Philosophy for Children

What is Philosophy for Children?

This adventuresome and unusual pairing of a millennia-old practice of philosophy with young children is a relatively new idea. Traditionally, philosophy is encountered rarely before the college or university years and much of contemporary psychology and educational theory would seem to support that model. After all, aren't children simply too intellectually immature to understand a discipline as complex and abstract as philosophy?

Some thinkers would suggest that children have a natural affinity for philosophical inquiry. Remember all of those why questions that two year olds ask? Gareth Matthews has written numerous books on his observations of children asking provocative, mind stretching questions. He has also developed a new area within philosophy that invites us to examine the nature of childhood as one aspect of the human experience that has been ignored.

Matthew Lipman founded the Institute for the Advancement of Philosophy for Children (IAPC) to develop materials and support classroom teachers in implementing sustained philosophical inquiry within the classroom. Lipman and his associates wrote carefully crafted novels along with teacher manuals which introduce young people to such areas within philosophy as logic, metaphysics, epistemology, aesthetics, ethics and political theory. 

Instead of asking young people to read the great works of philosophical literature, Lipman uses the narrative form to present them with children pondering these questions as they move through their daily lives at home and in school and struggle with the same problems that their young readers may have.

We See Two Threads Developing Here

  • Philosophy with children: a curricular movement within or outside of schools which invite children to think and discourse on philosophical issues.

  • Philosophy of children: an area within the discipline of philosophy which seeks to explore the nature and meaning of childhood vis a vis human experience.

What Does Lipman's Philosophy For Children Curriculum Entail?

Lipman and his associates at the IAPC have developed an expanded series of novels which invite children from preschool through high school to think and dialog about philosophical issues. The novels and age ranges are as follows:

Philosophical Novels Written for Children

Grades

Range

Themes

The Doll Hospital
Preschool
Pre-K/K
identity
Elfie
1
K-2
language
Kio and Gus
2-3
K-5
nature and perception
Pixie
3-4
K-5
ambiguity, concepts
Nous
3-6
3-6
living a good life
Harry Stottlemeier's Discovery
5-6
4-7
logic
Lisa 
7-8
7-12
ethics
Suki 
9-10
8-11
aesthetics
Mark
11-12
9-12
political philosophy

Each novel covers far more than the main theme listed above. A teacher could easily spend an entire year on one story. The goal is to read a portion and then discuss the ideas that the class finds problematic, interesting, puzzling. The teacher can use the accompanying manuals as idea-resources or to guide his own reflections on the story ideas. At the heart of the educational movement is the notion of a community of inquiry. 

This phrase denotes a group of individuals who actively cooperate and think together to explore problematic ideas that matter to them. Their search for meaning is cooperative, not competitive, critical and yet caring, creative not a rote repetition of a given inert idea.

Philosophy for Children Around the World

Many educators and philosophers have visited Montclair State University and participated in the workshops and seminars sponsored by the IAPC. Now, Lipman's model of Philosophy for Children has taken root around the globe and philosophers and educators are continuing to develop new stories and new materials to use. 

Philosophy for children is particularly strong in the following countries: Brazil, Iceland, Australia and appears to be growing in Great Britain.

To learn more about Philosophy For Children in the Classroom, please read on.

Some Innovative Material Creators:

Richard Anthone and Gregie De Maeyer: Belgium, creative art project called The Cage.
Philip Cam: Original stories.
Roger Sutcliff: United Kingdom, website on news and a philosophy club.

Philosophy for children is particularly strong in the following countries: Brazil, Iceland, Australia and appears to be growing in Great Britain.

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