When I did my Level 1 training, and in the weeks following, I followed what SAPERE call the ’10 Step Model’. What I found was that it was very difficult to do with 3-4 year olds.
understood the 10 Step Model. I understood it was necessary for beginners so that they had a robust plan to follow instead of ending up in random ramblings. The 10 Step Model carefully lays out the start to end process of a philosophical enquiry. The 10 Step Model relies on the participants being at least partly competent in asking and answering questions and able to sit and focus for a long period of time. In other words not 3-5 year olds.
The 10 Step Model is the perfect model for older primary children and secondary children. When it came to Early Years? The 10 Step Model (for me) felt unachievable, unworkable and made me feel like I didn’t have a clue what I was doing. It was only when I abandoned the 10 Step Model and, later, when I heard about more flexible approaches in the Level 2 course, that my P4C sessions became fun and effective. For reference here, very briefly, is the 10 Step Model. Even though I don’t find it workable in Early Years it is good to at least keep in mind when planning your own sessions to make sure you stay on track.
The 10 Step Model
This is your preparation and planning. Deciding how you will seat the group, the different parts of your enquiry, the stimulus, mode of decision making or voting, whether you are going to have a starter game and what you want to achieve. This is something which is essential whether following the 10 Step Model or the QUESTS model.
2. Presentation of Stimulus
Book, item, painting, piece of music, video, whatever…
3. Thinking time
Children write down or draw ‘first thoughts’, children respond individually or work in groups, they identify the concepts/big ideas
4. Question -making
Children work in pairs or small groups to come up with their own questions inspired by the stimulus and concepts
Children share their question with the group and explain what they mean by the question and how it relates to the concept or stimulus.
There are many different methods suggested by SAPERE but this is basically the point where the group chooses which of the questions will form the basis of the day’s enquiry. As you can already tell this 10 Step Model is great for older children as it gives a really clear plan however it is also becoming obvious why this is too lengthy a process to keep 3-5 year olds engaged and requires much more complex skills and understanding than this age group are capable of.
7. First Words
This is the first step into the actual enquiry. Now that the question for discussion has been chosen children are invited to offer their first thoughts. A few points are pulled out of this discussion to focus the enquiry around. Imagine getting to step 7 with children aged 3-5. I tried. I failed. Several times.
8. Middle Words
Middle? What? You mean that after all of this we are only just starting at the middle? I won’t go into this too deeply as in this book we are not going to be following the 10 Step Model but for information only, this is the point where the bulk of the discussion takes place. If you are ever going to do P4C with an older group then I do urge you to look at the SAPERE 10 Step Model as you get a lot of useful prompts to make sure your enquiry is a success. It really is a good model. Just not for Early Years.
9. Last Words
Basically a summary with the group on everyone’s final thoughts.
10. Review and Plan
This is the post-session analysis where you evaluate how the enquiry went, the skills demonstrated and what you want to focus on next time.
As we already know, philosophy has been around since the beginning of time. Even without the name ‘philosophy’, humans are natural philosophers. ‘Philosophy for Children’ or P4C is a newer concept.
Although most people will not have heard of P4C or will think of it as a movement in its infancy, it has actually been around for over 40 years and is practiced in over 60 countries. It was first introduced in 1972 in the USA when the Institute for the Advancement of Philosophy for Children, and in particular Professor Matthew Lipman. This came at a time when educators were becoming more interested in creating critical thinkers, children who could take on opinions and ideas from others and form their own ideas as a result.
Lipman believed that children could use their philosophical skills to deal with the process of living and dealing with the future. In our current times and with the speed that technology advances this is even more relevant in education as we now prepare children for careers that do not even exist yet. How can we do that? By creating critical thinkers and independent philosophers. Lipman’s view of the perfect education system was one in which children were encourage to strengthen their power of judgement and one in which we were respectful of their concerns and opinions. An intellectually challenging community of enquiry. He created novels in which the characters had philosophical problems or questions, so as to spark conversation. These were questions with no ‘right’ or ‘wrong’. Children and teachers were on a level playing field. Everyone’s opinions mattered.
To ensure a high level of facilitation the original P4C teachers were engaged by Lipman and were ‘philosophers in residence’ and only then after substantial training. His opinion was that, although philosophy with children should be a flexible and open lesson, it should not be without significant underpinning knowledge and approaches, so as to get the best out of participants.
In 1990 the BBC screened a documentary in the UK about Lipman, his team and one of his colleagues called Catherine McCall. The documentary ‘Socrates for Six Year Olds’ looked at the success of P4C in a group of New Jersey schools. It was a big hit. Following over 2000 enquiries the organisation SAPERE (Society for the Advancement of Philosophical Enquiry and Reflection in Education) was set up in 1991 to begin to look at how P4C could more formally be rolled out across schools in the UK. This was a group of individuals, mainly educators, who were either interested in P4C or who had already been teaching P4C in their own classrooms. SAPERE is now a self-reliant charitable organisation who deliver training, create and sell resources and continue to promote P4C throughout the country.
Despite initial enthusiasm, P4C had a slow start in the UK, largely contributed to the introduction of the new National Curriculum in 1988 and schools and teachers, particularly in secondary education, still finding their feet with how to timetable the subjects needing to be taught. In 1992, however, a philosopher and educator called Karin Murris wrote a book which created a useful guide to introducing philosophical enquiries using picture books. This book, ‘Teaching Philosophy with Picture Books’, gave teacher guidance, exercises, lists of recommended picture books and a very compelling argument about how picture books are a perfect method of beginning an enquiry. Teachers who tried out these exercises and methods agreed.
This was further validated in 1994 by a research project funded by Dyfed County Council in South Wales who found that the approach improved children’s confidence, listening and attention skills and reasoning skills. It became apparent that P4C is a useful tool regardless of the age of the child as long as the stimulus and enquiry are relevant to what is understandable and important to them.
P4C is now done in many schools across the UK, however, as is the trend, the teaching of it varies depending on the skill and enthusiasm of the facilitator and the commitment of the school. Those who love it love it, however many teachers find it ‘yet another thing’ that they need to squeeze into their weekly timetable, alongside an ever-increasing pressure and expectation of attainment as dictated by the National Curriculum, Department for Education and Ofsted. Nevertheless, there comes a time to decide on priorities and if P4C can be included in your classroom with a cross-curricular approach then the benefits it offers to enquiring young minds far outweigh the costs. We are particularly lucky in the Early Years because philosophical enquiry and a philosophical approach to pedagogy can be embedded in our everyday life.
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.