Children work on projects or explore their interests in a variety of ways. They may also spend a good part of their day learning through free play. Or they might participate in committees that plan activities and determine certain policies.
is a phrase used in education and psychology to describe how a child can develop social and cognitive skills, mature emotionally, and gain the self-confidence required to engage in new experiences and environments all through free play. Key ways that children learn include playing, being with other people (especially children of different ages), being active, exploring and new experiences, communication with others, meeting physical and mental challenges, being shown how to do new things, practicing and repeating skills and having fun.
Just as everyone learns to walk and talk on their own, programs following this model have proven that in the right, supportive environment, one also learns reading, writing and practical math by participating in everyday self-chosen activities such as board games, cooking, party planning and construction projects.
Each child and staff member has an equal voice in deciding how the program will be run, from creating, modifying and enforcing the rules, to managing the program’s spaces and allocating money in the budget. All children and staff are members of the community meeting, which gathers on a regular basis to create policies and make significant decisions together.
Day to day operations and activities are managed by committees led by elected or volunteer clerks (children and/or staff) and made up of program members. For example, the kitchen committee would be in charge of managing use of the kitchen including the kitchen budget, and certifying members of the school meeting to use the space. If any person does not follow the correct procedures from use of the kitchen they may loose their certification or face consequences as determined by the judiciary committee. The judiciary committee (JC) is the disciplinary system of the program, and is made up of one staff member, child clerk and other children who all serve on a rotating basis as a jury. The JC hears complaints and decides on consequences from infractions of community rules. Other committees include arts and crafts committee, budget committee, outdoor committee, building committee, etc.
See Sudbury Valley School, the oldest self-directed democratic school in the US, or other “self-directed” or “democratic” programs for other examples.