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Undergraduate Course

Learning to Teach

In 2000, Thomas Wartenberg created an undergraduate course in which he led his college students through the process of making teachable modules and then debuting them in second, fourth, and fifth grade classrooms. Many of the modules on this site come from the classes and students Tom taught at Mt. Holyoke. We’ve provided information from Tom’s class here in case you’d like to create a similar course at your own school.

Philosophy 280: Philosophy for Children

Syllabus, Requirements and Class Assignments have been archived for download here.

Suggested Texts:

  • Thomas Wartenberg, Big Ideas for Little Kids
  • Thomas Cathcart and Daniel Klein, Plato and a Platypus Walk Into a Bar…
  • Arnold Lobel, Arnold Frog and Toad Together
  • Leo Lionni, Frederick
  • Margaret Wise Brown, The Important Book
  • Shel Silverstein, The Giving Tree
  • B. Wiseman, Morris the Moose
  • Mo Willems, Knuffle Bunny
  • Peter Catallanato, Emily’s Art

Advice on Leading a Philosophical Discussion with Young Children

Leading a philosophical discussion with children can be intimidating, especially when it’s your first time. It’s hard to anticipate what students might say, and that can be pretty scary. Here is some advice on preparing for the discussion and actually leading it.

First, be prepared! This means that you have to be familiar with the material you will be teaching, both the book itself, the questions, and the philosophical issues. This takes some time. You should read the book out loud and try to put real excitement into your reading. It often helps to practice this with a partner outside of class; this could be either a fellow classmate or a friend. You should also make sure to go over the questions and figure out which ones you think are the most important, the ones you really want to ask. It’s also important to be familiar and comfortable with the philosophical issues, so you can recognize a good response and call the childrens’ attention to it.

Second, show excitement! Your success will depend a lot on how the kids perceive you. Show them that you are very interested in them and are excited to be teaching them. This shouldn’t be hard, but remember not to let any fear you might have get in the way of showing them that you really are having a great time talking to them.

Third, LISTEN! In our experience, this is hard, especially at first. You probably will be nervous and you have a page full of questions in your hand. The temptation is to ask a question and then, after a kid responds, to just ask the next one. Don’t do it! Listen to what they are saying and, if no one else has a hand raised to respond, ask an improvised follow-up question. The idea is to have them discuss the question that you ask. There is absolutely no pressure on you to “get through” the questions. If you ask a question and a good philosophical discussion develops, that’s great! Stick with it. All we are interested in is having the children talk to one another philosophically. Don’t worry at all about “coverage.” Remember to be flexible and “go with the flow.”

Fourth, remember to give them “markers.” These are comments that indicate that they’ve accomplished something. In general, the more encouragement you give the students, the better they will perform. So, if you’ve had a discussion of some topic, don’t just move on to the next question. You need to mark what has occurred so that they recognized what has been accomplished and feel good about it. Even if there is a disagreement, you can say something like, “We’ve had a really interesting discussion of —. I think we have a real disagreement here. Some of you think that xyz, while others disagree. That’s really interesting because —-. Maybe we should move on to another question now.” In addition, it’s good to just summarize where things are periodically, so that the children have a sense of the course of the discussion.

Fifth, remember to be a facilitator and not a participant in the conversation. Your goal is to get the kids to talk with one another about the issues, not tell them what you think. There are a variety of techniques you can use to keep them talking to each other. Ask, “What do the rest of you think about what Amanda just said?” Or, “Does anyone disagree with Colin, that bravery is really stupid?” Or, “Let’s go around the circle and each of you share an example of xyz.”

Finally, enjoy yourself! If you are not too nervous and focus on what the kids say, it can be a really fun and rewarding experience. We always learn something from doing philosophy with the children. Remember, they are “natural born philosophers,” so we can learn from them. And they are funny and cute, as well as intelligent. So give yourself over to the experience and enjoy!

How We Do Philosophy: Instructions for Young Learners

  1. We raise our hands before we speak
  2. We never speak when someone else is speaking
  3. We listen carefully to what is being said
  4. We don’t have side conversations
  5. We are respectful of others’ opinions
  6. We justify our opinions by giving reasons for them
  7. Disagreement is good, so long as it done with respect
  8. We have fun thinking together!

Helpful Texts

Books About Philosophy for Children

Bassiri, A., Brown, K., Evans, M., Mascitelli-Morey, S., Pruitt, A., Vaidya, A., and Wartenberg, T., Implementing Philosophy in Elementary Schools, 2013, AuthorHouse

Cam, P., Fynes-Clinton, L., Harrison, K., Hinton, L., Scholl, R. and Vaseo, S., Philosophy for Young Children: A Classroom Handbook, 2007, Australian Curriculum Studies Association.

Gregory, M., Philosophy for Children Practitioner Handbook, 2008, Institute for the Advancement of Philosophy for Children.

Fisher, R., Teaching Thinking: Philosophical Inquiry in the Classroom, 2008, Continuum.

Hannam, P. and Echeverria, E., Philosophy with Teenagers: Nurturing a Moral Imagination for the 21st Century, 2010, Network Continuum Education.

Lipman, M., Sharp, A., Oscanyan, F., Philosophy in the Classroom, 1980, Temple University Press

Lipman, M., and Sharp, A. M., Looking for Meaning, 1982, Institute for the Advancement of Philosophy for Children

Lipman, M., and Sharp, A. M., Wondering at the World, 1986, Institute for the Advancement of Philosophy for Children

Lipman, M., Thinking in Education, 2003, Cambridge University Press

Lipman, M., A Life Teaching Thinking, 2008, Institute for the Advancement of Philosophy for Children.

Matthews, G., 1996, The Philosophy of Childhood, Harvard University Press

Matthews, G., Dialogues with Children, 1992, Harvard University Press

Matthews, G., Philosophy and the Young Child, 1982, Harvard University Press

McCall, C., Thinking Adventures: A Book for High School Pupils and a Teacher’s Guide to Thinking Adventures, 2006, Scottish Executive Education Department

McCall, C., Transforming Thinking: Philosophical Inquiry in the Primary and Secondary Classroom, 2009, Routledge

Sharp, A. and Splitter, L., Teaching for Better Thinking, 1995, Australian Council for Educational Research

Wartenberg, B. Big Ideas for Little Kids: Teaching Philosophy Through Children’s Literature, Lanham, MD: Rowman & Littlefield.

Worley, P., The If Machine, 2011, Continuum

Books for New Philosophers

Gaarder, J., Sophie’s World, 2007, Farrar Strauss and Giroux

Nagel, T., What Does It All Mean? A Very Short Introduction to Philosophy, 1987, Oxford University Press

Scruton, R., An Intelligent Person’s Guide to Philosophy, 1999, Penguin Books

Wartenberg, T., A Sneetch Is a Sneetch and Other Philosophical Discoveries: Finding Wisdom in Children’s Literature, 2013, Wiley.

Weston, A., A Rulebook for Arguments, 1992, Hackett Publishing Co.

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