For Parents: A Resource About Children’s Questions During the Pandemic
When children raise these kinds of questions, adults are often inclined to try to offer an explanation in an effort to comfort a child who is feeling bewildered by the world. But providing comfort or a mollifying explanation may not be what the child needs or wants. They might simply want to talk about their questions, thoughts, and feelings.
Philosophical discussions afford an opportunity for different kinds of interactions with children because, unlike many of the topics about which we talk with children, philosophical questions don’t have settled and definite answers.
Make time to listen to your children’s questions and to think aloud together. Don’t worry about getting to the right answers – the point is to explore the questions. Sometimes the questions are more important than finding the answers.
Monthly Professional Learning Community
From the Director
Like people around the world, we are reeling from the pandemic’s rapid upending of our everyday lives.
Until March, our work in the schools and at the university was busier than ever. A cohort of ten faculty, graduate students, and trained philosophy instructors led regular philosophy sessions in more than 35 classrooms in 9 different schools around Seattle, and dozens of undergraduates visited and participated in our philosophy classes with children. Several new schools joined this year’s High School Ethics Bowl, and the changes we have instituted to make the event more inclusive and dialogical have been enthusiastically received.
Of course, the COVID-19 crisis changed all of that, as well as forced the rescheduling of both our annual June workshop for teachers and the PLATO Conference scheduled to be held in San Diego at the end of June. We are planning that both events will take place in June 2021.
Since the stay at home order, the Center’s work has moved online. We are running weekly Zoom philosophy sessions for groups of children, and we’ve had spirited conversations about such topics as the benefits of uncertainty, the nature of home, and whether we always appreciate things more deeply when we are deprived of them. We are also providing regular philosophy resources and ideas to teachers. Our spring “Philosophy in the Schools” class at UW, involving graduate and undergraduate students, is in full swing, and the students in that class are able to observe and contribute to the Zoom sessions with children.
In April, in response to positive feedback from parents about our Zoom philosophy sessions, we created a resource for addressing some of the issues children are wondering about in response to COVID-19. I was also invited to write an article for The Conversation about children’s big questions during the pandemic.
We are proud that we have been able to use our expertise to contribute in these ways and hope that they will help families to deepen and expand their conversations.
Philosophers in the Schools
Washington State High School Ethics Bowl
In the Press
Why are kids asking such big questions during the pandemic? - The Conversation
When Kids Ask Hard Questions, Don’t Be Afraid to Lean in - Jewish in Seattle Magazine
What Would You Do? - Scholastic Scope
Focus on the (Zoom) Classroom
Since April, several of the Center’s philosophy instructors have been meeting with groups of elementary school students to do philosophy online every week.
With all the stress around the pandemic and resulting school closures, I had no idea what to expect of my sessions. But it’s actually been working well, and I’ve learned that the children are better at using Zoom than I am.
Two weeks ago, we watched a read aloud of They All Saw a Cat by Brendan Wenzel. It’s a beautiful and thoughtfully illustrated book that follows a cat walking through the world. The cat is seen through the eyes of a child, a dog, a fox, and various other creatures. Each perceives the cat differently.
In the previous week, we had discussed how an object can be used in multiple ways if you are imaginative enough. For example, a cheese grater can be used as a sieve or a fly swatter. After reading They All Saw a Cat, one student connected the book to that earlier conversation, and observed that the same cat is perceived differently by different animals because their perspectives are based on the relationship they have with the cat. There isn’t one way to see the cat, they observed, let alone a “right” way.
We spent most of the session reflecting about what influences our perspectives. Students suggested that our early interactions with objects, people, or ideas shape how we come to see them over time. One student told us that he loved eating sweet potatoes as a young child but hates them now because once he became really sick after eating too much of them. A visiting UW student offered the opposite example of hating sweet potatoes as a child, but really enjoying them now. Another student responded that the world would be quite boring if we all had the same likes and perspectives on things. “The world is interesting because people aren’t all the same,” she said. I asked, “If all perspectives are valid, why do we get upset when people disagree with our own?
We ended our session wondering if having a perspective is uniquely a human experience due to our strong emotions and memories. Could computers ever “evolve” to have their own perspectives?
Board of Directors
Kenneth Clatterbaugh, Professor Emeritus of Philosophy at University of Washington
Karen Emmerman, Lecturer, Department of Philosophy & Comparative History of Ideas Program at University of Washington, and Philosopher-in-Residence, John Muir Elementary School, Seattle
Dan Gerler, University of Washington Philosophy Alumnus
Sara Goering, Associate Professor of Philosophy at University of Washington and Center Program Director
Jean Hanson, Community Volunteer and Former Seattle Middle School Teacher
Judith Howard, Professor Emeritus, Sociology & Gender, Women and Sexuality Studies at University of Washington
Polly Hunter, Director of Development at Children’s Hospital at University of Virginia
Jana Mohr Lone, Center Director
Terrance McKittrick, Teacher at Nova High School, Seattle
Janice Moskalik, Instructor in Philosophy at Seattle University
David Shapiro, Faculty in Philosophy at Cascadia Community College and Center Education Director
Christine Stickler, Director of the Pipeline Project at University of Washington
Debi Talukdar, Philosopher-in-Residence, Thurgood Marshall Elementary School, Seattle and Executive Director, PLATO
Jana Mohr Lone, Director
Sara Goering, Program Director
David Shapiro, Education Director
Karen Emmerman, Philosopher-in-Residence at John Muir Elementary School
Kate Goldyn, Outreach Coordinator