Philosophy with children

The groundwork for teaching Philosophy to children was laid in the 1970’s by Matthew Lipman, an American philosopher and pedagogue. The cornerstone of his approach is the belief that we must develop critical thinking skills, creativity, self-esteem and the ability to socialize in children.

According to Lipman, children learn by asking questions and making sense of the world around them. To do so, they use logical thinking. However, in the primary school, this process is reversed. The questions and answers do not come from the child. Matthew Lipman suggests that we must return to the original learning process: children must apply logical thinking and inquiry skills. He therefore insists on the importance of dialogue, reasoned discussions and a search for meaning. This allows children to think, provide answers and develop moral and social skills.

At Eden School, Philosophy is practised every week since the Kindergarten class and throughout the school, using Matthew Lipman’s books as a reference.

What goes on during a philosophy workshops with children?

A «Philosophy Workshop» always occurs in several stages. We begin by asking philosophical questions related to a story by Matthew Lipman we have previously read. It is important to let the children «wonder» in total freedom. This stage is called «collecting questions», in which we take note of the questions the children have.

The second step is the «research community», in which we attempt to answer the questions together and even doubt our answers! It is therefore a space in which the child is able to say what he thinks whilst he thinks what he says, as it is necessary to give the reasons why we say what we say, that is: debate. In this light we understand that it is necessary to define the words and concepts we use so that we all build upon the same foundation. This is essential for the «Philo Workshop» to function correctly.

How can philosophy contribute towards child development?

Philosophy allows children to make sense of their lives, of the world that surrounds them. At school we often transmit knowledge and fail to highlight the meaning and desire to learn. To make sense of things, we must dare to ask unsettling questions, existential questions such as «What is life?»; «Why death?»;   «Can we be happy?»…

The objective of the philo workshop is precisely to create a space dedicated entirely to these queries, a framework in which there is no right or wrong answer.

The important thing is to realize that there is never a single answer and that we must accept that others do not always agree with what we say.

In this context, we have a lot to learn from others, like the scientist Albert Einstein, who could still be amazed by the simple thoughts of a child…

At what age can we begin teaching philosophy to children?

When a child begins to confront others and is able to express his thoughts. We can go very far in the approach to philosophy with 4 year-old children. On the other hand, there is no age limit! Philosophical inquiry accompanies all stages of life…

How do children respond to this introduction to philosophy?

They are just waiting for this! In these workshops, we learn by asking lots of questions. However, the school system does not always allow this freedom. It is the teacher who asks, and the student who attempts to answer correctly. It is in spite of this that the child keeps these questions within himself. In this philosophical space these multiple inquiries are given their rightful place. The child will discover that he is not the only one asking these questions. Better still, his questions will be recognized and encouraged. This reinforces his self-esteem. “What I say is important!” This is a real joy! Pleasure is closely linked to the approach to philosophy….

Can we apply philosophy to our daily lives?

Of course! The approach can be taken into consideration by all adults who are in contact with young children, be it teachers or parents. There are many tools that allow us to incur in the philosophical approach as a family, always with the same objective: to support the inquiries of the child, without imposing our questions and especially our adult answers…