Frequently asked questions
Physically located near Newtown Square on an old farmhouse property with 28 acres of land. Open Connections serves families who have chosen to create their own path for education and development.
For the youth (4-18 yrs old), we provide full day programs that meet weekly. Most of the 140 young people who come to OC attend 1-3 days a week. Each program reflects the value of natural learning, teamwork, flexible thinking, self-motivation and mentoring with Real Work/Real Tools. Peers, parents and OC staff collaborate to help each young person develop the capacity to find and follow his/her passions across the spectrum of multiple intelligences. The goal is lifelong personal growth for all. (Visit "programs" to learn more.)
For OC parents, we provide quarterly parent meetings, a lounge to meet with other parents (as well as any infants and toddlers in tow), an e-mail listserv discussion group, a web-based Open Connections Community Network in which families can share ideas, talents, resources and information with each other, and lots of resources in our lending library.
For the entire OC family, we provide four "Open Campus Fridays" throughout the program year, special events and get-togethers including Open Mic and Music Night, Dances, and other special events
For the general public, we provide private educational consultations, free introductory seminars on Open Education, and a workshop focusing on the OC process and philosophy.
Susan Shilcock and Peter Bergson founded Open Connections (OC) in 1975 to preserve the natural, innovative thinking of young children, and to underscore the value of family, Real Work and collaboration in education. Today, Open Connections is guided by a Board of Directors, and daily operations are overseen by three co-directors: Julia Bergson-Shilcock (Peter and Susan's 3rd daughter), Michael Hilbert, and Rick Sleutaris. Our History
Since 1975, OC has synthesized over 35 years of experience with groundbreaking ideas of renowned educational reformers such as John Holt, Ivan Illich, Jean Piaget, Howard Gardner, Alfie Kohn, Peter Senge and Barry Kaufman to create a new paradigm in education and family life. Our History
The core staff
The staff is chosen to complement and expand upon the OC learning approach. They bring a diverse range of expertise in areas such as education; children and family development and counseling; collaborative problem-solving; team and organizational development; literature and language arts; visual, ceramic, performing and commercial arts; woodworking; environmental sciences; athletics and coaching expertise; foreign language, culture and cuisine; non-profit business management and development; philanthropic involvement; and OC community membership. Staff
Parents and Volunteers
Parent-Resourcers, visiting mentors and ongoing volunteers bring unique expertise and passions to their work with OC youth in a wide array of subjects. Past visitors have included an aerospace engineer, architects, commercial artists, professional singer-songwriters and other performing artists/musicians, craft and fine artists such as stained glass, watercolor, batiking, rubber stamping/paper arts and book making, metalworking/farrier, videographers, photographer, animators, orchestra double bass player, sports journalist, wood worker, bird specialist, medical professionals, etc., etc.
OC families include most of the full economic spectrum of families in our society today: two-parent, two-income couples; single parents, most of whom are employed part time; upper, middle and modest income families; and families with a home business. OC includes a similar variety of occupations, religious, ethnic and racial backgrounds.
Many parents from OC participate in the OC program in one way or another. This includes volunteering, bartering, sharing talents, offering their expertise in programs and helping out with Community Days and special projects. There is a rich cooperative and collaborative environment at OC.
OC is not for every family, however. The OC environment is designed specifically for those who want to provide for their young person's special interests and for their own desire to be directly involved in shaping their youth's educational experience.
The answers are literally as varied as the families themselves. It all depends on the philosophy and pedagogical approach followed by each family. The choices range across a wide spectrum, from a kind of “school-at-home” approach to one referred to as "radical unschooling." Most use a mix of strategies, and the balance can easily shift over time. For resources to help you with your plans, see our Resources section.
School-at-home approach - Those who follow the school-at-home approach tend to rely on traditional curricula including some that are religiously based. As the term “homeschooling” implies, the young person is directed to study in the conventional (school) way, relying on textbooks and worksheets (whether paper or computerized). The work is most likely presented in a sequential order and assessed for level of mastery (i.e., graded). A variation of this approach relies on the use of outside tutors or a cyberschool. What most distinguishes the school-at-home approach is its basis in instruction as the fundamental tool used to promote learning.
Radical unschooling - On the contrary, those who follow the “radical unschooling” approach tend to rely primarily on the interests of the young person him/herself and his/her ability to pursue those interests in a more experiential and self-managed way. For the youngest, this may seem like playing all day; for older youths, it may result in the intensive pursuit a special desire and/or development of a particular talent, such as creating video games, running a small business, caring for animals, preparing for the Olympics. What most distinguishes the unschooling approach is a belief in the primacy of experience as the source of real learning, where people learn by doing something more than by reading about it or simply being told about it.
Flexible - Wherever one is along the spectrum of philosophies, the amount of time spent on academic studies vs. hands-on experiences is highly variable. All families have the full range of choices from which to choose and can make on-the-spot adjustments at their discretion. If a lesson isn’t going well, a homeschooler can take a spontaneous field trip, or go outside and shoot a basketball or ride a bike, while the parent may decide to refine the lesson or try a different tact altogether, even to the point of putting the work aside and reintroducing it in six months! (Such is the flexibility of a home education program.)
Another indication of flexibility is the almost infinite set of choices available that can be identified as “educational,” and of course these are options regardless of one’s philosophical bent. Field trips, hobbies, sports, music, dance, woodworking, socializing, reading for pleasure, cooking, model building, gardening, stamp collecting, traveling... the list is endless. And it is, of course, not at all restricted to those designed with young people in mind. The world is literally one’s classroom. All it takes to benefit from it is the will to go for it.
Personalized - One can see how quickly each approach becomes personalized. A young boy who is not ready to read may spend hours building with his Legos®, concocting highly intricate designs that, when he is somewhat older, may lead him to a career in engineering. Another may be a book type, devouring everything in sight and building a massive information base worthy of the most successful Jeopardyâ contestant or Rhodes scholar, leading to a career as reference librarian or State department official. A horse lover may become a veterinarian or riding instructor or simply happy horse owner. A frog pond devotee may someday write national environmental policy or homemaker who shares the joy of nature with her own children some day, or do both. No one can possibly predict how, or when, a childhood interest—when sufficiently supported—will become major focus of adult life. (See Nancy Wallace’s book Childworks for a marvelous description of how her son went from playing with toy soldiers to writing an award-winning opera in his early teens.)
Through the program- Open Connections works with parents to whatever degree they wish for us to be involved. Participation in OC programs always leads to at least one in-depth telephone review in the winter for mutual feedback. Additional meetings are scheduled as requested.
Through workshops and our site- OC offers a free two-hour “Introduction to Homeschool & Unschooling” seminar, held about six times a year on Sunday afternoons. We also offer resource recommendations on this site. These resources can guide you in creating the kind of environment at home that we continue to develop at OC Village.
Through the community - In addition, members of the community of fellow OC parents are available for dialogue in a number of ways—informal person-to-person conversations; afternoon tea times; evening potluck suppers and monthly discussion groups; yahoo e-mail group postings; and via an OC newsletter column dedicated to parent communications. It is the intention of Open Connections to be a village in the manner of the old adage, “It takes a village…”
For those families interested in following a certain type of curricula, Open Connections can offer information about a number of curriculum providers. (see Resource Recommendations) At OC Village, each Group Tutorial facilitator co-creates a curriculum with their young colleagues as the year progresses.
Pennsylvania law requires annual evaluations by a PA-certified teacher or licensed or school psychologist for members of registered home education programs. Open Connections will provide such evaluations beginning June, 2007, and we can help parents find other suitable evaluators who can help satisfy requirements as you wish. (See Resource Recommendations)
OC also provides “test prep” sessions and hosts testing days for youth taking the 3r, 5th and 8th tests required by the State. The test prep days are especially helpful for those young people not accustomed to taking standardized tests. They also help reduce parental anxiety by clarify both the process and what is, and is not, at stake.
One way to receive a high school diploma is through one of the several State-approved degree-granting organizations. The leader is the Pennsylvania Homeschooling Accreditation Agency. Another option is enrollment in the home education program at the Upattinas School & Resource Center in Glenmoore, PA
On the other hand, teens who are planning to go on to college may find that there’s no need to acquire a high school diploma in order to gain admission. Just as there are literally hundreds of good colleges (including many prestigious ones, such as Bard and Franklin & Marshall) that do not require SAT scores, there is that number and more who will accept applications that are comprised of a portfolio; letters of recommendation from tutors, mentors and employers; credits earned from local and community colleges; and other experiences that would indicate to them that your young person is sufficiently mature and intellectually developed to succeed at their institution. Incidentally, an introductory courses, such as Algebra, Biology, English, Government, etc. taken at a community college, in many instances features the same content as if one were taking a good high school course on the topic, so in successfully completing such a course, the student demonstrates both that (s)he has had the same instruction as a high schooler and that (s)he can handle college-level work.
In general, it’s best to speak with the admissions department of any colleges that your young person is considering. There are numerous colleges who are on record as not insisting that conventional admissions requirements be fulfilled, and even those whose literature suggests otherwise will sometimes make exceptions when they see how desirable a student you are presenting to them.
Our youth programs are fully described on our "program" pages. Here you will learn about Group Tutorials, Shaping Your Life, Open Programs, Choice, Naturalist and other programs we offer youth.
In all our programs, great and lasting friendships can be born and fostered. In some cases, young people can stay together as a group for several years, forming bonds that extend well beyond their OC years. As flexible as we are with regard to the content of what young people pursue, we are insistent on the development of pro-social behaviors—putups rather than put-downs and sarcasm; listening rather than arguing; collaboration in lieu of competition; inquisitiveness in place of defensiveness or fakery. In short, we seek to build a true sense of caring and community and an appreciation of each person’s gifts and individuality.
In our programs at Open Connections, we do no testing per se of our young people in the conventional sense of the word. Evaluations are made in the context of normal activity by the youths themselves. With regard to the State-mandated tests, we arrange for an outside evaluator to administer tests for those designated as being in the 3rd, 5th and 8th grades and who wish to take the tests here. Prior to these tests, we offer a three-hour test-prep morning to familiarize both the young people and their parents with all aspects of the testing experience, including guidance as to how to keep these tests, and the resultant scores, in perspective.
Young people can participate in OC without being a homeschooler/unschooler up to 8 years old (or if the young person is 8 years old two weeks or more after local school district classes start in September, then even up to 9 years old).
These questions are explored fully in Tuition.