Thursday, April 23, 2020

The Arts Bus Keeps Kids' Creativity Flowing

Posted By on Thu, Apr 23, 2020 at 5:47 PM

  • Courtesy of Genny Albert
  • The Arts Bus
When the 2008 recession forced school budget cuts, a group of parents, artists and educators from Braintree and Randolph pooled their ingenuity and resources to keep arts education alive for local children. Consistent exposure to arts, the group believed, is important to children’s healthy development. The group knew that transportation in rural Vermont creates barriers for many families who are often unable to afford the expense of enrichment activities or find the time to drive their children to classes or performances.

The group decided to bring art to the kids. When a retired school bus driver donated a bus to the cause — in memory of his wife who had been a music teacher — the Arts Bus was launched.
The full-sized, green bus has multiple uses. It’s a traveling music and dance stage, a pop-up theater, and a ceramic, paint and textile studio. It provides programming both during and after school in partnership with school staff. Executive director Genny Albert describes the bus as an art-oriented version of a bookmobile, or mobile library.

With families isolated at home because of COVID-19, the Arts Bus temporarily retired from the road and, instead, stepped up with a plan to distribute art kits to kids instead. The Kits4Kids are being distributed to students in Orange, Washington, Windsor and Windham counties, primarily through the school districts’ meal delivery service. Each kit contains basic supplies, including paper, watercolors, glue, scissors and colored puff balls. A sheet of directions for suggested activities ranges from a simple stick animal to making a mandala. The kits, which cost $20 to assemble, are provided free to children. To date, the bus has delivered more than 300 kits. Around 1,000 kits have been requested. To defray costs, the Arts Bus is asking for donations.

While living in a pandemic is scary, Albert notes that positive things will emerge from this period, too. She says that kids are so often provided with prompts to generate ideas that “there’s rarely a blank canvas” to simply explore. The Arts Bus is devoted to supplying the materials. Kids can provide the imagination.

For more information or to make a donation, visit

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Tuesday, April 21, 2020

Stay-School Adventures: Time Capsule, Day 36

Posted By on Tue, Apr 21, 2020 at 6:44 PM

  • Cat Cutillo
We’ve been circling the block a lot, going on neighborhood walks. This seems fitting because time itself has started to feel circular. Our mornings often begin where our nights left off, and sometimes I’m pretty sure I spent the day running in circles around the kids. This weekend we took a shortcut through a tunnel of trees. The lighting was just right and created a perfect shadow reflection of the trees' long slender branches. We started talking about how trees grow from the inside and track time through growth rings that are permanently logged into their layers. The harder the tree’s winter, the tighter the growth ring.

“It’s a trunk full of history in there,” I told my kids.
  • Cat Cutillo
When we got home I pointed to the coffee table my father-in-law had made when he was a teenager from the found cross-section of an enormous ponderosa pine tree trunk. We tried to count the rings on it but couldn’t make it past 58.

Having lapped past a full month at home, we started thinking about ways we could record our time. I brought up the idea of creating a quarantine time capsule to dig up in exactly one year that included each of our favorite memories over the past month. We presented the kids with a glass jar —  like we were literally trying to preserve the memories like pickles  — and told them to collect something for the time capsule.

  • Cat Cutillo
My 7-year-old, Remy, brought out a toy rabbit in honor of Easter and swapped out the jar for a handmade, wooden treasure chest. My husband, Ross, put in a pencil and sharpener to remember working on art and school assignments with Remy. I put in my birthday candles, having recently added another year to my age. And my 3-year-old, Bo, put in a toy figure of Batman’s sidekick Robin and his socks.

I’m hopeful in a year he’ll be able to tell me why.

STAY-SCHOOL ADVENTURES: Time Capsule, Quarantine Day 36 from Cat Cutillo on Vimeo.

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Monday, April 20, 2020

Do It At Home: Backyard BioBlitz

Posted By on Mon, Apr 20, 2020 at 10:24 AM

  • Courtesy of North Branch Nature Center
As the weather warms, kids and adults may be looking to explore the outdoors for signs of spring.

A simple and engaging way to weave learning into outdoor wandering — while also maintaining distance from others — is to sign up for the Vermont Spring Backyard BioBlitz. This new project, sponsored by the North Branch Nature Center, the Vermont Center for Ecostudies and the Vermont Alliance for Half-Earth, was created to meet the requests of local teachers looking for creative ways to engage students in science right outside their homes.

From April 20 to May 20, project participants can submit photos of any wild organism — no pets or garden plants — along with information about where and when they saw it, to the BioBlitz. This month, the project aims to collect observations of Vermont’s springtime biodiversity.

To submit information, participants must create an account through the free app, iNaturalist. The app — a joint initiative of the California Academy of Sciences and the National Geographic Society — encourages participants to share information, connect with experts who can help identify organism and learn about nature from other people’s observations. It also generates data about the natural world to aid in conservation efforts.

Visit North Branch Nature Center’s website for step-by-step instructions for how to sign up for the project, along with a detailed video tutorial.

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Thursday, April 16, 2020

Milton Librarian Reaches Out to Teens Through the Screen

Posted By on Thu, Apr 16, 2020 at 11:17 AM

Milton Public Library Teen Space Coordinator Michelle Desranleau
  • Milton Public Library Teen Space Coordinator Michelle Desranleau
One surefire way to reach teenagers? Making chocolate pancakes. This month, Milton Public Library’s Teen Space Coordinator, Michelle Desranleau, recorded a cooking show for an adolescent audience. The six-minute video stars Desranleau in her home kitchen, explaining how to prepare batter, cook the pancakes and arrange the treat on a plate, topped with whipped cream, crumbled Oreo cookies and a drizzle of chocolate syrup. Filmed by her adult daughter, the YouTube video can be viewed on the library’s Facebook page. Another video made by Desranleau demonstrates how to convert an old T-shirt into a bag. That project was conceived, filmed and edited by her 13-year-old grandson, Zeb Wilcox.

When the library is open, Desranleau heads up the library’s teen program on Monday afternoons from 3 to 5 p.m. She draws in middle and high schoolers — a notoriously challenging demographic to coax through library doors —with crafts, cooking, games and occasional movies. Her most popular teen program was a Saturday morning gathering, Bagels and Brushes, which featured a two-hour painting lesson and breakfast. Nearly two dozen teens snacked on bagels while creating their own unique artwork to take home.

Her virtual programming reflects that same light-hearted approach, using materials adolescents are likely to have at home. An upcoming recording shows how to melt crayons with a hair dryer to make a piece of art.

Virtual programming, Desranleau says, forces her to be more creative. In these recorded sessions, teens aren’t present to ask questions, so she’s careful to explain each step of the project. While assembling pancake batter, she gently talks to her online audience, acknowledging the isolation of social distancing while encouraging students to keep up with their schoolwork.

Once the “Stay Home, Stay Safe” order is lifted, Desranleau thinks that virtual programming might still be used to reach people who aren’t able to get to the library. Her teen patrons, for instance, often play school sports such as football and basketball, so attendance is lower during certain seasons.

During this housebound time, Desranleau says she’s curious about what her teen patrons are doing to stay engaged in schoolwork. She's started preparing for the library’s summer reading program — planning for non-virtual events and hoping that the world will be a little closer to normal when warmer months arrive. She misses the kids.

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Tuesday, April 14, 2020

Stay-School Adventures: Spring Cleaning, Days 25-28

Posted By on Tue, Apr 14, 2020 at 9:43 AM

A new welcome sign for the play fort - CAT CUTILLO
  • Cat Cutillo
  • A new welcome sign for the play fort
The swamp next door has become my spirit animal. It takes in toxins, churning them over like a giant strainer and purifying the water. It squeezes the best parts out of bad things — a perfect example of what to do when life gives you lemons.

On Saturday, I was staring out the window, looking at the swamp, when my friend called from Brooklyn to tell me her father had died that morning of COVID-19. I looked at the swamp, trying to churn out something to say.
Spring cleaning in the fort - CAT CUTILLO
  • Cat Cutillo
  • Spring cleaning in the fort
Earlier in the week, my kids had announced they were “moving out.” They spent the week spring-cleaning their play fort in the backyard revamping it into a “permanent” residence. My daughter got the idea from an episode of Fancy Nancy.

The play fort was like a clown car, filled with old balls, bats and baskets overflowing down the slide. I couldn’t believe how much had been crammed in there. We finally had our answers for where all the lost items had been hiding.

I watched my kids hand off piggy banks and miniature furniture to each other, beautifying their nine-square-foot space with a small stool, a tea set and a handcrafted chandelier made from pipe cleaners, tape and ribbon. They asked my husband to wood burn a "Welcome" sign, then secure it over their front door with a drill.
Inside the play fort - CAT CUTILLO
  • Cat Cutillo
  • Inside the play fort
With every passing week of isolation, my kids' imaginations flourish and they connect more with their internal worlds. It's as if the daily costumes are shields, enabling them to create their own realities.

The trash has become their treasure. They even intercepted a tattered rainbow tablecloth on its way to the garbage can. It’s become the portal to their new life.

Stay-School Adventures: Spring Cleaning, Quarantine Days 25-28 from Cat Cutillo on Vimeo.

Cat Cutillo is a Vermont-based photojournalist, writer and video producer. See more of her work here.

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Monday, April 13, 2020

Download the Coloring Contest and Writing Contest

Posted By on Mon, Apr 13, 2020 at 3:11 PM

  • Dreamstime
Because the April issue of Kids Vermont was inserted in last week's Seven Days — and only on newsstands for a week — we realize that not everyone was able to pick up a copy. So this month we've decided to make both the coloring contest and writing contest available as downloadable PDFs so that you can access them at home.

Entering the contests this month is simple. Just download the PDFs below, print them out and let your kids go to town. Then, scan or take a picture of the entries with your smartphone, and send them via email to

We've extended the deadline for April contest entries to Monday, April 20 to give kids more time to complete them.

Happy coloring and writing!

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Friday, April 10, 2020

Do It At Home: Birding

Posted By on Fri, Apr 10, 2020 at 1:22 PM

  • Courtesy of Evleen Anderson/Audubon Photography Awards
  • A red-winged blackbird sings
With the arrival of spring, birds are busily building nests and singing mating songs. Birdwatching is a perfect backyard activity.

A simple exercise for novice birders is to try to pair a bird with its call. The National Audubon Society has a downloadable bird guide app with photographs and recordings of bird calls. A "Sightings" feature on the app lets you keep track of what birds you’ve seen.

Based in Huntington, Audubon Vermont posts mini lessons for families to follow in their own backyard. “Build Your Own Bird Nest” teaches young naturalists why and how birds build homes. It includes drawings of types of nests easily found in Vermont and instructions for constructing your own nest out of mud, dead leaves and grass clippings. On the National Audubon Society site, there's an interactive game that allows kids to follow the migration journeys of five different bird species, then write their own migration story.

Once you start looking for birds, you’ll probably realize you already know a few species. Here are some local varieties from Audubon’s online Guide to North American Birds:

• Some birds have been Vermont residents all winter — like the small black-capped chickadee. The chickadee’s winter song sounds like “chicka-dee-dee-dee.” Now, as birds begin their mating season, the chickadee serenades, “Hey, sweetie.”

• The rough “squawk” of the American crow is a common sound in our area.

• Near many homes, blue jays, with their blue, black and white feathers, call their own name: “Jay! Jay! Jay!”

• With warmer weather, the Canada goose and its distinctive honk is returning from the South. These large birds love ponds and lakes.

• The American robin is easily identifiable by its brown feathers and red front. Look on lawns and in gardens to see these birds tugging worms from the warming soil. Among the robin’s repertoire is a clear, “Cheerio. Cheery-me,” song.

• Near ponds and wetlands, keep an eye out for red-winged blackbirds. These ebony birds have a brilliant patch of red on their upper wings. This bird’s call sounds like “conk-la-ree” — a classic sign-of-spring song.

• The gray mourning dove coos a familiar tune all over Vermont.

• The northern cardinal’s showy crimson feathers make it easy to spot, but it sings many different songs.

• If you hear a bird’s beak hammering on wood or metal, the culprit is likely a pileated woodpecker. This large bird has a black body, with a tuft of bright red feathers on its head — the flashiest of Vermont’s many woodpeckers.

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Thursday, April 9, 2020

Spruce Peak Arts Rolls Out Virtual Birthday Party Program

Posted By on Thu, Apr 9, 2020 at 2:41 PM

A "Wizard of Oz" Zoom birthday party in action - COURTESY OF SPRUCE PEAK ARTS
  • Courtesy of Spruce Peak Arts
  • A "Wizard of Oz" Zoom birthday party in action
Several weeks ago, Spruce Peak Arts executive director Hope Sullivan was listening in to her 9-year-old daughter's playdate on the video conferencing platform Zoom, when she had an idea. At the time, she and her staff had been thinking about how the Stowe-based organization — which in normal times hosts live performances, school-based theater education programs and camps — could adapt their work to enrich the community during the "Stay Home, Stay Safe" period.

What if, she thought, the organization created online theater-themed birthday parties for kids celebrating their big day while physically apart from their friends? They decided to try it out.

Families can contact Spruce Peak Arts to schedule a date and time for their child's party. Then, kids or parents pick a story they want birthday party guests to act out. Spruce Peak Arts staff writes a short script based on that story, and sends out email invitations to each guest with a script, each person's role, and ideas for costumes and props. During the party, which runs for 75 minutes and is held on Zoom, guests rehearse the script, then do a final performance that is recorded and sent to the birthday kid's family. Parties are free for Vermont kids.

In the week and a half since the program has been running, Spruce Peak Arts has hosted three birthday parties, with another four lined up. Themes have ranged from Greek mythology to Winnie the Pooh. Said Sullivan: It's been a fun exercise in trying out something totally new and different."

Find out more about Zoom Birthday Parties through Spruce Peak Arts here. The organization's website also has a Virtual Screening Room, where visitors can watch videos of past performers at Spruce Peak Arts, including family-friendly, Boston-based ensemble the Gottabees.

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Local Librarian Graces the Small Screen

Posted By on Thu, Apr 9, 2020 at 11:43 AM

Westford library director Bree Drapa
  • Westford library director Bree Drapa
Bree Drapa, library director of Westford Public Library, doesn’t expect to become a YouTube influencer. But her virtual story time has been viewed hundreds of times on YouTube since she launched it in mid-March.

When her library closed to slow the spread of coronavirus, Drapa took her weekly story time online. Though she's “not much of a techie,” Drapa has figured out how to navigate technical issues, securing her iPhone to a tripod with a rubber band to record her one-woman show. She spent a little time experimenting with the best lighting — and always previews her recordings before uploading them to YouTube — but her main goals are to keep kids entertained during this strange time, and give parents 20 or 30 minutes to catch their breath.

Filmed in the children’s section of the Westford library, Drapa’s story time is reassuringly familiar. Dressed in her usual bright yellow cardigan, Drapa involves the at-home audience by giving listeners time to respond to her prompts — asking kids to say good morning or roar like tigers, for example. She reads picture books, sings songs and gives suggestions for crafts that can be made with simple materials like paper plates and crayons.

With her own kids — ages 9, 12 and 14 — now learning at home, she’s turned the endeavor into a family project. Her husband got her set up with the tripod and showed her how to upload videos to YouTube. Her daughter gave her ideas for crafts. But Drapa’s biggest fans, she admits, are her parents, who watch every episode.
For her adult patrons, Drapa hosts an online book group, too. She hopes that providing opportunities to gather as a community will give people something to look forward to and provide a virtual way for people to relate to each other until social distancing has passed.

Take a peek at these other virtual library programs:

Joslin Memorial Library in Waitsfield shares "Welcome to My Mud Kitchen," a lively, interactive story time.

Williston’s Dorothy Alling Memorial Library boasts a packed programming schedule, from preschool music to a guided meditation for kids and caregivers.

Wednesday, April 8, 2020

Kids VT Launches Good Citizen Coronavirus Challenge

Posted By on Wed, Apr 8, 2020 at 12:04 PM

Ethan B. recruiting volunteers for the town of Clarendon.
  • Ethan B. recruiting volunteers for the town of Clarendon.
You know what the world needs more of in these challenging times? It needs honest, hard-working, reliable people who pay attention to public health information, treat each other with kindness and respect, and pitch in to help out when they can. Here at Kids VT, we call them Good Citizens.
In 2018, to train more of them, we created the Good Citizen Challenge, with support from the Vermont Community Foundation. The Challenge encourages Vermont students to learn about history, government, news literacy, advocacy and community engagement.

Tatum K. holding her poster encouraging adults to vote.
  • Tatum K. holding her poster encouraging adults to vote.
We wrapped up our second Challenge on March 6. Burlington-based GameTheory built the system to run it, funded by Dan and Jenna Sonneborn, and the Evslin Family Foundation. Nearly 850 players from 78 towns registered to play; 215 of them finished the Challenge. We were so impressed with all of their hard work!

Since then, our lives have been upended by the COVID-19 pandemic. Many businesses have shuttered. All of our schools are closed. For the next 10 weeks, Vermont students are learning at home.

Keyleigh W.'s thank you card to the Broad Brook Grange.
  • Keyleigh W.'s thank you card to the Broad Brook Grange.
To help them — and their parents and caregivers — we're  launching a weekly Good Citizen Coronavirus Challenge that will last until mid-June, the end of the school year. We'll post a few new activities each week at These will focus on subject areas including history (how people got through tough times in the past), news literacy (how to evaluate online information) and community engagement (how we can help our friends, neighbors and loved ones weather this storm).

Each week, we'll recognize outstanding work and raffle off a prize. All K-12 students who send in submissions will be entered. We think this will be both educational and fun. Here's hoping it helps all of us become better citizens this year.

Find more details, along with this week's activities, at

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camps central

The Willowell Foundation Camps

The Willowell Foundation Camps

Monkton, VT

The Willowell Foundation hosts week-long day camps for children ages 4-12 at our property in Monkton, Vermont. Spanning 230 acres and seven distinct ecosystems, the Willowell land offers diverse exploration in an environment filled with natural wonder. Skilled and caring camp leaders bring children of all ages together by combining…(more)

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