Wondering Aloud: Philosophy With Young People

Summer philosophy seminar for high school teachers

For the first time this summer, there will be a teaching and learning seminar for high school teachers at the American Association of Philosophy Teachers (AAPT) Conference. The seminar will be funded by the Philosophy Learning and Teaching Organization (PLATO), the American Philosophical Association (APA), and AAPT. The AAPT Conference is a well-regarded biennial family-friendly event […]

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 […]

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 […]

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 […]

Exciting Initiatives for 2013-14!

How can summer be over already? The compensation is all of the exciting projects going on this fall! In the Northwest:The first philosopher-in-residence program in Seattle begins at John Muir Elementary School this month – http://depts.washington.edu/nwcenter/aboutuwphilosophersintheschools.html#residence The first Washington State High School Ethics Bowl will be held at the University of Washington on Saturday February 1 […]

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 […]

Loveykins

In this picture book by former British Children’s Laureate Quentin Blake, after a very windy night Angela finds a baby bird who has fallen from his nest. She takes him home and cares for him, feeding him, bundling him in warm blankets so he doesn’t catch cold, and naming him Augustus. She buys a stroller […]

Two New PLATO Initiatives!

I’ve written before about PLATO (Philosophy Learning and Teaching Organization), a national organization that advocates and supports introducing philosophy to K-12 students. Two exciting new projects: a high school essay contest – see here – and annual awards for elementary, middle and high school teachers – see here. Lots of progress in the movement to […]

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 […]

“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 […]

The 60-Second Philosopher

Andrew Pessin’s The 60-Second Philosopher is a series of 60 very short chapters (each two pages) that provide ideas for thinking about a wide range of philosophical topics (time, color, various ethical questions, knowledge, free will, etc.). The first chapter, “The Philosopher Within You,” begins: There’s the legend of the fish who swam around asking […]

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 […]

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 […]

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 […]

Out of My Mind

Sharon Draper’s Out of My Mind is the story of eleven-year-old Melody, born with cerebral palsy and unable to walk, talk, feed herself, or take care of any of her basic needs. Doctors, many teachers, and a host of other adults assume she is incapable of learning, but Melody is highly intelligent and thoughtful, with […]

Is hatred important?

I had a marvelous philosophy session with a fourth grade class at Whittier Elementary School yesterday, in which we read the chapter of E.B. White’s Stuart Little in which Stuart becomes an elementary school substitute teacher for a day. In the chapter, Stuart asks the class to reflect on what the “important things” are. After […]

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 […]

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 […]

Philosophy Learning and Teaching Organization

The 2012-13 school year is off to an energetic start! For teachers and others interested in learning about doing philosophy with children, the new national organization I’ve been involved in founding, PLATO (Philosophy Learning and Teaching Organization), is now accepting members. Click here more more information on the organization and membership: http://plato-philosophy.org We are holding a […]

The If Machine

The If Machine, by Peter Worley, was published in 2011 and is full of ideas for motivating philosophical conversations with children. The first quarter of the book is an introduction to doing philosophy with young people and contains many useful general suggestions for introducing philosophy in elementary school classrooms. The rest of the book is […]

Who is More Trustworthy: Children or Adults?

Earlier this month at Whittier Elementary School in Seattle, a group of fourth grade students and I had a long conversation after reading Barbara Williams’ Albert’s Toothache. We talked about the relationship between telling a lie, telling the truth and making a mistake, and that led to a discussion about why the things children say […]

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 […]

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, […]

The Sleeping Beauty

We all know the story of The Sleeping Beauty, on whom a curse is placed at birth. In the story, the 13th of thirteen wise women, angry because she is not invited to the celebration of Sleeping Beauty’s birth, announces a curse upon Sleeping Beauty: she will prick her finger on a spinning wheel on her […]

Rumpelstiltskin

I’ve been re-reading fairy tales and exploring their philosophical potential. So many questions, especially about ethics, are raised by these stories! I just read a version of the Brothers Grimm story Rumpelstiltskin, as retold and illustrated by Paul Zelinsky. The story can be read, of course, as a morality tale about the greed of Rumpelstiltskin […]

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 […]

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 […]

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 […]

The Universe and Dr. Einstein

I’ve been re-reading the short book The Universe and Dr. Einstein, originally written in 1948 by Lincoln Barnett. I first read and was inspired by this book when I was 17. An engrossing account, written for the general public, of the theories of relativity and quantum mechanics, this is an accessible and effective resource for […]

Wilfrid Gordon McDonald Partridge

Mem Fox’s picture book Wilfrid Gordon McDonald Partridge is the story of a young boy, Wilfrid Gordon, whose “house was next door to an old people’s home and [who] knew all the people who lived there.” His favorite person at the home is Miss Nancy, and Wilfrid Gordon’s father tells him that, at 96, she […]

The experience of childhood

Last week I had a conversation with fourth grade students at John Muir Elementary about the story Albert’s Toothache by Barbara Williams, one of my favorite picture books. In the story, Albert, a turtle, complains that he has a toothache. His family points out that he has no teeth, and so he cannot have a […]

You Can’t Say You Can’t Play

I’ve been re-reading Vivian Paley’s book You Can’t Say You Can’t Play. The book describes Paley’s observation of what she calls the “habit of rejection” year after year in her kindergarten class, in which certain children (the “ruling class,” as she calls them) decide which children will be accepted and which will be excluded, setting the […]

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 […]

The Dragon who liked to spit Fire

This delightful picture book by Judy Varga, written in 1961, tells the story of Darius, a little dragon, and the friendship he develops with young prince Frederic. Can Darius be himself, a dragon who likes nothing more than to spit fire (in many colors), and still be friends with Frederic? Darius decides to move to Frederic’s […]