In 2010-11 Thinking Space worked with all of the staff at Brudenell Primary School and almost 300 children from Nursery to Year Six. At first it was unclear how the structured philosophical enquiry happening at KS1 and KS2 would look in Foundation classrooms full of very young children, many of whom, did not speak English as their first language.
Since then, In several conversations recently, people have asked me what on earth you do in a philosophy session with little children. Some people wonder whether it is stretching credulity to call these sessions ‘philosophy’ at all.
Put very simply, I think philosophy with very little children is primary about making judgements and then justifying them. This possibility is opened up for very little children by giving them open choices e.g. Which of these animals would you like to stroke and why?
A child who can say: ‘I’d like to stroke hedgehog’ and then crucially ‘because it would feel funny’ is judging and reasoning independently. There is no expectation on the child, that they will give one answer over another. In the absence of this expectation (and the cues we invariably give to illicit right answers (nodding, gesturing, smiling) even the very young child, must think for themselves.
Perhaps these conversations are not really philosophical. But they build the foundations of future philosophical thought.
Philosophy with 5 year olds: In action
Context: Tasting foods in strange combinations, sharing preferences and giving reasons. This conversation took place with Zohra aged 5.
Grace: Which foods do you like Zohra?
Zohra: Easy, peppers!
Grace: Do you know why you like peppers?
Zohra: They’re nice
Grace: Really? What else?
Zohra: They’re sweet
Grace: Oh so you like peppers because ….
Zohra: I like peppers because they’re sweet.
Grace: You said you like peppers because they are sweet, so do you think we should put sugar on everything? On sandwiches and fruit and sausages?
Zohra: Uh I don’t know! Even if something’s are sweet people still don’t like them.
Grace: You know with sweet things, people seem to like them or they don’t? Why do you think that is?
Why don’t we all like exactly the same things?
Zohra: I know why, because it would waste it for other people, you’d make it and waste loads.
Grace: Oh so if everyone like sweet things they’d all eat them and there would be none left?
Grace: So people like different things because …
Zohra: So when I like things … (inaudible)
Grace: So people like pepper, people like curry, people like ice cream so that there is enough to go round?
Zohra: So next time we do it with Miss Ibberson there will be enough for everyone.
Grace: You know when you try something new? How do you decide whether you like it or not?
Zohra: Uh, I try it!
Grace: You try it? So you put it in your mouth, and then how do you decide weather you like what you’ve tried? Do you just make it up?
Zohra: I don’t know
Grace: When you like something, so you like it for the same reasons every time?
Grace: When you like something, so you like it for the same reasons every time? Do you always like it because it’s spicy or do you always like it because or do you always like it because it’s juicy?
Grace: So you might like it because it’s juicy or because it’s spicy or sweet… or anything?
Zohra: Or anything!
Grace: Or anything… so we might like something and ‘anything’ could explain why; you could have any reason?
Zohra: It’s quite confusing as well.
Grace: It is very confusing!
Grace: So what do you think about philosophy Zohra?
Zhora: It’s hard, its not like maths or literacy!
Grace: Oh so if it’s hard, don’t you enjoy it?
Zohra: No! I do enjoy it; when you learn new things you get more clever.
Me and Asim were the first to finish our maths books, that’s how clever we are!
Grace: Are you clever at philosophy too?
Zohra: Its different
Zohra: You get confused, you get very confused
Grace: How do you feel about getting confused?
Zohra: I don’t mind, you get better and then you find out (answers).
This post is by Grace