Wondering Aloud: Philosophy With Young People

“Shivers”

Arnold Lobel is probably my favorite children’s book author, and a master at generating philosophically suggestive narratives. The Frog and Toad books, in particular, are full of stories that raise many puzzles about life and experience. One of my favorites is the story “Shivers,” in Days With Frog and Toad. Frog tells Toad a ghost […]

A Shelter in Our Car

In A Shelter in Our Car, Monica Gunning depicts the experiences of eight-year-old Zettie and her mother, who have come to the United States after Zettie’s father’s death. They are temporarily homeless, due to the struggle Zettie’s mother has been having to find reliable work. After they have spent some time in a shelter, which, Zettie […]

Amazing Grace

Mary Hoffman’s 1991 picture book Amazing Grace tells the story of Grace, who loves stories and especially loves acting them out. Filled with imagination and dramatic flair, Grace decides that she will play the part of Peter Pan when her teacher tells the class that they are going to perform the play. One student tells her, […]

An Extraordinary Egg

Leo Lionni’s picture books are wonderful for thinking with children about philosophical questions. I’m working on a paper about Lionni and philosophy for children, and last night I read his An Extraordinary Egg. In the story, Jessica. a frog, lives with two other frogs. Jessica is “full of wonder,” and frequently ventures out on long […]

And the Pursuit of Happiness

Maira Kalman writes a wonderful illustrated New York Times blog, “And the Pursuit of Happiness,” about American democracy, with a new post on the last Friday of every month. In March she wrote “So Moved,” about tolerance, the democratic process, civility and compromise. It is a marvelous piece to use to broach these issues with […]

Being a Friend

Last week I was in a fourth grade classroom and we read the story The Invisible Boy by Trudy Ludwig, a picture book I’ve written about previously in this blog. We started our discussion with a question asked by one of the students about why Brian thought he was invisible. This students wondered whether Brian should […]

Being Alone and Being Lonely

I decided to write about another of Arnold Lobels’ Frog and Toad stories today. Along with being joyful and charming, Lobel’s work is, in my estimation, among the most deeply philosophical of any children’s book author. In “Alone,” a story in Days With Frog and Toad, Toad shows up at Frog’s house to find a note on Frog’s […]

Benjamin’s Dreadful Dream

Dreaming is a source of fascination for most children, and the topic can lead to examinations of questions about knowledge, and the relationship between reality and experience. Benjamin’s Dreadful Dream is Alan Baker’s picture book about the hamster Benjamin, who one night decides to get up and have a snack when he can’t sleep. Quickly, all kinds […]

Blind Painter

The “Blind Painter” activity, created by my colleague David Shapiro, is a creative and engaging exercise that always inspires a lively conversation and is a great tool for building community. The activity focuses on two key skills, both important for doing philosophy — clear communication and active listening. When we do philosophy, it’s very important that we learn to […]

Boodil My Dog

Boodil My Dog by Pija Lindenbaum tells the story of a child’s relationship with the family dog, Boodil, a bull terrier. The child describes Boodil as “brilliant,” “fierce, strong and brave,” with “nerves of steel.” The drawings in the story, however, paint a different picture, as Boodil is shown, among other things, moving very slowly, […]

Children Make Terrible Pets

Children Make Terrible Pets, Peter Brown’s picture book about a young bear, Lucy, who one day notices a small boy hiding in the bushes and watching her. Lucy thinks the boy is adorable, calling him “Squeaker” because he “makes funny sounds.” She asks her mother, who reluctantly acquiesces, if she can keep Squeaker as a […]

Children’s Perspectives on Childhood

Last month I had a conversation with a group of fifth grade students about the differences between children and adults, including whether they would prefer to be children or adults. We began with the students discussing what they saw as the main differences between being a child and being an adult.The children contended that children, […]

Children’s rights

The book For Every Child, published in 2001 in association with Unicef, with text by Caroline Castle and a forward by Archbiship Desmond Tutu, lists some of the rights enumerated in the U.N. Convention on the Rights of the Child, in accessible language and with magnificent illustrations by 14 different artists. For example, the rights […]

Click, Clack, Moo Cows That Type

My colleague Karen Emmerman, the Center for Philosophy for Children’s Education Director, has contributed this guest post: Doreen Cronin’s book Click, Clack, Moo Cows That Type is one of my favorite books to use in philosophy for children sessions. It lends itself to many different sorts of wondering.   In the book, animals on a farm acquire […]

College Students in Pre-College Classrooms: Philosophy Books and Other Ideas

Thursday was our last seminar session at UW for the spring. Through this class, twelve college students introduced philosophy into public school classrooms around Seattle over the quarter. The seminar included students majoring in philosophy and education. On Thursday the seminar students presented the lesson plans they had implemented in the classrooms in which they […]

College Students in Seattle Schools

We began our Philosophy for Children seminar at the University of Washington earlier this month, and this quarter we have 10 students going into 8 different classrooms, from 1st to 12th grade, in six different Seattle public schools. The students are facilitating philosophy sessions in our seminar to help them to get ready to do […]

Death and Philosophy

If we did not die, if our existence did not unravel in the endless darkness of death, would life be quite so precious, so extraordinary, so moving? Andre Comte-Sponville,Professor of Philosophy at the Sorbonne Whenever I ask students what they think are the most fundamental questions of human life, always on the list is some […]

Do I need this or just want it?

Distinguishing between what we need and what we want is challenging for all of us, children and adults. One of my colleagues at the Center for Philosophy for Children, Karen Emmerman, has developed a great classroom exercise for thinking about the differences between wants and needs. Step One: Identifying Wants and NeedsGive the students a […]

Does everything have a right to live?

In a fourth grade class at Whittier Elementary School yesterday, we read chapter 3 of Standing Up to Mr. O by Claudia Mills, and the children asked the question, “Does everything have a right to live?” Most of the children responded initially that they thought that everything did have a right to life. Here is an excerpt […]

Elections and Normality

On Wednesday morning after Tuesday’s election, I led my weekly philosophy session with a group of 5th grade students at John Muir Elementary School. The students are primarily immigrants and children of color. I knew that they would want to talk about the presidential election, and so I brought the book, The Araboolies of Liberty […]

Fifth Grade Questions

I had a marvelous class with some fifth grade students yesterday. The first class of the year, we began by talking about what philosophy is and why anyone might be interested in it. I had planned that we would read part of chapter three of Mat Lipman’s Harry Stottlemeier’s Discovery and probably talk about thoughts […]

Fish On A Walk

Fish on A Walk by Eva Muggenthaler is a new picture book that illustrates each picture with only two adjectives — “Happy-Sad,” “Jealous-Accepting,” “Wild-Polite,” etc. — and each picture contains a wealth of activities and behaviors that invite exploration of what these words mean. Can you be jealous and accepting at the same time? If you’re happy can you […]

Four Feet, Two Sandals

Four Feet, Two Sandals, by Karen Lynn Williams and Khadra Mohammed, tells the story of two ten-year-old girls, Lina and Feroza, and their families, who are living in a refugee camp in Pakistan, having fled the war in Afghanistan. The girls become friends when each finds one sandal from a matching pair, after relief workers throw used clothing […]

Fourth Graders and the Story Double Trouble

I had an interesting experience recently with the fourth grade students I’m teaching this year at John Muir Elementary.  I read them the story “Double Trouble” by Philip Cam. A kind of retelling of the “Ship of Theseus,” the story is about a robot whose parts have been replaced, one after another, until he no […]

Fractions = Trouble!

Claudia Mills’ latest book Fractions = Trouble! is about Wilson, who is having trouble with math in his third grade classroom, and so his parents hire a math tutor to help him. Embarrassed by this, Wilson is determined to keep it a secret from everyone at school. Wilson’s interactions with his tutor, his brother Kipper, his […]

Freedom and Following the Rules

In a third grade classroom at John Muir Elementary this morning, I read Toni Morrison’s The Big Box with the students. The story is about three children who are put into a “big box” after the adults in their lives conclude that they can’t “handle their freedom.” The box is full of toys and their […]

Gardening and Some Philosophical Questions

“The Garden” in Frog and Toad Together is another of Arnold Lobel’s delightful stories about the friends Frog and Toad, and one that is perfect for the early spring, which we’re experiencing in Seattle this month, with the cherry trees in full blossom.When Toad sees Frog’s beautiful garden, Toad decides that he too would like to […]

Getting philosophy into classrooms

I’m often asked how the center got started and about ways to get into schools to do philosophy with young people. I decided to start the center when I was about to finish my Ph.D. in 1996. I had become interested in working with pre-college students, and a non-profit center seemed to me the best […]

Happy

Mies Van Hout’s Happy explores feelings by illustrating one word – brave, surprised, proud, angry – with lively pastels of unusual-looking fish. The book is engaging and the simple structure makes it easy to discuss with children some interesting questions about feelings and emotions. What is an emotion? Are emotions and feelings the same? Do the […]

Harold and the Purple Crayon

What can we know about the nature of reality? A wonderful story for motivating conversations about this question is Harold and the Purple Crayon by Crockett Johnson. First published in 1955, the story begins with Harold deciding, “after thinking it over for some time,” to take a walk in the moonlight. No moon is out, so Harold takes […]

High School Philosophy Classes

There is lots of exciting work in philosophy going on in high school classrooms around the country! Here are two public high school philosophy classes about which I’ve recently learned: In Memphis, Michael Burroughs, a graduate student in philosophy at the University of Memphis, is teaching a philosophy class at Booker T. Washington High School. […]

How much philosophy does a pre-college philosophy teacher need to know?

I’m working on a review article for the journal Teaching Philosophy, writing about five books that have been written in the past few years about pre-college philosophy. In the course of reading these books, it’s been interesting to me to observe the range of views about the level of training necessary for a competent pre-college […]

How Should Our City Be Designed?

A recent article described the ways in which many cities are not child-friendly, examining some of the possibilities for designing cities around urban children and their needs and desires. It led me to think about ways to engage children in thinking about their environments and imagining the elements of what would be in their views […]

I’m a Frog!

I’m a Frog is another gem of a picture book by Mo Willems, published this year. It’s one of a series of books about best friends Piggie and Elephant Gerald. Willems’ books are clever and thoughtful, and frequently philosophically provocative. In I’m a Frog, Piggie tells Gerald that she is a frog. Gerald perplexed, responds, “I […]

If I Were In Charge of the World . . .

This week I read the poem “If I Were in Charge of the World” by Judith Viorst with a group of 9-11 year old students in our weekly online philosophy session. Using a lesson plan created by our Education Director Karen Emmerman, I asked the students to consider what they would do if they were […]

Institutional Humility, or What Philosophy Can and Can’t Do

This will be my last blog post until the fall, and I wanted to explore further some of the issues I began examining in my last post.  In particular, I have been thinking more and more about the marketing of philosophy and the ways in which those of us in the field talk about philosophy, […]

Is this really philosophy?

“. . . That slight uncertaintywhich makes us sure.” From Advice from the Museby Richard Wilbur The start of the school year and planning for the year’s philosophy classes. Usually I start my philosophy classes by asking students to offer some possible answers to the question, “What is philosophy?” (Of course there is no incontestable […]

Just Pretend

Benny and Penny in Just Pretend, by Geoffrey Hayes, is an early-reader graphic novel about two siblings and the efforts of the younger child, Penny, to join her brother in “playing pretend.” Constructing pretend worlds is part of many children’s childhoods – I remember when my children wouldn’t answer me unless I addressed them as […]

Listening to Our Children

Somewhat frequently I receive email messages or other communications from parents asking me about how to introduce philosophy into their conversations with their children. The main advice I give people is to listen for the philosophical questions kids ask. I don’t believe that bringing philosophical dialogue into your relationships with your children is about teaching […]

Michael Rosen’s Sad Book

The nature of sadness. Michael Rosen’s Sad Book describes how sadness feels and tries to understand it. “Sometimes sad is very big. It’s everywhere. All over me.” Michael Rosen’s son, Eddie, died, and that, he tells us, is what makes him most sad. “Sometimes I’m sad and I don’t know why. It’s just a cloud […]

Moral Philosophy and the Holocaust: Blog Series Part I

I spent the morning last Friday with two eighth grade classes in the first sessions of a unit I teach every year on “Moral Philosophy and the Holocaust.” I teach the unit with Jane Orme, the eighth grade language arts teacher at Liberty Bell Junior High School, and over the past four years we have […]

Online Philosophy for Children course

The Institute for the Advancement for Philosophy for Children, in Montclair, New Jersey, is offering a fall online class on “Teaching Children Philosophical Thinking.” Here is the description of the class: This innovative course prepares teachers and philosophers to facilitate philosophical dialogue with children and adolescents, in classroom settings and elsewhere. The course is suitable […]

Pezzettino

Leo Lionni’s Pezzettino is the story of the small Pezzettino (which means “little piece” in Italian), who is a small orange square surrounded by other beings who are all made up of many different-colored squares. Pezzettino observes that everyone around him is “big and [does] daring and wonderful things.” He concludes that he must be […]

Philosophy as a way of life

When, in our first class together, I asked the fifth grade students with whom I’m doing philosophy this winter what they imagined was the definition of philosophy, one student volunteered that he thought philosophy was “a way of life.” Of course, I loved the sophistication of this answer, and there are philosophers who hold this […]

Philosophy in the Classroom

This week and next students in our Philosophy for Children seminar at the University of Washington will be doing philosophy lessons in a variety of public school classrooms around Seattle, from 5th through 10th grade. We have been meeting for seven weeks now, and in the seminar we’ve discussed topics ranging from the nature of […]

Picture Books and Aesthetics

I write a lot about picture books and the role they can play in encouraging children to develop their philosophical thinking. I’ve been thinking about the special role of picture books for inspiring inquiry about aesthetics. Picture books are a unique mixture of literature and visual art, and generate the discovery of meaning through a […]

PLATO and a national movement for philosophy in the schools

For most of the 15 years that I’ve been involved in this field, there have been an isolated few of us around the country working to introduce philosophy to pre-college students. But in the last few years, over a dozen new pre-college philosophy programs have begun, and I now hear regularly about additional new efforts […]

Plato with Fourth Graders

I taught my first couple of elementary school classes in the last week, both with fourth grade students in Seattle. It is always amazing to me the level of philosophical interest and understanding shown by children. Yesterday I had a discussion with about 30 fourth graders about Plato’s “Ring of Gyges.” In our conversation, the […]