Open Connections

PROSPECTIVE FAMILIES: Please click on "Inquire" to learn more about Fall 2020 Enrollment!

  • Pumpkin Pagentry
Making Connections

The Choice Programs on Wednesdays offer a broad range of topics for in-depth exploration. This fall, we facilitated topics from broadcast journalism and American Sign Language to ceramics and woodshop. I appreciate the hard work and expertise that goes into facilitating these offerings, but I want to take a moment to recognize the other parts of the day that are not purely content driven. Many connections are made in our community of learners during Check-in, Game Time, and Appreciations. 



Check-in is always interesting because it is the time when young people share what is significant in their lives. Sometimes it is a fun story about a family trip, or the minutia of their cat’s antics or even the breakfast they ate. Sometimes it is a heartbreaking tale of an ill grandparent or a pet that has passed. The young people of Choice I (8-10 yrs.) are very open and honest about what is going on in their lives, so it is always fun to hear what strikes their fancy as important. By the time youth get to Choice III (13-16 yrs.), the stories tend to be less random, and the youths’ storytelling skills have grown and matured. Gone are the frequent pauses, the umms, and the long winded stories where the teller gets to what should be the climax and says, ”What was I saying?” 


Check-in is more than just an opportunity to share: It is a weekly opportunity for public speaking. For some this seems to come naturally and for others it is almost overwhelmingly hard. Then on the flip side of finding their voices to speak to a group of peers, youth also work on the ability to sit quietly and give a speaker their attention. These listening skills are also honed when young people are given the “reporter role” and asked to listen and then report someone else's Check-in. Effective listening is more than just the physical act of hearing. Paraphrasing another’s words is a useful tool to demonstrate that the speaker was heard and understood. 


Sometimes for Check-in we pose a Flexible Thinking question instead of hearing about the young people’s week. Since much of what we work on during program time involves Precision Thinking—measuring the legs on a stool or determining the ratios of concrete to water to create a concrete planter—Check-in can be a useful time to engage the creative, inventive, and approximate thinking muscles. 

  • Which is stronger, blue or yellow? Why? 
  • If you had a spirit animal what would it be? 
  • As Halloween approaches, what actually scares you? 
  • If you had a swimming pool and could fill it with anything (besides water) what would it be? 
  • What would your superpower be? 

These types of questions are amazing because you get so much insight into how a person thinks. It is not enough to merely answer the question; we are looking for the reasons behind the answer. It is fascinating that a question such as "Which is stronger, blue or yellow?" will sometimes result in a vigorous debate over what is the "correct" answer. These weeks of Flexible Thinking questions are not only an opportunity for imaginative thinking, but also another way to encourage critical thinking as young people mount a vigorous and rational defense of their response. 


Game Time 

The middle part of the Choice program day is Game Time. Every other week, the young people have the opportunity to choose what interests them during this time. The variety of activities is broad: 

  • imaginative play in the Tire Swing Environment 
  • shooting hoops or playing 4-Square at the Blacktop 
  • talking with friends while balancing on the Slackline 
  • playing Flag Ninja, Capture the Flag, or Gaga Ball 
  • exploring the creek or walking to the tire swing in the woods 

The young people do have boundaries; everyone is strongly encouraged to go outside and there is a facilitator nearby. However, these folks love the opportunity to be in charge of their own agenda, and I appreciate the opportunity to allow them to be self-directed. 


On alternating weeks we play games, usually collaborative/ cooperative, as a group. The reasons for playing this type of games are many, but I would like to highlight them in terms of an ancient African word, ubuntu. This word roughly translates to “human kindness.” It reminds us that humans didn't become a dominant species by competing, but rather through cooperation. In small villages surrounded by threatening wild animals, each person is precious, and sharing brings abundance. If one villager learns a skill—say, a new way of growing food—she benefits more from teaching others than from using her knowledge to compete against them. When her neighbors thrive, they increase the group's collective resources; there's more for everyone, and the village is stronger as a whole. Hopefully, this sense of abundance through cooperation will be felt by all members of the village or group. 


Sometimes the objective of the Choice group game is purely collaborative. The young people engage their minds as well as their bodies to reach a common goal: fit everyone onto one box during musical boxes, or get off the Blacktop without touching the ground. However, the objective of other games also includes helping young people develop their gross motor skills; catching, kicking, and hitting all help to develop eye-hand coordination for young people who may not actively pursue these skills. We might play a collaborative badminton game with a goal of team bests for the number of consecutive volleys. 


Obviously there are games where scoring goes on, even if they are played with a silly twist. Big ball soccer uses multiple wo-to-three-feet-in-diameter balls to play an otherwise traditional game of soccer. Speed Kickball is a faster-paced version of the actual game with multiple people on base and incentives like a thousand points if you can kick the ball into the Tire Swing Environment window, or three outs if you put the ball into the pond. People new to OC soon come to realize that the goal of all these games is to play hard and finish with the score of fun-to-fun. The goal of all these games is to do your best and have fun, not to dominate your opponent and come away with the tournament trophy. Ubuntu applies here; the idea is that your success at a game does not have to be someone else’s downfall. 


In Choice group game time we also highlight activities where the goal is once again to make connections by working with others and to highlight skills that young people may have been unaware that they possessed. Here are activity highlights from our Pumpkin Pageant, a fall celebration of all things of the gourd family: 

  • A collaborative challenge to move a gourd through a line of participants without using their hands. 
  • Gourd-on-a-Spoon focused on speed and agility as participants wove through the course without dropping their Mini-jack gourd. 
  • Pageant Walking involved carrying pumpkins of varying sizes on your head; this was a demonstration of grace that some folks didn’t know they possessed. 
  • Flying Pumpkins used giant slingshots and highlighted the knowledge some people possess in understanding angles and trajectory. 
  • Harvesting pumpkins while in a sack was not just a demonstration of hopping skills. The young people showed that they are able to not take themselves too seriously and to make the best out of what is clearly a silly proposition. 



The last segment of the Choice Program day is Appreciations, a chance to reflect on what was enjoyable about the day. During Appreciations, we connect with others by sharing our highlights of the day, and connect with ourselves by practicing gratitude. By acknowledging something good in our lives, we usually recognize that the source of this goodness lies at least partially outside ourselves. As a result, gratitude helps us to make connections to that something or someone that helps us find joy in life and learning, be it people, nature, or a higher power. 


What is in a name? For Open Connections, the name helps highlight what we see as important: making connections with new things, with each other, and with our own abilities and insights to find what brings us joy.