[Originally published in the Spring 2020 issue of the Open Connections Magazine.]
Please describe your family constellation: Parents, names and ages of young people.
Corinne & Jon, Cali (11) and Noah (14)
How long has your family been on this path of self/ family-directed Open Education?
This is our 7th year at OC.
What led you in this direction?
Corinne: I guess it was always in the back of my mind. Noah was attending a small Quaker school and finishing up his 1st grade year. When we visited the 2nd grade classroom we found out that recess would be shortened, homework would start and the education in general would become more formal. Up until that point, his school experience had been very hands-on. When I thought about his happiest moments, it was his time outside and in nature that he loved. So I started to question whether the current school path was the right one for us...
How did you get involved with Open Connections?
Corinne: As I was having second thoughts about continuing on the traditional school path, I heard an advertisement on WHYY for OC and immediately called to set up a visit. I remember meeting Mike and being impressed with what I saw and heard on the tour. I brought the whole family back with me for another tour and we were sold! Cali and I signed up to attend Pre-OP that same spring. At the time, Emily Bergson-Shilcock was facilitating Pre-OP with Peter Bergson, OC Co-founder. I vividly remember overhearing Peter talking to a young person about his/her artwork, observing the marks that he/she made and saying, “tell me about this.” As a masters-level art therapist, I was aware of the importance of a child’s artwork and how adults talk to them about their artwork. In all of the classrooms that I and my children had been in up to that point, I had never seen or heard an adult handle that interaction with awareness of that developmental importance...until that day that I overheard Peter’s interaction. And right then and there I knew we were in the right place.
What programs do your young people attend at Open Connections?
Noah currently attends Group Tutorial IV (Tuesday/ Thursday) and Choice III on Wednesday. Cali attends Group Tutorial II on both Tuesday and Thursday and Choice II on Wednesday.
How do your young people spend their time when not at Open Connections?
On Mondays we get together with another family to do writing and math, and after Program on Tuesdays, Wednesdays and Thursdays we try to do a little math, writing or reading—depending on our schedule. Sometimes we take Outschool online classes that align with Noah and Cali’s current interests (baking, sewing, Arduino, etc). Extracurriculars include volunteering with Meals on Wheels, karate, track, flag football, voice lessons, FIRST Lego League, Jr. Model UN, and some field trips on select Fridays.
What are some of the key pluses to this educational approach for your family?
We really appreciate the flexibility, involvement, and learning alongside our young people. Being connected with their educational journey is truly special. We also value our young people having more responsibility for their education.
What concerns or challenges have you experienced along the way? How have you addressed them? Do you have any concerns as you look ahead?
Homeschooling has probably been one of the most challenging things we’ve ever done! It’s challenging to strike a balance between learner-led and parent-initiated; challenging to know how much to push and how much to follow. Finding ways to measure progress toward our goals can be a challenge also.
We’ve used a whiteboard, at times, as a visual management tool to track expectations and progress along the way. The board has also helped us to think about how we could break projects down into smaller pieces and then visualize how we can manage them. It gives us a big-picture sense of where we are in our activities and can be an energizer at times, helping Noah and Cali see their accomplishments.
What is your approach regarding academics? Real Work? Play? Self-direction/self-motivation?
During their younger years play was the natural preference/ inclination of our young people. As they have gotten older, formal academics have become an increasing priority. During their mid-elementary years, we created expectations for some kind of math, reading and writing to occur multiple times a week (and they could choose what that looked like). Now we follow some specific curricula (Beast Academy, Khan Academy and Brave Writer), have a math tutor for Noah, and have multiple formal projects to complete each year for their OC Group Tutorial programs.
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?
Everything! We have attended museums, classes, and tours within our local community and the greater Philadelphia area; we’ve traveled throughout the east coast and into Canada as well as across the Atlantic to Germany, and we’ve explored numerous National Parks. We try to turn every trip into an Edventure! FIRST Lego League and Jr. Model UN have turned out to be some of our most favorite and valuable “extra-curricular” experiences as they’ve connected us with students and adults outside of the homeschooling community, offered hands-on and real work experiences, and provided numerous problem-solving opportunities while giving us a “team” experience.
From your young people’s perspectives, what are the main pluses of this type of education?
Noah and Cali value the freedom and flexibility to explore things that we are interested in; appreciate having more choices; and are grateful for the flexibility in our daily schedule. They have a lot of fun outings and get to spend a lot of time outdoors in nature. And, as Noah says, “Well, it’s the nicest way to be educated.”
From your young people’s perspectives, what could OC do to further enhance their OC experience?
A longer program day to allow more time for activities, games, and social time with friends. It would be interesting to have some Fridays or even certain days after Program when the Woodshop and Makerspace are open for young people to work on independent projects.
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?
All of it! I’m pretty sure we attended and took advantage of everything in the first few years...we still try to be an active part of the community!
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?
Nothing specific comes to mind here. I think we’ve tried to take full advantage of all that OC has to offer—and this wealth of support and resources have helped us both in finding support inside and outside of OC.