One of the favourite methods of Socrates was to keep asking ’why?’. I think that maybe he stole this method from a three year old.
I cannot claim to have always liked Philosophy for Children. We have had a bit of a love hate relationship in the past, to be honest. By which I mean that I initially really, really hated it. It took almost a year for that hate to turn into love.
When I first sat down in our full day INSET to learn about Philosophy for Children I was at first interested and hopeful. I am a bit of a hippy dippy, quirky earth mother at heart so what better than a fluffy, airy fairy sort of an approach to life than philosophy? We played some good games, I completely loved the theory side of it, and a chance to ask unusual questions and get unusual answers? Count me in. Our trainer has her own Early Years company (I urge you to check out Little Chatters on Facebook) so it seemed like a match made in Heaven.
My problems only began because of the necessary rigidity of lesson planning for P4C sessions when you first start out. This was something which I was later able to be more flexible in but, unfortunately, for anyone starting out (and particularly for anyone going for SAPERE accreditation) the rather specific lesson planning is a necessary evil when you first start P4C as it is otherwise very easy to start down a road and end up realising that you went well off track in your session with little benefit and very few skills taught or practiced. From a personal point of view, I see formal, heavily structured lesson plans as the complete antithesis to the Early Years ethos. I got discouraged.
My spiritual (and professional) home is in in the pre-school class of the primary school we were sitting and philosophising in. Okay, so philosophy for Key Stage 2 I understood. Brilliant idea. Philosophy for Key Stage 1? Challenging but doable. Philosophy for Early Years? You’re kidding right?
Let’s put this in context. My class range from ‘just turned three years old last week’ to ‘just missed out on reception class by a day’ so the very oldest pupils are just short of 48 months old at the start of the school year. The youngest of my pupils are just 36 months old, and I get new starters throughout the year so I ALWAYS have at least one child who is just 36 months old. I have socks older than that. They are still babies in most people’s eyes. Even with every advantage thrown at them, even if they had been privately educated with at home tutoring and came from the actual Royal Family, these children will still only have had 36-47 months of being in the world, never-mind learning to listen to, understand and use the ever-complicated, ever-evolving English language.
Very few understand the words ‘why’ and ‘how’ (though they use the word ‘why?’ continually and to distraction). Those who do understand those words are only just learning that the answer to ‘why’ will usually start with ‘because’ and the answer to ‘how’ could be…well... anything! Ask a class of 3 and 4 year olds if they have a question they would like to ask and you will almost definitely be met with a barrage of “I went to Tesco with my mummy”, “I’m getting a Peppa Pig bike for Christmas” or “I like pizza”. If you are lucky enough to prise a question out of a child then it is most likely to be “Can I go to the toilet?” (and even then it is probably just their escape plan because they are bored).
So, when first dipping my toe into the Philosophy for Children training and hearing about ‘Ten Step Models’, ‘Community Guidelines’, starter games and questions that even adults struggled with, well you can imagine my thoughts.
Those first few Philosophy for Children sessions in my pre-school class were interesting, random and confusing to say the least. But as we became more used to what we were doing my approach to planning became more flexible, I started to get a better knowledge of what would work and what wouldn't. I mean, who would have thought that a group of 3 and 4 year olds would be able to have an amazing philosophical discussion on “How was the world made?” but completely draw a blank when asked “Now that Christmas is over what do you think Father Christmas will be doing for the next year?”. I now know why that one was guaranteed to fail by the way. The first reason was that I did it in January so the children were still fixated on the build up to Christmas and the toys they got. The second was that I completely forgot that 3 and 4 year olds do not actually understand the concept of a ‘year’ yet.
After a year of trial and error I came up with my own alternative to the 10 Step Model (a QUESTS model) and all of a sudden P4C became easier and enjoyable and now I am a huge fan of both using P4C for specific enquiries and as a class approach to every day learning.
If you check out the list on the side you will find a guide to using the QUESTS model for anyone who would like to try it out.
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.