During the first three years, a child's brain triples in weight and establishes about 1,000 trillion nerve connections and this starts from this very moment they are born. Here are the ways in which we are already making our babies into philosophers. You are already doing it, you just need to reframe your thinking a little bit to realise HOW you are doing it.
Philosophical Skill – Curiosity
The parietal lobe in baby’s brain makes them primed to begin to learn about the sensory aspects of their world. You help babies develop their sense of curiosity in everything you introduce them to and there is no better place to start than with their basic physical senses.
Philosophical Skill – Language.
Philosophical Skill – Listening
Philosophical Skill – Social Awareness and Higher Level Thinking
So did I teach you anything you don’t already know? Did I tell you to do anything you aren’t already doing as a parent or Early Years practitioner? I thought not. That is the beauty of a philosophical approach to pedagogy. For the most part you are already doing it, and have been for some time.
Babies are born as natural philosophers. All they have is ‘why?’. They have spent nine months with dulled and filtered lights and noises. The loudest noise they have heard is the constant, predictable beat of their mum’s heart and shwoosh, shwoosh of her blood stream. Then suddenly, without warning, they are thrust into the world; the noisy, bright chaotic world full of sights, sounds and assaults to the senses. They have no preconceptions, no opinions, no language. This lasts for mere seconds.
They instantly begin to soak in the world. It starts from the most basic knowledges – that hurts, that feels nice, that’s interesting. The longer they are in the world the more they soak in and digest. Soon they learn who their special people are, what to do when they are hungry and that they voice makes sound and that sound makes people react. Before you know it the googles, coos and social smiles come and Hey Presto! You have a mini human ready to learn about the world. Sure you won’t get a Socrates worthy enquiry out of them. More likely to get a bit of milky vomit and a loose nappy. You do, however, have a tiny sponge who is ready to learn.
So what better time than to start building a mini-Plato. Guess what – you are already doing it. You fuel their curiosities every day by introducing new experiences, new tastes, textures, smells and sounds. You build their vestibular and proprioceptive curiosity and awareness as you hug them tight, wrap them in sleep bags, bounce them on your knee and carry them around. You build their language as you speak and sing to them. You build their sense of the imaginary as you use silly voices. You show them that their vocalisations have a purpose and effect as you respond to their cries or copy their sounds. This is the time when tiny humans learn that their voice has power. It is the time where they first begin to make personal and social connections.
To begin their philosophical journey we make sure that they spend time looking at faces – ours or other people’s. We pull happy faces, sad faces, angry faces. We mirror their facial expressions. We explore different sights, sounds and textures. We introduce different tastes when they are ready for food. Perhaps opting for baby-led weaning where an awful lot of problem solving goes into your baby figuring out how to get that food to their mouth. Through all of this we talk. We talk to the babies, throwing every word we know at them.
We don’t dumb down what we say in the hope it will be more easily understood. We use all of our words, because if a child does not hear them they will not learn them. If a 6 month old does not understand “happy girl” then what harm will it be to instead say “You are such a happy girl. You are smiling so I know you are happy”? The same message with the same key word emphasised (and repeated) but with thirteen extra words used and a linking explanation – you are happy and I know that because you are smiling. Let’s give our tiny dots those extra words when we can. Not all the time, of course. As parents or practitioners we definitely don’t have time (in our boring adult world) to be keeping up that level of pre-meditated talk all the time. After all there are dishes to be done and assessments to be highlighted and tracked but we can do it more. A lot more, and before you know it it has become a habit.
Miss Magical Mess is a pre-school teacher and P4C Level 2B facilitator. After a shaky start as a P4C facilitator (P4C with 3 year olds... are you kidding?) Miss Magical Mess created her own approach to P4C and enquiry model and is now a big fan.