The OC Family Interview (originally published in the Spring 2021 issue of the Open Connections Magazine).
1. Please describe your family constellation:
Ros (mom), Steve (dad), and Elric (11)
2. How long has your family been on this path of self/family-directed Open Education?
Elric started in the Open Program in 2016 after attending preschool & Kindergarten at a Friends school. (It feels like much longer than 4 years!)
3. What led you in this direction?
After his early years at the Friends school, which we all loved, we struggled with the idea of transitioning to a traditional school. The lack of outdoor time was one major turnoff. We also desired flexibility to travel and visit family since we’re on our own here in PA. Homeschooling was in the back of our minds, but with Elric as an only child (and introverted parents!) we wanted to make sure he had the opportunity to create strong social connections. I (Ros) started exploring and getting overwhelmed by all the possible directions for homeschooling, eventually leaning towards unschooling and self-directed learning. I didn’t want to just recreate “school at home” if we were opting out of the traditional school system, but I wasn’t exactly sure what it would look like otherwise.
4. How did you get involved with Open Connections?
We had heard of OC through friends and decided to take a tour. Coming from a play-based preschool/K experience, the Open Program felt like the right next step, and OC provided a built-in support system as we started our homeschooling journey.
5. What programs does your young person attend at Open Connections?
Elric has attended two program days each year. This year he is in Group Tutorial II on Tuesdays and Thursdays.
6. How does your young person spend his time when he is not at Open Connections?
His days aren’t super structured outside of scheduled classes or meetups. Being virtual much of this year combined with having Steve working at home has required some adjustment for all of us. Elric does math most days and spends some time reading. He is doing some book clubs this year focusing on history and social justice, as otherwise he would only read fantasy! Elric loves connecting with friends on Minecraft and for D&D. We live in a small, private neighborhood where he can play freely, so he spends a lot of time outside with neighbor friends. He loves (and learns a lot through!) audiobooks, so that’s always part of his day. The only sport he has continued through the pandemic is karate, and he’s excited to be getting close to black belt. Elric is also learning to play both acoustic and electric guitar. He takes zoom lessons for now, but Steve also plays, so they spend time learning favorite songs together. We are grateful for the time we’ve had this year to connect with other families for park dates, Group Tutorial II meetups, etc.
7. What are some of the key pluses to this educational approach for your family?
Flexibility and freedom, for sure. We appreciate the ability to choose what to focus time and energy on depending on Elric’s interests. We love being able to explore and learn with him.
8. What concerns or challenges have you experienced along the way? How have you addressed them? Do you have any concerns as you look ahead?
Steve and I both went through the public school system, and my mom is a retired public school teacher, so it has been hard to let go of those ingrained expectations to meet certain standards of education. Starting out (and honestly even sometimes now), our biggest concern was “are we doing enough?” and “is he learning what he should?” Time and experience with a more natural learning approach has helped alleviate this self-imposed pressure, along with connecting with families who have similar approaches. Conversations with Facilitators at OC and other parents have helped tremendously in pushing through doubts and concerns along the way. When we pause to reflect on it, we are amazed by what Elric has learned without traditional schooling.
9. What is your approach regarding academics? Real Work? Play? Self-direction/self-motivation?
It’s definitely a combination approach, though the balance shifts with what works best for us as we follow this not-so-straight path. Math is not something he’s very self-motivated to do, so we do focus more intentionally on that. We realized early on that Elric is not keen on workbooks as a learning tool, so we’ve wound our way through various things to find what works best for him (currently for math we are doing a combination of Teaching Textbooks and Prodigy, both online.) Generally, we try to find ways to help him go deeper with what he’s interested in, while looking for natural openings to broaden learning stemming from a topic or interest.
10. 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 really miss going to museums and other places where you can learn so much through a field trip or in-person, hands-on programming. Pre-2020, Elric enjoyed occasional classes at Chester County Art Association and programs through local nature preserves (The Land Conservancy was great!) We’ve had some positive experiences with Outschool recently—one a math-based dragon drawing class and one focused on Howard Zinn’s “A Young People’s History of the United States.” Elric listens to a lot of audiobooks through Libby, and we listen to a lot of podcasts while driving to/from OC (Overheard by National Geographic is a favorite!). Brave Learner podcasts have been resonating with me this year. We’re planning to dive into a couple of the Brave Writer programs this winter focusing on books Elric wants to read, and I’m looking forward to creating a bit of structure with that. The people we have met at OC have been a huge part of our entire family’s development!
11. From your young person’s perspective, what are the main pluses of this type of education?
Elric loves the flexibility and freedom to choose how he spends his time for the most part. At OC, he appreciates the Facilitators being so open to suggestions and ideas from the group. And, he loves the time he gets to spend outside!
12. From your young person’s perspective, what could OC do to further enhance his OC experience?
He says he likes it the way it is. He just really wants to be back in person as soon as possible!
13. Looking back to when your family was new to OC, what events (Community Days, Parents’ Meetings, Open Mic Night, etc.) helped your family become more connected to the OC community?
For me (Ros), just spending time on campus after programs helped me become better connected. As mentioned, Steve and I are both introverts, so we have to really push ourselves to go to bigger events—and we don’t always push hard enough to make it! The first Family Work Day we went to is memorable, as it was a great way for us to dive into a job and introduce ourselves to people we probably otherwise wouldn’t. We have missed out on a lot of the Friday events in the past because of our work schedules. I appreciate the recent evolution of parent-led Community Days and look forward to taking part as much as possible. I’m also excited about the Parent Connections group and the zoom calls and meetups we’ve had so far this year.
14. 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?
We’re all feeling very positive about this year at OC, even though it was a rough start, and we were all dreading being virtual. I feel like our desire to be more connected to the OC community is happening in spite of it all! We look forward to more opportunities for deeper involvement and open partnership.