Philosophy for Children

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Philosophy for Children, sometimes abbreviated to P4C, is a movement that aims to teach reasoning and argumentative skills to children. There are also related methods sometimes called "Philosophy for Young People" or "Philosophy for Kids". Often the hope is that this will be a key influential move towards a more democratic form of democracy.[1] However, there is also a long tradition within higher education of developing alternative methods for teaching philosophy both in schools and colleges (see "philosophy education").[2]

Although the noted developmental psychologist Jean Piaget was of the impression that children were not capable of critical thinking until age 11 or 12, the experience of many philosophers and teachers with young children gives reason to believe that children benefit from philosophical inquiry even in early primary school. Furthermore, there is empirical evidence that teaching children reasoning skills early in life greatly improves other cognitive and academic skills and greatly assists learning in general.[3]


The pedagogy of philosophy for children is diverse. However, many practitioners including those working in the tradition of Matthew Lipman and the Institute for the Advancement of Philosophy for Children emphasize the use of a community of inquiry method which has roots in the work of philosopher John Dewey.[4] The term "inquiry" is preferred to "lesson" because the emphasis is on the group inquiring together into questions with the teacher as a facilitator rather than the authoritative source of information.

Questions and pictures as stimuli for conversation[edit]

As a basis for discussing philosophy with children, the questions used (“What is friendship?”, “Do animals have feelings?”, and “What is happiness?”) are of crucial importance. The German educational scientist Michael Siegmund recommends asking children a philosophical question along with an inspiring picture. Together, the image and question create an opening for discussing philosophy. Among other things, natural landscapes, pictures of animals and people, certain social situations, or even fantasy pictures can be used. This dual method can be used as early as at daycare for children ages 4 and up, as well as at school or with family.[5]

Stories as stimuli for conversation[edit]

Along with pictures, stories can also lead to discussions of philosophy with children. A story can thus be an occasion to start a philosophical conversation with children. Adults can ask the children philosophical questions while they are reading aloud as well. Stories, combined with profound questions, can inspire children and promote their creativity and imagination. Adults can either add “philosophical questions” to “classic” stories and fairy tales themselves, or use special children's books for discussing philosophy with children. Michael Siegmund recommends stories in which animals are the main characters and child-friendly questions are asked. Possible topics may include poverty and wealth, friendship and family, happiness, freedom, environmental pollution, justice, and more.[6]

Notable proponents and their styles in the world[edit]

One of the salient differences between proponents of philosophy for children is in their choice of stimuli - starting points for discussions. Matthew Lipman, called "the most influential figure" in helping young students develop philosophical thinking by Gareth Matthews, is credited with starting the Philosophy for Children movement in the 1970s.[7] After witnessing political upheaval taking place on University campuses nationwide in the 1960s, Lipman realized that philosophical and critical thinking should be encouraged much earlier in the academic setting. He founded the Institute for the Advancement of Philosophy for Children[8] at Montclair State University (then Montclair State College) in 1974. Lipman's method involves reading philosophically stimulating narrative to children and encouraging them to come up with philosophical questions in response. The questions set the agenda for a collaborative inquiry where the teacher acts as both facilitator and co-inquirer. The lessons are dialogue based with students usually sitting in a circle and taking turns at suggesting solutions, expressing opinions, putting forth arguments and counter arguments, providing examples, constructing criteria and building on each other's ideas with the aim of coming to a settlement regarding the initial philosophical questions that stimulated the dialogue. Lipman's ideas about learning, pedagogy and curriculum are heavily influenced by the educational and philosophical ideas of the American pragmatist philosopher John Dewey.[9] Many of the materials used by the IAPC are philosophical children's novels that were published by Lipman, including Harry Stottlemeier's Discovery, which he published in 1969.[10] Others have built on Lipman's ideas and developed further teaching resources and learning activities that complement his original Philosophy for Children novels and pedagogical approach, such as Phil Cam's popular teaching resources [11][12] Lipman wrote the world's first systematic pre-college philosophy curriculum and created both masters and doctoral programs in the field of Philosophy for Children. He also founded Thinking: The Journal of Philosophy for Children.[13]

Gareth Matthews worked with a variety of students, but primarily with students in late primary school (5th grade and thereabouts). Matthews' method was to get the students to actively create philosophical settings, to “make the philosophical problem their own”. One of his best-known techniques was to provide the beginning of a philosophically provocative story. He then recorded/transcribes student comments, put them in the mouths of characters in the story, and brought the story continuation to the next class session for further discussion. Such interactions are compiled in his book Dialogues With Children.

Karin Murris of Witwatersrand University, South Africa and Joanna Haynes of Plymouth University, England, have popularised the use of children's picture books as an alternative to purpose-written materials. Tom Wartenberg of Mount Holyoke, Massachusetts has also written a large number of discussion plans for philosophising with picture books.

Jana Mohr Lone has written about children's philosophical thinking and the benefits of encouraging children to engage in philosophical inquiry.

Ellen Duthie, together with her team based in Spain, researches and develops the possibilities of Visual Philosophy for Children (and adults), exploring different ways of engaging and stimulating philosophical dialogue through visuals in her Wonder Ponder series of books.

There is particular diversity in the UK, owing to the large number of competing and collaborating freelance trainers each emphasising different strands of the pedagogy. Roger Sutcliffe's practice includes the use of news stories; Steve Williams has emphasised the importance of dialogues that model argument as well as raising philosophical issues; Will Ord emphasises the use of striking photos, often containing contrasts that suggest opposing concepts.;[14] Jason Buckley advocates a more physical, game-based approach and "Philosophy in Role", in which children philosophise within a story as characters confronted with a variety of problems.

SAPERE is the UK's leading provider of P4C training. Registered in 1994, the charity has trained over 27,000 teachers and other individuals in the use of P4C. SAPERE's mission is to advance the educational, personal and social development of young people, especially those facing disadvantage, through the promotion of P4C. The organisation's work gained national prominence in 2015 when Durham University School of Education published results of a randomised control trial of P4C with over 3,000 primary school students. The study was sponsored by the Education Endowment Foundation. The study found that P4C advanced attainment for all students and had a particularly strong impact on children from disadvantaged backgrounds.

Co-founded by Peter Worley and Emma Worley, The Philosophy Foundation's specialist philosophy teachers (all philosophy graduates) specifically use philosophical material, including thought-experiments and stories or activities that lead to questions from the philosophical canon. They make use of carefully structured questioning strategies and also the introduction of thinking skills in order to develop good thinking habits from a young age. The questioning strategies are used to introduce dialectic along Platonic lines and in order to maintain philosophical focus. Uniquely they have a methodology that introduces writing and meta-analysis with older primary and secondary students.[15]

UK based Thinking Space is Grace Robinson, a philosopher and a network of associated philosophers and educators whose work is characterised by playful and experimental collaborations. This work with a range of practitioners, among them artists, scientists, and academics, aims to bring philosophical issues alive for children and young people. Thinking Space's most notable collaboration is with The University of Leeds on 'Leeds Philosophy Exchange'; an accredited undergraduate course in which philosophy students facilitate philosophical enquiry in local primary schools, alongside teachers trained by Thinking Space in P4C.

A particular way of doing philosophy with children is illustrated by the work of Chris Phillips with the Philosophers Club at Cesar Chavez Elementary School in the Mission District, San Francisco, California.[16]

Professor William Barry of Notre Dame de Namur University is pioneering a new approach to p4c called Philosophy for Children and Community (P4c²) in the San Francisco Bay Area. His contribution to evolving the idea of p4c involves young people becoming novice critical theory action researchers and meaningful members of communities of inquiry focused on human flourishing for every person. Another key component of Barry's P4c² is the importance of children gaining ontological weight from participation in their communities of inquiry by understanding the meaning of quality in praxis in a transformational way through TQ Theory. The Institute of P4c² has recently been developed by Living Leadership Today, LLC Founder Maria Rachelle in Silicon Valley California and resulted in the creation of the online international scholarly journal, the International Journal of Transformative Research [2].

Programs, competitions, and publications[edit]

There are a number of college-level academic philosophy programs in the United States that do outreach to public schools, most notably at the University of Washington, University of Massachusetts - Boston, University of Chicago, California State University Long Beach, Texas A&M University, Mount Holyoke College, Montclair State University, Michigan State University, University of Hawai`i at Manoa, Notre Dame de Namur University, Creighton University, and Plattsburgh State University Of New York.[17]

At the University of Washington, the Center for Philosophy for Children educates University of Washington graduate and undergraduate students about how to facilitate philosophy sessions, and then sends them into Seattle classrooms with supervision and mentoring from experienced instructors. This program has introduced philosophy to thousands of public school students, and runs many year-long weekly philosophy sessions in Seattle public school classrooms. The Center has four graduate fellowships in pre-college philosophy and also runs regular workshops and programs for teachers, parents and other adults about how to introduce philosophy to young people.

At the University of Chicago, students in the college teach in schools on Chicago South Side through the University's Civic Knowledge Project. The class, known as Winning Words, is an after school program that works with elementary, middle and high school students in Chicago. The program aims to engage and inspire local youth through an education in philosophy, reasoning and the verbal arts of dialogue and rhetoric; building self-confidence and exposing its students to a wide range of philosophical material. Recognized by the American Philosophical Association,[18] the program provides an introduction to philosophy and Socratic dialogue and includes writing, public speaking, debate, drama, poetry and art. The material uses the Socratic method to engage students and to encourage the use of critical thinking, reasoning and expression. Such modes of thought and communication foster the sense of wonder that is at the root of serious introspection, intellectual growth, and ethical reflection. February 2012, the American Philosophical Association's Committee on Pre-Collegiate Philosophy featured Winning Words and the Civic Knowledge Project in its Central Division meeting.

Before the Department of Education cut funding for such programs in the early 1990s, there were over 5,000 programs in K-12 schools nationwide which engaged young people in philosophical reflection or critical thinking, more generally. This number has dropped substantially.

The Institute for the Advancement of Philosophy for Children (IAPC), which has been recognized by the APA for excellence and innovation,[19] utilizes Lipman's method, exposing children to philosophically stimulating narrative to encourage them to create and ask their own philosophical questions, actively in the K-12 classroom through a longstanding partnership with the Montclair public school system.[20] Students are encouraged to ask their questions and the philosophical facilitator (a member of the IAPC) helps the children to develop philosophical skills and dispositions of critical, caring, and creative thinking in order to get the young students to come to reasonable judgment about what is "best to do or believe," in response to the initial question. IAPC has a large teacher preparation component and provides teacher manuals that include discussion plans specifically designed to assist in the facilitation of philosophical discussions that are general enough to answer most student questions. In addition to working directly with schoolchildren, members of the IAPC work with several constituencies, including professional and pre-professional educators, educational administrators and policy-makers, and faculty and students of education, philosophy and related disciplines.[21] IAPC has trained educators worldwide to successfully implement their curriculum in their home states and countries. Philosophy and Children organization offers introductory workshops and Certificate courses in schools and graduate teachers in Australia.

The Philosophy Learning and Teaching Organization (PLATO) is a national organization in the USA that provides support and resources for bringing philosophy into pre-college classrooms.

There is an annual Philosophy Slam competition for kids in grades K-12. Younger children are encouraged to submit artwork which illustrates their philosophical reflections while older children submit increasingly sophisticated written work.

In the UK the University of Leeds now offers a students into schools programme called Leeds Philosophy Exchange, led by Grace Robinson. The University of Bristol is now working on Bristol Philosophy Exchange applying a similar model in which philosophy students and primary school teachers exchange skills and knowledge in weekly philosophical enquiry with children.

Educational charity The Philosophy Foundation (formerly The Philosophy Shop) trains philosophy graduates to do philosophy with primary and secondary school children, and places them in schools nationwide. They also train teachers in the transferable skills of philosophy (questioning, thinking skills and discourse skills), and are encouraging an enquiry based approach to education at all levels, including tertiary.

SAPERE is a UK charity that trains teachers in P4C nationwide.

Thinking Space works with schools to devise creative philosophy projects that combine the expertise of philosophers and teachers.

The growth of a community between European philosophy with children (PWC) practitioners culminated in the establishment of “Stichting SOPHIA —The European Foundation for the Advancement of Doing Philosophy with Children” in 1993, with Eulalia Bosch (Catalonia) as its President, and Karel van der Leeuw (the Netherlands) Secretary. Following the motto of the European Community (now the EU) – ‘ unity through diversity’, SOPHIA supported the development of doing philosophy with children within all the different European cultures and languages, and nurtured the community among practitioners as the foundation for collaborative work and mutual development. Many groundbreaking and innovative projects have resulted from SOPHIA members working together, often funded by the EU. For example, pwc projects working with art, citizenship, excluded children, architecture, anti-racism, music, community development and more.

In Australasia an extensive P4C network has developed since the 1980s. Associations have been established in each Australian state and also the Federation of Australasian Philosophy in Schools Associations (FAPSA) has been instrumental in promoting P4C throughout Australasia. FAPSA is a professional non-profit organization promoting philosophy in schools and representing the interests of its affiliated associations across Australia, New Zealand and Singapore. The Federation's primary purpose is to facilitate the educational aims and objectives of its affiliated associations. FAPSA has an official journal called the Journal for Philosophy in Schools

In 2007 a competition was created in Perth Western Australia called a Philosothon. This competition promotes P4C and has been phenomenally successful over its short history. Each Australian state now holds an annual Philosothon and Australian Association of Philosophy (AAP) hosts the Australasian Philosothon in different states each year. There are over 400 schools involved in Philosothons in Australasia, Europe and the UK.


There have been several academic journals devoted to publishing work regarding philosophy for/with children.


A number of books have been published on philosophy for children other than those mentioned above by Matthews and Lipman. Some are intended to be read by children, others by children with their parents, and still others by philosophers, educators, and policy-makers considering the merits of K-12 philosophy programs. A partial (by no means exhaustive or representative) list includes the books:

  • "20 Thinking Tools" by Phil Cam.
  • "40 lessons to get children thinking: Philosophical thought adventures across the curriculum" by Peter Worley
  • Big Ideas for Little Kids by Thomas Wartenberg
  • "Cruelty Bites" by Ellen Duthie and Daniela Martagón (from the Wonder Ponder Visual Philosophy for Children series).
  • "Dialogues with Children" by Gareth Matthews.
  • "Engaging with Ethics: Ethical Inquiry for Teachers" by Mark Freakley and Gilbert Burgh
  • "Ethics and the Community of Inquiry: Education for Deliberative Democracy" by Gilbert Burgh, Terri Field and Mark Freakley.
  • "I, Person" by Ellen Duthie and Daniela Martagón (from the Wonder Ponder Visual Philosophy for Children series)
  • Games for Thinking by Robert Fisher (UK academic)
  • "Growing Up with Philosophy" Matthew Lipman & Ann Margaret Sharp (eds.).
  • Harry Potter and Philosophy: If Aristotle Ran Hogwarts, an anthology edited by David Baggett and Shawn Klein
  • "History, Theory and Practice of Philosophy for Children: International Perspectives", Saeed Naji & Rosnani Hashim (eds.)
  • "Once Upon an If" by Peter Worley
  • "P4c Criterion for Stories" by Saeed Naji
  • "Philosophy and the Young Child" by Gareth Matthews.
  • "Philosophy for children: Aniamation-based Manual by Saeed naji & Samaneh askari
  • Philosophy for Kids: 40 Fun Questions That Help You Wonder About Everything and The Examined Life: Advanced Philosophy for Kids, both by David A. White
  • Philosophy for Young Children: A Practical Guide by Berys Gaut and Morag Gaut
  • Philosophy in Schools edited by Michael Hand and Carrie Winstanley
  • Philosophy in the Classroom by Matthew Lipman's, Ann Margaret Sharp, Fredrick S. Oscanyan.
  • Pocket P4C: Getting Started with Philosophy for Children by Jason Buckley
  • Poems for Thinking by Robert Fisher
  • "Provocations, Philosophy in Secondary Schools" by David Birch
  • "Social Reconstruction Learning: Dualism, Dewey and Philosophy in Schools" by Jennifer Bleazby.
  • "Teaching Ethics in Schools" by Phil Cam.
  • "Teaching for Better Thinking" by Laurance J. Splitter and Ann M. Sharp.
  • The If Machine: Philosophical Enquiry in the Classroom by Peter Worley (co-founder and CEO of The Philosophy Foundation), guided philosophy sessions for use in the classroom complete with teaching thinking strategies.
  • The If Odyssey: A Philosophical Journey Through Greek Myth and Legend for 8-16 Year Olds by Peter Worley, due for publication September 2012
  • The Machine Who Was Also a Boy[22] a fiction fantasy adventure book (with accompanying teaching guide) addressing philosophical paradoxes, aimed at Middle Grade students (age 10)
  • "The Numberverse" by Andrew Day
  • The Philosophers' Club by Christopher Phillips and Kim Doner
  • "The Philosophical Child" by Jana Mohr Lone
  • "The Philosophy of Childhood" by Gareth Matthews.
  • The Philosophy Shop a book of philosophical stimuli from Academics around the world in aid of The Philosophy Foundation, due for publication November 2012
  • The Pig that Wants to be Eaten by Julian Baggini.
  • "The Socratic Classroom: Reflective Thinking through Collaborative Inquiry" by Sarah Davey Chesters.
  • Thinking in Education by Matthew Lipman
  • "Thinking Stories, books 1-3" by Phil Cam.
  • "Thinking Together: Philosophical Inquiry for the Classroom" by Phil Cam.
  • "Thoughtings" by Peter Worley and Andrew Day
  • Sophie's World a novel by Jostein Gaarder.
  • Stories for Thinking by Robert Fisher
  • "Values Education in Schools: A resource book for student inquiry" by Mark Freakley, Gilbert Burgh and Lyne Tilt MacSporran.
  • "Whatever You Want", by Ellen Duthie and Daniela Martagón (from the Wonder Ponder Visual Philosophy for Children series)
  • Wise Guy: The Life and Adventures of Socrates, a picture book version of the engaging life of Socrates by M.D. Usher and illustrator William Bramhall.
  • Young Person's Guide to Philosophy from the DK series of educational books
  • "Philosophy for Children and Teenagers: The best 123 questions: Including many pictures that will encourage the joint thinking process" by Michael Siegmund.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Laurence Splitter and Ann M. Sharp, Teaching for Better Thinking, ACER: Melbourne.
  2. ^ See, for example, Philosophy 4 Skool, by Michael Brett, accessed July 19, 2008
  3. ^ k.J. Topping and S. Trickey (2007) "Collaborative Philosophical Inquiry for School Children", British Journal of Educational Psychology, Dec 77(4).
  4. ^ Jennifer Bleazby (2013) Social Reconstruction Learning: Dualism, Dewey and Philosophy in Schools, Routledge: New York and London.
  5. ^ Siegmund, Michael (2019) Philosophy for Children and Teenagers: The best 123 questions: Including many pictures that will encourage the joint thinking process, BoD, Norderstedt.
  6. ^ Siegmund, Michael (2020) Philosophy for Children. Grandpa Carl the Owl and his Grandson Nils the Owl, BoD, Norderstedt.
  7. ^ Martin, Douglas (2011-01-14). "Matthew Lipman, Philosopher and Educator, Dies at 87". The New York Times.
  8. ^ "Institute for the Advancement of Philosophy for Children". Archived from the original on 2011-04-10. Retrieved 2006-09-15.
  9. ^ Bleazby, Jennifer (2013) Social Reconstruction Learning: Dualism, Dewey and Philosophy in Schools. Routledge: New York and London.
  10. ^ Pritchard, Michael (2018), Zalta, Edward N. (ed.), "Philosophy for Children", The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy (Winter 2018 ed.), Metaphysics Research Lab, Stanford University, retrieved 2019-07-04
  11. ^ Cam, Phil (2012) Teaching Ethics in Schools. ACER: Melbourne
  12. ^ Cam, Phil (1993-97) Thinking Stories, Hale and Iremonger.
  13. ^ "Institute for the Advancement of Philosophy for Children". Retrieved 2019-07-04.
  14. ^[permanent dead link]
  15. ^ For more on The Philosophy Foundation's methodology see 'The If Machine: Philosophical Enquiry in the Classroom' [1] by Peter Worley.
  16. ^ Moore, Teresa (1999-01-22). "Socrates' Children: A volunteer teaches kids philosophy -- and how to listen to one another". SFGate. Archived from the original on 2007-01-12. Retrieved 2006-09-15.
  17. ^ "Philosophy Department | SUNY Plattsburgh". State University of New York (SUNY) College at Plattsburgh. Retrieved 2019-07-04.
  18. ^ "Centers & Institutes | PLATO: Philosophy Learning and Teaching Organization". 2010-03-24. Retrieved 2019-07-04.
  19. ^ "Archived copy". Archived from the original on 2011-01-15. Retrieved 2011-01-15.CS1 maint: archived copy as title (link)
  20. ^ Montclair public school system Archived 2011-02-09 at the Wayback Machine
  21. ^ "Archived copy". Archived from the original on 2011-01-16. Retrieved 2011-02-08.CS1 maint: archived copy as title (link)
  22. ^ "The Machine Who Was Also A Boy | eMergent Publishing". 2013-06-29. Retrieved 2019-07-04.

Haas, H. J. (1976). The Value of Philosophy for Children within the Piagetian Framework. Metaphilosophy. 7(1). 70-75 Special Issue on Philosophy for Children.

Haas, H. J. (1976). Philosophical Thinking in the Elementary Schools. Report to the National Endowment for the Humanities on "Philosophy for Children". Rutgers University. Newark, NJ. ED 172 910.

External links[edit]