What is Philosophy for Children?
Philosophy for Children (or P4C) is method of engaging children in a community of critical and creative thinking and discussion to try to find answers to big questions. Every day, children process vast amounts of information about the world around them. Beyond the academic instruction that they receive in school, they also are constantly learning how we, as humans, exist together in our world. “Why?” “Do I have to?” and “That’s not fair!” are expressions that children utter frequently, and though as adults we have learned to be less direct, they are questions that we also ponder. The goal of P4C is to take these young, inquiring minds, and engage them in deep thinking about the topics that they already wonder about everyday. In a student driven environment, children inquire together about topics like morality, justice, their daily experiences, and so much more. From questions that they create, and discussions that they drive, children move toward a deeper understanding of themselves, each other, and the world.
How it Works
P4C is based on a method developed in the 1970s by Matthew Lipman and Ann Margaret Sharp. It uses a format called a, “Community of Philosophical Inquiry” or CPI. In the CPI, children follow a number of steps with a facilitator to make progress towards reasonable philosophical judgements. A typical session looks something like this:
Step 1: The Stimulus
Students sit in a circle and begin with something provided by the facilitator to stimulate philosophical questioning. Originally, this input was in the form of philosophical novels developed by Matthew Lipman and Ann Sharp, but it can be anything that gets kids thinking. Frequently used inputs are books, poems, current events, videos or films, and items from the students’ lives.
Step 2: The Questions
The next step is to decide on a question prompted by the stimulus that will be used for the group’s inquiry. Depending on the goal or purpose of the session, sometimes the students will generate their own questions, and other times the facilitator will bring questions. If there are multiple options, students will vote and together choose which question to take up and discuss.
Step 3: The Discussion
After choosing a question, the students begin what makes up the largest portion of the session. While the facilitator is there to help keep things on track and organized, the discussion is completely student driven. Students call on one another to speak, and respond to each other directly. Unlike a debate, the goal of the CPI is not for students to argue their opinions, but to work together as a community to figure out what is most reasonable to believe. They propose ideas and challenge each other’s reasoning in an attempt to move from less reasoned position about the question, to a more reasoned position. As the dialogue progresses students may develop and set aside new questions to discuss, or decide to pursue one particular thread of the conversation. The discussion from one question can be concluded in one session, or it can span the course of several sessions, based on the students and the topic.
Step 4: The Reflection
After coming to the end of a session, the students and facilitator reflect on what was accomplished in in the CPI. They ask questions like: what progress was made, what worked well, what was challenging, and if there are community norms that need to be addressed or established. Rather than a simple way to wrap things up, the reflection is a critical component of the session as students cement what they have learned together.
The Culminating Project
We believe it is important to provide kids the chance to creatively build on their experiences in the CPI. We work with them to come up with a project or activity to show what they’ve learned, or to demonstrate their theories. These projects can be anything from a piece of written work, something performative like a play or debate, or a piece of sculpture or artwork. The project is a way for our young philosophers to communicate their ideas in a vocabulary and medium of their choosing, and to have a tangible expression of what they found by participating in the workshop.
The following links will provide you with more information and resources about the P4C method, and about engaging kids with philosophy more generally.
Institute for the Advancement of Philosophy for Children