Philosophy for Children is an approach to teaching and learning that puts philosophical enquiry at the heart of the lesson.
It emerged from the work of Matthew Lipman, a US philosophy professor.
He wanted his undergraduates to think for themselves, not just demand answers they could regurgitate in exams.
The method he developed is now used in over sixty countries with schoolchildren of all ages.
Rather than the teacher asking a question, in a typical P4C enquiry, children are given a “stimulus” such as a story or picture book, and create their own questions in response.
They seek out philosophical questions, ones that involve important ideas about which people can have different views, and then vote for the one they think will lead to the most fruitful discussion.
That neither you nor the children know what you are going to end up discussing makes the process exciting.
Once the question is chosen, a discussion begins in which the pupils sit in a circle and pass the opportunity to speak between themselves. Pupils hold each other accountable for good reasoning, agreeing and disagreeing with each other without being disagreeable.
The teacher acts as facilitator to keep the discussion focused and push for greater depth of thinking; but while a typical classroom discussion is a series of questions and answers mediated by a teacher who is already an authority on the subject, in P4C the participants have to create their own map to search for answers that they find plausible and well supported.
P4C develops thinking that is critical, using reasoned moves to build arguments; collaborative, with the sharing and challenging of ideas; creative in the willingness to speculate, take risks and imagine; and caring, because everything is set up to foster consideration and respect for one another.
It is genuinely hard to convey how different and powerful P4C can be to someone who hasn’t done it.
That’s why there is a big emphasis in P4C training on allowing teachers to enjoy philosophical enquiry as participants: once they have tried it for themselves, teachers become passionate about bring the same experience to their pupils.
The best analogy I can give for how P4C differs from regular teaching and learning is that it’s like the difference between storytelling and story reading.
The connection between the participants is stronger and more “live”, and when it works well it is a very special way of being with people of any age, a sort of meeting of minds at one another’s best.
Click here to find out more about Philosophy Circles, our streamlined approach to P4C for a crowded curriculum.