Open Connections

  • Farmhouse from lower pond
History of our Approach

History of Our Approach

Ashley Montagu said that “the trick in life is to die young--as late as possible.” We then asked, “How could Open Connections foster the retention of our most positive childlike qualities into adulthood?” and mixed in John Holt’s notion that “The true test of intelligence is not how much we know how to do but how we behave when we don’t know what to do.” 

  • grounds youth
    • susan and peter 6 04

    The Co-Founders

    Open Connections was born of the marriage of two growing bodies of knowledge, each shared by Co-founders Susan Shilcock and Peter Bergson. One reflected the world of “alternative” or “progressive” education, as it was known in the 1960s, where experiential learning and individual development were advanced over rote memorization, and where self-motivation was based on individual passion rather than a fear of failure. The other body of knowledge was that of the creative group process known as Synectics®, where adults in the corporate world were learning how to recover the skills of Flexible Thinking and collaboration, which had been lost initially during years adapting to a “teach ‘em/test ‘em” school environment. 

    • bryn mawr oc

    Bryn Mawr Beginnings

    In 1978, after three years of conducting workshops and consultations, Open Connections opened
    a preschool/kindergarten program in Bryn Mawr for three- to five-year-olds. In 1980, Peter and Susan began to codify key aspects of the OC philosophy by publishing their book, titled Open Connections: The OTHER Basics.

    • Farmhouse from across the pond

    Open Connections Village

    In 1983, Open Connections began its transformation to its current format, which provides weekly programs for families seeking a more open and natural form of education. In June of 2000, Open Connections underwent a major expansion. Working with the Willistown Conservation Trust, neighbors and township officials, OC moved to its current location: a 28-acre historic farm/estate in Edgmont Township, Delaware County. We call our new home the Open Connections Village. Due to the enactment of conservation easements, the OC property, along with four adjoining residential parcels totaling an additional 50 acres, will remain largely open space.

    • A Team 2015 Mike, Julia, Rick

    Who We Are Today

    After Co-founder Susan Shilcock died in 2005, Peter continued his role as Director until 2008. During this time, Peter worked closely with the next generation of leadership to ensure a smooth transition. In 2008, Julia Bergson-Shilcock (offspring of Peter and Susan), Mike Hilbert and Rick Sleutaris moved into the roles of Co-directors. Today, along with 25 other dedicated staff members and supported by a vibrant Board of Directors, this team continues the legacy of Peter and Susan, while also working continuously to enhance and improve OC’s offerings.

  • Susan's Gardens Picnic Area

"OC Speak" Glossary

What we mean when we say:

Process Consciousness

An understanding of Process Consciousness begins with the realization that when people speak to one another, or to themselves for that matter, there are two major aspects of their communication: content and process.  We first learn the distinction between these two factors, and the way they are related.  Specifically, we are interested in the impact  that process has on content, and how much the process of a person-to-person interaction affects the probability of success.  The way an idea is presented and the way in which the idea is responded to are likely to have a profound effect on the members’ ability to achieve both their immediate and long term purposes. To be conscious of process, at a deep level, is to be able to increase the quality of our results, whether our goal is simple communication--to be understood and to understand others--or to create a new solution to a problem or opportunity.  Having Process Consciousness, then, is to attend to human thought and behavior for the purpose of improving the probability of success in meeting our needs and fulfilling our goals, both personally and as part of any group.



[Our Facilitator] Susan believed that . . . our ideas mattered, no matter how big or small . . .

-Kyle, OC Alum