*Hosted visit with the City of Pittsfield. All ideas and opinions expressed are that of the writer, Gunjan Prakash. Find additional disclosure information at the bottom of this article.*
Hancock Shaker Village in Pittsfield, MA, is a must-visit for families with kids of all ages! Located in the Berkshires, just a short drive from Boston, the historic village is home to several preserved buildings and artifacts from the Shaker religious community that once inhabited the site. If you’re looking for a day of historical fun, look no further than one of the best activities in the Berkshires for kids! Families can explore the buildings, learn about the Shaker way of life, and see firsthand how the community once operated. The village also offers many kid-friendly activities, including farm animals and various hands-on demonstrations. When visiting Hancock Shaker Village with kids, there are a few things to know – including the different tours, how to explore the property, and more. Based on my recent visit with my family, here’s a helpful guide to visiting Hancock Shaker Village with kids!
What is Hancock Shaker Village, and Why is it Great for Kids?
Hancock Shaker Village is a living history museum that tells the story of a religious group who settled in the Berkshires in the 1780s: the Shakers. The village includes 20 original buildings, including a meeting house, a barn, a tannery, a school, and several homes. If you and your family enjoy learning about history and culture, then Hancock Shaker Village is a scenic, historical, and educational walk back through time you will definitely enjoy. It’s beautifully restored, maintained, and preserved, so it will surely impress everyone in your family! Plus, there is plenty of free parking nearby too.
It’s an especially great place to visit with kids because they can see how the Shakers lived simply. Interactive tours and exhibits will also teach everyone in your family about the Shakers’ unique beliefs in hard work and self-reliance. There are also plenty of fun activities for kids, such as a children’s play area, petting animals, arts and crafts, and more. Indeed, the farm animals are a big hit with little ones, and they’ll love seeing the cuddly creatures all up close. Finally, homeschool and worldschool families, in particular, will appreciate visiting this unique learning environment.
Start at the Visitors Center
Upon arrival, start your trip at the Visitor Center. Here, you can pick up a map, explore a small exhibit, and watch a short film about the Shakers. If you don’t know anything about the Shakers, this is the best way to set a foundation for learning more as you explore the grounds.
If you don’t want to take an actual tour (or want a fun addition to your trip when you’re not on tour), take advantage of the audio tour via the Hancock Shaker Village app. This is a great way to learn about the history and culture of the Shakers while exploring the village. It includes commentary from experts on the history and culture of the Shakers, as well as stories from former residents of the village. Since the tour is self-guided, you can explore at your own pace.
Now that you have your map and basic information about the Shakers, let’s discuss your tour options as you explore one of the best things to do in the Berkshires with kids.
Staying in the area? Read our article to plan A Perfect Weekend Getaway Itinerary For Families in Pittsfield, The Berkshires, MA!
Activity Schedule & Tours at Hancock Shaker Village
When you arrive, pick up a copy of the available tours from the Visitor Center. Different tours happen at different times of the day. Each tour takes you through various parts of the property, so you can decide based on your own interests and schedule. We go further into depth about the tour options below. You could easily spend hours exploring the grounds, so make sure to save enough time to see everything and consider which tours you want to prioritize before arriving.
The guided tours are wonderful because they beautifully embody the Shaker’s innovations and lifestyle, and demonstrate how they lived, worked, and worshiped. Each guide is knowledgeable about the historical background, daily way of life, and the progressive way they utilized their resources to improve efficiency. For example, the Shakers used water turbines powered by a large reservoir fed by a mountain stream. You will definitely want to add a guided tour or two to your visit, as they rank highly amongst the best activities in the Berkshires for kids. At the time of publishing, here are the tours and times to be aware of as you plan your visit to Hancock Shaker Village with kids.
Specific Tours & Times
Wondering how to plan your schedule when preparing for a family visit to Hancock Shaker Village in Pittsfield, MA, with kids? While these may change during your visit, here are some examples of what to expect when visiting Hancock Shaker Village as a family, including tours and times!
- At 10:30 AM, there’s a Round Stone Barn Tour, followed by an introduction to the Shakers at 11 AM.
- Next, at 12 PM, there is a Farm & Garden Tour. Then, a Water Turbine Demonstration at 1 PM.
- There’s also a Shaker music and dance demonstration at 1:30 PM, as well as a Medicinal Herb Tour at 2:30 PM.
- At 3 PM, families can join a guest speaker in the Brick Dwelling meeting room to learn more about the Shakers through interesting lecture topics.
- At 4 PM, there’s also another Round Stone Barn Tour, with another Water Turbine demonstration to follow at 4:30 PM.
Pro Tip: Keep in mind that the property is quite large, and that tour times and buildings are not necessarily laid out in sequential order. Depending on which guided tours you want to attend, map out your day to maximize your route and time. This can save you from crisscrossing back and forth too many times throughout the day. With that said, I highly recommend attending all the tours you can or, at least, catching the water turbine demonstration later in the day. A few of the tours are repeated, so if you plan accordingly, you’ll likely get a chance to see them all. Click here to look at a map of the property.
A Day at Hancock Shaker Village for Families
Now that you know where to begin your day and the different tour times available, let’s go through the many buildings and other features of Hancock Shaker Village. This section will help you plan which areas to prioritize so that you can map out your day and plan the best sequence of exhibits or tours for your time and interest. Since this is one of the best things to do in the Berkshires for families, you’ll definitely want to know how to maximize your day!
Located near the Visitor Center, the Village Museum is perfect for people who love to walk and discover new things. It’s interactive and engaging, with exhibits that teach kids about the history of the Shakers through artifacts, documents, and photographs. You can also see how the Shakers lived through the recreation of their homes and furniture. The Village Museum is a must-visit for anyone interested in American history. For example, there’s a current exhibition about how Shakers invented the flat broom, both for practical reasons and as a spiritual object. It’s always full of activities and other things to do during the day, too, including weekday tours. Indeed, this is one of the best places to start your tour of the grounds, as it is chock-full of great information and is located near the Visitor Center.
Alternatively, depending on your tour or arrival time, you may begin your visit at the Brick Dwelling. Dating back to 1830, this building is where the Shakers lived, slept, ate, and worshiped. The dwelling is spacious enough to house about 100 Shakers in dormitories with kitchens, storerooms, meeting rooms, and dining areas. The architecture was remarkably modern for its time – it even boasted male and female quarters. Families can tour the inside of the building to see the kitchen, utensils, and elaborate dining hall. Then, visit the space where they worshipped. This extraordinary building also had a few floors for families to explore at their leisure, as well as a demonstration of Shaker music and dance. There’s even a “Please Touch” room where kids can freely interact with history!
Shaker Music and Dance
Families can also learn about Shaker Music and Dance in the Brick Dwelling. In addition to their architectural advances, the Shakers also developed a unique form of song and dance to express their religious beliefs. Completed in unity, the movements are often fluid and graceful, reflecting the importance of order and harmony in all aspects of life. It also was said to strengthen the Shakers’ connection to the natural world and God. You can instantly feel this history when you step inside the large Brick Dwelling. Here, families also have the opportunity to watch a demonstration of the dance (offered at specific times).
After the demonstration, you’re welcome to try out the moves under the guidance of a professional! The staff was great at teaching the steps and history behind the music and dance. My kids had a blast participating in the activities! It’s a great way to bond as a family, get children moving, and have fun. Overall, it was a wonderful experience. I highly recommend it to anyone interested in learning more about Shaker culture.
Water Turbine Demonstration
Hancock Shaker Village offers a variety of demonstrations throughout the day, including a water turbine demonstration at the site’s Laundry and Machine Shop. My kids really loved this part of our visit! This demonstration shows how water can power a turbine, which in turn can generate electricity. It’s a great way to learn how the Shakers used hydropower to power their mills and other machinery. Men in the Shaker Village worked at the machine shop to do woodwork, whereas women used the facility for laundry. Partnering with engineers and artisans, they applied sound engineering principles to drive their business efficiently. Even if you’re not interested in engineering or manufacturing, the exhibit and demonstration are engaging, informative, and educational for kids.
Seeing such advancements in action will excite curious kids because it demonstrates how our world has evolved from past times. After the demonstration, kids can even try their hand at operating the water wheel themselves! Undoubtedly, this demonstration is one of the best activities in the Berkshires for kids.
The Round Stone Barn
The Round Stone Barn is one of the most iconic buildings at the Hancock Shaker Village. Built in 1826, it was used as a hay barn, dairy barn, horse barn, and carriage house. It was constructed of stone and is round in shape, which is very unusual for a barn. Adding to the beauty of this magnificent building, there are historical touches like a hay wagon corridor running through the center and decentralized air shafts for ventilation.
Exploring the barn was quite informative, as my family learned about how the Shakers used different levels to move hay, grain, and other materials around easily. We also saw some of the equipment they used for milking cows and making butter and cheese. My kids enjoyed seeing all the animals and learning about how the Shakers cared for them. In fact, chickens roam the barn freely!
In fact, this is still a working farm! With a nod to Shaker tradition, the farm continues to practice a distinctive kind of farming (rooted in historic Shaker farming principles and modern regenerative agriculture). Families can see sheep, cows, chickens, and gardens in the barnyard. Indeed, kids will love freely exploring this area. Finally, in the fall, the leaves on the trees turn red and gold, making Hancock Shaker Village even more picturesque!
Discovery Barn & Schoolhouse
Hancock Shaker Village is also home to the Discovery Barn, a historic building that’s now an interactive educational space for kids. From arts and crafts to hands-on activities like wool spinning, there are plenty of activities to keep children entertained. With interactive stations throughout the space, kids have limitless ways to be creative. My kids loved the stations where they could “wear a Shaker costume,” learn how to milk a cow, create a felt beaded necklace or bracelet, and do many other hands-on activities. Weaving was especially popular with my children, too; it allowed them to get hands-on while learning a fun new skill. This area is great for young kids 12 and under.
Kids can also take a 19th-century school lesson (from a teacher in costume!) at the Schoolhouse. They can learn to spell with letter boards, write with a quill pen, and receive specific instructions on how to be a Shaker child. For families who homeschool or worldschool, this is a particularly great opportunity to add to your schedule.
Shaker Village Farm & Forest Trail
There’s no shortage of things to see and do at Hancock Shaker Village with kids. Though, one of the highlights is definitely the Shaker Village Farm & Forest Trail. This one-mile loop trail takes you through pastureland and forests adjacent to the historic village and behind the Round Stone Barn. It provides some fantastic countryside views and is a nice break from historical tours and activities. Plus, it’s suitable for all skill levels and only takes around half an hour to complete. There are plenty of opportunities to stop and explore along the way or enjoy a family picnic lunch. Keep an eye out for the Shakers’ special maple trees – and you may even see some cows in the pastures!
Appreciate the autumn views on one of The Best Fall Foliage Tours by Train, Boat, or Car in the Northeast for Families!
Other Things to Do at Hancock Shaker Village with Kids
In addition to touring the homes and surrounding forests, there are several other activities for kids at Hancock Shaker Village. You can continue to explore some other village buildings, which are really fascinating. There are illustrations of traditional Shaker furniture, crafts, and tools showing how they lived. One building we particularly enjoyed was the Trustees’ Parlor, which features some lovely Victorian architecture and great cabinetry and furniture. Kids can also visit the WoodWorking Shop, where they can practice their skills with an expert volunteer. It is super interactive and a great place for kids to see how the Shakers made their furniture and other household items. Demonstrations at the Blacksmith’s forge are equally engaging for all ages. Finally, you can also visit the Tannery, Store, Hired Men’s Shop, and Ice House.
As you can see, there are so many unique things to see and learn here. If you don’t plan accordingly, you may run out of time. Undoubtedly, all the tour guides and volunteers are kind and detailed in their explanations about each topic. There is also an on-site cafe, ideal for a sweet treat after a day of exploring. And the gift shop has a great selection of souvenirs to remember your visit!
Where to Stay Near Hancock Shaker Village with Kids
When visiting Hancock Shaker Village in Pittsfield, MA, with kids, you may be wondering where to stay. Indeed, if you are planning a trip to the Berkshires with kids, you’ll want to stay in the heart of the region! If you’re looking to extend your trip, we recommend the Hotel on North, a cute boutique hotel located in the heart of downtown Pittsfield near all the best shopping and dining. Here, the rooms and suites are also spacious and ideal for families. Plus, kids will love the old-style machinery all over the hotel!
For a more affordable or low-key option in the Berkshires with kids, you could also choose the Hilton Garden Inn Lenox Pittsfield. From either location, you can certainly explore more of the best activities near Pittsfield and in the Berkshires with kids!
Looking for more fun? The Berkshires are also among the 19 Exciting Places to See Fall Foliage in New England with Kids!
We hope you liked this guide to Hancock Shaker Village: A Must-Visit in Pittsfield, MA, With Kids of All Ages! From getting your daily dose of history to beautiful countryside views (especially in the fall!), there’s a reason this living history museum is a hit with families from all over the country – and the world! Not to mention, one of the best things to do in the Berkshires with kids. Enjoy Hancock Shaker Village with your kids!
*Unless otherwise noted, all images belong to and are courtesy of Gunjan Prakash.
*Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, some of the attractions, accommodations, or things to do on this list may be closed. Please ensure availability before making your decision.
*This post may contain affiliate links that may earn us a small commission, at no additional cost to you. Affiliate links in no way inform the hotels, sights, products, or other recommendations included in our articles. All opinions and recommendations expressed here are compiled from submissions submitted by the generous members of our Families Who Love To Travel community.
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