Adventures in Thinking: Philosophy for Kids
After facilitating philosophy workshops for children over the last ten years, I have long dreamed about starting a ‘Philosophy Club’ after school.Ivanhoe Grammar School’s Learning Enrichment Centre was launched this term and provided the perfect springboard for such a program. I jumped at the chance to be involved, developed ‘Adventures in Thinking’ and started planning for the weeks ahead.
Nine hopeful young philosophers (from four different schools) walked through the door on that first afternoon. Would they have the energy after a long day at school, to chase ideas, ‘meet’ philosophers and untangle ancient beliefs?
We started with a tried and true ice breaker called ‘True. True. False’. Each of us took a card and wrote down three facts about ourselves to share with the group. Two facts must be true and one, false. The group then has to guess the false fact. It’s a great game as participants drag out their most outlandish facts to trick each other. I particularly love this ice breaker for philosophy workshops because not only do we learn something interesting about each group member but we soon discover that people, like ideas, can really surprise you. I’m quite sure I don’t look like someone who can ride a unicycle! (And no I haven’t brought it in for a demonstration….yet)
I had written a poem (sent home with course outlines) to paint a picture of what to expect in this program.
Philosophy is the ancient art of asking questions,
reflecting on your experiences,
hatching ideas and
We’ll untangle theories,
Discuss and debate.
Write and think.
Draw and create.
You’ll need to be curious and determined too,
Listen to others
And their point of view.
Because philosophy is not found
in some dusty old book
Peel back the years and take a close look
It’s an adventure in thinking
It’s tried and true
Come my friend,
uncover the philosopher
But essentially each of us had come to the group that afternoon with our own understanding of what a philosophy program might entail, so I started by simply posing the question, “What is Philosophy?” We used a mind map to explore our ideas. With each response, we had an opportunity to talk and share our expectations about what we would do every Thursday afternoon for the next eight weeks. This initial discussion also gave us a chance to determine how the group might operate. What skills and behaviours might we need if we wanted to talk and imaginate and ask questions?
From the very beginning, I wanted to establish that the kids ‘were in control’ and responsible for the way the group worked together.
‘We might need rules’ Isabelle piped up.
‘Ummmm rules..okay.” I said. “So take two cards and on each one, write down two rules that you would choose for our group. Rules that you would be happy to follow.”
Kids take this sort of stuff so seriously and they are no strangers to developing rules in their classrooms. Finally we came and placed our cards inside the discussion circle – 18 rules in all.
What will we do with them? I asked.
‘We need to sort them because some of them mean the same thing.”
So off they went, discussing and sorting and making decisions – together. But we still had a pretty big collection of ‘rules’ or guidelines left at the end of that process.
So in pairs, they took two or three rules and chose the one that they believed would work best for our group.
‘Ice cream and chocolate sauce should be allowed.’ This is a good rule but who would bring it? And did we need it?
‘No running and hitting’ was a rule better suited for outside but we wouldn’t be having a break.
‘Always think about positive things.’ was another possible rule. Having an optimistic attitude is really important but sometimes we might need to discuss hard or sad things.
There is nothing better as a teacher to sit with a group of children working together like this. It creates a positive energy that really binds a group together. Each pair had to present the one rule they had chosen and explain their decision. The rest of the group could then ask questions or clarify points. Finally at the end of this process, we had our set of guidelines.
Here are they:
Philosophers should always ask questions no matter what.
No philosopher is ever right or wrong.
Use your imagination and creativity.
Everyone must respect the thoughts and ideas of others.
Listen to each other at all times.
We were no longer strangers – we are now ready to begin the journey.
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