"Am I real?"
"How do you know when you are dreaming?"
"Why do people have secrets?"
These are the sorts of questions children can ask at any age. They are, as Joanna Haynes points out, questions with philosophical potential that can be used to spark philosophical discussion.
This accessible book provides a good starting point for doing philosophy with children. It is grounded in classroom research and offers examples of pupils engaged in thoughtful discussion. Skilfully interweaving theory and practice, it provides a readable introduction to the ideas that underpin the practice of philosophical enquiry with primary-aged children.
It is inspired by the author's belief that philosophy not only enhances speaking, listening and reading, but also promotes independence of mind and the democratic values essential to citizenship.
Haynes is not concerned with debates about children's ability to do "real" philosophy. What the book offers are examples of children's responses to their own questions and their efforts at thoughtful interpretations of experience and meanings. It shows that children have much to offer participating adults and teachers. The author identifies the skills teachers need to create a philosophical space for discussion with children, even those at the foundation stage of learning. She emphasises a contemplative and learner-led approach, including useful advice on how to facilitate relaxation, meditation and the experience of silence.
The book is a plea against the over-planned curriculum, and argues for more creative and enquiry-based teaching that allows for learning to take off in unpredictable, unexpected directions.
The author warns against formulaic procedures - this is not a recipe book of set lessons, more a book of guidance on how to engage children in processes of questioning, dialogue and reflection in the classroom.
Is philosophy with children worthwhile? Evidence is presented, including teacher assessments and Ofsted reports, to show that it can help improve standards in speaking, listening, reading and reasoning. But what impresses more is what one report calls "the children's enthusiasm for the process". This enjoyment comes from what eight-year-old Becky calls the "weird conversations" that follow when children are invited to think about questions that arise from stories and other sources of intellectual enquiry.
This book includes useful lists of resources and contacts.
We all, teachers and learners alike, need space and time for dialogue if we are to develop our thinking. Joanna Haynes offers here a space for thinking and shows how, through dialogue and enquiry, change in ideas is possible.
Robert Fisher Robert Fisher is professor of education at Brunel University