“The classroom should be characterised by enquiry, by curiosity, by inquisitiveness, by wonder, rather than by ritual questioning, by inquisition, or by ‘second-hand’ questioning.” Victor Quinn
Philosophy for Children
Philosophy for children began in America in the 1960’s and was developed from the ideas and writings of Matthew Lipman. In Philosophy for Children students begin by reading specially written texts in the form of stories. These stories are about fictional children who discover how to reason more effectively. Afterwards children in the classroom then discuss the issues raised. The following debate encourages children to begin to think more effectively and become more reflective.1
Although we gather our starting points from a wider range of sources including; authentic storybooks, drama and role-play, art, video and real life experiences, the essential format and the aims of philosophy with children remain the same.
The Role of Philosophy at St Johns
At St John,s philosophical debate underpins the ideas and values of the way we believe our school should be. We aim to create an environment, which provides opportunities for everyone working in it (adults and children) to be the best they can. Children need to feel safe and happy and have the freedom to explore ideas, and ask questions if they are to make a useful contribution to all areas of school life. Philosophy is also an important way of teaching and developing thinking skills. Thinking skills are now embedded in the National Curriculum and complement the key skills. They are identified as crucial because: “by using thinking skills pupils can focus on ‘knowing how’ as well as ‘knowing what’ – (they are effectively) learning how to learn.”
Philosophy and the Curriculum
Philosophy lessons take place once a week in every classroom in the school. The length of the lesson depends on the age of the children and the topic being discussed, typically they last for between forty minutes and an hour and half. It is untrue that young children can only concentrate for short periods of time and we have found that one of the major benefits of philosophy sessions is that the children’s sustained listening skills and concentration levels improve considerably.
Although it is a distinct lesson, the teaching of philosophy has a positive impact all areas of the curriculum3 including:
English En1: Speaking, listening, group discussion and interaction, language variation.
Maths Ma1: Problem solving.
Science Sc1: Scientific enquiry, investigation skills, ideas and evidence.
Information & Communication Technology: Develop ideas, exchanging and sharing information.
History: Historical enquiry and interpretation. Geography: Enquiry skills.
Art & Design: Exploring and developing ideas, evaluating and developing work.
Music: Appraising skills, listening, and applying knowledge.
Physical Education: Evaluating and improving performance.
PSHE & Citizenship: Developing confidence and responsibility and making the most of their abilities, preparing to play an active role as citizens, developing good relationships and respecting the differences between people.
Creating a New Balance
It is important that philosophy, thinking skills and other forms of creative education are not taught at the expense of literacy and numeracy but rather as complementary skills. In recent years there has been a tendency to stress the importance of basic skills and this has been reflected in a reorganising of the school day to accommodate the introduction of the literacy and numeracy hours. We strongly support the need for high standards in these areas. But it is important to strike a balance between teaching children the basic skills in reading, writing and maths and giving them the opportunities to be creative and explore their own ideas and capabilities.
This has been recognised by the Government, in its 1997 White Paper, Excellence in Schools:
If we are to prepare successfully for the twenty-first century we will have to do more than just improve literacy and numeracy skills. We need a broad, flexible and motivating education that recognises the different talents of all children and delivers excellence for everyone.
Philosophy provides an arena for discussion, for asking questions and for seeking possible answers. It gives children the time and opportunity to think, talk and be really listened to. It demonstrates the difference between a disagreement and a personal attack. Philosophy teaches children to respect the ideas and opinions of others and to listen and build on those ideas, to be collaborative and to stand up for what they believe in.
Click here for the Institute for the Advancement of Philosophy for Children
Click here for The National Curriculum handbook for primary teachers
Click here for the Department of Education – excellence in schools