Homeschooled kids explore their own interests at Natural Creativity

by Maggie Dougherty
Posted 6/18/24

This isn’t a Montessori or Waldorf school and it’s not a daycare. This is a nonprofit learning community,

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Homeschooled kids explore their own interests at Natural Creativity


It’s 9 a.m. on a Thursday in May in the Germantown neighborhood of Philadelphia and a group of homeschooled young people, ages 4 to 18, are filtering into a building on Pulaski Avenue. Inside, a large space that was formerly a car showroom is filled to the brim with books, LEGOs, cardboard, microscopes, lumber, sewing machines, plastic tubing, hammers, puzzles, and robotics sets. There is a woodshop, maker space, art room, and kitchen, as well as plenty of seating and whiteboard walls. The young people discuss the day’s offerings, including lava lamp making, charcoal drawing, an upcoming talent show, and a trip outside to play four square or visit the community garden. This isn’t a Montessori or Waldorf school and it’s not a daycare. This is Natural Creativity, a nonprofit learning community, and the day has just begun.

To understand Natural Creativity (NC), you must first understand the concept of self-directed education (SDE). Conventional schooling has long been a topic of great debate. Many people believe that the only way to truly ensure a young person is properly learning is to closely scrutinize their learning process through means such as standardized testing. However, SDE advocates for a more hands-off approach.

SDE is an educational method that encourages young people to pursue their own education without an imposed curriculum. SDE is built on trust. Trust that daily life provides relevant lessons and trust that young people are naturally curious and want to learn. A prime example of SDE is learning to read. In a literate society full of text, young people can pick up literacy, often quite rapidly, without being formally taught. Advocates of SDE believe this principle applies to any topic that young people want to learn.

“Self-direction is unconventional, but it is natural,” says Tess Liebersohn, the family support coordinator and teen program facilitator at Natural Creativity. “When you give up control around somebody’s else’s life, there’s more room for connection, experimentation, curiosity, creativity, compassion, and collaboration.”

With this philosophical approach in mind, Peter Bergson, Chris Steinmeier, and Diane Cornman-Levy founded Natural Creativity in 2015. In January of 2016, the center welcomed 18 young people from 12 families to a single room in the First United Church of Germantown. More than eight years later, NC has grown to a community of 45 young people from 30 families and has since opened its own space on Pulaski Ave.

Natural Creativity’s philosophical approach is incredibly specific, down to the terminology used to describe attendees. These aren’t “kids” or “children,” but “young people.” Facilitators at NC want to emphasize that young people aren’t an inferior class of people over whom adults should have power. Rather, their ideas, rights, and feelings are every bit as important as those of adults.

There is no curriculum, testing, or attendance requirements at Natural Creativity. The basic structure of each day consists of two mandatory meetings separated by age groups and a time for cleaning up. Besides those expectations, young people are free to spend their days however they like. Co-founder Chris Steinmeier, who serves as a co-director of NC, enjoys witnessing the daily ebbs and flows of the community.

“When we’ve had visitors here (specifically from conventional schools), they come in and describe it as a really cool beehive or home-like vibe of people doing their own thing, but also connecting with each other,” says Steinmeier. 

The different age groups are called Ocelots (age 4-8), Axolotls (age 9-12), and Narwhals (age 13-18). There is also a program for older teens called the Launch program, which involves more independence and self-direction. Young people are allowed to mix freely among age groups during the day.

One member of the Narwhal group, 15-year-old Elliot Scott-Straight, has been with NC since day one. Scott-Straight believes that SDE has had a beneficial impact on their life and plans to attend community college after leaving NC. 

“A lot of us are success stories,” says Scott-Straight. “I know so many people…who get homeschooled their entire life and have gone on to college.”

Natural Creativity employs a partnership model not only among its young people and facilitators, but also with families. Each age group has at least two facilitators designated to that group’s development and cohesion. There are multiple partnership meetings where a young person, their parent(s), and their facilitator set goals and reflect on their progress. 

“A big part of facilitating for us is how to navigate the relationship between a young person’s agency, a parent’s legitimate care and concern about the wellbeing of their young person, and our organizational principles and values,” says Steinmeier. 

For those interested in pursuing a self-directed education for their young people, some of the first steps are unpacking any parts of your identity tied to conventional notions of what education is supposed to be and learning to embrace uncertainty. 

Meanwhile, the young people at Natural Creativity have to embrace their own uncertainty: what does today hold in store for them? Maybe they will create something on the 3D printer, learn how to bind books, or even take a walk around the entire city of Philadelphia (a project NC attendees embarked on during the pandemic). No matter what they choose, today is shaping up to be a good day.

To learn more about Natural Creativity or to host an educational program for young people at the center, visit

Germantown, home schooled, Natural Creativity