When you’re thinking about what your kids should be learning, philosophy is probably the last thing on your mind.
Most parents are keen for their children to be practising reading, maths, science and English, as this is what they see as education. And other subjects like arts or sports are more likely to be neglected despite reports that show how important these are for all round educational achievement.
So philosophy probably isn’t a priority, if it’s considered at all.
However, it’s becoming clear to many professionals that incorporating philosophy into educational approaches can have valuable benefits to youngsters.
Whether home educating parents, or teachers in schools, many are put off the idea of philosophy, considering it something they know nothing about and possibly too academic for most learners.
But put very simply philosophy is about an inquiring mind, a mind that is curious and questioning as children’s minds already are. Their endless ‘why’ questions are an indication of that. And it is about sharing and discussing ideas that result from those, examining how we live, why things are, anything that relates to the world and the way we all interact with it. A practice within the reach of anybody no matter what the level.
Philosophical discussions with children can be prompted by a simple stimuli like a book or a story, and then inviting thoughts about what happened and why. For example, a simple story like ‘Charlie and the Chocolate Factory’ could prompt discussions about why the other kids behaved the way they did, was that ok, and why not?
Once children have become used to the idea that their ideas are welcomed deeper moral or ethical issues can be discussed like; is it ever ok to steal?’ Can we think of times when it would be justified? And similar questions which challenge pre-set ideas and help children see that behaviour isn’t always black or white.
Discussions like these have many benefits for the learners. These are less about the conclusions they come to, and more about promoting skills which spill over into other aspects of their development, both educationally and personally.
These skills include speaking and listening, increased confidence and trust, development of the ability to argue and disagree but remain friends, extended reasoning ability, development of morals and ethics, and increased wellbeing as having their views heard makes youngsters feel more valued.
Sapere is a charity which supports philosophy for children and gives guidance to those wanting to develop it. They believe that philosophy with children develops four vital elements of their thinking which they call the three Cs: Critical, Creative, Collaborative and Caring, all essential for living as well as learning.
Claire Cassidy from the University of Strathclyde believes that the benefits of philosophy for children extends far beyond the curriculum and is a useful approach to their learning as she outlines here.
So it is perhaps worth investigating and making part of our learners’ lives as there are no boundaries as to where you can practice it, or where it will take you.