Doing philosophy with children all sounds a bit highbrow. You might think its about trying to understand difficult concepts and arguments conducted historically by great minds, but it’s not. Practical philosophy is about engaging children in the philosophical questions they are already asking: What is happiness? What makes a good friend? Where do ideas come from? … Children already wonder about the same big questions that have engaged philosophers for thousands of years.
Often as adults we engage with children as knowledge dispensers. There are questions and they have answers, usually just the one correct answer. In contrast, philosophical questions are open ended and unresolvable, all answers are contestable. Doing philosophy with children puts children and adults on the same footing, we become co-enquirers. And if there are no right answers then there are no wrong answers. This is an incredibly liberating experience. Philosophical enquiry develops not only critical thinking but expansive creative thinking and in this context children can contribute as much as adults, all perspectives are valid.
There is much anecdotal evidence, now supported by peer reviewed research, that suggests that doing philosophy with children helps to develop confidence in their own thinking, and the ability to articulate good reasons for their thinking, it also diminishes conflict in the classroom and in the playground by cultivating a respect for different points of view and ways to negotiate difficult subjects. It creates a trusting environment where everyone can speak openly, builds and strengthens relationships and empowers children to take control over what is happening in their lives.
And philosophy is good for adults too. Whether a teacher in a classroom or a parent, grandparent or carer engaging with children at home many of the assumptions and biases adults hold about children are eroded. We see children as capable human beings with valuable insights, able to make good, well thought out arguments.
As adults we can become jaded and stuck in our ways, our focus unfortunately becomes narrow and unquestioning. Navigating your way with a child around questions such as: Is there an edge to space? What does it mean to be good? What is beauty? reconnect us with our sense of wonder at the world and remind us we don’t know everything, nor do we have to. No matter how old – 4 or 94 – we are still developing as humans beings.