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Teaching Elementary School Philosophy


WHY DO PHILOSOPHY IN ELEMENTARY SCHOOL?


The reasons most often given for engaging young children in philosophy have to do with
strengthening their cognitive and communicative skills, and introducing them to formative
ethical and political ideas. These ways in which philosophy is “good for” children are
valuable objectives, to be sure, but they all derive from a more primary reason to do
philosophy with young children: that it is meaningful for them. Young children are
naturally inquisitive. They struggle to make sense of their everyday experience and of the
academic, social and cultural knowledge they begin to acquire at school – a process they
typically enjoy, at least until it becomes routinized and associated with high-stakes rewards
and punishments. Young children’s curiosity and wonderment are easily triggered. They
are full of questions – and significantly, many of their questions have philosophical content:
• Is my dog a person?
• Is it fair for the boys to always use the soccer field?
• Is it OK to kill some bugs but not others?
• What did mom mean, that I need to come up with a ‘better reason’?
• Where did grandpa go when he died?
• Why does time move so quickly sometimes and so slowly other times?
• How can anyone think beetles are beautiful?
• What does it mean to be a ‘best friend’?
• Can anyone know everything?

Young children’s experience is already replete with philosophical meaning. They have
strong, even visceral, intuitions of what is beautiful and ugly, fair and unfair, right and
wrong. They enjoy playing with language and are intrigued by logical puzzles. They are
given to metaphysical speculation and frequently engage in epistemology: asking how we
know what we think we know. Indeed, many professional philosophers date their interest
in philosophy to their early childhoods. And as children approach adolescence, they begin
to confront existential questions such as: What does it all mean? Is life ever fair? and What
do I think my life is for?

Elementary school philosophy, therefore, is not about imposing an unfamiliar, ancient and
highly intellectual discipline on children, in hopes it might be good for them, but about
giving them the opportunity to explore ethical, aesthetic, political, logical and other
philosophical aspects of their experiences that are already intensely meaningful for them,
but that are not often given attention in schools (or elsewhere). In that regard, the reasons
for elementary school philosophy should be the same as those for every other school
subject, e.g. science, mathematics, literature and history. We expect these subjects to not
only prepare children to study them at advanced levels later in life, but to enrich their lives
now with scientific, mathematical, literary, historical – and philosophical – meaning.


OBJECTIVES OF ELEMENTARY SCHOOL PHILOSOPHY


Elementary school philosophy draws students’ attention to philosophical concepts like
fairness, person, mind, beauty, cause, time, number, truth, citizen, good and right –
concepts that are already implicated in children’s experience, and that children need to
make their experiences more meaningful, in both senses of that word: more
understandable and richer, more worthwhile. The content of elementary school philosophy,
therefore, is not the traditional philosophical problems and arguments that are the stuff of
high school and college philosophy courses, or the traditional philosophical sub-disciplines
of ethics, aesthetics, metaphysics, political philosophy and logic, or even the important
figures in the history of philosophy – though some of this may become meaningful for older
children who have some experience with philosophy. An important objective of elementary
school philosophy is to help children become conversant with philosophical concepts, and
to discern them wherever they arise – sometimes referred to as developing “a philosophical
ear.”

As we become more sensitive to the philosophical dimensions of our experiences, what we
find are not fixed meanings, but questions, problems and vague opportunities that call for
investigation, judgment and action—in a word, inquiry. As children learn to recognize
when situations have an ethical dimension, for example, they begin to wonder about what is
good, right or just in those situations, how to resolve conflicting ethical claims, and what
kind of community and world they want to help to create. They begin to appreciate that the
ways in which they respond in such situations will help determine their ethical outcome,
both in terms of whether those situations become more or less good, right or just, and in
terms of the kind of persons they are becoming.

The central method of philosophical inquiry is careful thinking, and helping children learn
to think well is one of the most important objectives of elementary school philosophy.
Philosophy has always been preoccupied with good thinking, logic being one of its oldest
branches. While formal logic is beyond the ken of young children, they are very capable of
the informal logical operations that constitute basic reasoning, including giving reasons,
considering evidence, agreeing and disagreeing, giving examples and counterexamples, and
making comparisons and distinctions. Elementary school philosophy should familiarize
children with both the concept of inquiry – as an ideal of working toward reasonable
judgment – and a number of practical methods and strategies for conducting their own
philosophical inquiries. Reasoning, as just described, is one important method. Another is
attempting to discover a wide range of ideas and points of view relevant to the question
under consideration, so that our judgments will be well-informed as well as well-reasoned.
One of the most ancient, the most effective and the most widespread methods of
philosophical inquiry is dialogue: a conversation centered on a particular question or
problem, in which the participants share diverse views about it, clarify each other’s
thinking, offer multiple possible answers, and test those answers by coming up with reasons
for and against them. The teacher or “facilitator” of these dialogues neither leads the
children to a predetermined answer nor attempts to validate every opinion as equally
sound. Instead, she models and prompts careful thinking, helps the children to see the
structure that emerges in each dialogue, and encourages them to follow the inquiry where
it leads, i.e. in the direction of the strongest arguments and evidence. The goal of dialogue
is not complete consensus, but that each participant be able to decide what s/he thinks is
most reasonable, whether that judgment puts her in league with a majority of her peers,
with a minority, or by her/himself.

Dialogue also provides a concentrated opportunity for children to practice important
communicative and social skills, such as attentive listening, mindful speech, helping
another person express his idea, building on the ideas of others, offering and accepting
criticism respectfully, sharing important but unpopular opinions, and self-correcting.
Many philosophers and educators have noted the pedagogical benefits of dialogue, which
brings its own ethical and rational discipline. A successful dialogue has energy and a sense
of adventure – something even young children avidly enjoy – but it also requires rigorous
thinking, wide-ranging participation and the coordination of the participants’ various
communicative strengths and points of view. Children who participate in disciplined
dialogue learn to overcoming shyness, aggression and attention-grabbing behaviors for the
sake of cooperating in a kind of group work they find meaningful.

SOME PRACTICAL CONSIDERATIONS FOR ELEMENTARY SCHOOL
PHILOSOPHY


Age


The question is often asked, at what age are children capable of doing philosophy? While
no definitive answer to this question has emerged, a number of innovative pre-school and
kindergarten programs have demonstrated that even very young children are able to take
turns giving each other reasons they find different insects ugly, scary or beautiful – and to
alter their judgments as a result of the conversation. Of course, the objectives and contours
of any program of elementary school philosophy should reflect the children’s age and
socio-cultural context. Some youngsters may need several months of practice in order to
understand the difference between a question, an answer and a reason, or to be
comfortable taking turns talking in a group. In any case, philosophical engagement with
young children needs to be more playful and multi-sensory than philosophy with older
children.


Professional Development


Neither parents nor classroom teachers unfamiliar with philosophy, nor philosophy
professors or graduate students unfamiliar with elementary school pedagogy, will
necessarily find it easy to engage children in doing philosophy. Teaching elementary school
philosophy requires someone who loves ideas but doesn’t think s/he knows everything; who
listens to children with a sensitive philosophical ear; who thinks carefully and is
transparent in doing so; who is procedurally rigorous – asking open-ended questions,
posing alternative views, asking for clarification, helping make connections and challenging
reasons – but is comfortable with ambiguity; and who sees her/himself as a co-inquirer
with the children.


Curriculum


Teachers and students who are new to philosophy may find it advantageous to begin with a
curriculum designed specifically for doing philosophy with children. The advantages of
such materials are that they make philosophical themes easy to recognize and include
reasoning exercises and other philosophical activities. There is a wealth of materials
available for introducing philosophy in elementary school classrooms, and many are listed
on this website here. Those with greater sensitivity to philosophical themes and skill at
reasoning and dialogue may use all manner of materials to stimulate a philosophical
inquiry, e.g. film clips, stories the children bring to the classroom, current events, and
children’s literature. It is important that such materials not only present one or more
philosophical themes, but present them as contestable – as something that provokes
questioning and inquiry. Preferably, a variety of perspectives on the theme should be
represented.


Other Practical Considerations


There are numerous considerations to be made in developing an elementary school
philosophy program, including the following:
• What grade(s) or age-levels will be involved?
• Will the program be conducted at a school, a community center, or somewhere else?
• If at a school, will the program be given time in the school day or be conducted at lunch
or after-school?
• How will the program be structured, e.g. as a series of dialogues around philosophical
texts? As a series of debates on controversial issues?
• What kind of space – room, chairs, whiteboard, etc. – would be most conducive to the
program?
• Will the program be voluntary or required?
• What specific objectives will the program be designed to reach?
• How will the program be assessed?
• How will children in the program be assessed?
• What materials will be needed?
• Who will conduct the program and how can that person’s philosophical and pedagogical
qualifications be determined?
• Will the program be, or would it benefit from, a partnership between a school and a
college or university philosophy department?
• Who will need to approve the program and how can that approval be obtained?
• How can interest in the program be generated, among students, parents, teachers,
administrators and community members?
• How will the program be funded?


Reference Site:

http://plato-philosophy.org/getting-started/teaching-elementary-school-philosophy/

 

II. Discussion Questions for Doing Philosophy Using Literature

INTRODUCTION:


These literature lesson plans are geared toward elementary school age students, some more particularly for younger elementary school students and some for older students. All of these stories can also be used with middle and high school students, with adaptations of the questions.

The lesson plans all suggest questions to consider when reading the stories listed here. These questions are not meant to be inclusive—they are possibilities for questions that can inspire philosophical exchanges, based on questions that have come from students when discussing these books. The lists of possible discussion questions are meant to provide some ideas for teachers preparing to use these books to help generate classroom philosophical conversations, but should not replace asking the students what questions the stories raise for them and ensuring that the discussions emerge from the students’ questions.


Index by Book Title
ABCDEFGHIJKLMNOPQRSTUVWXYZ

Index by Field of Philosophy

AestheticsEpistemologyEthicsLogicMetaphysicsPhilosophy of Childhood
Philosophy of EducationPhilosophy of LanguageSocial and Political Philosophy


A


http://depts.washington.edu/nwcenter/images/Books_07.jpg

Albert’s Toothache by Barbara Williams
Alexander and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day by Judith Viorst
Alexander and the Wind-Up Mouse by Leo Lionni
Alice in Wonderland by Lewis Carroll, “A Mad Tea Party”
Amos & Boris by William Steig
An Angel for Solomon Singer by Cynthia Rylant
The Araboolies of Liberty Street by Sam Swope


http://depts.washington.edu/nwcenter/images/Books_stellaluna.jpg

The Art Lesson by Tomie de Paola


B


A Bad Case of Stripes by David Shannon
The Bear That Wasn’t by Frank Tashlin
Benjamin’s Dreadful Dream by Alan Baker
The Big Box by Toni Morrison
The Big Orange Splot by Daniel Manus Pinkwater
Bird by Zetta Elliott
Boodil My Dog by Pija Lindenbaum


http://depts.washington.edu/nwcenter/images/Books_Velveteen_Rabbit.jpg

C


Chrysanthemum by Kevin Henkes
A Color of His Own by Leo Lionni


D


Double Trouble by Philip Cam
The Dragon Who Liked to Spit Fire by Judy Varga
Duck, Death, and the Tulip by Wolf Erlbruch


E


Emily's Art by Peter Catalanotto


http://depts.washington.edu/nwcenter/images/Books_03.jpg

Emma by Wendy Kesselman
Emma's Rug by Allen Say
An Extraordinary Egg by Leo Lionni


F


Fish On A Walk by Eva Muggenthaler
Frederick by Leo Lionni
Frog and Toad Together by Arnold Lobel, “Dragons and Giants”


http://depts.washington.edu/nwcenter/images/Books_05.jpg

Frog and Toad Together by Arnold Lobel, “The Dream”
Frog and Toad Together by Arnold Lobel, “The Garden”
Frog and Toad Together by Arnold Lobel, “The Letter”


G


The Giving Tree by Shel Silverstein
The Great Blueness and Other Predicaments by Arnold Lobel
Green Eggs and Ham by Dr. Seuss


H


http://depts.washington.edu/nwcenter/images/Books_04.jpg

Happy by Mies Van Hout
Harold and the Purple Crayon by Crockett Johnson
Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone by J.K Rowling, Chapter 12, “The Mirror of Erised,”
Hello, Red Fox by Eric Carle
The Hermit Crab by Carter Goodrich
Horton Hears A Who by Dr. Seuss
The Hundred Dresses by Eleanor Estes

I


http://depts.washington.edu/nwcenter/images/Books_02.jpg

I Want To Paint My Bathroom Blue by Ruth Krauss
If You Give a Mouse a Cookie by Laura Joffe Numeroff
The Incredible Painting of Felix Clousseau by Jon Agee
Inch by Inch by Leo Lionni
Ish by Peter Reynolds


J


K


http://depts.washington.edu/nwcenter/images/Books_06.jpg

Knuffle Bunny by Mo Willems


L


Little Blue and Little Yellow by Leo Lionni
The Lorax by Dr. Seuss


M


Magic by Philip Cam
The Man Who Kept His Heart in a Bucket by Sonia Levitin
Matthew's Dream by Leo Lionni
Morris the Moose by B. Wiseman
My Friend the Monster by Clyde Robert Bulla


N


O


The Obstinate Pen by Frank Dormer
On the Verandah by Philip Cam
Owl at Home by Arnold Lobel, "Owl and the Moon"
Owl at Home by Arnold Lobel, “Tear-Water Tea"


P


Peach & Blue by Sarah S. Kilborne
A Penguin Story by Antoinette Portis


Q


R


The Rainbow Fish by Peter Catalanotto
The Real Thief by William Steig
The Runaway Bunny by Margaret Wise Brown


S


Standing Up to Mr. O by Claudia Mills
Stellaluna by Jannell Cannon
Stuart Little by E.B. White, Chapter 12, “The Schoolroom”
Swimmy by Leo Lionni
Sylvester and the Magic Pebble by William Steig


T


The Tale of Peter Rabbit by Beatrix Potter
The Three Questions by Jon J Muth
Tuck Everlasting by Natalie Babbit


U


The Ugly Duckling by Hans Christian Andersen


V


The Velveteen Rabbit by Margery Williams
The Very Hungry Caterpillar by Eric Carle


W


Where The Wild Things Are by Maurice Sendak
Why do I Have to Eat Off the Floor? by Chris Hornsey
Why? by Lindsay Camp and Tony Ross
Wilfred Gordon McDonald Partridge by Mem Fox
A Wrinkle in Time by Madeleine L’Engle


X


Y


Yellow and Pink by William Steig
You Can’t Say You Can’t Play by Vivien Paley


Z


Aesthetics


Alexander and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day by Judith Viorst
The Art Lesson by Tomie de Paola
The Big Orange Splot by Daniel Manus Pinkwater
Bird by Zetta Elliott
A Color of His Own by Leo Lionni
Emily's Art by Peter Catalanotto
Emma by Wendy Kesselman
Emma's Rug by Allen Say
An Extraordinary Egg by Leo Lionni
Frog and Toad Together by Arnold Lobel, “The Letter”
Hello, Red Fox by Eric Carle
I Want To Paint My Bathroom Blue by Ruth Krauss
The Incredible Painting of Felix Clousseau by Jon Agee
Ish by Peter Reynolds
Matthew's Dream by Leo Lionni
Peach & Blue by Sarah S. Kilborne
The Ugly Duckling by Hans Christian Andersen
The Very Hungry Caterpillar by Eric Carle


Epistemology


The Bear That Wasn’t by Frank Tashlin
Benjamin’s Dreadful Dream by Alan Baker
The Big Box by Toni Morrison
Boodil My Dog by Pija Lindenbaum
An Extraordinary Egg by Leo Lionni
Frog and Toad Together by Arnold Lobel, “The Dream”
Green Eggs and Ham by Dr. Seuss
Harold and the Purple Crayon by Crockett Johnson
Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone by J.K Rowling, Chapter 12, “The Mirror of Erised,”
Horton Hears A Who by Dr. Seuss
Little Blue and Little Yellow by Leo Lionni
Magic by Philip Cam
The Man Who Kept His Heart in a Bucket by Sonia Levitin
Morris the Moose by B. Wiseman
The Obstinate Pen by Frank Dormer
Owl at Home by Arnold Lobel, "Owl and the Moon"
A Penguin Story by Antoinette Portis
Sylvester and the Magic Pebble by William Steig
Where The Wild Things Are by Maurice Sendak
Why? by Lindsay Camp and Tony Ross


Ethics


Albert’s Toothache by Barbara Williams
Alexander and the Wind-Up Mouse by Leo Lionni
Amos & Boris by William Steig
An Angel for Solomon Singer by Cynthia Rylant
A Bad Case of Stripes by David Shannon
Bird by Zetta Elliott
Chrysanthemum by Kevin Henkes
The Dragon Who Liked to Spit Fire by Judy Varga
Frederick by Leo Lionni
Frog and Toad Together by Arnold Lobel, “Dragons and Giants”
Frog and Toad Together by Arnold Lobel, “The Dream”
Frog and Toad Together by Arnold Lobel, “The Garden”
The Giving Tree by Shel Silverstein
The Hermit Crab by Carter Goodrich
The Hundred Dresses by Eleanor Estes
Inch by Inch by Leo Lionni
The Lorax by Dr. Seuss
My Friend the Monster by Clyde Robert Bulla
Peach & Blue by Sarah S. Kilborne
The Rainbow Fish by Peter Catalanotto
The Real Thief by William Steig
Standing Up to Mr. O by Claudia Mills
Stellaluna by Jannell Cannon
Stuart Little by E.B. White, Chapter 12, “The Schoolroom”
Swimmy by Leo Lionni
The Three Questions by Jon J Muth
Tuck Everlasting by Natalie Babbit
The Ugly Duckling by Hans Christian Andersen
The Very Hungry Caterpillar by Eric Carle
Where The Wild Things Are by Maurice Sendak
You Can’t Say You Can’t Play by Vivien Paley


Logic


Alice in Wonderland by Lewis Carroll, “A Mad Tea Party”
Frog and Toad Together by Arnold Lobel, “The Garden”
Frog and Toad Together by Arnold Lobel, “The Letter”
If You Give a Mouse a Cookie by Laura Joffe Numeroff
The Real Thief by William Steig
Why do I Have to Eat Off the Floor? by Chris Hornsey


Metaphysics


Albert’s Toothache by Barbara Williams
Alexander and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day by Judith Viorst
Alice in Wonderland by Lewis Carroll, “A Mad Tea Party”
An Angel for Solomon Singer by Cynthia Rylant
A Bad Case of Stripes by David Shannon
The Bear That Wasn’t by Frank Tashlin
Benjamin’s Dreadful Dream by Alan Baker
The Big Orange Splot by Daniel Manus Pinkwater
Boodil My Dog by Pija Lindenbaum
Chrysanthemum by Kevin Henkes
A Color of His Own by Leo Lionni
Double Trouble by Philip Cam
Duck, Death, and the Tulip by Wolf Erlbruch
Fish On A Walk by Eva Muggenthaler
Frog and Toad Together by Arnold Lobel, “The Dream”
The Giving Tree by Shel Silverstein
The Great Blueness and Other Predicaments by Arnold Lobel
Happy by Mies Van Hout
Hello, Red Fox by Eric Carle
The Hermit Crab by Carter Goodrich
If You Give a Mouse a Cookie by Laura Joffe Numeroff
The Incredible Painting of Felix Clousseau by Jon Agee
Little Blue and Little Yellow by Leo Lionni
Magic by Philip Cam
Morris the Moose by B. Wiseman
The Obstinate Pen by Frank Dormer
On the Verandah by Philip Cam
Owl at Home by Arnold Lobel, "Owl and the Moon"
Owl at Home by Arnold Lobel, “Tear-Water Tea"
A Penguin Story by Antoinette Portis
The Runaway Bunny by Margaret Wise Brown
Stellaluna by Jannell Cannon
Sylvester and the Magic Pebble by William Steig
Tuck Everlasting by Natalie Babbit
The Velveteen Rabbit by Margery Williams
Where The Wild Things Are by Maurice Sendak
Why do I Have to Eat Off the Floor? by Chris Hornsey
Wilfred Gordon McDonald Partridge by Mem Fox
A Wrinkle in Time by Madeleine L’Engle
Yellow and Pink by William Steig


Philosophy of Childhood


Albert’s Toothache by Barbara Williams


Philosophy of Education


You Can’t Say You Can’t Play by Vivien Paley


Philosophy of Language


Alice in Wonderland by Lewis Carroll, “A Mad Tea Party”
Knuffle Bunny by Mo Willems


Social and Political Philosophy


Alexander and the Wind-Up Mouse by Leo Lionni
The Araboolies of Liberty Street by Sam Swope
The Big Box by Toni Morrison
The Big Orange Splot by Daniel Manus Pinkwater
Bird by Zetta Elliott
Frederick by Leo Lionni
Inch by Inch by Leo Lionni
My Friend the Monster by Clyde Robert Bulla
The Rainbow Fish by Peter Catalanotto
Swimmy by Leo Lionni


Reference:


http://depts.washington.edu/nwcenter/dqswimmy.html

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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