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Philosophy for children – 6 primary school ideas to try

Use these ideas from The School of Life to help pupils develop their emotional, psychological and interpersonal skills...

  • Philosophy for children – 6 primary school ideas to try

1 | Philosophical thinking – wise and unwise responses

Philosophy literally means ‘the love of wisdom’. Encourage pupils to understand that ‘wisdom’ means more than just being clever – it’s also about being kind, calm and accepting of life.

Children can become ‘wiser’ by creating a list of wise and unwise responses to problems, such as a friend not being nice to you, not liking what you’ve been given for dinner, accidentally spoiling a drawing you were doing or having to go to bed when you’re not tired.

Wise responses might include finding the positives in the situation, whereas unwise responses include getting angry or blaming others.

2 | Inquiry with children – ask an expert

Invite two students to roleplay. The ‘expert’ will talk about a topic they know; the ‘non-expert’ will only be allowed to ask questions, especially ‘What is…’ and ‘Why…’ questions.

The activity ends when the expert begins to repeat their answers or the conversation goes around in circles.

This activity allows the group to see the type of conversations that Socrates had with the Sophists. It aims to show that asking questions (not having answers) can really be a kind of wisdom.

It may also show children that unlearning is just as important as learning – when the expert changes their mind in response to a particular question, for example.

3 | Critical and creative thinking – create an inner dialogue

Ask children to divide a sheet of paper into two columns. The left side will be for problems and the right side for questions. Write a problem in the left column, such as ‘I am upset with Mum’, then move onto the right column to ask a question such as ‘Why am I upset with Mum?’.

Taking turns on each side, continue the dialogue until answers begin to repeat or go around in circles. As children begin to ask themselves questions, they’ll learn to clearly define their answers and reasons, and further develop their understanding of the problem.

4 | Philosophical inquiry for the classroom

Start with a big concept like ‘beauty’. Ask children to come up with as many questions as they can think of related to this concept.

Encourage them to ask as many questions as possible. Then delve into some important philosophical questions: ‘What is real?’; ‘What is right and wrong?’; ‘What is Society?’.

The aim is for children to create more and more questions. Record the questions on a ‘question wall’ – perhaps organising them into categories (‘open’ and ‘closed’ questions, for example) or ranking them in quality.

5 | Interesting problems for philosophy with children

Aristotle believed that the meaning of life is about what makes your life feel interesting and good. To achieve this, what mainly counts is fixing things. When you fix something, you solve a problem that matters to you.

Help children explore this by thinking of a wide range of problems in the world that matter to them, for example: ‘people argue too much’ or ‘our environment needs preserving from waste.’

Can children reframe these problems as ‘how’ questions: how might people argue less? Ask them to develop their own list of interesting problems to fix.

6 | Setting a goal can impact on children

According to Aristotle, happiness was about feeling that life is meaningful, and that this is achieved by having an important goal.

Encourage children to think about one important thing they want to achieve and set a realistic date. Ask them to draw a timeline of the days, weeks, and months ahead to their set date.

They can then list all the actions they will need to take and note them under each date along the timeline. They might also list all the problems they will likely face, both inner and outer – as well as all of the solutions they can think of to these problems.

Find The School of Life on Twitter at @theschooloflife.

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