Open Connections

Our youth are joyful and curious. They are developing skills, pursuing interests, and becoming more creative, and independent all the time.

-Lizzie and Craig
, OC Parents

Lizzie and Craig

OC Parents

This interview was originally published in the Winter 2019-20 issue of the "Open Connections Magazine." 

Please describe your family constellation: Parents, names and ages of young people.

Lizzie, Craig, Carter (9), Annabelle (7), and Gracie (4)


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

We’ve always valued meaningful learning experiences. Lizzie’s BA in Education and Masters in Early Childhood Development, as well as her time as a Kindergarten teacher, led her in particular to truly understand and value the promise of self-directed education for children. We, as a family, became brave enough to pursue this path two years ago, trusting our instincts, after Carter’s brief experience in a traditional first grade classroom.


What led you in this direction?

Listening to Carter’s questions about his traditional school environment opened our hearts and minds to the idea of homeschooling. Most days he returned home mentally and emotionally exhausted asking,“When am I going to learn something interesting in school?”And, “Why don’t we have opportunities to enjoy science and history?”Or, “Why do some of my classmates get their clips moved to ‘contact parent’ on the behavior chart; are they in trouble?” His teacher thought he was ‘a great student’ and was ‘very respectful,’ as he easily met all the necessary standards, yet once he had his clip moved for asking too many questions. He was asking important questions in school, and of us, and we soon understood the unfortunate answers.


The eight weeks Carter spent in school were stressful for him and our family. Our days full of play, adventure, and exploration were missed. He wished for exciting learning experiences and, instead, discovered peer culture offered countless unwelcome lessons. Play at school wasn’t valued, and home time was now spent in necessary de-schooling. He was in first grade and childhood seemed a world away.


For us, traditional schooling interfered with purposeful education. His days at school presented unnecessary hardships, while his days at home were full of purposeful learning. We left the classroom and embraced the familiar rhythm of interest-based learning. It was, and continues to be, the most wonderful decision for our family.


How did you get involved with Open Connections?

Lizzie reached out to Tracey C (friend/fellow OC parent) seeking guidance to navigate the challenges we were facing with our school experience. Lizzie had the opportunity to share a year in Kindergarten with Carly C (SYL) and came to know Tracey as a good parenting resource. Tracey encouraged us to whole-heartedly pursue homeschooling. Fortunately for our family, Tracey introduced us to Open Connections and Julia Bergson-Shilcock, Co-Director. From our first visit to campus, the best path forward for our family was a Partnership Education with OC.


What programs do your young people attend at Open Connections?

Carter attends Group Tutorial I on T/TH and Choice I on Wednesday. Annabelle and Gracie attend Open Program T/W/TH.


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

Our days begin and end with good books and lots of music in between. We love getting lost in stories. Hours of play are enjoyed each day. “Let’s play!” is often heard from one to the other. Annabelle and Gracie create and explore interesting play scenarios together, frequently in costumes of their own making.


We spend time outside appreciating nature each day. We can often be found wandering through local botanical gardens, hiking trails, or enjoying creek and pond investigations. Carter is passionate about fishing. If he’s not fresh or saltwater fishing, he’s likely researching the sport or requesting an excursion. He also loves spending time in the Poconos, at lakes boating, swimming and kayaking.


Our youth enjoy drawing, painting, and Lego-building. Carter and Annabelle enjoy playing chess. Pony riding and barn chores are a very special part of our week. They spend time caring for our family pets and walking our pups, Scout and Georgie.


We love traveling, and the SW islands of Florida have become favorites where we enjoy shelling, exploring marine biology and sand play. We enjoy swimming and campfires at home, time with family and friends, and collecting experiences together.


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

Simply put—the gift of time. Time together. To pursue interests. To play. To learn about the things that matter most to our youth. Time to foster deep relationships and make personal connections. Time to explore nature. To think. Time to be peaceful. Time to preserve the innocence of our young people.


And freedom. The endless opportunities for purposeful learning. The freedom to enjoy a day following their curiosity, wherever that may lead. A learning environment that reaches far and wide. The ability to freely travel to pursue interests. The freedom to share all the small moments that allow us to encourage and nurture our youth to believe in themselves.


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

The lasting side effects of a brief traditional education have taken us a long time to overcome. For example, two years later, Carter sometimes struggles with the idea of being late; though he was never actually late to school, he feared ‘the worst’ might happen as a late slip would have been required.


To date, we haven’t experienced any challenges with our curiosity-based approach to homeschooling. When they arise, we feel we will have the support and resources to solve them.


What is your approach regarding academics? Real Work? Play? Self-direction/self-motivation?

Our home environment is built on the natural process of learning. It is hands-on and play-based. Play continues to inspire our creativity and helps us build problem-solving strategies, listening skills, and cooperative skills.


We spend hours enjoying good books, reading together and independently from a variety of content areas—fiction and non-fiction. Our youths’ interests continue to grow our home library. Studies of science, history, world cultures, and geography are always present in our home and continue to be independently pursued with great enthusiasm and curiosity. Math is a focused daily pursuit and is applied to a variety of real-life tasks and integrated into every possible experience.


Real Work is valued in our home. Our youth participate in all aspects of daily household operations. Meal preparation, table setting/clearing, dishwashing, laundry, bed-making, room tidiness, pet care, recycling, gardening, yardwork, helping neighbors and family members are all part of our daily home rhythm. They are compensated with a weekly allowance through which they are learning to save, invest, donate, and spend on occasion.


Our youth are joyful and curious. They are developing skills, pursuing interests, and becoming more creative, and independent all the time. We’ll continue to walk this unique path alongside them and follow where they lead.


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?

The interests of our young people and their curiosity determine our curriculum. We find reference materials, literature, and experiences to enhance their studies and support their growth.


We use the Singapore Math / Primary Mathematics as the foundation of our math curriculum, which suits our youth well. Aspects of various philosophies and theories including Montessori, Charlotte Mason, Reggio-Emilia, and John Holt are ever present in our approach to cultivating a nurturing home environment where purposeful learning thrives.


For years we’ve been discovering the wonders of Longwood Gardens, Chanticleer Garden, Jenkins Arboretum, and Tyler Arboretum. We walk the trails at Okehocking Nature Preserve and visit local State Parks. Time spent outside continues to shape our lives in meaningful ways. Nature is our favorite school. These special places continue to provide endless inspiration for us and our curious young people. Their confidence, knowledge, and all aspects of their well-being continue to grow as a result of time outdoors.

We like exploring The Franklin Institute and The Academy of Natural Sciences where countless discoveries await us each visit. We take trips to Old City Philadelphia where history, art and architecture, culture and cuisine come alive for us in a single day.


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

Gracie loves to laugh, and love, and play—especially with the chickens.

Annabelle loves the time she has with family and friends and all the different activities and ways we get to learn.

Carter truly recognizes and values the freedom that he gets to experience—that we don’t have to sit in a classroom for eight hours a day, but we get to spend a lot of time with our family and spend a lot of time doing meaningful activities. We get to have a lot of fun outings and get to spend a lot of time outdoors in nature. And, as he 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?

Annabelle would enjoy more dancing, costume parties, and camp outs in the Tall Pines.

Carter would appreciate more time learning in the Farmhouse Wood Shop and Makerspace. He would also enjoy opportunities to go fishing in the pond.

Gracie is just starting out at OC this year. She is ever so excited for the experience herself!


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’ve met so many lovely people at OC! We try to attend as many community events as possible. We’re grateful for the special connections our young people have made with other youth and with their amazing Facilitators. OC has become a special place for our family, and we look forward to developing more connections within this extraordinary community.


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

The model of Partnership Education suits our family’s needs beautifully. We appreciate the people, resources, and meaningful experiences that are available to our young people. OC continues to make our vision for a purposeful education a reality, and that’s a dream come true us. We can’t imagine anything better.