As I review today’s photos I understand why Suzanne Axelsson, a philosophy teacher at the Filosofiska Förskola (philosophy preschool) in Stockholm is so highly considered as a practitioner for philosophy with very young children.
I have been following Suzanne through her blog Interaction Imagination for some time but it was magical to observe the way she communicates with children.
Philosophy is at the core of this preschool centre. Suzanne begins the week with a philosophy discussion and this sets the agenda for the week. How this program will develop depends on the children’s conversations and the teacher’s observations.
As an example the previous week they discussed the story of Hansel and Gretel. From this they explored forest animals and which animal would make a good leader, made a trip to a local museum to gather more information, built a Hansel and Gretel house out of blocks, photographed it and then reconstructed it using only the photos. And throughout the week’s activities, the dialogue continues ending with a recorded activity in their logbook. Much more on Suzanne’s blog on this exercise.
I observed a structured philosophy lesson.
- Suzanne gathered her class (only 7 as 4 had left for the holidays) and passed a box around. After some guessing a note was revealed. Why do children go to preschool? What did you think?
- A discussion commences which she continued to extend with new questions. There was a continuous involvement by all children for more than 20 minutes.
- An assistant who had scribed the conversation then read the dialogue back to the group. This was greatly enjoyed and several children made corrections where they had been misunderstood.
- The session finished with a bubble activity – an exercise in listening (I’ll call out who goes next), self regulation, turn taking and group dynamics (catch the bubbles but make sure you don’t touch anyone else).
It all seemed so simple and normal.
When I started philosophic discussions with this group a year ago they initially lasted around 10 minutes but now they are comfortable to talk for up to 25 minutes, said Suzanne.
Suzanne reiterated what I had heard from both Maaike and Sara. Philosophy is not difficult for young children and need not be difficult for teachers if they are open minded and ready to approach a discussion from child-up rather than adult-down, if they are skilled in asking open-ended questions and if they recognise a philosophy session is not ‘just talk’ but has a clear structure and purpose.
Children enrol at filosofiska, a private non profit making centre in Stockholm, from their first birthday and even in this pre-language stage, basic skills are practiced that are essential when they engage in a philosophic dialogue. They include:-
awareness of others
Suzanne laments we are not training children to be listeners. Communications is made up of talking, reading, writing and listening yet listening, which is the principal method of communicating, ranks lower in percentage of time taken in schools than the others. Perhaps we could also lament that we as adults are not good listeners.
So why do philosophy in the early years? Because it will open teachers up to the possibilities of young children. This is the way they will really understand and know their children, says Suzanne and she made references to Alison Gopnik’s research findings.
What I see at Filosofiska and at Sara and Maiike’s schools, where practitioners are explicitly introducing young children to philosophy, is a challenge to the accepted views of a child’s social and cognitive development.
I returned to Sue Lyle’s research and the point made that by uncritically accepting these views, we may be holding children back.
I refer to Alison Gopnik’s The Philosophical Baby and her conclusion that we have been significantly underrating and misperceiving the mind of a baby and that very young children learn more, create more, care more, and experience more than we had ever have imagined.
But is this Philosophy? I ask Suzanne.
Certainly. We do not ‘teach philosophy’ but we use the practice of philosophical inquiry as a tool to develop creative, critical and caring thinking in young children.
I talked with Suzanne about The Eyes of the Child project, which demonstrates that the process of ‘thinking’ can take many forms. She has written extensively on this on her blog.
After the children had left, I talked with the staff and together we shared our views on training. That’s for another blog. Thank you dear Suzanne.