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.
Children are a bundle of emotions that they often can’t explain. We think we have it bad as adults? Well children have it ten times worse. They can go through a myriad of emotions all in the same day and, usually, have no control over either the emotions (hello terrible twos and teenage hormones) or the events that led to them (missed the bus, lost a toy, boring lesson, fell out with a friend, lost their PE kit and so on).
For toddlers and young children the bad moods are usually fleeting and quickly replaced with a good one but for pre-teens and teens they can often feel like a bottle of coke that has been shaken so many times over the day (forgot a book *shake*, told off for talking in class *shake*, kid next to me in class kept kicking my chair *shake*) that your seemingly unoffensive comment of ‘homework time’ is just that final shake that makes their coke bottle of emotions explode and flow over with no hope of pushing them back into the emotional bottle. We can’t help with all of these little shakes the way we did when they were younger. The best we can do is teach them coping skills.
I know we were all young once, we have all gone through these stages of growing up and we survived, but I think the youth of today get a hard deal. Yes they have the miracle of technology that we never had and most likely they have more money and are more spoilt than we were at their age. Life is sweet. Except it isn’t. I am so happy that I grew up without the social pressures that the internet has brought. I am not here to criticise the internet by any means – there are so many amazing things that it offers both on superficial and deep levels – but by God does it make growing up hard!
The pressures on children and teens to look a certain way and act a certain way are immense. So many children and teens now measure their physical attractiveness and worth in comparison to the latest Instagram stars and trends and measure their popularity in ‘likes’.
Teens and pre-teens are suffering from anxiety, depression, body issues, cyberbullying and a fear of missing out as a result of social media. There is also the ever present risk of grooming and radicalisation. Before the internet these were things which were the rare exception for children and not so much a norm that schools had to run regular refresher training for teachers to be able to be on the look out for. Issues that were previously the territory mainly of older teens and adults are now being experienced by much younger people who have much less life experience and less developed coping skills.
Children and teens are being shown people with seemingly perfect lives, immaculate bodies and expensive things and, due to the sheer number of social media account holders doing this, being given the impression that this is normal. That it is what they should be aspiring to and if they don’t measure up then they are a failure. They are being put into a grass is always greener and I will never be that good mindset which can leave them feeling like they can’t achieve happiness unless they have that money, that body and that number of followers.
As children enter their teens with social media all around them but not the foresight that adults hopefully have (but let’s face it we usually don’t) they are opening themselves up to tiny actions that can have lifelong effects. How many of today’s teens will end up struggling to get the job they want or the relationship they want because of all of the digital skeletons in their past that are no longer in the closet? The photos of them doing something stupid at age twelve that went viral or the rumour that was started about them on Facebook that went around the whole school. In giving children and teens social media, with 24 hour access for those with mobile phones, we have taken our children and put them in the deep dark woods without a map, compass or torch to help.
My greatest wish for my own children and the children I teach is that when they see trends and trend setters on social media they will have the clear mindedness, independence and confidence to be able to mentally filter real from unreal and important from superficial. My hope is that if they ever find themselves in a potential dangerous situation (grooming, cyberbullying, radicalisation) that they have the critical thinking skills to realise that danger and do the right thing and the creative skills to get out of those situations. We can’t be there all the time. We have so little control that it is truly terrifying. Children can become trolls, encouraged and swept along by more forceful friends and the anonymity of the internet. Children can be sitting in the same room as you or in their bedroom being cyberbullied without you even knowing it.
In addition to all of these pressures we also now have ‘fake news’. I know many adults who can’t even discriminate between fake and real news. You will do too. Just have a peep on your Facebook feed now if you have them. How many people are sharing or commenting on four your old stories that were proved to be myths many years ago as if they were today’s news? How many people are asking you to share or like a post and if you don’t then you definitely have proved that you support cancer, child slavery and kicking kittens (and don’t forget the pressuring and slightly peevish claim on each one that ’I bet 92.7% of people won’t share this post’). Then there are the ‘no-one wished this little boy happy birthday because he is disabled’ posts prompting you to wish him a happy birthday and always fake.
Then it gets even sneakier because anyone can edit Wikipedia or write their own blog or opinion piece now and it can be on the internet in seconds. So children who are just starting to use the internet and who are used to everything that is the written word and being presented by an adult is fact, now have the job that some adults can’t manage – the job of filtering what is real and what isn’t. What hope do they have of surviving to adulthood without becoming misinformed fools? Our only hope is to give up trying to talk to them about every possible fake news, rumour, hashtag and trend and instead teach them to be able to think through things logically and begin to make these distinctions themselves.
A philosophy for children approach to both teaching and parenting can hopefully help children to gain the skills they need to survive the online world unscathed, or relatively so.
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.
No matter how different each setting's approach is and no matter what approach is the Pinterest or Instagram trend of the moment they all have a few things in common and you will note that these are things which can all be supported by the introduction of philosophy for children or a philosophy for children style approach.
Te Whāriki is a curriculum guideline originally published in 1996 and revised in 2017 by the New Zealand Ministry of Education and all childcare services in New Zealand are expected to follow it, much like we have the Development Matters document (and all that goes with it) in the UK. The overriding principles are those of empowerment, holistic development, community and family and relationships. It is split into strands of well-being, contribution, belonging, communication and exploration.
In order to understand this curriculum further and to see how it is similar in areas to philosophy for children it is necessary to look at the strands in more detail.
Strand 1 is Well-being and the goal is that children experience an environment that promotes health, nurtures their emotional well-being and in which they are safe. In a philosophy for children sense it would include philosophical explorations of emotions, how we treat others, our own powers of consent and what health means.
Strand 2 is Belonging and is very much focussed on children feeling a part of their family and of the wider community. In a philosophy for children sense it would include exploring what belonging means, our similarities and differences and areas of moral philosophy such as behaviour and justice.
Strand 3 is Contribution and, much like our British Values document for the Early Years, explores children all being equitable, tolerance and individuality. This is an area full of philosophical exploration relating to identity, stereotypes and fair and equitable treatment of others both in the classroom and in society.
Strand 4 is Communication and, much like the Reggio Emilia “Hundred Languages”, this strand values communication in all of its different modes, verbal, non-verbal, creative, expressive or symbolic. This is an area in philosophy which steps into the realms of aesthetic philosophy and also in encouraging effective communicators in whatever communication style is instinctive and comfortable.
Strand 5 is Exploration in which the child learns through active exploration of the environment. This includes exploring the world, their own bodies and capabilities, risk taking and confidence. In a philosophy for children sense it is being confident in their abilities and having the curiosity and resilience to enjoy exploring the world.
Many UK schools now run their own Forrest School (or Beach School) programmes with most doing it all the way from pre-school to Year 6. It is also common place in many nurseries. Settings may be lucky enough to have the grounds to be able to run Forrest Schools on site or might be even luckier and have a wood or beach nearby.
Forrest school is an initiative which supports and enables children to learn in nature, and in particular woodland environments.
“At Forest School all participants are viewed as:
· equal, unique and valuable
· competent to explore & discover
· entitled to experience appropriate risk and challenge
· entitled to choose, and to initiate and drive their own learning and development
· entitled to experience regular success
· entitled to develop positive relationships with themselves and other people
· entitled to develop a strong, positive relationship with their natural world”
With the right risk assessments in place Forrest School is available for all children regardless of ability or additional need.
Much like the Reggio Emilia and Montessori approaches there is a heavy emphasis on the beauty and wonder of nature, on tapping into children’s natural curiosity of the world and increased capacity to learn in outdoors environments and on risk taking. As with these styles and as with philosophy for children the teacher is seen as a facilitator in this learning and not as a lecturer.
Like philosophy for children it is an approach that seeks to empower children to identify and enhance their own learning experiences through exploration of the world around them with the inspiration of all the natural world has to offer. Much like philosophy for children, Forrest School takes a holistic and heuristic approach to creating resilient, confident, independent and creative learners.
“The Reggio Emilia Approach is an educational philosophy based on the image of the child, and of human beings, as possessing strong potentials for development and as a subject of rights who learns and grows in the relationships with others.
This global educational project, which is carried forth in the Municipal Infant-toddler Centers and Preschools of Reggio Emilia, Italy, and has inspired other schools all over the world, is based on a number of distinctive characteristics: the participation of families, the collegial work of all the personnel, the importance of the educational environment, the presence of the atelier and the figure of the atelierista, the in-school kitchen, and the pedagogical coordinating team.
Focusing on the centrality of the hundred languages belonging to every human being, in the atelier spaces young children are offered daily opportunities to encounter many types of materials, many expressive languages, many points of view, working actively with hands, minds, and emotions, in a context that values the expressiveness and creativity of each child in the group.”
Reggio Emilia is a region in Italy and this name of teaching refers purely to these schools, however many practitioners are now turning to Reggio approaches in their own classrooms. This approach is very much child led and individual to both the wider community and also the smaller community – that being the children in your cohort. For this reason there is no, one typical ‘Reggio Emilia’ style.
The fundamentals are that children are supported to become independent, be good communicators and that children have some control over their own learning and be able to create and develop their own learning. This is similar to an approach that any Philosophy for Children classroom will want to adopt as we create critical and creative thinkers in all areas – allowing them to have control over the activities they do and the resources they use with nothing that is in reach being out of bounds.
In Reggio Emilia there is a heavy emphasis on the many different ways children might communicate their learning, in particular through artistic methods such as role play, art and music. The environment should be simple, beautiful and free from clutter. Much like in philosophy for children, the adult is seen as less of a teacher and more of a facilitator – like the Socrates comparison of a ‘midwife’ (helping children to birth the ideas and learning that are already inside them) and a ‘gadfly’ (pushing children with challenges and problems to solve).
One of the core beliefs of this approach is that children form their own personality and knowledge in their very early years and communicate this through ‘a hundred languages’, by which they mean that they show this in everything they do – from play to art to dance to music to speech. Children should have endless ways in which to express themselves and endless materials available with which to do so.
In your philosophy for children classroom you can offer this with indoor and outdoor opportunities to make music, listen to music, make large and small scale art, observational drawings, junk modelling, ephemeral art and deconstructed role play. You could even set up your own atelier (art studio) which makes the most of natural lighting, beautiful resources and conscious use of space. As a practitioner you can embrace both a Reggio style and a philosophy for children approach by spending high quality time with each child as you get to know all of their personal quirks, interests, loves and idiosyncrasies.
For most practitioners working in Early Years there will have been a time when the word 'Montessori' popped into your consciousness. Maybe in your training or maybe hearing a colleague mention the word. Then follows a quick Google search and mini panic (or was that just me?). Is this something I should be doing? Is it new and revolutionary? Is it 1970s hippy claptrap? Am I already a Montessori teacher without knowing it? What's the big deal all about?
As the name may suggest to you, Maria Montessori was the creator of what we now call the Montessori approach. In answer to some of the above questions she was neither a 1970s free-loving hippy nor a 21st century blogging pioneer. She was in fact a medically trained Italian doctor who died at age 82 in 1952 (so for those of you who can't be bothered with a spot of maths whilst sat in your jammies drinking your morning coffee - she was born way back in the 1800s!) She specialised in scientific pedagogy and in particular studying and supporting "phrenasthenic" children (children who nowadays we would refer to as children with Special Educational Needs). Most of her research was based in the classroom and so her opinions on a holistic approach to learning for all children soon became a teaching method in its own right.
Over the following years Maria travelled the world establishing schools and lecturing in her approach. So how did an approach first named the Montessori Approach in 1912 survive and thrive to still be popular and (on occasion) seen as daring and revolutionary over 100 years later? Well it was given a hand by Maria's many published works and the 4000 schools she established in her lifetime. There are now Montessori schools throughout the world focussing on ages 3-6 years (though some schools have older children too). The main drive for the schools is that an emphasis is placed on process not result, learning is child centred not teacher controlled and children are taught to do things for internal reward not external reward.
The Montessori 'Approach' is actually quite a simple and instinctive approach once you learn a bit more about it.
Maria Montessori believed that all children were inherently good and connected to nature and the world around them, much as we do when we look at a child as being born with a natural curiosity. She proposed that there were times in each child's life when they became more sensitive to certain types of learning (periods of order, refinement of senses, language acquisition, walking and movement, small objects and involvement in social life). Practitioners could tune into which period a child was in by observing their play and so be able to support their learning. As we have already seen, that is something we do when we are building philosophical thinkers form birth. She found that children learnt through their senses and enjoyed working with beautiful materials and resources. She felt that children became dynamic learners by being allowed to follow their natural impulses. Philosophy for children fits well with this idea as we allow children to follow their own ideas and train of thoughts, never telling them that their thoughts are silly or wrong during our philosophical chats.
The role of the teacher (or 'Director') in a Montessori school is to be un-obstrusive during play and to guide, rather than control, learning, directing children's natural curiosities and energies. Again this is similar to a philosophy for children approach to being a practitioner (or facilitator). Children find it easy and natural to learn from older children so in most Montessori schools children are not separated by age. In P4C sessions learning is differentiated by questioning, modelling and scaffolding learning for each individual during play or focussed sessions and not by having separate ability groups.
Montessori believed that young children work for the joy of the process not the end result which was why many children enjoy repeating the same activity over and over again. Again Philosophy for Children is a good fit as philosophy sessions never seek to find the ‘real’ answer but rather to encourage and celebrate the process of thinking and talking through different ideas, opinions and imagined scenarios.
In both Montessori schools and P4C classrooms, children are seen as natural learners who want to explore the world. The results that children enjoy are the ones that make them feel good about themselves or their abilities. We help them to do this by listening, valuing their thoughts and ideas and entering into high quality interactions with them. If they are taught that there is always a right and a wrong result or answer then they will no longer enjoy the process or want to take risks. Although there are various parts of the Montessori approach that do not fit exactly with the Philosophy for Children approach, I have not looked at those here – they are minimal though, you can see that philosophy for children and the Montessori approach are not worlds apart.
If you are going to plan your own philosophy enquiries then it is important that you make sure that your question truly is a philosophical one.
It may be worth noting here, however, that some questions for this age group do not necessarily need to be truly philosophical. Firstly because you may be focussing on building a specific skill in a session and so it may be easier to do this with less philosophical questions. Secondly because a 3-5 year old has an entirely different view on the world, and a different bank of knowledge, to a 10 year old. For example, you could not use the question “What are clouds made of?” or “Are scary things always bad?” for a philosophical enquiry for 10 year olds. They would pretty quickly be able to Google you an answer to the first question and say “no”, possibly accompanied by a scathing look, to the second. But to a 4 year old those questions are philosophical ones.
When it comes to Philosophy for Children (as opposed to actual philosophy in the adult world) whether a question is philosophical or not depends entirely on your audience so don’t worry too much about whether the questions you choose are truly philosophical and instead base it on your knowledge of the children in your class. Some of the questions I have enjoyed using are not truly philosophical, in other words we could say that there is an exact answer that does not need debate, however for a young child who does not know much about the world it is a philosophical question.
That said it is good practice for you as a facilitator to begin to identify what a philosophical question is so here is a quick guide.
A quest is a long and arduous search for something, it is a late Middle English word from the Old French queste (noun)/ quester (verb), based on Latin quaerere which meant ‘ask, seek’. Most commonly used as a word for an epic adventure or in a ‘quest for knowledge.’ What better word to describe a philosophical journey? So, I created the QUESTS model to take my class on an epic philosophical journey each week and, even better, do it within the 15 minutes window of time that a 3-5 year old is often able to maintain attention and excitement for an adult led activity. So here is the overview of a QUESTS.
This is the starting post of your quest. What do you want to know today? First remind the children of your community guidelines and 4Cs (see Lesson 1 and 2). If you have a prop, like Philosophy Frog, then have the toy pose the question of the day. Make this your big concept question. Don’t worry you can drill down later. See the lesson plans in this book to give you some ideas. See if anyone wants to try an answer to the question straight away.
e.g. Are teddies real?
Give some more depth to the question. Explain why you are asking. For example it might be a question that you are wondering about because of a book you have just read aloud or something that happened in class. An example of this might be “I asked if teddies are real. What I mean is, do they come alive when no-one is watching?”
Get the children to vote on the question. For this question the answer will be ‘yes’ or ‘no’. You may have children who say they don’t know. Try to press them for an opinion but if you are getting nowhere then don’t be afraid to add a ‘I’m not ready to decide yet’ option. Methods of voting could be hands up, holding a picture up or anything you can think of. Personally I find that voting with feet works best i.e. go to this side of the room if you think… and that side of you think… I have tried this with Key Workers but the risk is that children will just go to their own Key Worker or the person they like best instead of making a decision. When voting with feet it is often easy to spot the children who copy their friends or the children who are unsure what they think.
Once children have chosen their side ask a couple of children from each side to explain why they chose that way. After the voting get everyone to sit back down in the group. It may help to keep children roughly in their group so that you can see who changes their mind as the enquiry goes on.
Now that the group is sitting down again remind them of the initial question. Invite everyone to share their ideas. As you see opportunities introduce new facts or questions. Encourage children to agree or disagree with each other and build on each other’s ideas (however be mindful that this isn’t something that you are likely to see until children are confident philosophisers). In this example a new facts and question might be ‘I thought that our teddy did come alive at night but Mr … said I have never actually seen it happen so it can’t be true. Is he right?”
Carry on with the enquiry until you feel it has run its natural course.
Thank everyone for their input and involvement. You may want, at this point, to highlight children who did particularly well or showed progress in their abilities since your last enquiry. Try to link your thanks to your community guidelines or the 4Cs. I have found that a nice way to do this when first starting out is to have two hula hoops in different colours. Select children who have spoken to hold onto one hoop and children who haven’t to hold onto the other. Say “well done to everyone holding the blue hoop. You were critical and creative because you gave answers and thoughts today” “well done to the children holding the red hoop. You were caring and followed our guideline to listen nicely to your friends when they spoke. You all made a decision when you voted too.”
Skills (and Concepts)
The skills you would like to encourage today and the concepts and key words you might come across during the enquiry
So as you can see, the 10 Step Model is a great guide (especially if you read about it fully - remember I just gave a brief overview here as it is not the model we are going to follow). It is a great guide but, for me, it was the cause of a lot of frustration and initial resistance to doing Philosophy for Children. As beginners it was recommended in the Level 1 course that we use the model. The 10 Step Model is great. I am not here to criticise something which clearly works and which gives you a good understanding of what to do, when and why. But what the 10 Step Model did for me, dealing with tiny tots, was confuse me, make me think that P4C was unworkable with small children and, quite frankly, made me feel like I was continually setting both myself and the children up for failure. It was a wasted half hour each week, and even that was after squishing the 10 Step Model so small as to be pointless anyway. If a child doesn’t even understand the difference between opinions, information and questions how can they create their own questions? If it is age appropriate that they are almost entirely egocentric then how can we expect them to care about any other child’s opinion enough to work as a group to come up with a question? While we are at it, how many 4 year olds are capable of instinctively working as a group on a communication and language based task without a heck of a lot of modelling and scaffolding from an adult?
So what happened to change me from a P4C sceptic into someone who liked it enough to attempt to write a book on the subject (how am I doing by the way?)? Basically, what happened was that I had a tantrum. I spat my dummy out, stamped my feet and screamed and screamed till I was sick, or rather I ranted to people about it being ridiculous, knew I had to do it anyway (as we had signed up to several years of P4C as a school) and decided to rebel, spit in the eye of the 10 Step Model and do a half-hearted job of it. In that first session that I decided to do a half-hearted job guess what happened. My Early Years training and experience took the driving seat and lo and behold we had a successful enquiry, despite me feeling a bit guilty that I hadn’t done anything that I was meant to do or anything on my 10 Step Model plan. So I did it again, and again, and before you knew it both myself, the other practitioners in class and the children were actually enjoying doing Philosophy for Children. We had even managed to create our own little routine. Introduce our Philosophy Frog teddy, introduce the stimulus, have a brief reminder of the guidelines for our chat, have a vote, have a chat, job done. Out of this slapdash, partly child-led approach (and isn’t that what Early Years is all about?) we ended up with our own model.
When I went on the Level 2 SAPERE course and read a short section relating to Early Years in the course handbook which practically gave permission to shorten the 10 Step Model I almost cheered and it was that point that I finally decided to trust my own knowledge and experience of an age group I knew very well (thank you very much) to create my own model to use in class. The QUEST!
A quest is a long and arduous search for something, it is a late Middle English word from the Old French queste (noun)/ quester (verb), based on Latin quaerere which meant ‘ask, seek’. Most commonly used as a word for an epic adventure or in a ‘quest for knowledge.’ What better word to describe a philosophical journey? So, I created the QUESTS model to take my class on an epic philosophical journey each week and, even better, do it within the 15 minutes window of time that a 3-5 year old is often able to maintain attention and excitement for an adult led activity.
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.
Each Peach Pear Plum by Allan Ahlberg and Janet Ahlberg
Each Peach Pear Plum is a timeless picture book classic from the bestselling illustrator/author team Janet and Allan Ahlberg, creators of Peepo!. Each beautifully illustrated page encourages young children to interact with the picture to find the next fairy tale and nursery rhyme character.
Oh the Places You'll Go by Dr Seuss
My favourite picture book of all time. From fun times and triumphs to lurches and slumps, Dr. Seuss takes an entertaining look at the adventures that life may have in store for us.
Llama Llama Red Pyjama by Anna Dewdney
The story of a little llama who doesn't want to go to bed without mummy
Owl Babies by Martin Waddell
A gentle tale of three baby owls reassures young children that Mummy will always come home. Three baby owls, Sarah, Percy and Bill, wake up one night in their hole in a tree to find that their mother has gone. So they sit on a branch and wait... Darkness gathers and the owls grow anxious, wondering when their mother will return.
The Tale of Peter Rabbit by Beatrix Potter
The Tale of Peter Rabbit was first published by Frederick Warne in 1902 and endures as Beatrix Potter's most popular and well-loved tale. It tells the story of a very mischievous rabbit and the trouble he encounters in Mr McGregor's vegetable garden!
Guess How Much I Love You by Sam McBratney
Sometimes, when you love someone very, very much, you want to find a way of describing how much you treasure them. But, as Little Nutbrown Hare and Big Nutbrown Hare discover, love is not always an easy thing to measure.
The Hungry Caterpillar by Eric Carle
A firm Early Years favourite when exploring minibeast, life cycles, art or food. The Hungry Caterpillar follows the main character from egg to butterfly.
The Giving Tree by Shel Silverstein
Once there was a little tree ... and she loved a little boy.
So begins a story of unforgettable perception, beautifully written and illustrated by the gifted and versatile Shel Silverstein. Every day the boy would come to the tree to eat her apples, swing from her branches, or slide down her trunk ... and the tree was happy. But as the boy grew older he began to want more from the tree, and the tree gave and gave and gave. This is a tender story, touched with sadness, aglow with consolation. Shel Silverstein has created a moving parable for readers of all ages that offers an affecting interpretation of the gift of giving and a serene acceptance of another's capacity to love in return.
Handa's Surprise by Eileen Browne
This is the story of Handa, who's part of the Luo tribe in south-west Kenya. Handa decides to take seven pieces of delicious fruit to her friend, Akeyo, who lives in the neighbouring village. But as Handa wonders, I wonder what fruit Akeyo will like best?, a series of sneaky animals steal something from Handa's basket, which she's carrying on her head... When Handa reaches Akeyo, will she have anything left to offer her friend?
These are two great books if you are looking at challenging stereotypes, whether gender expectations (Princess Smartypants) or looks (Prince Cinders).
Princess Smartypants by Babette Cole
Princess Smartypants does not want to get married. She enjoys being a Ms. But being a rich and pretty princess means that all the princes want her to be their Mrs. Find out how Princess Smartypants fights to preserve her independence in this hilarious fairy-tale-with-a-difference.
Prince Cinders by Babette Cole
Prince Cinders leads a very hard life. Bullied by his three hairy brothers about his less-than-perfect looks, he spends all his time cleaning and tidying up after them. One Saturday night Prince Cinders' luck changes as a small, dirty fairy falls down the chimney and promises that his wishes shall come true. Not all the fairy's spells turn out as planned in this zany twist of a traditional story
Where the Wild Things Are by Maurice Sendak is a lovely story for your own wild things.
One night Max puts on his wolf suit and makes mischief of one kind and another, so his mother calls him 'Wild Thing' and sends him to bed without his supper.
That night a forest begins to grow in Max's room and an ocean rushes by with a boat to take Max to the place where the wild things are. Max tames the wild things and crowns himself as their king, and then the wild rumpus begins! But when Max has sent the monsters to bed, and everything is quiet, he starts to feel lonely and realises it is time to sail home to the place where someone loves him best of all.
Where the Wild Things Are offers a great collection of enquiry questions.
With almost 100 characters you can easily choose the ones which best fit your enquiry. Along with the enquiries that you could do which are specific to a certain character or story you could also try the following enquiries.
Who would be a worse friend… or …
Who would you like most at your birthday party? … or …?
Who would be the best in an emergency?
Would you rather be … or …
Who would you like to cook with …. or …?
For a full list of the Mr Men and Little Miss series you can look here
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.