Date of Award


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy


Educational Leadership, Research and Technology

First Advisor

Dr. Joseph Kretovics


This dissertation provides a thick description and discussion of how child protagonism, participation and autonomy were implemented in an out of school center – The Children‘s Cultural Center – in a favela, in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. The researcher visited the center for more than two years, twice a week from February 2008 to June 2009, and once a week from June 2009 to July 2010. She conducted in-depth interviews with educators and children, recorded observation sessions in the activity rooms, and observed actualization sessions for educators and family days. This study describes the perspectives and expectations of the Center‘s educators on their work and how they rethought their practice to facilitate children‘s protagonism. It presents the children‘s perspectives on the opportunity of making choices, and participation in decision making and problem solving. Discussions are contextualized using as reference an in-depth analysis of the community setting (Morro dos Macacos), the conceptual premise of the child as a rights‘ holder, how it reflected on International and Brazilian policies, and, finally, the organizational challenges of implementing a novelty concept. Three theses are presented: (a) protagonism, autonomy, and respect for children‘s rights, once implemented as a methodology, led to children having more initiative and contributing solutions to problems that affect them. This thesis proved true even in the most difficult conditions, where poverty and violence were the norm. In light of the CRC convention, it shows a concrete way to achieve children‘s participation, which 198 countries signed off to do. (b) Adults learn when they are supported, when what they are learning makes sense to them, when it considers their feelings, beliefs and needs, and when they are not afraid to make mistakes. The learning process transforms them deeply, altering some core values. And (c) even in trying conditions, children learn best when they feel they belong to a community, they are trusted, loved, and have freedom to make choices. They learn when they are seen for their potential, when they can try out new things without being judged. Violence affects children in many ways, but their creativity in looking for solution to problems remains a resource that can contribute to change this environment.

The Cultural Center's methodology is presented, so that readers can assess and get inspired by their approach for implementing children‘s protagonism.

Access Setting

Dissertation-Open Access