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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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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Due to COVID-19, camp schedules listed here may not be accurate. Please check with individual camps for the most up-to-date information.

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TDI@Home 2020— now an on-line summer camp!

TDI@Home 2020— now an on-line summer camp!

Colchester, VT

Summer camp/academic program for advanced and gifted students entering grades 4-9. Now on-line, to be held M-F for two weeks: June 22-26 and June 29-July 3. Morning and/or afternoon options for one or both weeks; cost is $220 per morning or afternoon session.On-line classes—including Minecraft Circuitry, Myth-Making, Eggstronauts, Young Curators,…(more)

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