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Be philosophical about it

This idea is an attempt to push my class as far as possible in their thinking. I've done it with children aged from five-year-olds to upper secondary. It works best with the youngest.

I write "philo" and explain that it means "friend" in ancient Greek.

Then I write "sophy" up: "knowledge", or "wisdom". Put the two together, and we get "philosophy", which means friendship with knowledge.

"We are going to do philosophy now. Please close your eyes, and think of a question you'd love to know the answer to, but you know you never will. It mustn't be a question you could look up in a book..."

As their hands start to go up - that is, as they stop thinking, and start competing - I say: "When you've got one question, keep your eyes closed and your hands down, and think of another... and another."

After about two minutes, many of them will be dying to share queries. When the invention begins to flag, I ask the children to close their eyes again, and think of more questions, possibly containing the following keywords:

"God", "peace", "love", "hate", "war". Among the most striking questions asked have been (all from six-year-olds) "dos god bleeve in me" (no, I didn't correct it), "How can I tell if a man is evil or not?" and (this almost always comes up) "Why do we die?" If a child accumulates 12 questions, I ask her to underline the best one. Then she writes her questions out again, repeating the best one every fourth line: a philosophical poem!

This lesson brings out into the open concerns that all children have, and allows them to reflect on them.

Fred Sedgwick Ex-headteacher, currently working as a supply teacher in East Anglia.

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