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
Philosophical Skill – Language Development.
Philosophical Skill – Problem Solving and Making Choices
Philosophical Skill – Question Words
Philosophical Skill – Imagination and Awareness
Philosophical Skill – Counter Realities.
Ah toddlers. Tiny little dictators with great big emotions. It is the toddler years where you first get a glimpse of a child’s true personality. They have done their learning on how to be alive and survive. They have learnt so, so much over the first two years of their life and now (oh no!) they have learnt that they are a master of their own fate. Now the curiosity is really ready to kick in.
Toddlers are entering such an amazing phase of childhood. They go from being little sponges who pleasantly take in the world around them to independent, stubborn, excitable souls. They are so happy and delighted that their knees go wobbly from laughter. They are so excited that they squeal. They run and spin as fast as they can. They are so angry that they have to scram and kick and throw things. They are so devastated that they sob their heart out with big fat tears rolling down their cheeks and a “why, why, why?” look on their little face. They are so in love that they can’t bear not to be in physical contact with you or a beloved toy. They are so filled with hate that if the cat comes any closer they will absolutely pull it’s tail and shout “NO CAT” at it. Toddlers really are discovering all of the emotions that the world has to offer. All those emotions you have spent the last two years teaching them about are now being experienced and they understand the words you use to describe them but cannot yet manage them.
It is around this age that toddlers really get a hold of imaginary play too. They have little adventures with figures or cars, they make you pretend cups of tea or use boxes as boats. They take all of the things they have seen on television or heard in stories and build the storylines, narratives, characters and situations into their play. They are beginning to learn about what is real but also have the ability to imagine other ‘realities’ and put themselves into different character roles as they begin to learn and practise empathy. A lot of their role play is based on things they have seen or experienced themselves and this is a philosophical skill too – to build up opinions and a bank of knowledge based on your own experiences.
Toddlers are problem solvers too. They get a car stuck in a play garage and will try different ways to get it out. They want a biscuit from a shelf in the cupboard so will drag something over to climb up and get it. They begin to try to dress and undress themselves. They figure out emotional problem solving as they manipulate adults into behaving the way they want them to. They can look at a toy that they want in the bottom of their toy box and can anticipate different possible approaches, scenarios and outcomes, on a basic level, as they figure out how to get to the said toy.
Toddlers are little philosophers in training so embrace the craziness and have fun with it.
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.
Being a parent is tough. Children come in all different shapes and sizes – both physically and mentally – and there is no one size fits all approach to parenting them.
You only need to look at the hundreds of different parenting books telling you how to bring up your child to realise that no-one has the one perfect method. By the end of your trek through the Amazon backlist of books from Miriam Stoppard to Dr Spock, via What to Expect, Super Nanny, the Little Book of Sleep, Attachment Parenting, crying it out, Helicopter Parenting, being a Tiger Mum and five thousand different approaches in between, you are guaranteed to feel like a total useless lump with no idea what you are doing. But guess what… it’s all rubbish.
The truth is that all kids are different and a lot of the time, as a parent and often as a practitioner, we are just fumbling our way through the dark trying to find the little chinks of light that will lead us to a clue about what will work with each child. There is no map because all of the chinks are in different places because every child is unique.
I have three children. The two eldest have had an almost identical upbringing with the only variable being that they are the oldest/youngest sibling in the equation. They were brought up to the age of 7 and 9 by two very loving and devoted parents who never fought and spent a lot of time with them when work and school were not in the way. They still have two very loving parents but they also have a very loving step-dad and a very loving partner of dad in the equation. They also see their grandparents regularly who have been as involved in bringing them up as I have.
Apart from a terrible couple of tough years they have lived a charmed life. They both had the same input, went to the same school, had the same teachers, had the same discipline (intrigued by Supernanny when she first graced our TVs we gave the dreaded and offensively named ‘Naughty Step’ a go. The eldest child responded well to this but the youngest just shouted ‘I don’t care’ and peeled the wallpaper off as he waited for his designated ‘1 minute per year of his life’ then went back and did the thing that got him there all over again.
The point I am making is that these boys had exactly the same upbringing but they couldn’t be more different. One is very thoughtful, caring, a logical thinker, giving and sensible. He will work hard and make someone a wonderful husband and father one day. The other is quick, sarcastic, loving and a little mercenary. He will probably make a lot of money one day. I can only hope it will be through invention or innovation and not through white collar crime. My youngest – well he is a different case altogether but then he has had a different upbringing to his older brothers.
So how did they become so different? By being human of course. None of us are the same. There is no one parenting approach that results in the perfectly adjusted child that thinks in a uniform way. There is nothing we can do to build all children into the same thinkers and why should we?
My mum says that if only people would listen to and learn from the generations before them as they are growing up then we would be able to learn from their mistakes and avoid making them. We would evolve generation by generation and have happy lives with no debt and wonderful relationships and careers. Hindsight is 20/20 vision. But we don’t, that isn’t human nature at all.
Once children reach a certain age they begin to think that maybe their parents just don’t understand the modern world at all and their advice can’t be valid. So the best thing we can do, if we can’t pass down that knowledge, is to create good thinkers so that they can come up with the best solutions themselves. Children who will become adults that are creative, critical, collaborative and caring. The 4Cs. So maybe I will try a P4C approach to parenting. Wish me luck!
Maybe you are reading this as both a practitioner and a parent or maybe you do not have children of your own but want to know how to explain to parents why you are doing philosophy with their child. Because let’s face it, it sounds crazy. Totally nuts. Some of those parent’s might need a bit of convincing so it would be nice to get in their mind for a moment to see or remember what the life of a parent is like.
When my first son was born I looked at him and knew that I didn’t need anything else in the world. He was a little miracle. I know my feelings weren’t unique. My mum says that when I was born she whispered the same words to me, “you’re all that I need in the world.” Then along came my babies number two and number three and exactly the same feelings flooded in. The bubble of “you are all that I need in the world” just grew a bit bigger to fit them all in. From those first moments I marvelled at the wonder of creation.
Yeah, yeah. I know it is science really, blah, blah, yadda, yadda, but let me wander down this path for a while please. Shut off your scientific brain and turn on the philosophical part. Creation is a marvel. Two completely different cells from two completely different humans come together and become the start of something. Apparently there is, on average, about a 3% chance of that even happening for someone who is not actively trying to conceive. Ok the numbers are far more complicated than that, of course, but that is the basic overview.
So, wonder of wonder, miracle of miracles, two cells get together and a baby begins. But then it needs to successfully implant and those cells need to combine just right that growing begins and continues. So everything is going swimmingly. This is a baby who is destined to be born. In the time between conception and birth that baby grows limbs, it makes a brain – an actual brain that is capable of thought! Tiny fingerprints are made that no-one else on the planet has in exactly the same configuration – as unique as a snowflake.
Millions of neurons come into existence (possibly – I mean I didn’t actually research this enough to know if there are millions at this point but it sounds like a nice number). Hair grows and is a certain colour, as are eyes – possibly the same as mum or dad, possible a throwback from a generation hundreds of years in the past.
There is so much amazing wonder in this that not even science can take away the magic, in fact those scientists among you may even see the wonder and magic of this even more. From the moment we begin to think about this as we stare at our baby’s face we become philosophers ourselves. The vast unfathomable wonder of it all gives us an insight into how vast, unfathomable and wonderful the natural world is as a whole. In this moment we get a glimpse of what it feels like to be a child and revel in the joy of all the world, knowing that we do not have all the answers.
It is now up to you as a parent, or childminder or baby room practitioner, to take that little miracle and help them to learn about the world. Even better, help them to ask questions, remain curious and wonder.
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.