The 30-second briefing: What is 'philosophy for children'?

A teacher educator tells you everything you need to know about 'philosophy for children' in just 30 seconds

Sarah Wright

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What is "philosophy for children"?

Professor Matthew Lipman came up with the "philosophy for children" (P4C) approach after becoming frustrated with the low levels of engagement he was seeing in his students. He wanted to develop the seemingly inherent abilities of children to wonder and question. 

Do I need to understand Plato and Aristotle to use it?

You don’t need to understand their work to make use of their approaches. P4C centres around encouraging children to develop their enquiry and questioning skills. Think about how Socratic questioning works by using enquiry to deepen understanding of a concept. 

P4C can be used with pupils of any age, from EYFS and beyond.

How does it work?

In a nutshell: the teacher shares a stimulus and lets learners choose a question collaboratively to help them investigate that stimulus more deeply. In reality, the process is more complex, but stripping it back to the basics shows how flexible it can be. 

What would that process look like in a lesson?

You start by sharing a stimulus. A book – anything from The Very Hungry Caterpillar to Macbeth – works well as a starting point. But you could also use a “big question”, an image or even a piece of music. You then need to give learners time to think of questions that the stimulus prompts. 

Once they have done that, bring the class back together to discuss the questions and to decide which are the most important ones, using a vote. These questions then become the collaborative focus for the class.

What do the kids get out of it?

Regularly incorporating P4C can build confidence and listening skills. The approach rests on the basis that all contributions matter and it aims to create a culture of collaboration in your classroom. 

P4C lets us focus on developing a real articulation of thought. You are asking children to construct and analyse their own ideas and opinions, rather than just consuming answers. It takes time to develop, but the outcomes can be reaped across the curriculum and even in the playground. Simple but crucial skills are at the core of this technique – things like turn-taking, reasoning and compromise.

Are you saying that I should definitely try this out?

Yes. I might sound over-enthusiastic about this one, but that’s because I believe it to be a solid and well-researched approach that develops critical thinking and enquiry in your learners. Anything that deepens understanding and response is surely worth a try, right?

Where could I go for some research and practical ideas on this?

SAPERE is packed with great resources and research, from lesson plans to whole-school approaches, as is the International Council of Philosiphical Inquiry with Children. James Nottingham shares great work, as does Jenna Lucas. This is certainly one to ask about on Twitter; you’ll be sure to get some great responses. 

Sarah Wright is a senior lecturer at Edge Hill University. She tweets as @Sarah__wright1

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Sarah Wright

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