Without a certain set of norms facilitators were often making arbitrary decisions. Too often the children were confused about what could and could not be done and it tended to lead to a lot of chaos. There was a lot of unfair treatment and a facilitator’s own biases too probably come into the picture. Many children were left feeling hurt and quite a few of them left the center as well. We all decided to evolve a set of norms for the center along with the children to ensure that everyone at the center is treated equally and fairly. The hope was that with a set of norms we would prevent a hierarchical model and have everyone on an equal footing and hold everyone accountable.
We discussed with the children a few times in a circle about what rules they would like to have. We debated and had a dialogue on many of the rules. We finally put down the rules on a chart paper and put it up for display
Observation - We wrote down eight rules that came entirely from the children. We also decided that if anyone broke a rule three times they would be sent home for the day. The system generally worked for a while and once we had the chart paper there was at least something to refer to. Enforcing the rules still remained a challenge. The strict three strikes was something we could not implement realistically and quite often did lead to preferential treatment and that was a cause for confusion.
There were times when facilitators broke the rules themselves and that didn’t help to change the hierarchical nature of the space. However after some time of getting used to it, children now call out facilitators when they break the norms and this has really contributed to a democratic space. Small additional norms are emerging that are not strictly defined. A play time and work time culture has emerged. Though this is not strictly enforced, the environment and the availability of resources has helped make this norm happen. Many of these have happened democratically and naturally and they have been very effective in keeping the center fair and safe for everyone, while also open.