Vt. Nonprofits Offering At-Home Learning During COVID-19 Closures

Museums and other facilities are quickly moving to shift some services online to help parents whose kids' schools are shut down to slow the spread of disease

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With children across Vermont home from school in a move aimed at slowing the spread of COVID-19, nonprofits are stepping up to help fill a learning void.

"As we wait for the school to start providing more, it's nice to have these things filling in," Woodstock father of two Ben Jervey said of the family activity kits, which Billings Farm & Museum was giving to parents Thursday.

The destination has long taught visitors about agriculture in the 1800s, but with tours now on pause as we all do our part to slow the spread of COVID-19, the team at the farm and museum are offering take-home bags twice a week for young children.

The bags distributed Thursday contained a craft project and information about farm animals.

Activities through Billings Farm & Museum are also available online.

"I know this is a time when there's a lot of uncertainty and parents are struggling, so anything we can do for families we thought would be a great thing to do," said Christine Scales of Billings Farm & Museum.

The Vermont Department of Health Thursday announced cases of COVID-19 in the state ticked up to 22, from 19 Wednesday.

Gov. Phil Scott, R-Vermont, and Vermont Health Commissioner Dr. Mark Levine have warned case numbers are expected to keep rising, so they are asking everyone to do their part to reduce the spread of the disease — namely through social distancing.

The distancing measures were what was behind the school closures and other state decisions, like closing bars and restaurants — though take-out service is still available.

During the school shutdown, Burlington’s ECHO Leahy Center for Lake Champlain is posting videos online, including animal feedings and story time. A staffer this week read a picture book on video about making maple syrup.

In Quechee, the Vermont Institute of Natural Science is planning a series of "virtual encounters" through Facebook Live, to hear from the folks who care for the owls and other raptors that live at VINS and to see video images of the birds.

And in Norwich, the executive director of the Montshire Museum of Science said the team of educators there will soon have versions of some exhibits online, like the popular "science of soap."

That topic is particularly timely, as we're all washing our hands so often to help protect against the coronavirus, the Montshire noted.

"Trying to expand things like science and the arts is really important for nonprofits at this moment to step in and just make sure kids are getting a well-rounded experience," said Marcos Stafne of the Montshire Museum of Science. "It's not going to be the best experience that they've ever had in their lives, but it's something. And that's something we have to continue to work on."

Stafne said the Montshire will also be pointing parents to other museum resources for a range of ages. The goal, he said, is to keep kids engaged during this disruptive age of COVID-19.

Shelburne Museum said Thursday it, too, is working to launch a series of online offerings, including projects for kids, lectures, and tours from curators.

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