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Permalink to Philosophy with 5 year olds

Philosophy with 5 year olds

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?

Zohra: Yes

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?

Zohra: Uh

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?

Zohra: Both

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

Grace: How?

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

Permalink to Dealing with students who say: “It depends”

Dealing with students who say: “It depends”

In ethics like many areas of human enquiry a very sensible initial response to a question may well be “it depends”. However when some students have the tendency of saying with a certain degree of self satisfaction “it depends” (arms folded, smug smile) as though to say check mate!

It’s important to realise in ethics as elsewhere acknowledging that the answer depends on some further features of a situation is not a complete answer. Far from it. This is true of even the most straightforward of questions. If your house mate asked you “I’m going to the shop do we need any milk?” an initial response may well be “it depends”. But if that was all you had to say on the matter your housemate would be pretty frustrated. What does it depend on? How do these relations of dependence work and why? These are the interesting questions.

In the case of milk, it depends on whether there’s any milk left in the fridge. From this we can sketch a general rule. If there is milk the answer to the question is no, we don’t need any more. If there’s none left them yes, we do. And of course the matter could depend on a number of additional considerations too. For example if there is milk left, but just a small amount, enough for one or two cups of tea – then the answer is, yes we probably do need some more. Furthermore, if there is none left, but you know that no one will be in the house over the weekend to drink any milk. Then the answer is no we don‘t.

From this exercise of spelling out some of the ways in which the answer depends, we can draw general, and ultimately more useful conclusions. The answer to the question “Do we need any milk?” broadly speaking is affected by the fact that milk is both a perishable and a staple. We mustn’t buy too much as it will turn sour but equally, we must try to avoid running out. The answer therefore will depend on the likelihood that we will have a just enough or else an excess or deficiency.

Although this kind of detailed analysis of milk is probably implicitly obvious among housemates, when we’re dealing with more complex issues. It helps to spell things out as best we can. “It depends” is only ever a first move, never check mate.

This post is by Grace

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