Please describe your family constellation: Sam, Heather, Lily (13), Ollie (10), and Emmy (8).
How long has your family been on this path of self/family-directed Open Education? Our family has been homeschooling since 2014, though in different capacities. Lily started in first grade after attending a small kindergarten program. Ollie chose to come home from preschool and started in kindergarten. Emmy went back and forth between the two for a year before coming home full time.
What led you in this direction? When it came time to sign Lily up for 1st grade, it felt like a loss of so many things. With school focused on benchmarks and test scores, we feared she would lose her *zing*. Instead, we wished for the excitement and energy of discovery to continue for her...and for her siblings. And so, we tried learning alongside one another...just for a year. We played outside. We hiked our woods. We explored the creek in our backyard. We did math on the trampoline. We spent hours reading books together-on the couch, coloring- in a hammock, by the fire. It was something we didn’t want to give up. We wanted to continue learning this way as long as it made sense for our three children. And so our year turned into seven and counting.
How did you get involved with Open Connections? Not long after we moved from Pittsburgh, I was searching for homeschool connections or co-ops and happened upon a Facebook post about OC. I was intrigued, booked a tour and signed all three up that same day. Opening Day was three weeks away at this point. A last minute save in every sense of the word.
What programs do your young people attend at Open Connections? Lily, Ollie and Emmy all attend various Group Tutorial programs 2 days/week.
How do your young people spend their time when they’re not at Open Connections? All three enjoy spending time outside and exploring new ideas and experiences together. As a family, we have been watching shows, gardening, hiking on a regular basis, and snuggling our two cats, Rorric and Ragnar.
Lily has embraced self-direction this year. She becomes intrigued with new ideas and jumps right in. Some of her newest pursuits include interior design, zine making, writing/poetry, yoga, and meditation. She is obsessed with the Warriors book series and recently finished The Hunger Games series. She also loves music, especially Taylor Swift, Megan Thee Stallion, and Gregory Alan Iskakov.
Ollie is also a voracious reader, choosing a wide variety of books to either read or listen to. He was part of a book club this year exploring social justice themes and really enjoyed it. He loves being a part of a baseball team and is happy practice has started again. Dungeons and Dragons with OC pals has been a high point of his pandemic year. New this spring, he is taking karate which seems to be a great fit for him.
Emmy has gotten into books this year, as well. A new favorite series is The Keeper of Lost Cities. She continues to love creating art whether for process or product, it doesn’t matter...she just needs to make! When not at OC, she loves playing with her siblings, making up new games, visiting her grandparents and playing with friends. Karate and horseback riding are two new activities she is trying currently.
What are some of the key pluses to this educational approach for your family? Time. We have been able to take this finite commodity and use it in a way we think is most beneficial to our kids. They have spent more time with one another; they are each other’s (mostly) favorite playmates. They have been able to use their time to their own advantage —speeding through a new audiobook without interruption or slowing down to review something that was confusing in math. We hope to give them space to actually develop and know themselves before other people influence them. Another great advantage has been the flexibility to be on our own timeline both as learners and as a family unit. Quiet beaches in September, wide open museums and playgrounds during the school year, West Coast adventures in mid-winter...these are some of our favorite things!
What concerns or challenges have you experienced along the way? How have you addressed them? Do you have any concerns as you look ahead? When we chose homeschooling, our goal was to provide what each individual child needed and to evaluate those needs flexibly. So, of course, there have been challenges. All our challenges seem to pale in comparison to this pandemic year, as our community has changed. Navigating the loss of friendships and families we looked forward to growing alongside has been painful, sometimes heartbreaking. This may have been our “core curriculum” for the year. In our family we have had many hard conversations and they continue. Again, here is another advantage to this path—we have time, our family is doing it together and we are finding understanding and acceptance. We are all growing.
What is your approach regarding academics? Because of my background in teaching, I have been pretty traditional in tackling academics while giving a creative twist to outcomes. Process and communication of ideas is a core component of our home learning-just as it is on campus. While we use curriculum as a learning guide and we remain pretty true to grade level stan dards, there is a ton of flexibility in how and what we study—especially since we are weaving three different levels together on a daily basis. We are literature heavy, structured in math learning (i.e. we follow a curriculum), and wide open to the feast of ideas out in the world to round out any other subjects. There is also a great focus on art and what is happening out in the world. Our rhythm in the year usually flows from very structured to more unschool-y depending on energy levels and enthusiasm. If there are particular interests, we have the time and are open to them.
Resources: Our only constant resource is books. Books and audiobooks of all genres really are the best and most reliable curriculum in our learning. The foundation of our learning relies on tying other ideas into whatever we are reading. BraveWriter has been a great resource we have used consistently as well as Math Mammoth and Zearn for math instruction. This year we also found a wonderful writing mentor as well as a tutor for some subjects.
From your young people’s perspectives, what are the main pluses of this type of education?
Ollie: We are constantly exploring new things. I like that there is structure to our learning but that can change depending on what the young people want.
Lily: Because it is such a small community, we become so connected to each other. There is always someone to interact with; another kid to play with or an adult to have a conversation. OC is small and that makes it a tight knit community. Learning together in a Group Tutorial, we become friends quickly, we connect and everyone is accepted. We are all in this together.
Emmy: That we can do plays and act alongside friends. I love using costumes from the attic and imagining I’m someone else.
What could OC do to further enhance their OC experiences?
Ollie: I think there should be more biological studies.
Lily: I would have loved my Group Tutorial group to have more opportunities to socialize and connect.
Emmy: I’d love to go to the Art Studio more and get open time to do whatever I wanted there.
What helped your family become more connected to the OC Community? Traveling any hardship together cements bonds; while we were already active members of the community, navigating the past year alongside such amazing people has been such a wonderful surprise. We so appreciated the many gatherings organized by parents, youth, and staff. This year we have just been motivated to SHOW UP and it has paid off in strong connections to others and the community, at large. Most memorable were our discovery of East Goshen playground, the awesome Group Tutorial III meet ups in Media, and our pie making adventure with Lisa on Zoom! Community Days have been invaluable to us as we have gotten to use or work on campus in so many different ways—using the cob pizza oven, pit firing clay, and Martin Luther King Jr. Day are all bright, beautiful memories from the year (among so many others!).
What could OC do to further your experience, help you reach your un-met goals or pursue them in a more effective or enjoyable manner? Open Connections has introduced us to such a wide variety of ideas, experiences and people that we would have missed out on otherwise. We feel grateful for each opportunity OC has provided for our family!