Pedagogy Focus: Philosophy for children

Next in our Pedagogy Focus series, we ask: what is philosophy for children and how is it used in lessons?

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Pedagogy Focus: What is philosophy for children?

What is philosophy for children?

Philosophy for children (also known as P4C) is a pedagogical approach to teaching that puts thinking and dialogue at the heart of classroom practice. 

It is based around adults and children coming together to “philosophise” about life and learning in order to develop students’ ability to explore further ideas through questioning and reasoning. 

In short, it is student-led and it involves learning happening through enquiry.

Where did it come from?

Philosophy for children was developed by Matthew Lipman in the US in the 1970s; a time when educators were especially interested in critical thinking and building independent thought.

Lipman felt that philosophical dialogue between teachers and students was key to producing more rational, reflective and self-aware students. 

As part of his approach, Lipman created philosophical novels to help bring the practice of philosophising to the fore and model the process for students and teachers. 

He also insisted on the need for a “community of enquiry” in the classroom to facilitate the type of dialogue necessary for thoughtful debate.  

How is it used in lessons?

Some common ways to incorporate philosophy for children into lessons include:

  • Teachers showing pupils that they are interested, and that they listen and value the ideas of the class, fostering the right culture for debate and argument. Establishing guidelines and agreeing rules surrounding discussion will also help to engender mutual respect between pupils.
  • Using a range of probing or Socratic-style questions to elicit further ideas and knowledge from students. The aim of philosophising is not to win an argument but to become clearer, more accurate and explore other views before reaching a conclusion. Facilitating deeper thinking and bringing a variety of perspectives together in the classroom exposes children to the ways of listening, thinking and contributing that are desirable later in life.
  • Using a shared experience to spark debate and provide a starting point for dialogue. Using images, stories, music, speech and so on will help pupils to engage with the stimulus and begin philosophising from an equal point. 
  • Following up dialogues by speaking with individuals or groups of pupils at a later stage. Encouraging reflection on past and present debates in the classroom will help to embed the skills of philosophising. This could also take place via writing or drawing, promoting reflection and the refining of ideas. Teachers can also do this during philosophising in order to refocus the conversation and ensure the whole class is engaged.

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