Philosophy for Children

Philosophy for Children
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Philosophy for Children, sometimes abbreviated to P4C, is a movement that aims to teach reasoning and argumentative skills to children. There are also related methods sometimes called "Philosophy for Young People" or "Philosophy for Kids". Often the hope is that this will be a key influence in the eventual move towards a more democratic democracy.[citation needed] However, there is also a long tradition within higher education of developing alternative methods for teaching philosophy both in schools and colleges (see philosophy education).[1]

Although the noted developmental psychologist Jean Piaget was of the impression that children were not capable of critical thinking until age 11 or 12, the experience of many philosophers and teachers with young children gives reason to believe that children benefit from philosophical inquiry even in early primary school. Furthermore, there is empirical evidence that teaching children reasoning skills early in life greatly improves other cognitive and academic skills and greatly assists learning in general.[citation needed]



The pedagogy of philosophy for children is diverse. However, many practitioners including those working in the tradition of Matthew Lipman and the IAPC emphasise the use of a community of enquiry method which has roots in the work of philosopher John Dewey. The term "enquiry" is preferred to "lesson" because the emphasis is on the group enquiring together into questions with the teacher as a facilitator rather than the authoritative source of information.

In a typical enquiry, a group would be presented with a thought-provoking stimulus such as a text, image, picture book, or video clip. Some time may be spent identifying the concepts raised by the stimulus, and then participants frame their own philosophical questions in response to the stimulus and vote for the one they wish to explore. The ensuing discussion usually takes place in a circle, with the teacher/facilitator intervening to push the thinking to a deeper level but aspiring to allow the discussion to follow the emerging interests of the group.

Notable proponents and their styles

One of the salient differences between proponents of philosophy for children is in their choice of stimuli - starting points for discussions. Matthew Lipman, called, "the most influential figure" in helping young students develop philosophical thinking by Gareth Matthews, is credited with starting the Philosophy for Children movement in the 1970s[2]. After witnessing political upheaval taking place on University campuses nationwide in the 1960s, Lipman realized that philosophical and critical thinking should be encouraged much earlier in the academic setting. He founded the Institute for the Advancement of Philosophy for Children at Montclair State University (then Montclair State College) in 1974. Lipman's method involves reading philosophically stimulating narrative to children and encouraging them to come up with philosophical questions in response. Many of the materials used by the IAPC are philosophical children's novels that were published by Lipman, including Harry Stottlemeier's Discovery, which he published in 1969[3]. Lipman wrote the world's first systematic pre-college philosophy curriculum and created both masters and doctoral programs in the field of Philosophy for Children. He also founded Thinking: The Journal of Philosophy for Children.

Gareth Matthews worked with a variety of students, but primarily with students in late primary school (5th grade and thereabouts). Matthews' method was to get the students to actively create philosophical settings, to “make the philosophical problem their own”. One of his best-known techniques was to provide the beginning of a philosophically provocative story. He then recorded/transcribes student comments, put them in the mouths of characters in the story, and brought the story continuation to the next class session for further discussion. Such interactions are compiled in his book Dialogues With Children.

Karin Murris of Witwatersrand University, South Africa and Joanna Haynes of Plymouth University, England, have popularised the use of children's picture books as an alternative to purpose-written materials. Tom Wartenberg of Mount Holyoke, Massachusetts has also written a large number of discussion plans for philosophising with picture books.

There is particular diversity in the UK, owing to the large number of competing and collaborating freelance trainers each emphasising different strands of the pedagogy. Roger Sutcliffe's practice includes the use of news stories; Steve Williams has emphasised the importance of dialogues that model argument as well as raising philosophical issues; Will Ord emphasises the use of striking photos, often containing contrasts that suggest opposing concepts. [4]; Jason Buckley advocates a more physical, game-based approach and "Philosophy in Role", in which children philosophise within a story as characters confronted with a variety of problems.

A particular way of doing philosophy with children is illustrated by the work of Chris Phillips with the Philosophers Club at Cesar Chavez Elementary School in the Mission District, San Francisco, California.[5]

Programs, competitions, and publications

There are a number of college-level academic philosophy programs in the United States that do outreach to public schools, most notably at California State University Long Beach, Mount Holyoke College, Montclair State University, Michigan State University, University of Hawai`i at Manoa and [1] Plattsburgh State University Of New York. In addition, several independent centers have arisen to perform similar tasks, including the Northwest Center for Philosophy for Children in Seattle, Washington.[6] The Northwest Center has expanded from work in the Seattle area to running workshops throughout Washington state on how to integrate philosophy education into K-12 education.

Before the Department of Education cut funding for such programs in the early 1990s, there were over 5,000 programs in K-12 schools nationwide which engaged young people in philosophical reflection or critical thinking, more generally. This number has dropped substantially.

The Institute for the Advancement of Philosophy for Children, which has been recognized by the American Philosophical Association for excellence and innovation[7], utilizes Lipman's method, exposing children to philosophically stimulating narrative to encourage them to create and ask their own philosophical questions, actively in the K-12 classroom through a longstanding partnership with the Montclair public school system. Students are encouraged to ask their questions and the philosophical facilitator (a member of the IAPC) helps the children to develop philosophical skills and dispositions of critical, caring, and creative thinking in order to get the young students to come to reasonable judgment about what is "best to do or believe," in response to the initial question. IAPC has a large teacher preparation component and provides teacher manuals that include discussion plans specifically designed to assist in the facilitation of philosophical discussions that are general enough to answer most student questions. In addition to working directly with schoolchildren, members of the IAPC work with several constituencies, including professional and pre-professional educators, educational administrators and policy-makers, and faculty and students of education, philosophy and related disciplines[8]. IAPC has trained educators worldwide to successfully implement their curriculum in their home states and countries. Philosophy and Children offer introductory workshops and Certificate courses in schools and graduate teachers in Australia.

There is an annual Philosophy Slam competition for kids in grades K-12. Younger children are encouraged to submit artwork which illustrates their philosophical reflections while older children submit increasingly sophisticated written work.

In the UK the University of Leeds now offers a students into schools programme called the Big Think.

Also in the UK social enterprise company The Philosophy Shop [2] trains philosophy graduates to do philosophy with primary and secondary school children, and places them in schools nationwide. They also train teachers in the transferable skills of philosophy (questioning, thinking skills and discourse skills), and are encouraging an enquiry based approach to education at all levels, including tertiary.

SAPERE [3] - a UK charity - trains teachers in P4C nationwide.

UK organisations such as Thinking Space [4] offer consultation and project design and delivery for schools interested in philosophy for children. Organisations such as Cap-a-Pie [5] take a creative approach, fusing P4C (Philosophy for Children) and Drama-in-Learning to create learning experiences that make philosophical thought visible.


There are two refereed journals devoted to publishing work regarding philosophy for/with children. Thinking: The Journal of Philosophy for Children contains some work by young philosophers but consists primarily of work by adults about their work doing philosophy for children including lesson plans, developmental psychology, and work from the emerging field called "hermeneutics of childhood" which is a multi-disciplinary approach to considering the intellectual and emotional life of children. By contrast, Questions: Philosophy for Young People has as its mission the publication of work that features the philosophical reflections of children, themselves. Thus, it contains essays authored by children, transcripts of classroom dialogues with some commentary by moderators, artwork by children, and so forth. It also publishes the winners of the Philosophy Slam competition.


A number of books have been published on philosophy for children other than those mentioned above by Matthews and Lipman. Some are intended to be read by children, others by children with their parents, and still others by philosophers, educators, and policy-makers considering the merits of K-12 philosophy programs. A partial (by no means exhaustive or representative) list includes the books:

  • Thinking in Education" by Matthew Lipman
  • Big Ideas for Little Kids by Thomas Wartenberg
  • Philosophy for Kids: 40 Fun Questions That Help You Wonder About Everything and The Examined Life: Advanced Philosophy for Kids, both by David A. White
  • Harry Potter and Philosophy: If Aristotle Ran Hogwarts, an anthology edited by David Baggett and Shawn Klein
  • Young Person's Guide to Philosophy from the DK series of educational books
  • Wise Guy: The Life and Adventures of Socrates, a picture book version of the engaging life of Socrates by M.D. Usher and illustrator William Bramhall
  • The Philosophers' Club by Christopher Phillips and Kim Doner
  • The Pig that Wants to be Eaten by Julian Baggini
  • Games for Thinking by Robert Fisher
  • Stories for Thinking by Robert Fisher
  • Poems for Thinking by Robert Fisher
  • Philosophy in Schools edited by Michael Hand and Carrie Winstanley
  • The If Machine by Peter Worley (founder of The Philosophy Shop), guided philosophy sessions for use in the classroom complete with teaching thinking strategies.

See also


  1. ^ See, for example, Philosophy 4 Skool, by Michael Brett, accessed July 19, 2008
  2. ^ Martin, Douglas (2011-01-14). "Matthew Lipman, Philosopher and Educator, Dies at 87". The New York Times. 
  3. ^
  4. ^
  5. ^ Moore, Teresa (1999-01-22). "Socrates' Children: A volunteer teaches kids philosophy -- and how to listen to one another". SFGate. 
  6. ^ "Northwest Center for Philosophy for Children". Archived from the original on 2008-06-20. Retrieved 2008-07-22. 
  7. ^
  8. ^

Further reading

  • Studies in Philosophy for Children, ed. Ann Margaret Sharp, Ronald F. Reed. ISBN 0-87722-872-8

External links

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