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???
Here are some enquiry starters and some linked activities that you could use as you celebrate spring.
Here are some enquiries and activities to do this Easter
Here are some activities that you could explore in or after your enquiries during Chinese New Year
Chinese New Year
The New Year offers up a few opportunities for talking about the year passed and the year to come.
New Year’s Resolutions
Rainy and Windy Weather
Winter is a time to explore some wonderful celebrations through P4C enquiries along with some fun activities and enhancements
Autumn brings so many opportunities for seasonal enquiries and enhancements. Here are just a few.
Here are some enquiry prompts and ideas that can be used in the summer months. For this age group they are best used either as they join you in September or in July just before their summer holidays.
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?
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.
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)
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?
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.