Nature-Based Learning: Lily-of-the-Valley

In shade gardens across the Hilltowns, Lily-of-the-Valley makes its debut in mid to late May. This delicate, fragrant flower is rich in folklore and goes by many names. Learning through the lens of Lily-of-the-Valley, let the different names of this spring flower start as your guide for learning this week.

CHRISTIAN LORE: Names like “Mary’s Tears” and “Our Lady’s Tears” are associated with Christian Lore. Can you think of other flowers that are also related to Christian Lore? Have you ever heard of a Mary Garden? The University of Dayton has a list of “Flowers of Mary’s Sorrows” that are typically grown in a Mary Garden and can support learning about religion through folklore.

FOLKLORE: Pagan folklore associations can be found in the origins of alternative names of Lily-of-the-Valley, like “Jacob’s Ladder” and “Ladder to Heaven.” In Irish folklore, the bell-shaped flowers of Lily-of-the-Valley were drinking cups for fairies. When Ireland converted to a new Christian-based belief system, these two alternative names with roots in paganism took hold.

WORLD CULTURE & HISTORY: In ancient European cultures, the Lily-of-the-Valley was thought to protect homes and gardens and to bring good luck when brought into a home. Even today in France, May 1st is a public holiday, La Fête du Muguet (Lily of the Valley Day). Let this annual observation day lead your learning about French history and culture! La Fête du Muguet is a tradition that dates back to the reign of King Charles IX in 1561. In more recent history, this fragrant flower has been linked to the worker’s rights movement, where they were worn on the lapels while participating in protests and marches.

ART STUDIES & MINDFULNESS: Lily-of-the-Valley has caught the eye of many artists. Looking through the lens of this delicate flower, let it lead you to learn about art history through the many depictions of Lily-of-the-Valley, including paintings by Marc Chagall and Albert Durer Lucas. Study how these artists interpreted the color and texture of this flower and see if you can find what they saw within your own observation of Lily-of-the-Valley closer to home. Photographing and sketching, or just sitting and observing, can train your eye to notice the nuances of light and shadow, shades of white in the flower, and tones of green in the leaves. Get up-close and give the flower a sniff. Does smell engage any other senses? Might you also interpret smells with colors, sounds, or tastes? These mindful moments make your learning relevant to where you live, connecting lessons with a sense of place through the senses, and through the seasons.

Photo credit: (c) Sienna Wildfield

Nature-Based Learning with Curly Willow on the Westfield River. Nestled in the foothills of the Berkshire Mountains on the east branch of the Westfield River, Curly Willow on the Westfield is an emerging space for the passionately curious. A convergence of mindfulness and community-based education. Member, Community-Based Education Network™.

Tibetan Sand Mandala on View at UMass

“Healing the Earth”: Tibetan Sand Mandala on View at UMass Fine Arts Center Concert Stage

The Asian Arts & Culture Program at the UMass Amherst Fine Arts Center opens its 20th Anniversary season with an outstanding event that speaks to transformation and healing of our planet and ourselves. The Fine Arts Center Concert Hall stage hosts Healing the Earth: the Tibetan Sand Mandala, a visual artwork exploding with color and design, created on by eleven Tibetan monks.

Among all the artistic traditions of Tantric Buddhism, painting with colored sand ranks as one of the most unique and exquisite. In the Tibetan language this art is called dul-tson-kyil-khor.  The literal translation means a “mandala of colored powders.” This week come see eleven Tibetan monks from the Drepung Loseling Monastery at work as they use traditional instruments to lay down the finest grains of colored sand to produce a work of art that explodes with color and detail.  This unique event happens at UMass Fine Arts Center in Amherst, MA from Wednesday, September 25th – Friday, September 27th, 2013 and highlights the power of the healing arts to ignite peace and tolerance throughout the world.

Over a period of days, millions of grains of sand are painstakingly laid into place in a circular design – a mandala – drawn on a flat platform.  The mandala, using traditionally prescribed symbols, geometric shapes, and images, is used as a tool for re-consecrating the earth and its inhabitants.  The experience of viewing this sand mandala will be particularly educational for those interested in, or studying, math and geometry, visual arts and color theory, world cultures, community values and traditions, and respect for the environment.

Sand Mandalas are an ancient Tibetan art form that were used to teach compassion, environmental relations and impermanency. With Tibet being one of the last ancient civilizations, teaching kids the history behind this ancient art form can supplement their global awareness of world civilizations and cultures. Witnessing the making and destruction of one of these amazing sand mandalas joins art and history together into a creative and tactile demonstration.

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World Culture Celebrated through Music and Culinary Arts in the Berkshires this Weekend

Celebrate World Cultures through Music & Culinary Arts at the Ethnic Fair in Pittsfield, MA
Sunday, August 5th, 2012

Celebrate the many cultures and traditions that make Pittsfield and the Berkshires so vibrant at this year’s Pittsfield Ethnic Fair, a community tradition scheduled for Sunday, August 5th from noon to 6pm. This free family-friendly outdoor street festival will be held on the first block of South Street between Park Square and Housatonic Street, rain or shine. – Food from around the world will be served by local vendors, including Italian, Indian, Irish, Mexican, German, Malaysian, amongh others.

Celebrate world cultures at the annual Pittsfield Ethnic Fair this weekend!  Held on South Street in the heart of downtown Pittsfield, the fair features music, food, performances, and more!

Begin the day at an opening ceremony featuring Scottish bag pipers, learn about klezmer music while watching Klezamir perform, transport your mind to Italy at Bell Acosto’s concert, and see dance troupes (made up of dancers of all ages) perform traditional dances from all around the world.

For lunch, try German sausages with Malaysian spring rolls on the side, Italian chicken cacciatore and a traditional Indian mango lassi, or corned beef sliders straight from Ireland!  There will also be vendors, sharing goods from all around the world!

The event is a chance for families to learn about world cultures through music and food, and also to learn about their community – many of the groups performing are local, and the delicious foods available are provided by local groups and restaurants.  Families can learn together about a culture (Irish, Italian, German, Malaysian, etc.!), then discover about how it is present in their community.  Supplement studies of immigration and world cultures by visiting the ethnic fair!

This free event takes place from 12noon-5pm on Sunday, August 5th.  For more information, visit

Enjoy the Brazilian rhythms of Bossa Triba, traditional Italian ‘piazza’ music by Bell ‘Accordo, salsa from Bronte Roman and El Grupo Caliente, traditional Irish tunes from Rakish Paddy, world music from HuDost, klezmer with Klezimir, and original African songs by Appollo Nzima on two different stages at the Pittsfield Ethnic Fair this Sunday!

Want to explore world cultures at home? Music and food are a great way to introduce different cultures to your kids! Here’s a suggested list of music and cookbooks to get you started:



Family Geography Expo Open to All!

Discover the World!
Family Geography Expo at the
Berkshire Athenaeum on April 5th

Geography Expo at the Berkshire Athenaeum in Pittsfield on Thursday, April 5th. Sign up to participate or just come visit. Students visiting the expo can discover countries worldwide, learning about the global geography, world languages, cultural differences, food and more!

Learn about international cultures together as a family by participating in the annual Geography Expo, hosted at the Berkshire Athenaeum in Pittsfield, MA, sponsored by the 4-H Earth Stars Club and the Berkshire County Homeschool Community.  The event gives kids the chance to delve into learning about a country and then share what they’ve learned about the culture, customs, etc. of the place with the community.

Students are asked to sign up for a country in advance (to avoid duplication).  Then, they’ll create a display that works as a learning tool for visitors to the expo.  Visitors will be able to “tour the world” and visit the display for each country.  Kids can offer samples of traditional foods, play music from their country, or let visitors examine objects that they’ve collected from their country.

Visitors will also be given a paper passport where they can collect stamps from each country they visit- students can create their own stamp, sticker, or other marker to represent their country!

The expo is a fantastic learning opportunity for kids, no matter whether they are participating or just visiting.  Students representing countries will, obviously, learn all about their country- from the activity they can learn to appreciate and respect cultural differences.  Students visiting the expo can discover countries worldwide, learning about the global geography, world languages, cultural differences, food and more!

The event is an excellent supplement to the studies of geography, history, and culture that kids get in school.  The Geography Expo takes place on Thursday, April 5th from 5-7pm at the Bekshire Athenaeum in Pittsfield, MA and is sponsored by the 4-H Earth Stars Club and the Berkshire County Homeschool Community. To sign up as a participant, or for more information, contact organizer Teresa O’Brient:, 413-298-0099.

[Photo credit: (ccl) Woodley Wonder Works]

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