The Open Program reflects the essence of the Open Connections philosophy: a belief in Natural Learning, curiosity and the primacy of self-motivation, collaboration and the creative process. Within certain wide parameters, including respect for the rights of others, young people decide how, and with whom, they spend their day in an Open Program. One of our main goals is to keep alive the flame of curiosity that is present in this age group.
Although no two days look exactly alike in the Open Program, there are certain threads that, when woven together, comprise what most closely resembles a “typical day.” A key component of this program is the belief that young people are naturally curious about the world around them, and that this natural curiosity will flourish in a self-directed atmosphere. Therefore, young people may choose to work with real tools in the workshop; design a marble rollway; sew a pillow; explore fractions with math manipulatives; write a story or poem; take apart an old telephone; experiment with batteries, bulbs and motors; or explore the world in a hundred other ways. These opportunities help youth become confident decision-makers and initiators.
While we place value on self-direction, we also recognize the ”I don’t know what I don’t know” perspective and therefore include some Facilitator-initiated activities each day. Youth are invited to participate in activities designed to support their Conceptual Development, initiating the type of higher-level thinking that allows academics to be truly understood rather than merely memorized. These activities serve as building blocks for youth who are looking to explore academics in a hands-on and developmentally appropriate atmosphere. Examples of such CD challenges are working with Montessori beads to develop the concept of place value; or working with scales, beakers and liquids to explore the concepts of weight, measurement and volume. Such activities serve as tools to help create a strong foundation in preparation for life skills.
There is also emphasis on building collaborative social skills — learning how to create win-win relationships. Facilitators and young people actively participate in developing ways to include others, offer friendly language, find constructive and mutually satisfying solutions to disagreements and engage in other positive social behaviors.
Facilitators spend significant planning time working to create an engaging and enriching environment that helps to foster each youth’s personal and intellectual growth. As believers in a holistic educational (and life) experience, Facilitators offer activities and materials that nurture the youth’s Multiple Intelligences (as defined by Howard Gardner).
Participants also take advantage of OC’s 28-acre property. From exploring the creeks and ponds to hiking in the woods, from free play in the sand pit to playing games on the blacktop, the Open Program offers ample time for youth to experience life’s natural beauty.
In sum, the Open Program experience affords youth both the time and the space to be tinkerers, explorers, creators and problem solvers, while simultaneously offering outlets to further develop their intellectual curiosity and social interactions in a warm, safe and pro-social environment.
The Open Program is likely a fit for youth who: show signs of independence; express a desire to interact with peers; are independent in bathroom use; have the ability to control physical and verbal impulses; keep themselves safe (know not to touch a hot stove, run with scissors, etc.); are respectful of themselves, others and the materials; and understand boundaries and checking in before leaving an area.