Philosophy for Kids

Linked on our blogs with PHILO – ACTION, POUR PENSER ET CHANGER L’ECOLE, et avec La philosophie à l’école primaire: dix paradoxes pour une innovation.

This site is inspired and produced from the work of Gary Matthews, Professor of Philosophy at the University of Massachusetts, Amherst. (About).

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Introduction /The Flower Questionfirst a story … then: This is the story opening I wrote for a class of eight-and-a-half to eleven-year-olds in St. Mary’s Music School in Edinburgh, Scotland, in 1982. 

I had been given permission by the Headmaster of the school to conduct a philosophy class with those children for an hour or so every Wednesday afternoon during the 1982-83 school year.

Although I tried out a variety of techniques for doing philosophy with those children that year, the approach that seemed to work best was for me to write a story beginning, like the one above, and then ask the kids in the class how they story should go on. In this case, the question was ‘What should Freddie conclude – was Alice right about flowers, or was Auntie Gertie right?’ That is, can flowers really be thirsty and happy? Or do people like Aunt Gertie just talk as if they could.

The kids never had any trouble figuring out what the philosophical question was. Nor did they have any difficulty thinking up things to say that might help answer the question. I encouraged them to think about what Freddie should say to Aunt Gertie, or what Aunt Gertie should say to Freddie. I wanted them to make the philosophical problem their own.

Above all, I didn’t want those kids to say to me at the end of the class, “Now tell us what the answer is.” And, in fact, they never did that. I think that, by making the problem something that a child character in my story gave expression to, I encouraged them to think that the problem might have a solution, or at least some kind of resolution, they themselves were capable of coming up with.

I brought along a small tape-recorder to those classes. Then, during the week between class meetings, I would transcribe the discussion I had with the kids and, on the basis of that discussion, write up a continuation, and possibly a conclusion, to the story I had begun.

I would xerox the continuation of the story and take it to the class the next Wednesday afternoon. We would read the continuation together and the children would recognize their own comments from the week before, but put now in the mouth of Freddie, or Alice, or one of the other characters. “I said that,” they would say, with some pride.

After we had read the continuation of the story, I would ask the kids if that settled the question, or whether we should discuss it further. Oftentimes they said that answered the question, or, anyway, that was the best they could do. But sometimes they wanted to discuss the question further. In that case there might be a further continuation of the story for the next week … (full text).

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