Interested in teaching philosophy to elementary school children? This website will help you do that using popular children’s picture books. To get started, take a look at some of the book modules contained on this site. They will introduce you to the philosophy in each picture book, and suggest questions to help you initiate a philosophical discussion with young children. If you’re using any of our book modules in your classroom or with your young children, we’ve provided some helpful resources to guide you.
Leading a Philosophical Discussion
Leading a philosophical discussion with children can be intimidating, especially when it’s your first time. It’s hard to anticipate what they might say, and that can be pretty scary. The following advice was originally created for undergraduate students preparing to lead a discussion in a classroom for the first time. However, we hope that veteran educators will find helpful tips on this page as well.Book Modules
Preparing to lead a philosophical discussion with children 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; 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.
In the Classroom
The key to a great philosophical discussion is to listen, really listen, to what the students are saying. We’ve provided many questions for each book. 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 in each module. If you ask a question and a good philosophical discussion develops, that’s great! Stick with it. The key to teaching children philosophy is having the children talk to one another philosophically. Don’t worry about “coverage.”
If you’ve never taught a group of children before, make sure you show them how excited you are to be in the classroom! Show them that you are very interested in them and are excited to be teaching them.
Remember to give the students “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. 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.
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.”
Finally, enjoy yourself! If you focus on what the kids say, it can be a really fun and rewarding experience. Remember, they are “natural born philosophers,” so we can learn from them. Give yourself over to the experience and enjoy!
Helpful Guidelines for Young Children
Kids may not be familiar with the practice of philosophy, so we’ve created some ground rules that will promote better discussion:
- 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!
Further Guidance and Resources
For more guidance, purchase Tom Wartenberg’s book Big Ideas for Little Kids: Teaching Philosophy Through Children’s Literature. This book contains detailed instructions on how to facilitate a philosophy discussion as well as an entire curriculum for an introduction to philosophy class for elementary school children.
Tom has also written an introduction to philosophy for adults using children’s picture books, A Sneetch Is a Sneetch and Other Philosophical Discoveries. It will give you the background you need to lead elementary school philosophy discussions.
Interested in discussing philosophy with older students? Take a look at Philosophy@The Virtual Art Museum which uses works of art to stimulate philosophy discussions.
Associated Programs and Resources
“PLATO is dedicated to being a national voice for advocating the introduction of philosophy into pre-college classrooms and to connecting the education and philosophy communities through programs, resource-sharing and the development of a national network of those working in pre-college philosophy.”
Wondering Aloud: Philosophy with Young People is Jana Mohr Lone’s blog about doing philosophy with young people
Filosofia con i Bambini is a philosophy for children program in Italy.
Big Ideas for Little Kids: A course at Michigan State University
Philosophy in Public Schools aka PiPS is a program at UMass-Amherst in which graduate and undergraduate students teach philosophy in local schools.
The Washington Elementary School Philosophy Project is an elementary school philosophy program of the San Jose Rotary Club and is assisted by San Jose State University Philosophy Department.
Filosofía a la de tres is a program for teaching philosophy to preschool children in Madrid.
Outreach Program at the University of North Carolina Chapel Hill includes a variety of different outreach programs including an undergraduate course.
Philosophy @ Island Bay is developing a philosophy curriculum for elementary school in Wellington, New Zealand.
Philosophy for Children Alberta sponsors a summer program and an undergraduate course, among other activities.
Young Philosophers is a program for home-schooled kids.
Philosopher Kids at Loyola University, New Orleans is a program where undergraduates teach philosophy in a local elementary school.
Philosophy in Education at Carleton College offers a course for undergraduates who teach at a local elementary school.
Rollins College Philosophy Friends: Undergraduates work with young children at Rollins Child Development Center.