With discussions about the American Constitution in the news, it’s a nice time to explore principles of democracy and how they can operate within the family and the classroom. Convening meetings that encourage shared decision making can have positive results even with young children. Preschool rooms sometimes have whole-group discussions to decide what activities to plan at a class party or how to work together to get the classroom cleaned up. Older grades can discuss what to do for a fundraising event or problems that occur on the playground. The underlying principle in a democratic meeting is everyone gets a voice, whether outcomes are decided by vote or consensus.
Much has been written about the benefits of weekly family meetings, whether they are held at the dinner table or convened outside in the yard. Regular meetings underline the idea that individuals living in the same house are a family with common purposes and problems, even when people’s schedules have them going in different directions. Grandparents and anyone else taking part in the household can offer their perspectives at a meeting. Meeting topics might include questions like “What was the best thing in your week?” “What should we have for dinner on Sunday?” “How can we get everyone involved doing chores?”
The idea of democratic practices within a household or a classroom can be confusing. What if children vote to throw out all the rules or make a huge expenditure? Children aren’t mature enough to make all the decisions, but they are equipped to make some, and doing so builds their collaborative skills. When groups make decisions together, they also become closer, and ideally everyone feels heard. This early exploration of democracy can be a springboard for discussing the way our government works and for using our hearts and minds to imagine a world where everyone has a voice.