Open Connections

We are so much more connected to our kids.

-Ali and Peter
, OC Parents

Ali and Peter

OC Parents

Introducing the Bohn/Hettinger Family

(Originally published in the Winter 2018-19 Issue of the OC Magazine


Please describe your family.

Pete and I have two children, Adlai (Az), who is 12 years old, and Freya, who is 8 years old.


How long has your family been on this path of self/family-directed Open Education?

Officially this is our second year homeschooling, but we have been on this journey for a long time. Pete’s thinking on the “schooling” question was shaped by his encounter with Ivan Illich and his work on the subject of “Deschooling Society.” Illich’s critique affirms a radical concept that people as natural learners and teachers should be free to instruct and seek instruction from whomever they please, as they please. I was a Montessori School teacher before having children and had always wanted our children to experience the Montessori approach of “Follow the child.”

For many years we have been going on “educational” road trips with our kids. We love to include National Parks, historical sites, museums and amazing nature but now we “count” it and call them “school days.”


What led you in this direction?

To start with, we enrolled our children in conventional learning venues but continued asking ourselves if we should explore a more open, freer model. During the “school year” I always hated how much time school took, not only the 7.5-hour days but homework too. When combined with other activities the kids never had free time to create or just be. It felt like the majority of their time was spent mastering a curriculum determined by others. So, in 2017 we gave up school! Now our kids are free to follow the things they are passionate about, not overwhelmed by busy work.


How did you get involved with Open Connections?

When we moved to our current house in 2014, Nicole Bailey (mom of OC youth Kaiyah, Cash and Lucas) mentioned we were just down the road from OC. We continued with conventional schooling for a few more years but as we continued watching our children develop and we listened to them share their feelings about what they were doing, we were driven to look for alternatives for them and for us.


In May of 2017 I called OC on a Thursday and made an appointment to visit on Tuesday of the following week. Over the weekend I showed Adlai the OC website and told him about the visit. On Monday when he was back in school (before the visit) he told everyone that he was not coming back next year and he was going to OC! I am so very glad it has met his expectations and then some!


What programs do your young people attend at Open Connections?

Adlai is in Group Tutorial III (Tuesday/Thursday) and Choice II on Wednesday. Freya is in Group Tutorial I on Tuesdays and Thursdays and Choice I on Wednesdays.


How do your young people spend their time when they’re not at Open Connections?

Adlai swims five days a week for WAC as well and and has dry-land practice 2 days a week. He is part of a FRC (First Robotics Competition) robotics team with Eastern Pennsylvania Robotics Alliance which meets 2 days a week.


On the more “academic” side, Adlai does not love worksheets or busy work so we try and keep that to a minimum. He is currently working with Khan Academy for math. And he likes the format of videos and short quizzes. It’s easy for him to move ahead once he “gets” it and doesn’t get stuck filling out a lot of pages of problems. Besides the BYL (Build Your Library) we use Read Naturally for reading comprehension and speed. And he uses Words Their Way for spelling. The book he is in now is using prefixes, suffixes and roots to learn spelling he and enjoys learning the vocabulary words. Adlai is just beginning with classes on Outschool. He is taking a chemistry class he really enjoys and I see us using this format a lot more as they both get older and seek information beyond what I can give. Also having a virtual classroom with other kids is really appealing to them.


Freya loves dance and science. She dances at the Rock School West four classes a week plus this is her first year in the Nutcracker production. She also swims for Westtown Aquatics Club four days a week. Freya takes science classes here and there too. This fall she started with Girls in Science and Technology Program at the Helicopter Museum in West Chester.

For “academics,” Freya likes to see the whole scope and sequence laid out so she knows what she has to do to get it done. She is using Harcourt Family Learning Complete Curriculum. It covers reading, spelling, language arts, writing, math and test prep. I don’t love it but it gets the job done.


Both kids love the Thinklab by SRA. I had that in my classroom as a kid and remembered loving it, so I hunted it down on EBay. It’s lots of logic puzzles and it is set up for them to work independently. It’s also one of the few things they can work on together!


What are some of the key pluses to this educational approach for your family?

We are so much more connected to our kids. I used to feel that I gave them away for the best part of their day to school and got them back crabby and miserable, at which point I was expected to support them with their homework, which I didn’t believe in (homework that is); it made for an exhausting existence.


Now we follow our children’s interests and throw in the three R’s as we can. We love the projects the children do at OC. Last year Freya studied Giant Pandas versus Red Pandas for her Mini Peer Facilitation. As a family we went to the Philadelphia Zoo to see the two new red panda cubs and then we went to the National Zoo in Washington DC to see the giant pandas.


Adlai is super interested in Japanese culture and so did his Peer Facilitation on Yokai (Japanese ghosts). He attended many events at Shofuso Japanese House and Garden and visited Japanese collections at many area museums. Part of his study was learning about wood prints, which he then facilitated for his peers as part of his Facilitation. The whole process encompassed so many subjects—art, history, geography, and language—but in a holistic way that all stemmed from his interests.


We love how OC focuses on examining processes surrounding learning. At OC, how the youth accomplish their learning goals is as important as, or more important than, the learning goal itself. So much of conventional education skips examining process, thereby missing an important part of learning development.


What concerns or challenges have you experienced along the way? How have you addressed them? Do you have any concerns as you look ahead?

As the primary “teacher” of my children I have concerns about how to work with our children’s dislikes and aversions. Since we are always following their interests, they easily avoid things that don’t interest them. We are working hard on making the things they dislike more appealing!


What is your approach regarding academics? Real Work? Play? Self-direction/self-motivation? What resources—people, books, curricula, places or organizations (museums, art centers, scouting, 4-H, businesses, etc.)—have you found helpful? How have they contributed to your youth’s development?

We are a total hodgepodge. We have many Montessori materials left over from my teaching days, we have started to use Outschool for online classrooms and we have work books and BYL (Build Your Library) curriculum and books.


Facebook has been a great resource; I joined a lot of groups online—everything from Homeschooling Hogwarts Style to a local group, Chester County (PA) Homeschool. I have found so many resources through these groups, from parent-planned field trips to how to incorporate Freya’s favorite books (Harry Potter) into her education. The Library has been a great resource for audio books, classes and of course books.


From your young people’s perspectives, what are the main pluses of this type of education?

Freya says she likes the freedom.

Adlai likes the flexibility to pursue the subjects he likes in a way that he likes.


Looking back to when your family was new to OC, what events (Open Campus Days, Parents’ Meetings, Open Mic Night, etc.) helped your family become more connected to the OC community?

The Portfolio Workshop was one of my favorites. It was great to have my hands on actual portfolios. It made it so much easier to help my children put theirs together for the first time. The Multiple-Intelligence Festival and Pausing Ceremony at the end of the year was the best. I loved all the talent and joy that the children shared with everyone. It was such a fantastic celebration.


What could OC do to further your (the parent’s) experience, help you reach your un-met goals, or pursue them in a more effective or enjoyable manner?

At this time we don’t have any suggestions but we do know that OC is always very responsive to us when we do have concerns or requests for changes