Educators & Parents
Have you ever thought of using children’s literature to teach philosophy to elementary school children? It may surprise you to know that children’s books often raise deep philosophical issues and that children love to think about them. Each of our book modules has all of the materials that you need to lead philosophy discussions with your students. We’ve chosen a set of books that we think are remarkable for their philosophical content, and we have assembled questions to use to initiate a philosophical discussion.
Why Should I Teach Children Philosophy?
Discussing philosophy with children is a great way to improve their verbal skills. They learn to listen carefully to other students, to formulate their own opinions in a clear manner, and even to defend their opinions against objections from their peers. Exporing philosophy builds a real sense of community in the classroom and, at the same time, it aids in the individual intellectual development of your students.
Take a look at our book modules for a wide range of children’s books you might be interested in teaching. Each module includes guidelines for the instructor, and a large set of questions to choose from. Below you will see some sample class syllabi, with guidelines and instructions for how to set up your own multi-week philosophy class. For more information on getting started, visit our resources page.
Interested in trying your hand at teaching philosophy in your classroom, but unsure how to start? We’ve constructed three sample syllabi that you might want to try. One is a general introduction to philosophy, one focuses on ethics, and the third includes books that address issues about knowledge and reality.
We suggest teaching one book per session, but if you have more flexibility you might want to spend a few sessions on each book. You might also want to consider adding some “extension activities” for the books, such as those listed in Thomas Wartenberg’s book Big Ideas for Little Kids.
An Introduction to Philosophy Course
This course is designed to introduce elementary school students to philosophy in much the same way that college students are. That is, if offers a glimpse at all the major fields of philosophy.
Week 1. Ethics: “Dragons and Giants” from Frog and Toad Together
Week 2. Social and Political Philosophy: Frederick
Week 3. Metaphysics The Important Book
Week 4. Philosophy of Mind: The Wonderful Wizard of Oz
Week 5. Environmental Ethics: The Giving Tree
Week 6. Epistemology: Morris the Moose
Week 7. Philosophy of Language: Knuffle Bunny
Week 8. Aesthetics: Emily’s Art
A Course in Ethics
The field of ethics concerns a wide range of questions about human conduct, right and wrong. This sample course offers a survey of some interesting and important issues that have emerged in the area of ethics.
Week 1. Courage:“Dragons and Giants” from Frog and Toad Together
Week 2. Will Power: “Cookies” from Frog and Toad Together
Week 3. Attitudes: Where the Wild Things Are
Week 4. Friendship: “Owl and the Moon” from Owl at Home
Week 5. Happiness: Mufaro’s Beautiful Daughters
Week 6. Rights: Hey, Little Ant
Week 7. The Environment: The Lorax
A Course in Metaphysics and Epistemology
The field of metaphysics deals with questions concerning the nature of reality itself. Epistemology focuses on questions of knowledge. These two kinds of questions often arise together. Some examples are: What is the nature of the universe, and the things in it? How do we come to know or understand those things? Because these two subfields of philosophy fit so well together, a good way to introduce young students to them is by putting them together in a single mini-course.
Part 1: Metaphysics
Week 1. Personal Identity: Little Blue and Little Yellow
Week 2. Possibility and Necessity: Albert’s Impossible Toothache
Week 3. Essentialism: The Important Book
Week 4. Philosophy of Religion: Yellow and Pink
Part 2: Epistemology
Week 5. Knowing: I Know the Moon
Week 6. Belief Justification: Morris the Moose
Week 7. Truth: Horton Hears a Who
Week 8. Skepticism: “The Dream” from Frog and Toad Together
How We Do Philosophy: Instructions for Young Learners
- We raise our hands before we speak
- We never speak when someone else is speaking
- We listen carefully to what is being said
- We don’t have side conversations
- We are respectful of others’ opinions
- We justify our opinions by giving reasons for them
- Disagreement is good, so long as it done with respect
- We have fun thinking together!
“Hey, Mom, I have a question. How did the first human get born?”
“Dad, could the whole world be nothing but a dream?”
“When I went to the dentist and he gave me a shot, it really hurt. I didn’t cry, but I was really scared. Does that mean I wasn’t really brave?”
When was the last time your child stumped you with a philosophical question like the ones listed above? How did you respond? If you are like most of us, you tried to reassure your child, but didn’t feel like you could really answer his or her question. You know what? You don’t have to tell your child the answer in order to discuss the issue that was raised. How?! Well, that’s what philosophy for children is all about.
This website presents all the tools that you need to discuss even the most mind-boggling questions your child can throw at you. The basic idea is to get them to say what they think rather than to stumble over an answer you don’t really believe in or to change the subject. All that this involves is faith that your child actually has a lot to discuss with you about the ideas that intrigue and puzzle them. So, instead of panicking when your child gets that puzzled look on his or her face, dive right in and explore together ideas that you are also intrigued by. You’ll be surprised at the results.
Here’s what one parent says about the site:
“I printed out the book list and questions to use with my son at home. In the last 5 years we must have read Frederick over 200 times, but when I used the discussion questions for the first time, the book took on a whole new meaning for my son. I asked him the questions about working and helping in the community and he came up with so many great responses. We talked about Frederick for over an hour! I really appreciate what you are doing and especially the information that you provide on your website.” –Laura Weston
If you are unnerved by the idea of having a philosophical discussion with your 4, 8, or 12 year old, don’t let that stop you. Philosophy isn’t the esoteric specialty you may remember from that intimidating college course you took and barely passed. Philosophy was born when people began to puzzle about the most basic features of their lives. Despite all the changes of the past two and a half millennia, we still haven’t figured out the answers to all of those questions. Just relax and enjoy discussing these age-old problems with your young child or children. You may find that you have a lot to learn from them. And let us know how it goes!