Philosophizing with children was first included as a complete lesson in elementary school in Mecklenburg-Vorpommern (a state in Germany). In many other federal states, philosophy is usually taught as part of ethics classes (formerly Values and Norms) as a counterpart to religion classes. At some Gymnasien, philosophy instruction already exists as a complete subject.
These forms of teaching differ from each other, of course, because the emphasis is completely different for children than for adolescents. What is also completely logical, because finally the experience value and the grasping ability are different here simply.
Parents in particular are usually initially suspicious of this subject because, after all, it is philosophy and the child is supposed to learn something tangible in school that will help it get ahead in life later on.
Presumably, this is due to the years of “headification” and life in the ivory tower of philosophy. Thereby philosophy has created a status for many people, which could be called “oddity”.
Only daydreamers and lazy people actually philosophize and so really one can earn nothing with it, a breadless art without added value for life artists.
So or so similarly one can imagine it perhaps – even if somewhat exaggerated.
But let’s take a closer look at what it means for a child to philosophize and how parents or educators can philosophize together with children.
Table of Contents
- What does it mean for children to philosophize?
- What methods are used when philosophizing with children?
- Tools for philosophizing with children
What does it mean for children to philosophize?
Children experience the world in a completely new way and learn something new every day. Their brain works tirelessly and also processes the experiences of everyday life. In the process, many questions arise so that the world can be understood.
If we as children did not ask ourselves these questions or did not try things out so that we could understand them, then we would quite quickly have a problem finding our way in the world.
Already in preschool or kindergarten we learn bit by bit to communicate and develop our individuality based on our own ability.
From elementary school on, this is promoted even further, because from this point on, the focus is increasingly on learning knowledge. Not to be forgotten here is also the parental home, which imparts or solidifies further values and (at least in the optimistic theory) cooperates with the elementary school.
Of course, philosophizing with children is somewhat more freely designed, since in this case it is not about explicit knowledge, so not the query of facts is in the foreground, but the focus is on the further questioning. This questioning is rooted in the philosophical tradition and is somewhat reminiscent of Socrates, who in ancient times pestered his fellow men in the marketplace with questions.
But it is precisely this questioning that helps with orientation in the world, with understanding the world and the things in it.
Of course, it always depends on the questioning interests and intellectual possibilities of the child – not to forget the emotional needs.
At this stage, it is not primarily about searching for truth or thinking that one wants to gain wisdom, but rather about self-reflection and developing an understanding of the world. Therefore, it is not about finding quick answers and solving the problem, but the conversations can remain completely open-ended.
Children are introduced to thinking in a completely different way and realize that it can be fun to ask questions and think them through.
This also promotes creativity and the ability to think outside the box, for example, which can prove particularly positive later in life.
At the same time, this kind of thinking can also be applied to other subjects and help to achieve a better understanding.
What methods are used when philosophizing with children?
In the form of teaching, the methods are chosen relatively freely and broadly. In the end, one can choose all media of which one thinks that they can be useful.
However, one eye is kept on the fact that at a later point in time, the typical method for the subject of philosophy, the text development, is worked on.
However, more complicated philosophical texts are hardly or not at all understandable for the children at this time and thus different media are used for learning.
At the same time, media can also become a direct object of instruction, i.e. part of the discussion.
In addition, the focus should be on topics that are close to the students’ lives and that directly touch their everyday lives. For example, topics such as friendship, conflicts, relationships with adults, fears, sexuality, love, harmony, aggression, ecology, religion, time and orientation in the consumer world.
Such topics can then be discussed freely in the group or sometimes in smaller groups to present their thoughts to the other students.
This requires a good way of communicating. Potentially even compromising, which improves mental flexibility.
The methods can be divided into two main groups: discursive and presentational forms.
In the discursive methods, different types of conversation, confronting and analyzing concepts, but also creating and reproducing texts, occur.
On the other side there is the presentative form, i.e. the kind where it is more about the presentation through e.g. the creation of pictures and their reproduction, journeys of thoughts or theatrical philosophizing.
Here again it depends on the interpretation through the language.
However, the focus is always on the conversation with each other.
Some forms of conversation are the entertaining conversation, informative conversation, reflective conversation, Socratic conversation or the well-known argument conversation.
These types of conversation are then linked to conceptual work, thought experiments, the creation and interpretation of images, role-playing, questioning and interviews, or even the student’s own research.
So it is clear to see that it is a combination of many aspects of philosophy and the experience of everyday life. However, one cannot say there is method 1 and method 2 according to these patterns we proceed strictly and do not deviate from it.
Philosophy doesn’t work that way either, which is probably one of the reasons why parents often don’t like this kind of teaching or take it less seriously.
But one simply has to distinguish here between the common teaching and the philosophy teaching.
Tools for philosophizing with children
Of course, in addition to the rather free methods, there are also certain tools that support these methods.
Here, the four questions of Immanuel Kant are used as an aid for structuring. This is done, among other things, because these questions are true to life, but also prevent the students from moving only in a narrow space in terms of thought and content.
“What can I know?”
“What should I do?”
“What can I hope?”
“What is man?”
Thematically, the elementary school grades move in different areas and can also vary by school.
If you look at the information brochure of the Ministry of Education, Science and Culture of the state of Mecklenburg-Vorpommern, you will see that for the first and second grades, topics of learning together and shaping leisure time, but also responsibility towards nature have been chosen.
In the third and fourth grades, the focus is on conflict resolution and dealing with others, but also on various media, such as television or the computer, or everything related to them.
As mentioned above, the topics are a good way of showing that it’s about everyday things and that the children can understand the world around them.
Nevertheless, it can be very disconcerting for the students, especially at the beginning, that a conversation is held so openly. Everyday life at school is often different in this respect, and the standards of school lessons are usually different from those of philosophy lessons. To represent one’s own point of view and to think about a topic on one’s own, not “predetermined” way, is therefore a completely different approach.
For this reason, it is always necessary to encourage the children to talk with questions until they have learned to deal with this type of conversation.
The questions asked by the children in the information brochure of the Ministry of Education, Science and Culture of Mecklenburg-Vorpommern are also helpful. These can serve as basic questions for the respective year and further questions can be built on them.
However, even small questions to the individual children, such as “What do you think about it?” or “What do you imagine under it?” help. Thus, the conversation has the opportunity to develop and other students can join in, generating new questions and ideas.
What is special here is that the teachers should hold back with their evaluation or interpretation of a meaning. The focus here is on the children’s thinking and approaches to solutions.
But this is exactly how parents can philosophize with their child at home. Questioning and exploring together with the children not only opens up a wider world and a better understanding for them, but also for the parents themselves.
Thinking together promotes curiosity and creativity – not least it connects children and parents more strongly, because something is done together, even if it is only intellectual.
The subject philosophy or philosophizing with children should not be underestimated, especially because in the young years this experience and way of thinking is formative.
It is extremely interesting on this topic that there was an article in the german philosophy magazine which clearly attested that children are philosophers. You can read more about it here.
But the really interesting thing about it was the comments under the article, which you could read on Facebook. There were many voices saying that children are not philosophers. They would ask questions, but they could not understand the depth of philosophy at all and therefore they should not be called philosophers. Otherwise one would not have to study philosophy at all, if everyone could be a philosopher…
This kind of thinking does not please me honestly at all, because on the one hand he categorizes and on the other hand the own ability is represented higher, than that of another person. The ego moves to the place of philosophy and denies another person the being a philosopher.
This thinking exists partly also among philosophers, according to which the other person would not be a real philosopher at all…
Children ask questions, that is true.
It is also true that they may not be able to grasp the depth of all questions or answers – but can we as adults?
At what age can we do that?
Or does experience have something to do with it?
We like to pretend (snobbishly) that we understand the world from front to back, but this is not the case. I would even go so far as to claim that many of those who spoke negatively about children as philosophers may know various philosophers and their ideas, but hardly ever really philosophize themselves, but only reproduce what they have read and memorized.
Philosophizing with children is an elementary activity, in which one, even as an adult, comes back to the basic idea of philosophy: the pursuit and love of wisdom.
Here you can find the framework plan for elementary school for philosophy with children of the Ministry of Education, Science and Culture of Mecklenburg-Vorpommern.
Free cover sheets for philosophy classes (right now they are in german, but I’ll create soon some English ones).
Here I have created some more cover sheets for you, which you are welcome to use for school or in general for your philosophical thoughts.
If you have any ideas, questions or comments, feel free to contact me and don’t forget to subscribe to my newsletter 😉