Wednesday, May 27, 2020

Stay-School Adventures: Memorial Day, Quarantine Day 73

Posted By and on Wed, May 27, 2020 at 9:29 AM

Bo at the Vergennes Memorial Parade in 2019 - CAT CUTILLO
  • Cat Cutillo
  • Bo at the Vergennes Memorial Parade in 2019
Watching the Vergennes Memorial Day Parade every spring is one of our family traditions. When we lived in Vergennes, we would walk to the parade with my daughter Remy's toy ride-on tractor in hand so she could watch the giant tractors roll by while sitting on her own mini version. Last year, my son, Bo, sat on that same tractor during the parade. We have both created memories and also started to relive similar experiences every year at this parade — which is held to remember and honor those we’ve lost.

This Memorial Day, the parade was canceled. We decided to fill the void by doing something new.
Remy blades on the Burlington Bike Path - CAT CUTLLO
  • Cat Cutllo
  • Remy blades on the Burlington Bike Path
Our family created our own mobile parade, riding our bikes and rollerblades on the Burlington Bike Path. It was the first week since mid-March we ventured into a more public arena. We went early and the path it was mostly empty. The beat of the parade was replaced this year by the sound of wheels on pavement. We pulled over at North Beach to look at the lake, staring out at the infinite space of possibility.
North Beach, Memorial Day 2020 - CAT CUTILLO
  • Cat Cutillo
  • North Beach, Memorial Day 2020
We have wandered off the map of predictability. With a calendar of cancellations this summer, there are no go-to events for us to fall back on. Autopilot is out of order. There is both sadness from that loss and relief that there is space now for something new.

STAY-SCHOOL ADVENTURES: Memorial Day, Quarantine Day 73 from Cat Cutillo on Vimeo.

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Tuesday, May 26, 2020

Wildflowers Studio Founder Joins Davis Studio as Assistant Director

Posted By on Tue, May 26, 2020 at 10:40 AM

Lyndsy Blais at Wildflowers Studio
  • Lyndsy Blais at Wildflowers Studio
When Vermont businesses closed to stop the spread of COVID-19  in March, Lyndsy Blais quickly realized there was no path forward for Wildflowers Studio, the creative maker space in Essex she started in 2015.

On April 28, she announced that she was closing Wildflowers permanently.

"It was a heartbreaking decision," said Blais, but also a "clear-cut" one. Wildflowers offered a wide range of programming including open studio hours, an art- and nature-based preschool program, home-school and after-school classes, and camps.

 "The business was so based on community connection, and if parents or caregivers are not able to come there and connect with each other, I just looked forward and said, 'There's no way that this business model can continue for a very long time,'" said Blais.
Davis Studio founder Teresa Davis - COURTESY OF TERESA DAVIS
  • Courtesy of Teresa Davis
  • Davis Studio founder Teresa Davis

Blais focused her energy on homeschooling her four daughters, ages 6, 8, 10 and 13. Then Teresa Davis, founder of the Davis Studio in South Burlington, reached out. The two entrepreneurs had developed a friendship over the last few years and share similar educational philosophies, rooted in play-based, exploratory learning.

"You can't just disappear," Blais remembered Davis telling her. "And I was like, "I don't want to."

Wildflowers Studio founder Lyndsy Blais - COURTESY OF LYNDSY BLAIS
  • Courtesy of Lyndsy Blais
  • Wildflowers Studio founder Lyndsy Blais
After a series of conversations, Davis hired Blais as assistant director of the Davis Studio. Starting in the fall, Blais will also serve as a classroom teacher for the new multi-age kindergarten and first grade classroom at Davis Community School. "It means that the whole heart and soul of Wildflowers gets kept alive," said Davis, "and that's actually very important to me."

Davis Community School, started in January 2019, is inspired by the Reggio Emilia philosophy, which embraces self-directed learning and a curriculum centered around children's interests. Academics are integrated with the arts, and outdoor education and foreign language instruction are also emphasized. In 2019-2020, the school had one mixed-age classroom with students in grades 1, 2 and 3. It will add kindergarten and fourth grade next year.

The Davis Studio also offers a preschool program, afterschool classes and camps. Its Starving Artist Café, which offered weekday breakfast and lunch and weekend brunch, is permanently closed.

This summer, Davis and Blais will also collaborate to develop an art- and academic-based online homeschool curriculum in anticipation that some families will want a remote learning option this fall. "We think there will be people leaning into homeschooling, but who need more support and not wanting to just have their kid in the computer all day," said Davis. "I think if we can, from the get-go, design something that has a lot of joy and play and discovery and hands-on projects... I think there's a lot of potential there."

A series of Zoom informational meetings about Davis Community School will be held starting in June. For additional information, call 425-2700 or visit

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Wednesday, May 20, 2020

Stay-School Adventures: Gardening, Quarantine Week 9

Posted By on Wed, May 20, 2020 at 2:17 PM

Remy holds up an earthworm - CAT CUTILLO
  • Cat Cutillo
  • Remy holds up an earthworm
We’ve buried a lot of things in the backyard recently. From a fish funeral to a time capsule, my kids, Remy and Bo, have gotten used to digging holes over the past two months. The thrilling part is what they find: Worms, snails and more worms.

My 3-year-old, Bo, is a worm connoisseur. He knows every variety they come in, from long ones to fat ones to stubby ones. Worms are his biggest motivation in life.
Bo and Remy examine the dirt - CAT CUTILLO
  • Cat Cutillo
  • Bo and Remy examine the dirt
This weekend, my husband, Ross, was equally elated about worms. Earthworms are a gardener’s gold and a benchmark for healthy soil. They speed up the composting process and help mix soil by eating the bacteria growing on decaying plants and giving off "worm castings" —  a nutrient-filled type of manure that plants love. As we were out in the garden planting seeds and seedlings, Ross took the abundance of worms he found crawling in the dirt as a sign that the growing season would be successful.

“It is going to be a great garden this year,” he said.

In response, my 7-year-old, Remy, started pumping out worm facts.

“Did you know worms have five hearts? They also breathe through their skin and don’t have any eyes. I’ve been studying them,” she told me.
Seedlings grow inside the house - CAT CUTILLO
  • Cat Cutillo
  • Seedlings grow inside the house
Like many Vermonters, the first thing Ross did when he heard about the quarantine was to start planning for an expanded garden. He had the kids start seedlings with him in the house as part of their homeschooling curriculum. Watching the seeds sprout up from the soil never gets old for them. But perhaps the best part of planting this year was the digging. The creepy crawlers were like buried treasures.

Worms are a great reminder that life is odd and, at the same time, resilient. These creatures without eyes and ears might spend most of their time buried beneath the surface, but they are the first things you see in the aftermath of a rainstorm. And when life tears them in half, instead of dying, they multiply and crawl off in different directions to continue enriching gardens and delighting kids.

STAY-SCHOOL ADVENTURES: Gardening, Quarantine Week 9 from Cat Cutillo on Vimeo.

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Friday, May 15, 2020

Do It At Home: Science Programming from Local Organizations

Posted By on Fri, May 15, 2020 at 10:23 AM

  • Courtesy of ECHO Leahy Center for Lake Champlain
  • ECHO's "Build a Fish" activity
Vermont’s four largest science-based institutions have teamed up to offer kids free at-home programming.

The organizations — ECHO Leahy Center for Lake Champlain in Burlington, Vermont Institute of Natural Science (VINS) in Quechee, Fairbanks Museum & Planetarium in St. Johnsbury and Montshire Museum of Science in Norwich — created a consortium called FourScienceVT. This online resource directs families to programming on the organizations’ websites and social media accounts.

Many parents are overwhelmed right now and barraged with online content, said Erik Oliver, ECHO’s director of development and communications. FourScienceVT streamlines families’ ability to access meaningful content by providing resources all in one place. Each organization’s site receives around 500 to 600 views when new content is posted on the FourScienceVT website.

Oliver said that each institution in the consortium has unique strengths. VINS focuses on raptors and avian rehabilitation, and provides detailed natural science lesson plans by grade level through its At-Home Education program. Montshire Museum offers online resources — including videos and at-home projects — with themes ranging from seeds to puzzles. Fairbanks’ Virtual Wonders program explores natural history, astronomy, meteorology and STEM topics through virtual classes and science projects.

ECHO's resources center on science and engineering. The center produces a weekly program for preschoolers, “Science & Stories with Elizabeth,” that combines a picture book with a simple science project. One recent project for older kids on ECHO’s website, “Build a Fish,” asked kids to create a fish prototype with common household objects, test its ability to float, then improve on its design.

All of the online content is free to the public, thanks to local donors.

For more information, visit

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Wednesday, May 13, 2020

Stay-School Adventures: Drive-By Parties, Quarantine Week 8

Posted By on Wed, May 13, 2020 at 10:57 AM

Birthday girl Adara soaking in a parade in her honor - CAT CUTILLO
  • Cat Cutillo
  • Birthday girl Adara soaking in a parade in her honor
I once did a project called “Passenger-Side Stories” — a collection of drive-by photos I took while riding shotgun. The images include oddities, like a mannequin on a bicycle, and slice-of-life moments, like four-wheelers racing alongside the road. It’s amazing what you can capture and connect with in the blink of an eye from the car window.

This week — the eighth in quarantine — I was reminded of this project. The week began with the distant sounds of sirens. My heart skipped a beat as they quickly grew louder. I worried something had happened to one of our neighbors. We opened the front door to see fire trucks and police cars streaming by, waving and yelling Happy Thursday! to our neighborhood. Relief and tremendous gratitude washed over us, and we joined the chorus of cheers. The sounds of sirens and honking brought reassurance this week.
Matilda's drive-by birthday party - CAT CUTILLO
  • Cat Cutillo
  • Matilda's drive-by birthday party

My daughter’s good friend, Matilda, turned 7 and her mom planned a drive-by birthday party. She drove Matilda to friends’ homes, where they held up signs, waved and cheered. We live across from Matilda’s aunt, uncle and cousins, so there was a surround-sound celebration at our stop with handmade signs, bells and presents that we slipped into her trunk. Still, I know my 7-year-old, Remy, and 3-year-old, Bo, wanted to run up and give her a hug. It felt strange keeping our distance. 
A sign for Matilda's birthday - CAT CUTILLO
  • Cat Cutillo
  • A sign for Matilda's birthday
The next day we met up at a parking lot for a birthday parade for Remy’s classmate, Adara. We held handmade signs out the window and cheered and honked as we drove by Adara and her family, who were standing on the sidewalk with balloons. Then we returned home and just the four of us had a festive marshmallow roast in our backyard.
Marshmallows, roasted on the backyard grill - CAT CUTILLO
  • Cat Cutillo
  • Marshmallows, roasted on the backyard grill
The week ended with a parade of teachers and administrators from Remy’s school, Chamberlin Elementary. Dozens of them drove the length of the entire school bus route, honking and yelling students’ names out their windows. My kids stood on the lawn, waving.

These drive-by parties and parades made a big difference this week. It was amazing how connected we felt, in the blink of an eye, to friends, classmates and teachers. All it took was seeing them in person — albeit 15 feet away and through a car window — instead of just online.

STAY-SCHOOL ADVENTURES: Drive-By Parties, Quarantine Week 8 from Cat Cutillo on Vimeo.

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Thursday, May 7, 2020

Vermont Bluebird Project Brings Birdhouse Kits to Kids

Posted By on Thu, May 7, 2020 at 11:54 AM

A finished birdhouse - COURTESY OF PETER POMERANTZ
  • Courtesy of Peter Pomerantz
  • A finished birdhouse
When Fayston woodworker Peter Pomerantz temporarily furloughed employees this spring, he began looking for a project to fill some of his extra time. His Waitsfield business, Pomerantz Woodworking, specializes in high-end residential kitchen cabinetry and furniture, so he had a complete wood shop at his disposal. His two sons — 12-year-old Quin and 10-year-old Alden — were also home from school and looking for something to do.

Pomerantz's sons assemble birdhouse kits - COURTESY OF PETER POMERANTZ
  • Courtesy of Peter Pomerantz
  • Pomerantz's sons assemble birdhouse kits
The three decided to create birdhouse kits for Mad River Valley families, an initiative they dubbed the Vermont Bluebird Project. Pomerantz’s intention was to create a hands-on project for kids, and also to spread hope and optimism during a difficult time.

To date, Pomerantz and his sons have made about 115 kits. Each one contains Baltic birch wood parts, a perch, glue and a glue brush, sandpaper, and wire for hanging the birdhouse. The finished product is a handsome A-Frame dwelling that kids can customize with paint if they’d like.

  • Courtesy of Peter Pomerantz
Through Front Porch Forum, the family offered free kits to interested community members and fifth and sixth graders in area schools. They received dozens of requests.

On Thursday, April 23, Pomerantz and his sons set up tables outside his shop and laid out the kits — wrapped tightly in plastic and labeled with names.

Adhering to social distancing guidelines, people picked up their kits and cleaned them with Clorox wipes while Pomerantz cranked Bob Marley and the Wailers’ “Three Little Birds” on his stereo. The remaining kits were picked up by appointment at his workshop.

He asked participating families to send him photos or post images of their finished birdhouse on social media, using the hashtag #vtbluebirdproject. For those who offered a donation, he deferred and suggested that, instead, they “pay it forward” in any way they chose.

For more information, visit Pomerantz Woodworking's Facebook page.

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Monday, May 4, 2020

Play Spring Bingo!

Posted By on Mon, May 4, 2020 at 2:41 PM

Looking for a socially distant way to get outdoors, while still feeling like they’re part of a community. Consider Vermont Land Trust's Backyard Bingo, hand-drawn by ecologist Allaire Diamond. This bingo board sends you out to search for varied items including “poop,” a “deciduous leaf from last year,” and “something you lost.” It manages to be both simple enough for a toddler and interesting enough to capture the attention of a parent suffering from cabin fever. Once you've achieved bingo, you can share your photos via email or by posting on social media with the hashtag #StayGroundedVT.

Download a printable version of the bingo board here, thanks to support from the Stern Center

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Do It At Home: Search for Spring Ephemerals

Posted By on Mon, May 4, 2020 at 10:31 AM

  • Gabriela Stanciu
  • Coltsfoot
In early May, wildflowers spread over the forest floor before trees leaf out and shade the forest. These perennial plants bloom quickly before turning to seed. Then their leaves wither, leaving only roots and underground bulbs. Early season flowers serve an important ecological role by providing pollinators, like bumblebees, with their first nectar. They're easy to find if you know where to look. Their colored blossoms brighten the forest floor which, at this time of year, is mostly brown, dead leaves.
Carolina spring-beauty - GABRIELA STANCIU
  • Gabriela Stanciu
  • Carolina spring-beauty

It’s delightful to encounter a sprinkling of color — like this pink and white Carolina spring-beauty — during a woodsy wander.
Here are a few other wildflowers to look out for:

• The bright yellow trout lily, with its flouncy petals, is fun to find. Look for slender green leaves with pale brown spots — much like this flower’s fishy namesake.

Marsh marigold — another brilliant gold blossom — can be spotted in swamps, wetlands or along damp roadsides.

Coltsfoot has dime-sized gold flowers that bloom before its leaves emerge. Look for these bright flowers along roadsides or at the edges of parking lots.

Painted trillium — a striking three-petaled flower with a red center — are prolific in the woods. The red trillium is also known as a wake robin; its red color signals spring like a red-breasted robin. Keep your eyes open for large white trillium, too.

Jack-in-the-pulpit is an unusually shaped plant. Its green-and-purple-striped hooded tube hides beneath three leaves. Inside the tube stands Jack — the preacher in his pulpit. Remember where you spy this plant. In late summer, a cluster of red berries appears where the flower once bloomed.

Don’t pick ephemerals. Bring a pad and pencil and find a comfy spot in the woods for a sketching session. Or snap a photo and make a pretty painting of wildflowers when you get home!

For more information about wildflowers, visit the Green Mountain Club website.

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Sylvan Learning

Sylvan Learning

Essex Junction, VT

Sylvan Learning is the leading provider of supplemental education services to K–12 students. The Essex, Vermont location has a wide variety of offerings. The center provides Reading, Mathematics, Writing, Advanced Study Skills, SAT/ACT Prep, State Test Prep and Homework Support. In addition to the core curriculum, the center also offers…(more)

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