Resources for Parents, Grandparents, and other Caregivers
The Center for Philosophy for Children is a resource for parents navigating conversations about children’s deeper philosophical questions. 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.
Philosophy During the Pandemic
During this time, many children are grappling with large and difficult questions about such topics as fear and worry, loneliness and isolation, boredom, and illness and death. Our natural inclination might be to try to provide an explanation that resolves the issue temporarily and is somewhat comforting to 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. This resource for parents contains ideas for questions, books, and videos to facilitate conversations with children about the difficult issues they are contemplating at this time.
“But some kids want to think about anything but COVID and the state of affairs right now”
Six months into social distancing practices brought on by COVID, it is possible the children in your lives have reached a point where they no longer want to think, talk, or wonder about COVID-related questions. They may just need a break from their heavy thoughts about isolation, loneliness, boredom, fear, and instability.
With this in mind, we have created a list of ways to engage with children philosophically that center around themes unrelated to current global and national crises. At its heart, philosophy is about the joy of wondering and questioning. We can help children connect to that joy by thinking philosophically alongside them.
As always, the best place to begin is with what the children in your lives are wondering about. Here are suggestions for non-COVID-related topics and prompts.
How can parents and grandparents inspire philosophical conversations with your children and grandchildren?
In most adult-child interactions, the adult is the expert, typically responding to children’s questions by providing answers that the children then take to be settled. Young children are in need of guidance on many levels, and it is our job to help them to develop the skills they need to make their way in the world. It’s natural to take on the role with young children of being a source of information and even wisdom. Accordingly, the role of adult advisor and teacher becomes the dominant paradigm for our exchanges with children.
Philosophical inquiry provides an opportunity for a different kind of interaction with children because these are not the kinds of questions to which the child necessarily expects a definitive answer. Indeed, they are not the kinds of questions that have clearly agreed-upon answers (that’s what makes them philosophical). And so in order to respond to children’s questions in ways that make a space for a philosophical conversation, our role must shift.
Philosophical discussions do not require adults to be the “repositories of wisdom.” Indeed, that role is counterproductive in these kinds of conversations; what we are after is a wide-ranging and open exchange of ideas.
This requires that we listen to our children’s questions, acknowledge their difficulty, and respond with open minds. We are no longer the experts, but rather co-inquirers with our children, seeking with them to better understand the philosophical dimension of human experience.
Instead of reacting to a child’s question with an answer or advice, respond by reflecting about it. What is my child asking? Listen for questions that invite philosophical inquiry (“Are numbers real?”), and then ask your child what prompted the question. (“I was just thinking about numbers-you can’t see or touch them, but are they real?”) Think about the question yourself. You might respond with something like, “Why do you think we have numbers?” or “What do you think it means for something to be real?”
Ask yourself, when your child asks you a question, whether she is searching for meaning, trying to understand a concept or idea in some deep way, or seeking a practical answer (i.e. “How do you tell time?” is probably not an invitation to discuss the nature of time, but “What is time?” might be).
Take advantage of the philosophical suggestiveness of many children’s books. Our site offers many ideas for using children’s books to inspire philosophical conversations. And have fun!
And check out our blog posts on ParentMap