philosophy is everywhere

IMG_3536Not only can we do philosophy with very young children but we must do it for it is the evidence that we are listening and respecting children’s dialogues.

I visited Maaike Lahaise, the Director of skrubbelund barnehage (scrubland preschool), a government owned, Reggio Emilia inspired centre of 70 children and 18 adults with the children in three groups – 1-3 years, 3 to 4 years and 5.  Maaike ‘caught the passion’ for philosophy after seeing it in action and has now pioneered this in the centre where she is responsible not only for the centre but also for those children who will start formal school within a year.

I was so warmly welcomed with hellos, high 5’s and a smattering of English words from her class of 4 to 5 year olds. A small group of girls delegated themselves as my minders – one to carry the notebook, one the pen and one my camera and off we went to explore their outdoor area.

Photo by Charlie (4) with Margaret and Maikke and two friends.Of particular note was the amazing confidence the children had with me, the stranger who could not speak, and how quickly they accommodated me. Charlie (4) offered to take my photo with two of my new friends.

We are a family, said Maaike, and the children are free to go into any space including the teacher’s spaces.

Prior to the philosophy lesson, we all sat together to get to know each other and shared a meal – homemade bread, cheeses, meats, spreads water and milk.

IMG_3525M:          Kate, do you want to say something before we eat?

K:          Yes. I want to say thank you for letting me visit, thank you for the food and thank you for being so friendly.

M:          Does anyone else want to say something?

C:          That’s what we do at home but we talk about Jesus too.

And so a conversation began even before the bread was broken and I realised we were in a community of inquiry.

C:                   Hmmm this looks good so it must taste good

M:                   Can something look good and not taste good?

C:                   No. Everything looks bad if I’ve not tasted it, but when I know what it tastes like then it looks good.

M:                  Is there a difference between food that looks good and food that looks bad?

C:                  Yes something might look good but taste bad

M:                 Can you give me an example?

C:                  Well the food the Sami people eat looks bad like blood pancakes but they taste good. I saw that in a video.

At this point the milk ran out and Maiike asked a child if he could get another carton.

IMG_3526C:                   No. Someone else can get it.

M:                   Are you not able to get it or don’t you want to get it? 

C:                   I have a sore leg

M:                   Does Benjamin not want to get it or he can’t get it? 

More discussion and as most agreed that he didn’t want to get it but one child.  Then a child who had not spoken aloud said,

C:                  But if he does have a bad leg then he can’t get it.


M:                   Okay everyone; in five minutes we can go to have a group chat. Is that a long time or a short time?

And so the discussion continued – even before we had commenced the formal ‘philosophy lesson’.

I considered the point often made by teachers that there is no ‘time’ to do philosophy but that is when philosophy is viewed as a ‘subject’. With young children it is a particular style of conversation – a collaborative conversation between children guided by teachers. To do this, teachers need support on how to recognise the philosophic moves that Maaike does and how to extend the dialogue by giving children practice in thinking skills (giving reasons, giving examples, counter examples, suggestions, conclusions, examples).

It’s actually very simple said Maaike, we must listen to the children. I am a learner too and I learn much from engaging in dialogue with them.

I recalled reading a statement by another outstanding early years practitioner, Sara Stanley in But Why.

You do not have to be a ‘super teacher’ to do P4C – Philosophy for children. You only have to be prepared to value what children have to say, to respect the questions they ask and to provide them with opportunities to develop their thinking. 

IMG_3534After lunch (which the children cleared up)  we went into an adjacent room used for shared talk and drama. Maaike told the children they were going to see a film about animals.  At the first frame one child commented.

C:  But we must have a film in English so Kate can understand it – we know Norwegian and a little English but she knows no Norwegian only English

And from this a discussion began on how we communicate, whether animals can talk to each other, whether animals can they talk at all, whether we could learn an animal language,  whether parrots are really talking? and so it went on again. All in Norwegian but I was able to be understood because children use a variety of ways to communicate if you just listen and watch.

What I have taken away is that

  • Philosophy is everywhere, and even children as young as two can engage in it. I recall a recent conversation by Pip, just two, when asked what should they do next. We have to go to the movies Daddy because the red teddy said so (reason giving) and she will be sad if we don’t.
  • Philosophy is not difficult if you listen to children and are trained to make the philosophic moves through questioning.

But is it Philosophy?

I would say yes because Philosophy is a method of thinking, a learned skill just like reading and writing.  Children have ideas and questions about contestable and abstract concepts and within the collaborative environment and with a skilled facilitator, they can explore them and deepen their understandings.


Sara Stanley, But Why? Developing Philosophic Thinking in the Classroom.

the trinity of theory+practice+training

the village alms house in Kilmington, Oxfordshire
near my acccommodation  – the alms house in Kidlington, Oxfordshire

I am in Oxford visiting SAPERE, the Society for the Advancement of Philosophical Enquiry and Reflection in Education.

My interest is to look at the training and the delivery of philosophy in schools. In New South Wales, we run a similar Level One FAPSA accredited course but this is more on an ad hoc basis. One of my concerns has been the lack of follow-up and support teachers are given after this initial introduction and anecdotally I see evidence that the practice is neither effectively implemented or the interest sustained. As a trainer and modeller, I have also been concerned that while the Level One course was effective for the few, there is no strategy in place to promote P4C more broadly to the Learning community, nor is there in place a top-down strategy to offer continued support for teachers and schools.

SAPERE is a registered charity with a network of 60 professional trainers across the UK to deliver P4C training in initial Teacher Education and Continuing Professional Development programs for teachers and schools.

I met with Lizzy Lewis, the Development Manager for SAPERE and who is also the President of ICPIC, the International Council of Philosophical Inquiry with Children.

with Lizzie outside the Radcliffe Camera
with Lizzy outside the Radcliffe Camera

Going for Gold’ is a new initiative that SAPERE offers schools. It establishes a sustainable professional development training program and ensures that Philosophy as a pedagogy is embedded into the entire school.  A school signs up for a three-year P4C program which involves an initial short intensive whole-of-school professional development training (usually a two day Level One training and follow up day ‘Tools for Thinking’) followed by observations of practice and in school mentoring where necessary by the expert trainers.  Examining the evolution of this comprehensive program first hand has been a worthwhile exercise.

Of particular interest was the very recent development of partnership teams between postgraduate Philosophy students and experienced teachers. There is a long running debate on who should be delivering P4C in schools – the philosophers or the teachers. A SAPERE trainer, Grace Robinson ( has developed a team approach where postgraduate philosophy students partner with an interested experienced teacher.  They meet at an initial two-day SAPERE course and then the student works in tandem with the class teacher to deliver a philosophy program (say once a week) in the class.  This is a win win as the student obtains classroom experience and the teacher is exposed to more ‘philosophy’.  This is certainly something I will be proposing when I return.

A follow up from this is the growth of partnerships between academic institutions and specialist trainers.  While there have been discussions in Australia on how to introduce P4C at the pre-service level, there are few examples of specialist trainers being engaged at the tertiary level.  But at SAPERE, there is a notable growth of specialist trainers presenting modules of P4C as part of teacher training and postgraduate modules.  Currently there are more than ten UK universities in partnership with SAPERE.

Two evenings of reading and a growing confidence that there are pathways to deliver more effective teacher training to both pre-service teachers and in-service teachers.

reflections on week one

let's reconsider our views on the relationship between childhood and adulthood
it’s time to critically examine our views on the concept of the child

This week I have been challenged by a range of theories and practices of childhood and Philosophy and to the call to bring an ‘epistemological shudder‘ to the thinking of those of us who work with children.

I have observed two different styles of philosophic inquiry with children – one a dedicated session with a skilled philosophy practitioner, the other an integrated lesson conducted by the existing teacher with some P4C training.  I have discussed at length what the best practice for the implementation of this program to young children could be and will continue this discussion with Lizzy Lewis at SAPERE in Oxford next week.

I read the oppositional argument to the ‘uncritical’ acceptance of the developmental model of child development and the impact of this has on teachers and teacher/child relationships.  There is a strongly held view within the P4C community (Karin Murris, David Kennedy, Sara Stanley,  Joanna Haynes and Sue Lyle to name a few) that the child is a ‘being‘ rather than ‘becoming‘, a full human being rather than on a developmental trajectory towards adulthood and evidence that the latter limits the uptake of P4C in schools.

But I have been presented with convincing arguments on how the introduction of P4C into teacher training can be an effective tool to bring change to this binary conception of adult/child and ultimately to classroom practice. How we do this will be the purpose of my visit to Oxford next week.  I have much more to read and much more to think about.

Lyle, Sue (2000) Narrative understanding: Developing a theoretical context for understanding how children make meaning in classroom settings‘, Journal of Curriculum Studies, 32: 1, 45 — 63

Further reading:

Davies, Bronwyn, Listening to Children

Taylor, Affrica, Reconfiguring the Natures of Childhood 

in the series Contesting Early Childhood Series edited by Gunhilla Dahlberg and Peter

philosophy with four year olds

Steve in a Philosophy lesson with 4 year olds
Steve in a Philosophy session with 3 and 4 year olds

What an inspiring day. I observed Steve Hoggins, a philosopher and teacher with specialist training in Primary, Nursery and ESL facilitate three philosophy sessions with three and four year olds.  Steve works with The Philosophy Foundation ( a not-for-profit organisation that trains and delivers philosophy programs into schools. Steve is engaged by the Clyde Early Learning Centre in London to deliver three philosophy sessions (one hour per week) for 39 weeks to children in the centre.  The centre has approximately a hundred children from diverse multicultural backgrounds with the majority of children from homes where English is not the first language.

What I saw was impressive.

As we entered the centre, little people rushed over to high-five him. ‘Steve are we going to have Philosophy today?‘  He delivered the three 20-minute sessions in small rooms away from the general hubbub.  The classes are voluntary: one class had 7 girls and one boy, another around the same with 22 attending the final class. It is worth describing the lessons to show the range and scope of what was done with 3-4 year olds.

Lesson One: Who is Pen Man? (philosophic concept – identity)

Steve introduced four identical pencils and after a short game establishing procedures for discussion, he built a Pen Man using a ball for a head, a plastic lunch box for the body and the four pencils for the arms and legs. He used a Paddington Bear soft toy for the children to ask questions and often the child answered the question for PB as well.

Steve:            Ask Paddington Bear who is this?

Child:            Paddington Bear who is this?   He said it was a person.

Steve:            Does someone else want to ask Paddington Bear a question?

This went on in a democratic way and then Steve separated elements of the body and the children discussed a variety of propositions.

Steve:             (legs removed) Is it still the Pen Man if he has no legs?

Steve:             (head separated from the body) Where is the Pen Man now?

Steve:            If you have one leg (or one arm, or no head) are you still a Pen Man?

Lesson Two:   The Three Robbers (philosophic concept – good and bad)

In this lesson Steve read The Three Robbers and the children discussed if the robbers were good or bad. Steve then began improvising further on the story using two children as robbers and the remainder of the class making suggestions on what the robbers (children0 had stolen – my trousers, my shoes, my socks etc., my money? Was the robber who took the money bad? What about the one who took your trousers?

Lesson Three: The Teddy Bears’ Picnic (philosophic concept – sharing)

Steve improvised a story of two bears who went on a picnic. The children added to the story about what they might put in the Bear’s picnic basket. The story continued until  Steve pulled a cake (a round card)  from the bears picnic basket.

Steve:  The bears have decided it’s time to have the cake but there is only one cake. What can we do?

One girl decided that they should cut it up – and cut it into three uneven pieces. She gave one to the first bear and one to the other. The children were concerned that this didn’t seem okay.

Steve: How can we fix this up? Can we make it okay?

After a number of tries, they proposed that they could give it to the Hungry Penguin who was obviously a regularly character, and they then proceeded again to sort out the best way to divide the three unequal pieces.

The children were highly engaged in all sessions even in this hot humid room. There were many elements to the success. One was certainly Steve who had teaching techniques that I had never seen before. He used simple hand/eye movements to give instructions or deal with distractions. He had a very clear set of procedures about listening to each other. He acknowledged every contribution with a thank you (rather than the evaluative response that’s a good idea). He had a very clear idea about the purpose of the lesson. His questioning was highly inclusive but offered choice – ‘Do you want to change something or tell us more’?  The children called him Steve and he totally engaged with the children using a gentle modulated and sometimes singing voice when speaking.

After the sessions, I was invited back to the Worley’s home for a work dinner.  Pete, Emma, Steve and I went long into the night talking about Philosophy and young children. An unexpectedly rich experience. Oh I must mention Katie Worley (4) was there too.

doing Maths on a pirate ship

Principal Louisa Munro-Morris, Kate and Dr. Sue Lyle
with Principal Louisa Munro-Morris and Dr. Sue Lyle

Louisa Munro-Morris, a recently appointed Principal to Landsdowne Primary School in Cardiff is implementing a strategy for radically reforming the Foundation Stage. This included a pirate ship being the location of the Numeracy program.

Louisa is a trained Philosophy teacher and currently completing her PHD on Philosophy and Children.  She is keen to embed Philosophy throughout the school and all teachers in the Foundation Stage have completed a two day SAPERE training course in Philosophy with Children. She has engaged mentors to regularly visit the school to observe and support the teachers as they move away from a prescriptive program to the Story Telling Curriculum. The seven classes within the Foundation stage work closely together to support each other in this new curriculum. Louisa and Kathy, the head of the Foundation Stage, were very open about the problems they have and do encounter trying to  change direction and particularly the resistance from the traditional teachers to the changes to what is already in place. I have consistently observed that change and innovation starts at the top: visionary leaders supporting those teachers who take the challenge to change and working around those teachers who may never be open to change.

the corridors have become learning environments
the corridors have become learning environments

With great pride I was taken to the Pirate Ship. Here in the corridors where once coats and bags were hung was a shared Numeracy centre was built ‘out of bits and pieces’.  Here amongst the anchors, ladders, ship lockers and treasure chests lay the Maths Centre which served all seven Foundation classes. No longer do teachers have to pack and unpack resources as they are stowed in ‘treasure chests’ awaiting the next band of pirates. Bags of gold have replaced counters, kitchen scales show the tilt of the keel, treasure maps showed the coordinates for the dig, places to weigh and measure fish,  a ship’s bell for recording time to complete tasks and an innovative octopus for calculation and pattern matching.  Individual class teachers continue to discover new ways to use the ship to explore mathematical concepts within this shared location.  This ‘built from bits and pieces’ project firmly places Maths within the real world.

I observed a philosophy lesson in the Nursery Class.  The teacher presented a lesson on classifications – a useful philosophic tool – giving the children images of cities and country to place within the two defined categories that were separated by a rope.

Nursery class in a Philosophy session
Nursery class during a Philosophy session

I noted the difficulty the teacher had in giving all children a voice, the difficulty of engaging the whole class in the activity and the difficulty of converting and extending the preliminary activity into a critical inquiry.

This  was a valuable experience making me reflect on what elements of the Philosophy program would be most valuable in difficult environments particularly where many children do not have English as a first language and and how best to support teachers who want to change from an adult–directed style of interacting with children to a more collaborative environment.

I have an abundance of food for thought and I look forward to a few days off this coming weekend to reflect more on what I have seen. Off to London tomorrow.

the storytelling curriculum in action

Four years ago when Anna Bolt was appointed Principal of Glyncollen Primary School in  Swansea, she asked her staff to abandon the formal literacy program and adopt the Story Telling Curriculum (STC) instead. As a pilot she focused on the Foundation Stage, which includes the Nursery School (3 to 4 years) Reception, Year One and Year Two.

With Anna Bolt
with  Principal Anna Bolt

This was radical thinking and planning. It challenged officially sanctioned ways of promoting literacy. It questioned the assumptions made about how children learn to be literate. It disrupted the views of ‘good practice’ and ‘what works’. The approach is led by the theory that narrative understanding is the primary meaning-making tool. It reinforces that children from 3-7 are highly imaginative. As an example of the theory into practice, young children tell their stories to an adult who scribes them. These stories are then read back to the children then become part of the class reading, drama and philosophy stimuli for discussion. In all classrooms, teachers leave motivational triggers for children to explore.

Reception open classrooms with child directed activities
Reception open classrooms with child directed activities

The morning I visited the Reception class, the children had found a letter from the Queen asking for help to find her crown. In the captured moment below, some children were writing letters to the Queen on Ipads, others were creating possible scenarios on how the heist happened and others were redesigning another crown. In this Reception class the class were using The BFG by Roald Dahl as the year long novel.

using the BFG as the year long motivational text
using the BFG as the year long motivational text

I observed how all aspects of the learning curriculum stemmed from the novel like ‘Who is the class giant?’ (measurement), tallying the giant’s tasting table (numeracy), ‘describe the BFG’ (literacy), writing letters on Ipads, creating menus for the BFG,  writing stories, drama and of philosophic discussions the emerged from the story.  This week the discussion question was ‘are Queens and Princesses always good?’ Children are responsible for their own progress which has led to a change in classroom structure. Children work on tasks and the teacher and two aides (yes a teacher and 2 aides for 30 children) move between groups to support the the learning. Teachers programs in Foundations Stage are written after the event demonstrating what and how the teacher has covered rather than the traditional way of planning what will be taught and directing the learning to prescribed outcomes. I talked at length with Sian, the Year Two teacher who had based her year program around James and the Giant Peach and I was able to retrospectively read through her program. Sian had built not only her Literacy program on the novel but also her entire program including Science, Mathematics, and Personal Development. Dr. Sue Lyle had undertaken action research with Sian and in brief they noted that standards had risen dramatically and the biggest impact had been on reading and writing.

My initial thinking is that Story Telling Curriculum could be an effective planning tool in Preschool and Kindergarten classes in Australia. However, I am still trying to get my head around how the dictated outcomes of the curriculum are achieved without any explicit teaching.

Reference: The Impact of the Storytelling Curriculum on Literacy Development for Children Aged Six to Seven and their Teachers, Sue Lyle & Anna Bolt, University of Wales.

walking with moles and badgers, fairies and ghosts

Worms_Head_GowerI arrived mid afternoon at a place I’ve never been before to meet a person I’ve never spoken to before.

Dr Sue Lyle, Director of Dialogue Exchange ( proposed a walk to blow off the cobwebs.

And blown we were by icy Atlantic winds as we trekked ‘in the dying light‘ across the dramatic landscape of the Gower peninsula near Swansea in South Wales.  Here in this ancient land where fact merges with fiction, we followed the paths of moles and badgers, fairies and ghosts, wild ponies and wild poets, and got to know each other.

Sue is a teacher trainer, a prolific writer and a passionate promoter of Philosophy for Children (P4C) and has so generously programmed my next three days.  The current focus of Sue’s research is how children make meaning through talk and particularly the role of collaborative learning and P4C on young children’s learning.

Home now and after homemade soup and fresh baked bread I climbed into bed with a pile of reading material.   Tomorrow is a talk day.

one month to go

9780733320743Just five weeks away from departure and with a mixture of  panic and excitement I’m trying to finish mid year reports, do daily checks on the exchange rate and lock down the meetings many which were arranged over six months ago.  During this trip I will use this site as a diary, categorising posts by noting special people, places and ideas I gather.

The image is from the cover of  Tomorrow by Mark McLeod and illustrated by Kirrily Schell.  It is one of my favourite books to read to young children.