Bear with my ramblings for a moment. I promise there is a planning document at the bottom of this post.
This week I was very lucky. I got to go to an Early Years conference that had some inspiring ideas for Understanding the World, Mathematics, ICT, Design Technology and Literacy. The conference was called 'The Really Practical Early Years Annual Conference - Developing Effective Provision for More Able Children in EYFS' and was run by the Lancashire Professional Development Service.
I was particularly inspired by the Key Note Speaker, Rachael Webb (Teaching and Learning Consultant, Primary Science). I had heard she was good from a colleague who had seen her speak before but I wasn't prepared for coming away with three whole pages of ideas to try that I hadn't tried before. All from a one hour session! The tone she set with her session, which was a theme which then ran through the whole conference, was that the key to learning is questioning. Not superficial questioning but in depth quality interactions which put children in the driving seat and us in the role of a facilitator who is helping them to explore the world, their choices and their reasoning. I know. In hindsight that is obvious right? So why do we forget it all the time?
I blame Pinterest personally. And all of the many, many, different choices of approach that are available to us in the EYFS. I do love the flexibility of not having to stick to the National Curriculum like our Key Stage colleagues but it can seem overwhelming that, in dealing with the woolly Development Matters, we are left swimming in a sea of Montessori, Reggio Emilia, Curiosity Approach, Pie Corbett, Dough Disco, Finger Gym, In The Moment Planning, Helicopter Stories, skills based, schema based, hessian clad sea of uncertainty. I do love all of those things in themselves but all together? No. Choose between? How?
In P4C I have found a wagon I can hitch my cart to. Because the underlying principles seem to be the ones that came out in every session I attended in the Early Years conference. That what children need from us in the early years is to learn new words, to hear and ask questions, to respect and care for each other and to make choices. We should be asking "what if?", "what do you notice?" and "what do you think?" We should be encouraging children to observe and explore, wonder and ask questions, look for similarities and changes. More than anything else we should just enjoy talking to our tots and having high quality interactions. The tiny window in which their brains and personalities are filled with wonder and unencumbered by societal expectations is the tiny window that we are privileged enough to peer into. The Early Years conference reminded me why I am striving to have a philosophical teaching approach in my daily life.
So get stuffed Pinterest!!! (Until I need some inspiration again and then I will admit I still love you. We were just on a break ok?)
My P4C planning this week was born from an idea that was suggested in the Early Years Conference (in which P4C wasn't even mentioned), proving my point (to myself) that P4C is transferable into all areas of the EYFS classroom.
So here is my P4C planning (using my QUESTS approach) for this week which could just as easily be used for an Understanding the World or Communication and Language activity.
Would a worm make a good pet???
Our school is currently working towards the Silver Award and this week our trainer, the lovely Gina of Little Chatters, was in for a day. At the end of the day she did a training session for staff. There were two things which particularly struck me in this week's training session which will inform my planning and practice as I continue on our journey with P4C.
Gina did a fun starter activity with us using a rope which was a full circle and had a knot in it. The starter activity was a game in which one person had to stand in the middle of the circle and it was up to everyone else to work as a team to conceal the knot. At the end the person in the middle had to guess where the knot had ended up. Gina then talked about different ways to use this technique including as a way for each person in an enquiry to have their final words. It is this that I plan to use in some of my enquiries from now on with my 3-4 year olds. They will love it.
This then led me on to thinking about the 4Cs and in particular collaboration, as both of these uses of the knot have a heavy foundation of collaboration. I started to think of all the ways in which we already collaborate during our day in the classroom.
This led me on to thinking about how one of the trickier parts of my enquiries (which is probably the easiest part for older children) is explaining the 4Cs at the start of each session. Caring, Critical, Collaborative and Creative. The words are self explanatory to most people (although I am sure, like me, most of you have suddenly gone blank when asked to give examples or definitions in your own teacher training sessions) however they are not so easily understood for a 3 year old.
So I am taking a new approach. I am going to put four sheets up on my P4C display board which are blank apart from the 4Cs. A sheet for each C. Myself and the other practitioners can then add examples throughout the day of how the children have displayed these skills during their normal play. We can then start using these words more regularly throughout our normal sessions to encourage children to begin to have a broader understanding of what they mean. "I loved listening to you on your superhero adventure. It was really creative when you made a machine to freeze people", "Let's work together to tidy up everyone - let's collaborate", and so on. That way the children will hopefully have a more embedded understanding of what the 4Cs actually mean both in practice and in enquiries by the time they move on through to Reception Class.
The second thing I took away to work on was as a result of a good friend's work in her P4C session this week (which was observed by Gina). This was an enquiry for a group of 4-5 year olds based on Beauty and the Beast and what the meaning of 'beauty' is. This was based largely on examining the characters of Beast and Gaston and a discussion of 'what is beauty?', looking at inner and outer beauty. The planning and session were actually a lot more in depth than I have described here but for my purposes of this post those are the important parts.
The class had a Forrest School session based on ephemeral art planned for the afternoon and, after discussion with Gina, the teacher decided to continue her exploration of 'beauty' through that session. The children first collected things and put them in one of two hoops (I love a good hoop in P4C!). One hoop for 'beautiful' and one for 'not beautiful'. As they found some rubbish during their session this further helped the discussions. Each child was then told to make a piece of ephemeral art that depicted 'beautiful' or 'not beautiful' then the class went around to discuss whether they thought the artist was trying to depict 'beautiful' or 'not beautiful'. Again the session was more in depth than I have described here but you get my point. What I took from hearing about this was two things which will inform my future practice.
1. I need to do more concept work. I do explore concepts then return to them in greater depth at later times but I think that I could do this better. With my age group, in particular, I think I need to drench them in a concept for a short period of time rather than sprinkling them with it throughout the year. I think that next academic year I will chose a concept for each half term and base my enquiries around that concept so that we can really pick apart and examine what that concept means over a shorter but more intense period. I can then refer back to that concept throughout the year.
2. It is perfectly possible to have P4C as a way of working all the time and not just for enquiries. If you have read some of my other posts you will see that I am already a big fan of embedding a P4C approach in every part of teaching and parenting and think that we already instinctively do this but I am only just figuring out HOW to do this in more of a premeditated way. Thanks to the example above and the work and advice of other practitioners in different settings and on P4C forums I am starting to see how this really can be an approach to Early Years practice and this is something I am going to continue to study and work towards in my own classroom.
Have fun with your quests and questions this week all. May the P4C force be with you!
By the age of 3-4 years old a typically developing child will be talking using simple sentences. Many children will be using more complex sentences using words like ‘and’ and ‘because’. They will be starting to understand simple questions and will be asking questions of their own. Most prolifically ‘why?’ Most children will now be experts at role play and imaginary play and will have absorbed three to four years of language, stories, television and song. They will be able to understand emotions when supported and starting to understand that their own actions can have an effect on other people’s emotions.
Although they will not necessarily have the best moral judgement themselves they do now have a sense of justice, most often knowing when something is ‘bad/wrong’ or ‘good/right’ and, being the most pressing issue in a young child’s life, the concept of fairness. This will usually raise it’s head with both unreasonable requests (‘I want a big chocolate bar not a small one. That’s not fair’) and those that are more reasonable (‘He isn’t sharing. It’s my turn’).
Also on their personal and social development they will be starting to be able to imagine themselves in other real life scenarios. For example they can imagine then answer the question “How would you feel if you got lost?” which they probably weren’t able to do in their toddler years. They can also understand and answer more complex questions more effectively, though the answers may conform to their own child logic and not necessarily to the logic of adults.
Philosophical Skill – Listening and Attention
Philosophical Skill – Imagination and Social Skills
Philosophical Skill – Problem Solving
Expressive Arts and Design works well for children of all types but it is difficult for some children to access certain parts of it. Not all children can draw, not everyone enjoys exploring sound or texture, many children don’t like to dance or perform for others. Philosophy for Children could be used to encourage these areas in smaller groups if the question and methods are chosen carefully. As a lot of art (physical, musical and movement) is dependent on either interpretation or feeling, philosophy for children offers a new way to tap into these skills and abilities in a more structured way which may offer the predictability and security that creates a safe environment for less confident children to express themselves. Here are a few possible philosophical leads.
Exploring and Using Media and Materials Early Learning Goals
1. Children sing songs, make music and dance, and
experiment with ways of changing them.
2. They safely use and explore a variety of materials, tools and techniques, experimenting with colour, design, texture, form and
What makes a good song?
How does this song make you feel?
What does that song make you think of?
Would the world feel the same if there was no music?
What is music? Does this count as music? Why? Why not?
What is art?
Do you like this painting?
Is this art? (look at examples of ephemeral art)
Which textures do you like/hate? Why?
Being Imaginative Early Learning Goals
1. Children use what they have learnt about media and materials in original ways, thinking about uses and purposes.
2. They represent their own ideas, thoughts and feelings through design and technology, art, music, dance, role play and stories.
How many ways could we use this? (box/ bottle/stick)
Can you represent ‘sad’ using dance/ colour/instruments/movement?
In role play get involved and add new situations and challenges.
Oh, what a perfect way to explore the world! Philosophy is a wonderful fit for this area of learning. Though not seen as important by those who care just for a Good Level of Development at the end of Reception Class, for the vast majority of Early Years practitioners this, along with Expressive Arts, is the very essence of understanding the world and revelling in childhood joy.
Our families, friends, the people we see every day in the streets and different occupations, technology and its place in our lives, the weather, huge things like countries and tiny but amazing things like metamorphosis, the environment, history, and on and on!
This area of development is literally a whole world of exploration just waiting fir tiny minds to attempt to unravel and try to understand the mysteries of the universe. Philosophy for Children? Bring it on!
People and the Communities Early Learning Goals
1. Children talk about past and present events in their own
lives and in the lives of family members.
2. They know that other children don’t always enjoy the same things, and are sensitive to this.
3. They know about similarities and differences between themselves and others, and among
families, communities and traditions.
What is the past? How far back does past go?
Do you remember being a baby? What do babies remember?
What do you think your grandma was like as a baby?
Should we all enjoy the same things?
Should boys like “boy things” and girls like “girl things”? Do boy things and girl things even exist?
Would you rather …..? Favourite games and activities
Are we all the same? Are we all different? What does different mean?
Are we better friends with children who are the same or different to us? What is good about being the same? What is good about being different?
Do we all have to believe in the same things? If we believe in something does that mean it exists? If we don’t believe in something does it not exist? Do you have to see something to believe in it?
The World Early Learning Goals
1. Children know about similarities and differences in
relation to places, objects, materials and living things.
2. They talk about the features of their own immediate environment and how environments might vary from
3. They make observations of animals and plants and explain why some things occur, and talk about changes.
Would you rather live in….. Sahara/Arctic, an Island/on top of a mountain, on a farm/in a busy city, etc.
What animal would be best as a pet? Why? Everyone say what you would like. Can you convince everyone else that your choice would be the best?
Why should we be kind to animals? Is it kind to have a pet?
Are zoos and farms good or bad?
Are insect lives as important as big animals?
Are plant lives as important as insects?
Is change good? (life cycles)
How was the world made?
Should we chop down trees?
Should we drink bottled water?
Technology Early Learning Goals
1. Children recognise that a range of technology is used in
places such as homes and schools.
2. They select and use technology for particular purposes.
Could you live without technology/ electricity in your home?
How would you ………
Can robots replace humans in every job?
Is the internet a good thing?
Could a computer make up a good story?
Would you like to be a robot?
Mathematics for Philosophy? Are they not the complete opposites? Philosophy embraces a search for an ultimate truth with an acknowledgement that it will never truly be found. It is open and flexible and creative. Mathematics is a world of right and wrong answers and structure (though I am sure those blessed with a mathematical mind better than mine would argue that it was far more complex than that). How can these co-exist?
Well first of all a brief reminder of that mathematical philosopher Pythagoras may be necessary. Pythagoras believed that the essence of being can be found in the form of numbers, and that it can be encountered through the study of mathematics. To expect a 3-5 year old to embrace the world through the eyes of Pythagoras, however, is perhaps a little stretching, so instead you can use philosophy to explore the underlying concepts of mathematics and also use some mathematical skills throughout your sessions.
Numbers Early Learning Goals
1. Children count reliably with numbers from 1 to 20.
2. They place them in order.
3. They say which number is one more or one less than a given number.
4. Using quantities and objects, they add and subtract two single-digit numbers and count on or back to find the answer.
5. They solve problems, including doubling, halving and sharing.
Areas to Explore
When you vote with hands up, pictures or by moving to one space or another, get the children to help you count the votes.
Look at what placing numbers in order means. What would happen if they were out of order? How could we work out what “8” means if it isn’t between 7 and 9?
Look at ‘sharing’ and what sharing means. Is it important to share? Do we need to share equally? What is one person doesn’t want as much as someone else? Can we share fairly but not equally?
Exploring doubling and halving in baking. If you experiment can you still make a cake? What is you double one ingredient and half another? Is the baking as much fun if there isn’t an edible cake at the end? What is more important – the process or the result?
Space, Shape and Measure Early Learning Goals
1. Children use everyday language to talk about size, weight, capacity, position, distance, time and money to compare quantities and objects and to solve problems.
2. They recognise, create and describe patterns.
3. They explore characteristics of everyday objects and shapes and use mathematical language to describe them.
Areas to Explore
Sort animals or toys by different properties to practice the skill of sorting and categorising. Get children to describe each one as they decide where to put it, practicing new language.
Look at two (non-electronic) toys – one cheap and one expensive. Without telling them the price ask the children which one is best and why. At the end of the discussion show them the price of each one written down and count out the coins and notes that each one would cost.
Talk about time. Look at days, months, weeks and years. What is a “long” time? What can be achieved in five minutes? Big things? Small things?
What a perfect area to embrace Philosophy for Children! In fact we do it every time we read a story. As Early Years practitioners it is already in us to become philosophers when reading a story book. In Reading (30 – 50 months) we ask children to make up their own story endings. What better was to philosophise?
Reading Early Learning Goals
1. Children read and understand simple sentences.
2. They use phonic knowledge to decode regular words and read them aloud accurately.
3. They read some common irregular words.
4. They demonstrate understanding when talking with others about what they have read.
Areas to Explore
For older reception children – can they choose between the written statements to vote?
When given a short sentence or word can children read them and place them in the correct place? E.g. see the activity “sorting animals”. This activity is done with toy animals but could, instead, be done with animals written on pieces of card
Give children short sentences written on card. Ask each child to read their statement out and have the group vote on whether they agree or disagree e.g. ‘dogs are cute’
Writing Early Learning Goals
1. Children use their phonic knowledge to write words in ways which match their spoken sounds.
2. They also write some irregular common words.
3. They write simple sentences which can be read by themselves and others.
4. Some words are spelt correctly and others are phonetically plausible.
Areas to Explore
Ask children to write their answer to open questions.
Ask them to write a question they would like to discuss
Have the children write down the community rules or 4Cs using their phonetic knowledge
Although some areas of Physical Development can become philosophical enquiries, Physical Development is best covered by the methods used in an enquiry rather than the question itself. It is a great opportunity to get children moving and, in fact, having active moments in your session can go a long way to keeping all children involved and engaged.
Moving and Handling Early Learning Goals
1. Children show good control and co-ordination in large and small movements.
2. Children move confidently in a range of ways, safely negotiating space.
3. They handle equipment and tools effectively, including pencils for writing.
How to Utilise Enquiries
Can children write or mark make their vote either on their own piece of paper or on a shared piece?
Include some starter games that explore movement. Move like an animal or follow instructions to hop, stand on one leg, etc.
Have some enquiries outdoors or in large spaces. Build an enquiry about voting for different things by running from one place to a choice of others.
Encourage children to write or mark make as they vote or as they write their own ideas.
Health and Self Care Early Learning Goals
1. Children know the importance for good health of physical exercise, and a healthy diet and talk about ways to keep healthy and safe.
2. They manage their own basic hygiene and person needs successfully, including dressing and going to the toilet independently.
How to Utilise Enquiries
Do we need to exercise? Why do we need to exercise?
What is the best exercise? What makes it the ‘best’? Why is X better than Y?
If you need to choose just one food to eat all week what would you choose? Why?
We have a big pile of clothes. Choose the things you like and dress up. Try to get dressed by yourself. Why did you choose those things?
Along with Personal, Social and Emotional Development, Communication and Language is another area in which the children who join pre-school or reception class are widely varied, and usually for the same reasons. There are some philosophical leads that you can explore in order to develop Communication and Language however this area is most developed by including rich language opportunities within your actual enquiries.
Did you know that a study done in America in 1995 (need reference) found that children coming from a disadvantaged background will, on average, have heard almost 3 million fewer words by the age of three than those coming from a more privileged background? It is up to us to plug that gap and the best way to do that is by creating a language rich environment, not only in day-to-day conversation but also in the topics we introduce and in more specific inputs.
The most useful tool here is for a child to be able to work towards understanding and being able to answer questions, and of course being able to ask questions of their own. Philosophy for Children sessions are a great time for an adult to be taking short observations to tick off some of those tricky areas of speech that you may not hear in play.
Here are some ways to coax this language out.
Listening and Attention - Early Learning Goals
1. Children listen attentively in a range of situations.
2. They listen to stories, accurately anticipating key events and respond to what they hear with relevant comments, questions or actions.
3. They give their attention to what others say and respond appropriately, while engaged in another activity.
Can children listen in the input?
Can they listen effectively to the question and move to vote when prompted?
For literacy based enquiries do they join in with stories?
Do children offer answers to questions posed to the group?
Can they offer answers to questions asked specifically to them?
Can children listen to the other children and facilitator and build on their ideas?
Understanding Early Learning Goals
1. Children follow instructions involving several ideas or actions.
2. They answer ‘how’ and ‘why’ questions about their experiences and in response to stories or events.
Can children listen to a question with two or more possible answers and vote?
When offering an opinion or idea can children tell you ‘why’ that is their opinion? Do they offer not just opinions but also justifications?
Speaking Early Learning Goals
1. Children express themselves effectively, showing awareness of listeners’ needs.
2. They use past, present and future forms accurately when talking about events that have happened or are to happen in the future.
3. They develop their own narratives and explanations by connecting ideas or events.
Can children explain their answers clearly?
Can children listen nicely to each other, not just to the facilitator?
Can children give examples from their own life to justify what they say? Do they use the correct tense?
Can children connect their thoughts and give coherent, well-reasoned ideas and answers?
Making Relationships Early Learning Goals
1. Children play co-operatively, taking turns with others.
2. They take account of one another’s ideas about how to organise their activity.
3. They show sensitivity to others’ needs and feelings.
4. They form positive relationships with adults and other children
Why should we take turns? Why should we share?
Should we have to take turns/share if the toy is mine from home?
If something is mine should I have the choice about whether to share?
Who should I share with? Why?
Are other people’s ideas as important as mine? Are mine more important? Less? What makes an idea important?
How can I tell how someone is feeling? Does smiling always mean happy? What is happy/ sad/ angry?
Why are people shy?
Who are better to spend time with – children or adults? Why?
Self Confidence and Self Awareness Early Learning Goals
1. Children are confident to try new activities.
2. They can say why they like some activities more than others.
3. They are confident to speak in a familiar group.
4. They will talk about their ideas.
5. They will choose the resources they need for their chosen activities.
6. They say when they do or don’t need help.
Am I brave? What is brave? Is brave good?
Am I brave if I am scared?
What is your favourite game/toy? Why is it better than ….?
Do girls always like dolls and boys always like cars? Why? Why not?
If we are building a cardboard box robot how should we stick it together? Why would glue/sticky tape/staples/string be the best?
Doe we always know when people need help?
Should we always help?
Should we help people we aren’t friends with?
Can children help as well as adults can?
Managing Feelings and Behaviour Early Learning Goals
1. Children talk about how they and others show feelings.
2. Children talk about their own and others’ behaviour and its consequences and know that some behaviour is unacceptable.
3. They work as part of a group or class and understand and follow the rules.
4. They adjust their behaviour to different situations.
5. They take changes of routine in their stride.
How do we show people we are sad?
Should people know we are sad if we don’t want them to?
How can we tell if someone is angry?
What is the difference between angry/sad, happy/excited, scared/excited?
Is it ever right to smack?
Is it right to shout at someone?
Why do we need rules?
What would happen without rules?
Should every class have the same rules?
Do we need the same rules at home and school?
Do we need rules at home?
Do we need to be scared about changes?
Are changes good or bad?
As you will know, the foundations for all learning are personal and social skills and communication and language skills. Within the EYFS the social building blocks come under the umbrella term ‘Personal, Social and Emotional Development’. This is further broken down into ‘Making Relationships’, ‘Self Confidence and Self Awareness’ and ‘Managing Feelings and Behaviour.
There are so many opportunities for philosophical enquiry with relation to Personal, Social and Emotional Development. After all, the whole area is subjective and open to personal interpretation. What seems obvious to one child might be a foreign concept to another. By the time a child comes to you at age 3 or 4 they have had all sorts of different input (or lack of input). Children may come from a language rich environment, they may have been at home with a stay at home parent, at a childminder or a nursery. They might live with one, both or none of their parents, they might be an only child or one of many, they could have parents that are young, older or anywhere in between. Maybe English is not their first language or they are on the autistic spectrum. Maybe they are shy or overly confident, caring or lacking in empathy.
With children so far ranging in their backgrounds and personalities how can we possibly hope to get them all to the Early Learning Goal in one or two years? It can be frustrating to have a child who achieves in all areas but may not get a ‘Good Level of Development’ (what a soul destroying phrase!) because they have struggled with their social skills. Philosophy is made for areas like this.
Not only does it teach the children to follow rules it allows them to question why we need rules. Not only does it show them that they should be helpful but it allows them to explore what helpful means. Remember – the idea of a philosophical question is not to find the ‘right answer’ or the ‘truth’ but rather to allow children to explore concepts for themselves and build on each other’s ideas. This is why you should make an active decision about whether a question is going to be philosophical or not.
For example you might have the question “Why do we have rules?” during a carpet time session when setting your class rules. This will not be a philosophical enquiry. In fact this is a definite time for ‘right’ and ‘wrong’ answers. Why do we need rules about using the scissors? So Katie doesn’t cut Tom’s hair and so Javed doesn’t use our favourite picture book as collage material.
You could easily have this as a philosophical enquiry at a different time though, perhaps the week before you set your class rules or during the year when the rules have slipped a bit. The tangents you might take would be to explore what a rule is, what would happen if we didn’t have rules, is it ever ok to break the rules, what is most important; following the rules or doing the right thing, etc. Not all questions can be used for a philosophical enquiry but most can, if rephrased.
For some more specific ways to use P4C to support PSED please check out the other PSED entries.
One common misconception that irritates me to distraction is that Early Years teachers just “play all day”. The phrases “but you don’t have as much planning to do”, “but you don’t have to prepare for SATS” and “it must be so much easier than Key Stage 1 and 2 because you have no marking” fill me with rage. Just ask my husband or children, they have all made the mistake of setting me on this course of ranting in the past.
What upsets and enrages me even more is when these comments come from other educators, educators of older children. Early Years is tough. We are on our feet all day, we have to have eyes in the back of our heads and we do it for the love. We create all of our resources from scratch and do it daily. We redo our learning areas every half term or even more regularly. We deal with children who can’t speak or who are struggling with toilet training and they are all complicated little humans who are only just learning how to be in the world without their parents around. WE WORK HARD!
We have just as much planning and assessment, if not more because we cannot assess in ability groups because the children are not yet norming and conforming to detestable Higher/Middle/Lower pigeon holes we are so desperate to place them in. Saying that though… we do have a wonderful time and the fulfilment and enjoyment we get from both the age group and working with Development Matters cannot be topped.
The point I am making here (and it is bordering on back tracking) is that we work just as hard as any other teacher BUT these critics are kind of right. We have the one shining benefit in our jobs that we do not have to work with the depressingly rigid and jam packed National Curriculum. There is no requirement for us to have to fit additional lessons like Design Technology, PSHE, foreign languages or music into our weekly planning. We do do all of those things, of course, but in different guises and they are already built into our Development Matters framework.
The benefit we have is that our Early Years framework is based on child development and so affords us a lot of flexibility in how we deliver learning. We do work just as hard as other primary teachers BUT we don’t have to cram in specific lessons in specific orders within specific time frames. What this means is that we don’t end up feeling like Philosophy for Children is ‘just another thing I need to squeeze into the day’. Instead it is something we can do as standalone lessons, as part of a topic based lesson or weaved into our everyday learning through play.
This is a nice one to end on and, much like metaphysics and ethics, one which sits nicely in the Early Years. Philosophy of aesthetics is all about the arts. It dances through Literacy, Expressive Arts and Design and Physical Development.
It revels in the beauty of life, both the natural world and the man made one. It is all about the creation and appreciation of beauty in all it’s forms and is multisensory. It is equally at home outdoors as you cloud watch, pick up and appreciate autumn leaves, watch a ladybird, wonder at a spider’s web or decide which your favourite flower is; as it is indoors as you listen to music from some of the greatest composers, explore which sort of beat or dance brings you the greatest happiness or most calm and squish your fingers through every texture a typical pre-school messy area has to offer.
Here are some ways to introduce the philosophy of aesthetics to your classroom.
· Look at three famous paintings. Which do you like best and why?
· Listen to different pieces of music. How do they make you feel?
· How and why does music make us feel things?
· Do you like to listen to music with your eyes closed or open?
· What is beauty? It natural beauty or man made beauty the best?
· What is the point of ephemeral art?
· Are sculptures better than paintings because you can feel them?
· Is a painting done by a famous painter more important than a painting done by someone in our class?
· Can maths be beautiful?
This branch of philosophy is about the law, government and justice. With ethical philosophy the questions are mainly based around the person, either actual or imagined, and their behaviour and responsibilities. With political philosophy there is more of a societal view. It looks at how we behave as a society, being governed by laws.
So with ethical philosophy you might wonder if it is right or wrong to steal if you are hungry. With political philosophy you would look at what a ‘fair’ punishment might be if you got caught doing it. This might work well with a superhero theme or police station role play.
Questions could be asked such as;
· Why do we have laws/rules?
· Who should make the laws/rules?
· What should police be allowed to do?
· Is prison right?
· If you break a law/ do something wrong, what could you do to make it better?
· Should the Queen be able to arrest people?
· How do the police know they caught the right person? What if they keep saying “it wasn’t me”?
· Who should decide if someone should be put in jail?
- Who should decide how long they should stay for?
For Early Years practitioners this is the easy peasy one. You already do it every day. For philosophical purposes it is the philosophy of right and wrong, of decisions, of justice and personal responsibility. For our purposes it fits well with Personal, Social and Emotional Development and class rules. It also works well for children who struggle with social understanding, for example some people on the autistic spectrum, and with social stories.
Questions which may be asked include;
- Is it right to smack someone to stop them from hurting someone else?
· Do we have to share?
· What is ‘good’ and ‘bad’/ ‘right’ and ‘wrong’?
· Do humans matter more than animals?
· Do young people matter more than old people?
· Should people fight in wars?
· If someone leaves a toy on the floor and you tripped over it when you were running (but were told not to), is it their fault or your fault that you fell?
· If someone is mean to you is it right to be mean to them?
· What is ‘kind’?
· Do people always know when they need help?
· Can sharks be evil? What does evil mean?
· Why is it ok to kill an animal but not a human?
· Why is it ok to hit an animal with a stick or kick it but not a human? (horse racing)
This branch of philosophy looks at how we can know things are logically correct based on good reasoning. It is a useful branch to tackle things such as fundamentalism or separating fake news from real news. It also helps to prepare pre-teens to navigate the pitfalls of social media.
This branch also works well with mathematics and with reading comprehension (or rather, for our age group, listening to stories, recalling them and being able to infer things from what we have heard and seen). Some questions which may be used in this area are;
· If X and Y say that they saw Z do something does that mean that Z really did that thing?
· How many different ways can you make 6? (This could mean using number bonds, using items, using fingers, using movements, making it from playdough, etc)
· What is a number?
· What happened in this book?
· From looking at the pictures what can you work out about X character? What do you think they would do if… What makes you think that?
· How do you know if someone is telling you the truth?
· Is 2 and 2 more always 4?
· Is 0 the lowest number? Can you take something away from 0? How can you have less than 0 apples?
For our purposes metaphysical ponderings might go down the lines of thinking about how big the universe is, what stars are made of, what is at the edge of space, where whale come from. Any exploration of nature and the physical world we live in could fit in this category. It is ingrained in our exploration of weather, the seasons and nature, along with our own physical existence. These are the big questions of life, the ones too big for even us to comprehend.
In relation to the Early Years Foundation Stage Framework these questions link well with Understanding the World . You will often find yourself instinctively asking these questions when outdoors. A lot of the time, within your normal role, you will be looking for ‘correct’ answers (Where do butterflies come from? They came from a chrysalis. Before that they were a caterpillar and first an egg) but challenge yourself sometimes to throw these rote learning facts out of the window and allow these questions to follow the train of thought of the child and become more philosophical (as a child my mum thought that moths were made from dust).
Here are some metaphysical questions you might want to think about with your children.
· What is nothing?
· How do I know I am real and not a dream?
· What is a dream? What do they mean?
· How did the world begin?
· Am I always thinking?
· Are ghosts real?
· Is there a Heaven? What is Heaven like?
· What is time?
· Are we born good or bad?
· What do you think it would be like to be a bird?
· Do animals dream?
· Do animals think in colour? Do they think in words?
· How can you think if you don’t know words? (babies and animals)
· Do people who have been blind since birth understand colour?
So let us finally get down to the nitty gritty and look at what philosophical skills are and, importantly, what philosophy is. It is important to say at this point that Philosophy for Children is NOT teaching children about philosophy. They do not need to know the works of Plato or even know who Socrates is. They most certainly do not need to know about the different strands or history of philosophy. For your background knowledge I have included some of that information in this website but for the sake of the children – don’t even go there! Rather than being an academic subject Philosophy for Children is a pedagogic approach to teaching (and, if you wanted it to be, parenting). But I am getting ahead of myself. Let us start with the basics. What is ‘philosophy’?
The Philosophy Foundation attempt to explain;
“Philosophy is a way of thinking about certain subjects such as ethics, thought, existence, time, meaning and value. That 'way of thinking' involves 4 Rs: responsiveness, reflection, reason and re-evaluation. The aim is to deepen understanding. The hope is that by doing philosophy we learn to think better, to act more wisely, and thereby help to improve the quality of all our lives.”
Who wouldn’t want that? An improved quality of life sounds very appealing. So to break that down it seems that philosophy is a ‘way’ of thinking. Not a study of specific philosophers or a deep dive academic research study, but simply a way of thinking – a way of trying to understand the world. Let’s look at a different way of trying to pin down what philosophical skills might be, this time in a child’s world.
A philosophical way of thinking supports a child in maintaining focus, showing high levels of fascination, paying attention to details, showing a belief that more effort or a different approach will work, enjoying meeting challenges for their own sake rather than praise, showing curiosity about objects, events and people, using their senses to explore the world, engaging in open ended activities, seeking challenges, taking a risk, learning by trial and error, thinking of ideas, finding new ways to solve problems, making links and noticing patterns in their experience, testing their ideas and changing strategy as needed.
A very long sentence but some inspiring ideas eh? Well unfortunately I can’t claim them as my own. In fact I probably should have put them in quotation marks because these are not skills found in the documents of any philosophical society but instead those found in a document most of us use every day, and the savvy of those among you will have spotted them as such. These are the ‘Characteristics of Effective Learning’ that are found in the Department for Education guidance - Development Matters in the Early Years Foundation Stage. For want of a better word, and for anyone not reading as a UK practitioner, this is the closest we get to an Early Years curriculum.
It is almost liberating, for anyone hoping to introduce a philosophical thinking approach, therefore to see that this approach fits in so well with what we are already trying to do. How many of the activities that we do every day fit into so many of the different areas of the Characteristics of Effective Learning all at once? Not many! Having looked at that list it should also start to become apparent that a philosophical approach to thinking can help academically in all areas, from literacy and the arts to mathematics and science. These are transferable skills to all areas of life and all areas of academics.
SAPERE, the national charity that supports the implementation of Philosophy for Children in the UK, promote Philosophy for Children as helping children to develop their confidence, self-esteem, resilience, teamwork, problem solving skills and the ‘4Cs’ (creativity, critical thinking, collaborative working and caring). Along with promoting these 4Cs in each Philosophy for Children session (something which I will guide you through step by step later in this book) facilitators encourage these skills in every area of the curriculum in addition to having ’Community Guidelines’ (rules or steps to success for the sessions).
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.