T HE O C F AMI L Y IN T E R V I EW
Introducing the Pflug/West Family [published in the Winter 2017 OC Magazine]
How long has your family been on this path of self/family-directed Open Education?
We began our new path in June of 2016 when we decided to leave our local public school and find something that would work better for our family. It hasn’t been long, and I can’t believe how much we have learned and changed in that time.
What led you in this direction?
When Elliot was in kindergarten we took a big leap and opened a restaurant in our town. We’ve been so lucky to have success in a challenging business, but running it has a downside. When Elliot was in first grade, Jeremy was working Monday-Friday and all of Sunday. I was working long days on Saturday and Sunday. We had no down time together as a family, and we were rarely together when we were at our best—full of energy, eager to learn, and happy. Elliot’s long days of boring writing tasks left him too tired for his favorite pursuits. We dreamed about more time together, more time for fun, and more time to travel. When the pressure and stress started to really get to us, we finally realized it was time to make another big leap. The homeschooling lifestyle has allowed us to rewrite the family schedule in a way that works for all of us.
How did you get involved with Open Connections?
Very late one night I was angsting and Googling “Am I crazy to think that I can actually homeschool?” and I found a link to OC. As I read about the amazing programs, and realized how close it was to our home in Media, I felt hope bloom in my chest. I went for a tour a few days later, and we soon decided that we had found our community
How do your young people spend their time when they’re not at Open Connections?
Our boys spend a lot of time together, creating imaginary worlds and filling those worlds with elaborate props, reference manuals, maps and costumes. We use Writing with Ease and Handwriting Without Tears, mostly when they don’t have more pressing writing to do for their independent projects. We do conventional schoolwork for math a few times a week, with some drilling on math facts, although we haven’t found a favorite curriculum. The most shocking thing to me is how far we’ve moved toward the Unschooling side of the spectrum. It just seems like the less work we assign them, the more work they actually create. We are in awe of their industrious natures and their ability to sustain interest in a project for hours and days and weeks—provided it was their idea! In addition to our home activities, they participate in educational programs at our awesome local libraries, are involved with sports and swimming at the Y, explore Tyler Arboretum, visit many of Philadelphia’s amazing museums, and see as many plays as our budget allows. Last year we took many family field trips focused on colonial life and the Revolutionary War. This year our focus is on Mexico and we hope to make ONE BIG TRIP in the spring. As our connection to the OC community grows and as we meet other homeschool families, we feel excited about all of the new field trip and educational opportunities that keep popping up. Who has time for school when there is so much to learn?!
What are some of the key pluses to this educational approach for your family?
The biggest plus of all is the way it has revolutionized our schedule. We have so much time together, and none of that time is wasted on arguing about homework. People marvel that we have time to homeschool and run a business but I assure them that we have so much less stress now. When we have a late night, we sleep in. When frustration mounts, we take a break. When a new interest takes over someone’s imagination, we give it free reign. I guess increased happiness is the biggest plus.
What concerns or challenges have you experienced along the way? How have you addressed them? Do you have any concerns as you look ahead?
I was a public school teacher for 11 years, and we always planned to send our children to conventional school. We love the democracy of public school; it always struck us as civic-minded to be part of the change and progress of schools-for-all. Even though we found wonderful educators at our local school, our experience left us concerned that much-needed changes were not coming quickly enough to benefit our children. Rote academic work, little recess and no support for social and emotional growth were chilling realities. Experienced teachers and administrators expressed alarm at the demands for more and more “rigor,” but testing schedules still ruled the day. Homeschooling is the answer to so many of the questions that our experience raised for us, but we still feel the pangs of guilt for leaving so many other children “behind.” The privilege of having this choice sometimes weighs heavily. We address these concerns as best we can by attending school board meetings, speaking out in defense of good teacher contracts, marching in support of our local para-professionals and voting in local elections.
What is your approach regarding academics? Real Work? Play? Self-direction/self-motivation?
Elliot has a very academic nature and spends a lot of his time in self-directed learning, reading non-fiction books after scouring the library shelves. He also creates a lot of written products that serve as guides to the fantasy worlds that he reads about and imagines. Silas definitely gravitates more toward play. He spends a lot of time inventing and building with cardboard, string, pipe cleaners, carabiners, paper, tape and natural materials. And more tape. The most structured part of our school day is in the couple of hours after breakfast when everyone has the most energy and patience for math and some parent-led activities. We all read aloud and silently throughout the day, every day. Afternoons are mostly self-directed, with parks, playgrounds, backyard time, chores, Legos and library visits in the mix.
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?
I find inspiration and encouragement in the writings of Grace Llewellyn, John Holt and John Taylor Gatto. Facebook helped me so much when I was still exploring the idea of homeschooling. I followed every Homeschool page and blog I could find. I especially liked the “Day in the Life” series on Jamie Martin’s Simple Homeschool page. Reading everyday people’s stories made it seem possible and accessible to me.
From your young people’s perspectives, what are the main pluses of this type of education?
They cite “lots of outside time, no desks, options, lots of fun things to do, wood shop, easy to make friends at OC, and hiking” as the main pluses.
From your young people’s perspectives, what could OC do to further enhance their OC experience?
Silas wishes that he could do animal care all of the time and Elliot wants to be allowed to bring his books from home. (Mom and Dad say there is a very good reason to enjoy all that OC has to offer at OC and enjoy books from home at home.)
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?
We love Community Days, especially the Resource Fair in October. Some of our best moments come when lingering after program days in and around the Sand Pit. I have had and continue to have so many great, frequently-interrupted conversations while chasing Wally around the campus at the end of the day. The Pausing Ceremony is a beautiful way to close the year and celebrate together.
Also, because our restaurant has catered the last two OC Graduation ceremonies, we have had the opportunity to witness the most beautiful, personal and unique ritual that OC celebrates. To call it “graduation” might be to undersell the touching tribute to individuals that it actually is. We were so touched by the stories the facilitators shared, and they really brought home for us how loved the young people are in this special place.
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?
I am very excited that a mentoring program started this year. I think this is a great way to bring new families into the fold more quickly. Although I am very outgoing, it took a while to learn names and feel truly connected with a few other families. I think it would also be great to have pictures of facilitators with their names displayed prominently somewhere at the start of the year. When you are new, there are so many names to learn.
Finally, as a new homeschooler last year, I would have loved to share all of my fears and concerns in a sort of support group. So many of the amazing, extraordinary, experienced homeschoolers came across as so confident; sometimes it was hard to admit that I was riddled with self-doubt. Many facilitators shared with me that they always knew they wanted to homeschool their own families, or that they were homeschooled themselves. That perspective is so important to our community. Having role models who are themselves the accomplished and happy products of a homeschool education is enough to make me cry with gratitude. For my family, however, last year was the start of a different sort of journey that we never expected to make. Despite the delights it brought, it was a year of uncertainty. We were learning to let go of past expectations. Jeremy and I needed to be un-schooled a bit ourselves. Finding others who were also feeling growing pains took time and a certain amount of bold outreach/bold lamenting on my part. In the future, I would love to be a person (or part of a team) for families new to homeschooling to look to for reassurance and friendship when they are experiencing doubt about this big bold choice.