and December includes:

  • Learn about FOOD preservation: Harvest, Butchers & Museums
  • Veterans Day as a CATALYST for learning: Literature, History & Music
  • Looking through the LENS of Thanksgiving: Poetry & Painting
  • VALUE based engagement: Handmade &  Non-Commercial
  • Local HABITAT connects us to myth & nature: Christmas Trees
  • PLACEMAKING with annual events: Holiday Strolls & Caroling
  • Experience other CULTURES through the holidays: Christmas, Hanukkah, Kwanzaa & Three Kings Day
  • Mark the SEASON by sharing & connecting: Winter Solstice & Storytelling
  • Engage in New England TRADITIONS: First Night & First Hikes

Click here to download PDF (38 pages).

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

Special thank you to sponsors of this issue, including: ♦ Montague BookmillNew England Air MuseumDowntown Northampton AssociationSpringfield Museums.

Learning Landscapes: Maps and Paths

Maps and Paths

Cool, crisp wind tickles our faces and delights our nose with the scents that remind me of fond childhood memories. Our bare feet relish the cool, soft dirt path that follows the stream. We walk along silently as we carefully step over the few fallen leaves that dot the path. Birds sing a different song now as they are busy preparing for what is to come and we hear the scrambling feet of small creatures foraging for food and climbing up tree trunks for safety as we approach. A few of the leaves on the underside of the poplars are starting to turn, the first of the new season (though not the first sign for those who have been observing with all our senses).

This is home.

What story do children come to know about home? We are story-making, storytelling and story-craving creatures. Stories, at least those that are remembered, are not for the mundane. The stories we continue to believe and tell is our living tradition of our time and place. It is our mythology. Mythology from our ancestors that trill the listener still today is anything but mundane. Read the rest of this entry »

Storytelling Contest in the Berkshires Celebrates a Sense of Place

Story Slam at the Clark Art Institute Celebrates a Sense of Place

Stone Hill is a prominent geological formation at the heart of the Clark’s campus.

Celebrating the Clark Art Institute’s current exhibit, Sensing Place: Reflecting on Stone Hill, a community story slam will coincide on Friday, July 22 at 7pm. Community members are invited to The Clark in Williamstown to hear and tell stories that center around the topic of place.  Stories about the place called home, a particularly meaningful place, or moments of feeling in place, out of place, or displaced are all welcome at this community story slam

On the evening of the event, names of those interested in sharing place-related stories are chosen at random, and those selected are invited to tell their stories up to five minutes in duration. A panel of judges provides feedback and prizes are awarded.  Read the rest of this entry »

Learning Landscapes: Summer Creativity Challenge

Summer Creativity Challenge

Each year my family and I do a Summer Creativity Challenge. The goal of this playful challenge is to celebrate creativity, inquisitiveness and innovation. We explore local natural resources, as well as dig through our recycling bin and challenge ourselves to design and build anything that can be imagined. Yes, it can be that simple, but we try to take it further by inviting family, friends and neighbors over to build, play, laugh, learn and strengthen community throughout the summer and beyond.

Where did the idea for our Summer Creativity Challenge come from? It was inspired and grew out of something we learned about three years ago called the Cardboard Challenge. The Cardboard Challenge was inspired by a 9-year-old boy named Caine who designed an entire cardboard arcade business. Now playful building with recyclable materials (aka Cardboard Challenge) is an annual, global event presented by Imagination Foundation. However, by extending the time we dedicate to the challenge we are able to slow down, integrate more of the natural resources in abundance in our area and cultivate on-going community connections.

In September the Imagination Foundation encourages kids of all ages, all over the world to design and build anything they can dream up using cardboard, recycled materials and imagination. Then the designers (aka the children) who worked all September invite others from their community to get together on a specified date in October to share, play and celebrate creativity knowing that other children in other communities all over the world are celebrating in play that same day.  Read the rest of this entry »

Great Big Story Shares Highlights of Human Experience

Great Big Story Shares Highlights of Human Experience

Created specifically to share human interest stories separate from daily current events news, CNN’s Great Big Story (or GBS, for short) is aptly named. The web-based project publishes videos at a rate of 3-5 per day, spotlighting cultures, communities, creatures, and other curiosities from all around the world. In doing so, GBS allows viewers to educate themselves about everything from emergencies in outer space to doctors making home visits to the homeless. While the project’s target audience is young adults, the information presented in GBS’s videos is accessible to teens and tweens, and perhaps even to older children.

While the project’s videos are numerous and their topics varied, each mini-documentary links viewers back to the same big idea: the untold stories of the world. A great many web-based projects aim to do essentially the same thing, but many emphasize the “wow” factor of such stories, and miss the true meaning behind the people, places, and ideas they spotlight. GBS, however, does both: each video features something or someone that is truly amazing, and does justice to the person or place’s story – allowing truth to be shared, and allowing viewers to utilize GBS videos as a resource for learning about the human experience and life on earth.  Read the rest of this entry »

Learning Landscapes: Re-Framing Creativity

Re-Framing Creativity

For a long time psychologists, educators and parents alike have assumed that imaginative play was most useful for learning when set in as realistic a situation as possible. However, is “real” always better than “imaginative” when it comes to the learning landscape?

Many have a fear that learning about, or at the very least not clearly distinguishing between, fantasy and reality can lead to misunderstandings and misconceptions. This assumption underestimates the importance and value of the childhood and nature design principle of “Imagination and Fantasy” as termed by David Sobel, director of Teacher Certification Programs in the Department of Education and director of the Center for Place-based Education at Antioch University New England.  Read the rest of this entry »

Word Up Family Day Explores Intersection of Visual Art and Storytelling

Word Up Family Day Explores Intersection of Visual Art and Storytelling

All art tells a story, and families are invited to explore the intersection of art and storytelling at The Clark Art Institute’s Word Up Family Day. Held on Sunday, February 7th from 1-4pm in Williamstown, MA, this free event spotlights artists’ books, artistic pieces that challenge the traditional notion of a book by telling stories through nontraditional structures and symbols (both linguistic and visual). Including a variety of storytelling and story-making activities, the event can add a community-based element to studies of the art of sharing stories.

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Let’s Play: Stories from Family Holidays to Inspire Creative Free Play

What to Play? by Carrie St. John

Stories To Inspire Creative Free Play

I was a bit of a geek as a teen so homework was completed right after school, part time job on weekends and just a handful of close friends. I spent a fair amount of free time at my older siblings’ houses playing with their kids. It was a blessing to be a part of their childhoods. I had part time, little siblings that were really my niece and nephews.

I learned a great parenting lesson from my oldest sister, Penny, nearly 25 years ago. She dives right into the winter holidays the day after Thanksgiving. She has an incredible collection including a wall of elves, a near life size snowman, a shelf of angels and a cabinet filled with Rudolph, Frosty, Grinch and Little Cindy Lou Who and all the other television characters we grew up with in the 70s and the Nativity. She makes the tree a family showcase with ornaments made over 20 years ago my her children. Holiday fills their home. When my nephew, now a college graduate and police officer, was 3 or 4 years old, she started a grand tradition that fed perfectly into his love of stories, play and imagination. A mysterious elf visited the house. The elf made tiny foot prints, ate cookies and left surprises. This was well before the current Elf on the Shelf craze. My sister created the fantasy he craved. Stories were told. Questions asked and answers often came on the fly to continue the magic of the elf for a very curious little boy. No one ever saw this elf. He came and went under the dark of night. Andrew never needed to actually see him. The stories alone kept the elf active and alive through December.

The excitement and mystery my sister created for my nephew is something I try to add to our house now. Plant a seed. Put a mind to work on the possibilities. Watch the love of a good story. Create fantasy. Give childhood a bit of magic.

What a great time of year to tell stories! Share family stories. What was this time of year like when you were little? What holidays did you celebrate? What special activities did you do? Boost family memories by telling stories about a special day spent together. Create new mysteries and adventures. What if Jack Frost did paint the windows with snowflakes? What does he look like? How does he get around the earth? Spark ideas to get your little ones telling stories and playing fantasy games. Storytelling improves vocabulary, writing and spelling. It’s fun. Stories can lead to hours of pretend play with parents, siblings, friends and visiting cousins using dress up, toy people, construction toys and tiny animals. Stories encourage children to create images in their minds bringing the story to life. Make illustrations! All ages can create stories with spoken words, drawings or detailed written tales.

December Collections

We are always collecting and saving items in bins and on shelves for creative projects. This month maybe games or a book or two related to story telling and a game to spark an idea:

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December Resources

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Carrie St. JohnCarrie St. John

Carrie was born, raised and attended university in Michigan. As a child she rode bikes and explored her rural neighborhood freely with siblings and neighbor kids. Mom and Dad never worried. The kids always made it home after hours wading in the creek and climbing trees in the woods. After college she moved to Kyoto, Japan to study traditional Japanese woodblock printing. In 1995, she began a career at a small Chicago firm designing maps and information graphics. Life brought a move to Northampton in 2001. Carrie completed her MFA at UMass in 2004. Her little love, Sophia, was born in 2005. The two live in downtown Northampton where they constantly make things, look forward to morning walks to school and plan each spring for additions to their plot at the community garden. Carrie continues to do freelance work for clients here and in Chicago.

Comics & Role-Playing Gaming Promote Creativity & Storytelling for Teens

Comics & Role-Playing Gaming Promote Creativity & Storytelling for Teens

Serving as a continuation of innate childhood creativity, comics and role-playing games offer maturing tweens and teens the opportunity to exercise imagination and creativity within complex structures. Comics challenge readers’ ability to combine textual and visual elements for understanding, while role-playing games challenge players by containing creative story-telling to a pre-existing structure. Families can utilize a handful of community resources to pursue these interests!

As children grow and move through the early stages of human development, their innate creativity runs wild, allowing their imaginations to know no bounds. Children are expert storytellers and clever artists. But sometimes this creativity gets lost as children move towards the adolescence and early adulthood – as children mature, they sometimes outgrow the creative outlets that they once enjoyed.

Serving as filler for the hole created by the outgrowing of childhood creativity are comics and role-playing games, both of which serve as a more complex form of creative storytelling for older children, teens, and adults. Comics and role-playing games touch upon the fantasy-driven storytelling that is a hallmark of childhood, but put this practice into a much more sophisticated structure. Comics offer complex stories that weave real-life with fantasy in engaging narratives in a format that uses both textual and visual elements – making them appealing to and engaging for creative readers. Readers of comic books (and their graphic novel cousins) not only read words, but take cues from the visual elements included – engaging their abilities to comprehend language and visual cues simultaneously.  Read the rest of this entry »

Getting Your Family Tales Down & Punctuation Up!

Documenting Family Stories is a Fun Winter Activity that Support Language Arts


Getting a story down in paper makes it last forever.

While spring, summer, and fall easily lend themselves to outdoor exploration, winter sends us a clear message to hunker down and cozy up next to the fire or radiator. But what is an active family to do when weather dictates that adventures be brief and close-to-home (if at all)? The secret to a winter that is simultaneously adventure-filled, warm, and cozy is to have adventures in your minds. Active bodies can easily slow themselves for a few months if their equally active brains are frequently engaged in mental adventures. Winter is a time for stories. Read the rest of this entry »

Photography Exhibits Capture Scenes of Everyday Life at Home and Abroad

Local Photography Exhibits Illuminate Regional Histories

This month, two photography exhibitions in Western Massachusetts will offer audiences a similar, yet very different, viewing experience.  Lisa Quiñones’ Balkan Odyssey, now on view at Easthampton City Arts+ Gallery, and Chester Michalik’s Northampton In Time, on view at Historic Northampton starting Friday, July 11, both contain photographs of everyday life and scenes in their respective regions: Serbia, Bosnia, and Croatia, and Northampton, Mass. Read the rest of this entry »

Legacy of Music, People and Place: Holyoke 1800 – 1950

Wistariahurst Museum is launching a new historical and cultural project entitled, Legacy of Music, People and Place: Holyoke 1800 – 1950. With funding support from the Holyoke Cultural Council and the Country Dance and Song Society, Jacqueline Cooper is collaborating with the museum as the Project Director and is working to develop sketches of Holyoke’s past to form a collective of local music culture from 1800-1950.

Cooper and Wistariahurst are seeking to include community members of Holyoke and nearby towns to participate by sharing personal music-related memories. They are looking for community members, elders, descendants of earlier settlers, immigrants, and travelers who can share stories or family anecdotes related to particular songs that were listened to, played, sung, danced to and enjoyed in households, factories, at gatherings, or in clubs, churches, community centers, etc. They are looking for stories that not only represent local culture, but also reflect what working people at the heart of the community thrived on.

Do you, your parents, your grandparents, have a memory to share? Being interviewed for this project is an inspiring opportunity to have a music-related memory as part of Holyoke’s cultural heritage collection.  The research is the foundation for Legacy of Music, People and Place: Holyoke 1800 – 1950, a live music and storytelling production to be performed at Wistariahurst in July of 2014.
Click here to find out how to participate…

Storytelling Tour at Storrowton Village Museum Highlights the Civil War

Storrowton Village Host Interactive Tour: Civil War
West Springfield, May 28th

The storytelling tour at Storrowton Village in West Springfield, MA recognizes the 150th anniversary of the beginning of the Civil War on Tuesday evening, May 28th. Those who are intrigued and fascinated by Civil War history and want to learn more about life during this period, are urged to attend this unique and educational learning experience. Storrowton Village plans to present four such programs each year.

Storrowton Village will present an interactive, educational tour titled Storrowton and the Civil War, Tuesday, May 28, from 6-7pm, offering an inside look at how folks in the Northeast coped with the Civil War and the absence of our men who were called to duty or joined the patriotic fervor.

Participants will meet “townspeople” and hear their personal stories and points of view regarding the Civil War. Storrowton Village volunteers will be portraying the characters of the time as visitors travel through the Village’s historic buildings meeting residents, shopkeepers, farmers, family members, and tradesmen along the way, all with information and their own experiences to share.

Read the rest of this entry »

Let’s Play: Simple Games & Storytelling

What to Play? by Carrie St. John

Simple Games

A favorite game, Guess Which Hand, can be used to help tell stories, promoting childhood literacy! Choose a tiny object that has a special family memory or something fun to start a story about your day as a parent…

We recently attended literacy night at our school. My little one enjoys any and all extra free time with friends on school grounds. Whatever the activity, she loves to go. She asks to go to PTO meetings. It means time being silly in school running about and connecting with friends from other grades. Literacy night was perfect for her. Many friends from class, a storyteller/musician and to make it perfect—the parents were ushered into another room to hear from a literacy expert. Parent free silly time.

While the kids heard fantastic tales and played instruments in a very interactive experience (we could hear them across the school), the parents were reminded of early literacy basics such as daily reading with our children and practicing language skills at home. The imagination and ideas that result from reading stories together help in so many areas of early learning. We were given a bit of parent homework on literacy at various stages. I’ll add it to my summer reading and research stack. I try to leave events like this with one item to work on. One thing is manageable. More can be too much during the crazy end of school year rush. One extra on top of culture night, science fair and field day. The facilitator’s point that resonated with me this night—the average child only experiences 3 minutes of one on one, eye to eye conversations each day. The reminders to empty backpacks and put dirty clothes in the hamper do not count. She was talking about real one on one conversations about your day, friends or the playground happenings. Time where you both sit and truly listen to each other. I can top 3 minutes.

Read the rest of this entry »

24 Community Highlights: Beneski Museum to MASS MoCA. Hansel & Gretel to Stone Soup.

The holidays are a great time to share family stories and legends from different cultures and traditions. One such story is that of the Christmas Spider. Check out this post from our archives, The Christmas Spider & the Legend of Tinsel, to read about one child’s own personal legend of the Christmas Spider, and how the legend of the Christmas Spider is told in other cultures too. You can also learn to make your own Christmas Spider holiday cards in our archived post, DIY: Christmas Spider Holiday Cards. (Photo credit: Sienna Wildfield)

Beneski Museum to MASS MoCA. Storytelling to Marionettes. Hansel & Gretel to Stone Soup. Classical Music to Chemistry… 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!


There’s still a lot of holiday cheer to be had before December 25th! There are several opportunities for kids to visit with Santa before Christmas Day. He will be making appearances at the Pelham Library, Colonial Theatre in Pittsfield, Look Park in Florence, Buttery Brook Park in South Hadley, Lord Jeffrey Inn in Amherst, and Yankee Candle in South Deerfield. There’s also time to take in a couple of holiday classics, like performances of A Christmas Carol with PaintBox Theatre in Northampton and Berkshire Theatre Group in Pittsfield, or a screening of It’s a Wonderful Life at the Amherst Cinema and the Mahaiwe Performing Arts Center in Great Barrington.


The holiday season is a great time to share stories with friends and family. In this month’s column, “What to Play? Play Ideas for Family & Community,” Carrie St. John writes about how stories can lead to hours of pretend play and how they can encourage children to create images in their minds bringing the story to life. She also shares great games to help spark storytelling with friends and family.

If you enjoy storytelling at home, be sure to check out Cheli’s list of recommended children’s picture books for stories on the many of the holiday traditions she wrote about last year in her monthly column, “Open Sesame: Kid Lit Musings & Reviews.” If you’d like to get out into your community, there are several storytelling events to take the family to.

Celebrate the season by sharing stories about holding onto light and love during the darkest part of the year at the solstice storytelling celebration at the Magical Roundhouse in Colrain on Saturday evening. On Sunday evening, a special Luminarium Storytime takes place at the Hatfield Library.

During school vacation week there are several stories being told at area museums using puppets and marionettes. At the Eric Carle Museum of Picture Book Art, CactusHead Puppets presents, “The Emperor’s New Clothes,” on Wednesday morning, Dec 26th in Amherst. Later in the afternoon, puppeteer Carl Sprague will present a marionette production of the classic Brothers Grimm tale, “Hansel and Gretel” at Ventfort Hall in Lenox, then again on Thursday, Dec 27th & Friday, Dec. 28th. Then again at the Carle Museum on Friday, Dec 28th, Tom Knight Puppets presents, “Stone Soup and Other Tales,” a collection of songs and skits for all ages.


After Christmas Day, many museums will be holding special hours and offering additional programming for school vacation, Dec. 26th-30th.

Kids get free admission at Old Sturbridge Village during the school break (and in Jan. too!), and families can enjoy a host of historic and seasonal activities, including (weather-dependent) sledding and skating! There will also be indoor performances, craft demonstrations, and hands-on activities. Families can learn about life in early New England, and the many different skills and resources that 1830s life required.

Historic Deerfield in South Deerfield continues to celebrate the holidays during winter break with traditional decorations, open hearth cooking demonstrations, and craft making. Visitors will learn about holiday celebrations in early New England, as well as the sweeteners and spices used in baking (and where they came from!) in Deerfield’s early days.

Lions and Tigers and Museums, Oh My!, will be on view at the Sterling and Francine Clark Art Institute’s Stone Hill Center in Williamstown, utilizing video, hands-on activities, taxidermy, and innovative displays. Bring the kids while off from school to be a part of this exciting learning environment for all ages!

The Beneski Museum of Natural History at Amherst College is offering special hours for school vacation! Families can visit the museum for free to learn about everything from dinosaur bones to how the Pioneer Valley was shaped – the museum is home to hundreds of plant and animal fossils, taxidermic animals of numerous species, and lots of exhibits on geology and mineralogy.

MASS MoCA in North Adams is open and offering lots to see and do for families during school vacation (as well as on Christmas Eve)! The KidSpace will be open, and there will be museum tours (for older students), as well as a special tour of the Sol Lewitt exhibit. Families can explore the museum galleries and learn about the many different pieces on exhibit.

The Springfield Museums have activities happening each day during the holiday vacation week. There will be a combination of planetarium shows, science demonstrations, activities to accompany their Gingerbread Fairy Tales Exhibit, and daily performances. Performances through Dec. 30th including Charismatic Comedy Magic, The Realy MCoy Show, Dinoman Dinosaurs, and BubbleMania.

Make your own comic book art at drop-in workshops at the Norman Rockwell Museum in Stockbridge during school vacation! The museum is currently hosting an exhibit of comic book art by Alex Ross, and the activities included in the workshops will give kids a chance to create their own comic book-style artwork. Superheroes will be roaming the museum, too – be sure to visit the galleries to find them!


On Thursday afternoon, Dec. 27th, kids can be mad scientists at the Berkshire Museum in Pittsfield. 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.

Richard Perlmutter presents Beethoven’s Wig at the Berkshire Athenaeum in Pittsfield on Friday afternoon, Dec. 28th in a free performance. Hailed as opening the door to classical music in a way that’s fun for kids, Beethoven’s Wig is now honored as great family musical entertainment. Here’s an award-winning animated video of Beethoven’s Wigs version of Beethoven’s 5th Symphony:

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 Tales of Life in Western MA


According to Kara Kitchen of Plainfield, the only good thing about having to commute out of the Hilltowns to shop for anything more than milk, butter & eggs, is that you get to come home to the Hilltowns! The Williamsburg Market (pictured here during the holidays) is a fine place to find eggs, butter & milk! As are the Old Creamery in Cummington, Elmer's in Ashfield and McCusker's in Shelburne Falls. (Photo credit: Sienna Wildfield)

Garrison Keillor, the legendary author, storyteller, humorist, and creator of the weekly radio show A Prairie Home Companion, is making a stop in Northampton tonight.  Keillor said he plans to retire in “the spring of 2013,” in an interview with AARP, so this maybe his final visit to Western MA.  In light of his visit to the Happy Valley, we asked our readers to share a brief anecdote of family life in Western MA.   Here’s what they had to share:

Donna DuSell of Greenfield MA writes, “I was born in Greenfield and raised in Montague. My Dad worked for the state road crew. He would never pass up the opportunity to plow and make extra money. So while others prayed for snow on Christmas and New Year’s we prayed for clear weather. — Once when I was about five my Mom and sister were out somewhere when my Dad got the call to plow. He decided to take me with him rather than pass up the work. I sat between him and his partner as we plowed the roads in the dark, in this big truck I beleive they called the “Osh Kosh.” My feet did not reach the edge of the seat. — Probably couldn’t do that today. At least he wasn’t an air traffic controller, and at no time was I allowed to drive!”

Michelle Budig of Williamsburg, MA writes, “We moved to Williamsburg, MA from Philadelphia in 2001. We knew we were “home” after our dog escaped from our car while house hunting, was taken to the local vet by local Burgians, and the vet tracked us out-of-towners down at the Williamsburg Market where word had gotten out that the house hunters had lost their dog…. we were reunited with her only two hours after losing her.”

Helene Leue of Ashfield, MA writes, “Being asked if I lived at “Miss Freedman’s old place” and responding that yes we did, she was my husband’s godmother and having the person start telling us stories about Miss Freedman as a young woman in the early 1920s when the storyteller was a young girl. Realizing a nice sense of family history.”

Kathy Morrissette of Adams, MA writes, “In our town of Adams it doesn’t matter how old you are you are the little kid who played in someones yard or rode your bike too fast down the suicide hill. Now that I am in my late 50′s, I am comforted by the thought of a small town, familiar people, local merchants and teachers that had you in second grade.”

Kara Kitchen of Plainfield, MA writes, “The ONLY good thing about having to commute from the hilltowns is that you come home to the hilltowns! It takes 45 minutes in any direction to find a store with more than milk, butter+eggs, hardly ever have to pass another car (maybe a tractor or 2!), get to watch out for the deer, moose+bear, and the beautiful scenery changes everyday!”

Glenda Datsko of Millers Falls, MA writes, “Planting seasonal gardens, canning, caring for the neighbors chickens while they are away for the weekend and getting to keep the eggs….ahhh the good life. We planned on heading to NH for Thanksgiving and got a call the day before that a snow storm had gone through on Tuesday night and they were without power. I ran to Diemand farm and got the last turkey in the case to cook and bring with us.”

Julie Russell of Granby, MA writes, “Moved to Western MA two years ago from “a big city” and saying that it has taken some adjustment is an understatement. However, when a neighbor stops by and knocks on your door to tell you that you left your car light on in the driveway, so you don’t loose all of your battery — things have a way of looking up.”

Lisa Berry of Amherst, MA writes, “Western MA is great for families who like to get outside and into nature, so many opportunities so close by! Everyone is very stand-offish, a New England trait, so you don’t have to deal with people if you don’t want to. If you do want to deal with people, you can head to Yankee Candle at Christmastime! We love it!”

Libby Maxey of Conway, MA writes, “Western MA seems to me to be the land of dogs, and of friendly neighbors. (This west coast native has not seen much of the aloof New Englander in her six years here.) The couple down the street from us recently adopted two dogs, one of which shares a name with my 3-year-old. They made sure to bring him over for a visit so that each Henry could be properly introduced to the other!”

Jessica Larkin of Bernardston, MA writes, “It’s fun to live here, our lives revolve with the seasons. One of our favorite activities is finding butterfly eggs or caterpillars and assisting through their stages of life until the butterflies emerge. Such a wonderful way to learn about the circle of life!”

Susan Clark of Shelburne Falls, MA writes, “We live in Shelburne Falls and the seasons in Western Mass are so full and fun! In Spring we look forward to hiking the local parks and find pools full of tadpoles and salamander eggs!”

Tammy Ciak of Southwick, MA writes, ” Our family life involves coming home from work each day to our dog Bandit who is like our child. We have a pony, chickens & cats too. I am a law school educated girl with a farmer’s heart.”

Diane Kanzler of Greenfield, MA writes, “My best childhood memories are from when we lived on my grandpa’s farm in the Berkshires. On hot summer days after the chores were done, he’d scoop up us kids with the bucket loader of his tractor and dump us in the pond. About as good as it gets!”

Mariana Luz of Shelburne Falls, MA writes, “I love living in Western Mass; came here for school 25 years ago and never left. I raised my kids in Amherst, great town to raise children! Now I live in Shelburne Falls, which is the best place to live in the valley. People and very friendly, I love the small town, all the artists and I can walk to The Bridge of Flowers!”

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Ticket & Music Giveaway: Family Performance with Bill Harley

Sunday, January 23rd @ 1:30pm
At Flywheel Arts Collective in Easthampton, MA

Hilltown Families and Spare the Rock present…

Hilltown Families & Spare the Rock present Bill Harley in his triumphant return to the Pioneer Valley as part of the fantastic No Nap Happy Hour Series at Flywheel in Easthampton, MA! Enter to win a family 4-pack of free tickets along with a copy of his newest Grammy nominated CD, "The Best Candy in the Whole World". Deadline to enter to win, 01/19/11 by 7pm (EST).

Grammy award winning storyteller Bill Harley will be singing songs and telling stories at  Flywheel Arts Collective in the Easthampton Old Town Hall on Sunday, January 23rd at 1:30pm as part of the on-going No Nap Happy Hour Series.  Families are invited to come sit and listen to Bill’s funny and engaging stories and songs.

“Harley delivers an uninhibited performance with wry sense of humor and has a love of life we can all share…” — Los Angeles Times

“He combines wry observation with well-crafted folk, pop and rock music to tell tales that tickle the funny bone and tease the brain.” – Boston Globe

Hilltown Families is giving away a family 4-pack of free tickets to see this show, along with 2 copies of Bill Harley’s newest CD release, The Best Candy in the Whole World. Deadline to enter to win is 01/19/11. Find out how to enter to win below.


A two-time Grammy award winning artist, Bill Harley uses song and story to paint a vibrant picture of growing up, parenting and modern family life. Poignant and hilarious, his work spans the generation gap, reminds us of our common humanity and challenges us to be our very best selves.

A prolific author and recording artist, Bill is also a regular commentator for NPR’s All Things Considered and featured on PBS. Harley joined the National Storytelling Network’s Circle of Excellence in 2001 and tours nationwide as an author and performing artist.  Harley is the recipient of the 2010 lifetime achievement award from RI Council for the Humanities “for his use of music, song, and story in building community; promoting our common humanity; and encouraging lifelong learning, exploring and growing”.

Bill is the author of numerous children’s books and is working on a new project relating to school culture. His new collection of stories and songs, The Best Candy in the Whole World, was nominated for a 2011 Grammy Award in the Best Spoken Word Album for Children category. Harley also just published a new book for parents and educators called Between Home and School: Letters, Notes and Emails.

Find out more about Bill Harley at www.BillHarley.com.


Started by Bill Childs of Spare the Rock in 2009, the No Nap Happy Hour concert series continues at it’s new location, Flywheel (43 Main St., Easthampton, MA).  The series has been featuring the kinds of bands that seem to have taken their cue from They Might Be Giants in believing that kids’ music doesn’t have to condescend or, well, suck. The series has brought many fantastic acts to the Pioneer Valley, including Secret Agent 23 Skidoo, Gustafer Yellowgold, AudraRox, Bill Harley, Justin Roberts, Lunch Money, Uncle Rock and the Deedle Deedle Dees. www.sparetherock.com


The Flywheel Arts Collective’s new home (Easthampton’s Old Town Hall) is a delightful space for families to come enjoy fabulous family entertainers! Home of the Easthampton Family Center, Flywheel is a collectively run, not-for-profit space, aimed at building community and giving artists opportunities to craft, practice, and perform their work in an environment where creativity is valued over profit. Volunteer-run and governed by consensus, Flywheel believes that art and information should be equally accessible and affordable to all people. www.flywheelarts.org


Your chance to win a family 4-pack of free tickets to see storyteller Bill Harley at Flywheel Arts Collective in the Easthampton Old Town Hall on Sunday, January 23rd at 1:30pm, or a copy of Bill Harley’s newest CD release, The Best Candy in the Whole World, is as easy as 1-2-3 (4)!  To win simply:

  2. RECOMMEND A SONG FOR OUR COMMUNITY PLAYLIST and be sure to tell us your
  3. FULL NAME (first/last) and where you
  4. LIVE (TOWN/STATE) must include your town to be eligible.
  5. ACCURATE EMAIL (we never share your email address)
  6. We’ll randomly draw our winners and will share the results below.

IT’S THAT SIMPLE! — Deadline to enter to win: Wednesday, January 19th, 2011 at 7pm (EST). We will randomly select three winners.  One winner will receive 4 tickets, and two additional winners will receive a CD.  If you can’t make the concert but would like to enter to win a CD, please note you are entering to win just a CD.

If you don’t win, you simply still must come!  Bill Harley is a fabulously funny entertainer and the show will be a great way to spend a Sunday in January. Tickets can be purchased in advance online HERE and are $8 in advance/ $10 door. Family 4-pack: $25 in advance, $35 door.  Flywheel is located in the Easthampton Old Town Hall at 43 Main St.

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