Please describe your family constellation: Parents, names and ages of young people.
Theresa (mom), Matt (bonus/step dad), Parker (12), Cealy (6), Mattis (2), Emlyn (9 mos). Mackenzie (9) is with us part time.
How long has your family been on this path of self/ family-directed Open Education?
Parker started in the Pre-Open Program (Pre-OP) when she was 3 years old, so we have been part of the OC community for almost 9 years.
What led you in this direction?
My own childhood experience in education led me to seek alternatives. I did have friends who were homeschooled and did see that as a possibility. I remember being in awe of the autonomy they were granted on a path of self-directed learning. I wanted my young people to be able to unabashedly learn about whatever they wanted to. Quite frankly the things I learned on my own were always the most valuable to me.
How did you get involved with Open Connections?
I want to preface this with: I am a firm believer that good things come from everything. My sister was a theater actress who passed away in 2010 and I was meeting with friends of hers to try to coordinate something in memoriam. This led to conversations with her colleague and friend, Leonard Haas. He has been involved in OC for many years and his young people attended here; he encouraged me to check it out. I received the OC Promotional DVD and the book The Other Basics by OC Co-founders, Peter Bergson and Susan Shilcock, in the mail and it all resonated with me. There was nothing like OC. I had seen several schools and honestly, in my opinion, they were all delivering the same thing but in different packages and prices. I attended an open house, saw the campus and met some of the families and we signed up for Pre-op shortly after.
What programs do your young people attend at Open Connections?
Parker is in Group Tutorial III on Tuesday and Thursday and Choice II on Wednesday. Cealy is in the Open Program on Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday.
How do your young people spend their time when not at Open Connections?
Parker has chosen a lot of physical activity this year. She’s been on a swim team 2 nights a week, dancing 3 days a week and was playing basketball too. Parker uses an online curriculum for math, we do field trips, museums, or just play for the most part on Fridays. Mondays is commonly a library day. Cealy has been taking ballet, tumbling and yoga at the YMCA. She plays a lot. We do some direct instruction with math using Singapore and some direct instruction in reading and writing, but I let her lead for the most part. Some days she can work for very long periods and other days she is willing to spend 10 minutes with me.
What are some of the key pluses to this educational approach for your family?
A key plus is the ability to spend time together as a family. All the young people have time to play. They have managed to create entire story lines and creative play scenarios that are inclusive of even the baby. I find that experience of free play to be invaluable. We can also travel as a family. Traveling off-season is a fraction of the cost and a fraction of the crowds. We’d never be able to do that if we were tied to a traditional educational model.
What concerns or challenges have you experienced along the way? How have you addressed them? Do you have any concerns as you look ahead?
We’ve “floundered” a little trying to figure out what works and what doesn’t. The OC Facilitators are always available for resources and suggestions. Many times, it’s in the Parent/ Facilitator conferences that I’ll say, “Hey I think I should be doing more of this, HELP!” Sometimes it is a matter of me letting go of what I think “learning” should look like and other times I need to draw on the Facilitators for resources or support. I’m not concerned looking ahead. We take it year by year for each young person and will continue to adapt to meet their needs and desires.
What is your approach regarding academics? Real Work? Play? Self-direction/self-motivation?
They have to read, write and know enough math to operate effectively in society at a minimum. I also firmly believe in the “educated citizenry,” and fortunately, Parker enjoys discussing and learning about history and government. Those benchmarks are being met so far. I sometimes take a more direct approach in math and language arts. Real work in science and math are abundant in baking and cooking which both girls enjoy. Parker has recently started her own banking and she was involved in buying and watching some stock prices this year. I value and encourage creative play especially across the age ranges as it really develops collaborative skills. For the most part both girls are entirely self-directed and the messiest parts of “homeschooling” are when I forget that learning is natural. I occasionally prompt or remind Parker about her goals for the year and check in to help her evaluate where she is in meeting them or what must be done to accomplish those goals within the timeline.
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’re in the city so we have easy access to so many museums. Memberships have been the “go to” ask for Christmas gifts from grandparents. Franklin Institute, Academy of Natural Sciences, American Revolution Museum, Philadelphia Zoo, Art Museum, Rodin Museum. Free things all over the city including Bartram’s Gardens, Fairmount Park, Schuylkill Nature Center, Heinz Wildlife Center are some of our favorites.
We jump at any opportunity to join other OC families on field trips. The creativity and resources of the OC parent community is amazing.
Parker and Cealy have also participated in workshops at Mighty Writers, Spells Learning Lab, and The Free Library of Philadelphia.
Traveling is a great way to be a global citizen. We always cover history, geography and touch on current events in our travels. We’ve just started using All American History this year and Parker is enjoying the structure of that and it’s good to have a chronological snapshot of “American history.” Zinn Education Project has been an awesome resource in tandem to discuss how American history is “taught” in text and look closer at the people, society and experience of history. Linking history to current events and social justice issues helps make it more tangible.
Khan Academy, Teaching Textbooks, Beast Academy, and Singapore math are some we’ve used—like I said we take it year by year.
From your young people’s perspectives, what are the main pluses of this type of education?
Freedom and autonomy. I would say both the girls also love to travel and that wouldn’t be possible in the same capacity if they were in traditional schools.
From your young people’s perspectives, what could OC do to further enhance their OC experience?
Cealy wishes OC was closer. We’re still commuting from the city so it’s tough, particularly on certain days like Thursday when the Theater Program finishes at 4pm and traffic makes it take well over an hour to get home at that point. Other than that, I think both would agree OC is a truly magical place.
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?
Maybe it’s because as a family we always bond over dinner, but we love the spaghetti dinner nights, and potlucks. The Community days and the Resource Fairs are such a great way to connect to other families. Often during the week there is a lot of logistical “hustle” that makes it tough to have the time to connect to people. Open Mic Night is great. I miss the Film Festivals. The 24 Hours of Awesomeness (campout for Thursday Group Tutorials II and III) was also a great way to connect to families. Overall OC is synonymous with community and collaboration in my experience and these are fostered in every interaction.
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 really don’t know. Right now, Parker has a pretty full schedule, and this was something she wanted. If anything, I feel like she is pressed for time in completing some formal academic goals. I think this is part of growing up and developing time management skills and prioritization. I am developing them along with her in this process. We are having conversations about college and what the path to get there could look like. I know there have been forums with Shaping Your Life teens past and present who have discussed their path after OC. I guess it may be my time to look ahead. Overall, it has been my experience with her from Pre-OP to this point that OC has resources for every step of the way.