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Homeschooling: A Mutual Benefit

By Terri Novacek

Executive Director

Element Education


As it turns out, the notion of “follow the child” is just as much education for the guide as it is for the child. The best education I’ve experienced was a result of home-schooling my own children. 


After ten years as a public-school classroom teacher, I resigned to stay home with my newborn and toddler with the idea I would return to the classroom when they both entered school. 


It was my September-born son that led us to the decision to home-school.  When the Kindergarten Readiness test results showed him above level for academic readiness but not so high on the “sit and listen” scale, his preschool teacher suggested holding him back a year “because he was a boy.”  When I asked her more about it, she confirmed that yes, I could wait a year and he would likely have problems because he would be bored, or I could send him now and he would likely have problems because he was a boy that liked to move.  Hmm.


It was his father’s suggestion to homeschool.  I agreed to try it for kindergarten, and that was when we learned about personalized learning charter schools. It was not until eleven years later that my son expressed interest in attending a conventional school.   It was time for us to practice what we preached and let him take control of his education even though his choice was not our first choice.  He did fine with the transition; however, he did feel more like a prisoner than an emerging adult like he was accustomed to being treated in his home and charter school setting.


Two years into the homeschool journey, it was time for little sister to enter kindergarten.  She was the first of the two to venture in the “real school” forum.  A 4.3 GPA, member of ASB, teachers loved her, good group of friends.  What else could we ask for, right?  She chose to return to homeschool through the charter school for her last year and a half so she could “get back to meaningful learning.”  During that time, she took an internship in her first passion, a job in her current passion, and spent time “researching and achieving goals that propelled her toward happiness, rather than learning the same things while sitting at a desk in an environment run by bells.” 


Despite my many years of both formal and informal education, it was those years of homeschooling with my children that led me to the highest level of learning…self-driven personalized learning.  Through the process, I was able to dive deep into the areas of interest my schoolteachers and college professors glanced over and stretch myself to learn more about the things that sparked my children’s interests.  It was a wonderful journey of self-reflection, discovery, and challenge. 


And the journey continues.  While my children head into the home stretch toward bachelor degrees and complete independence, I remain engaged in the wonderful world of self-driven personalized learning through my continued role at Element Education, an organization which has been operating within this model since 2001 -  long before it was a big enough movement to be considered a trend.

It occurred to me early in my career that learning and teachers come in many forms, and I’ve seen it in action during my seventeen years with Element Education. Little did I know, the charter school would become much more than support for my children’s learning journeys but an avenue to share the thrill of personalized learning with others as well. 


Personally, I don’t view self-driven personalized learning as a trend, but as a shift necessary for personal fulfillment in the present and future.  The day of the teacher who imparts knowledge is behind us, and the day of the educator who guides learning is here.   I get so much joy each time I enter our learning centers or community engagement activities and observe students of mixed ages actively participating in learning, assisting each other with respect, and asking questions to stretch themselves rather than getting the answer just so they can “be done.”  I love the partnership we have with parents – each of us adults recognizing the learning plan begins with the child, not with the curriculum…and not with us.


There are conservative schools focused on tests and training students to be alike, and there are progressive models with little accountability or foundational supports.  We operate in the middle – what I consider the best of both worlds.  Our model provides the benefits of traditional schools such as opportunity to make friends of all ages, get away from parents for more independence and self-governance, experience cultures outside the home and neighborhood for new ideas and skills, and engage with content area specialists with training in pedagogy.  In addition, we offer the benefits of homeschooling such as freedom for students to choose their own learning network, pursue their own interests, observe, interact, play, practice, and explore on their own schedule and in their own way.  We partner with parents to support students in building the foundational skills necessary to drive their own learning… and then we hold on and enjoy the ride.