Why do philosophy with children?


Philosophy is like Pandora’s box, it has so many layers.

It imprisons you in a flurry of ideas that will keep you alive and thriving. 

Your main hunger is for ideas.  Anouk Year 5

Just as we learn to speak and read, we also learn to think.  But do we think well?  Are we self critical, aware of our prejudices, generalisations and assumptions when we produce an argument? Do we reason logically?

Philosophic inquiry is not a subject but a methodology to develop critical and creative thinking.  Within a rigorous collaborative environment, students explore abstract concepts and contestable questions and develop the skills of deep inquiry and good reasoning using a range of explicitly taught thinking tools.  These thinking skills include asking open ended questions, reason giving, logic and reasoning, conceptual exploration, developing and testing criteria using example and counter example, examining contestable statements, noting assumptions and generalisations, making distinctions, appreciating classification systems and problem solving. These skills transfer to all other Key Learning Areas and underpin and overlap all other aspects of school life.

There is a growing body of evidence indicating that learning philosophy in elementary school offers students an array of academic, social and emotional benefits. A study undertaken in Scotland reports “Children were more intelligent (av. 6.5 IQ points) after one year on the programme.”

The project Learning to Think: Philosophy in the Classroom undertaken by Buranda State School in Queensland Australia achieved significant and measurable improvements in students’ learning outcomes, with students achieving academic results well above state and national means. The social behaviour of the students also improved to the extent that there is now little or no bullying at the school and student enrolments have quadrupled. Quality Teaching, the Department of Education, Employment and Workplace Relations (DEEWR)

Philosophy was introduced in the Clackmannanshire Council in Scotland as part of its Curriculum for Excellence program.  A detailed evaluation of the Clackmannanshire Thinking through Philosophy project provided evidence that collaborative enquiry can enable pupils to think more independently, communicate more confidently and ultimately become more successful learners. The results of the philosophy program after the first year published by philosopher Stephen Law in Can children think philosophically?

• The incidence of children supporting opinion with evidence doubled, but ‘control’ classes remained unchanged.

• There was evidence that children’s self-esteem and confidence rose markedly.

• The incidence of teachers asking open-ended questions (to better develop enquiry) doubled.

• There was evidence that class ethos and discipline improved noticeably.

• The ratio of teacher/pupil talk halved for teachers and doubled for pupils. Controls remained the same.

• All classes improved significantly (statistically) in verbal, non-verbal, and quantitative reasoning. No control class changed. This means children were more intelligent (av. 6.5 IQ points) after one year on the programme.

These benefits were retained. “When the children were tested again at 14, after two years at secondary school without a philosophy programme, their CAT scores were exactly the same (that’s to say, the improvements that had previously been gained were retained), while the control group scores actually went down during those two years. Three secondary schools were involved and the results replicated themselves over each school.”  British Psychological Society in Topping, K.J & Trickey, S., ‘Collaborative philosophical State inquiry for schoolchildren: Cognitive gains at 2-year follow-up’. British Journal of Educational Psychology, Volume 77, Number 4, December 2007, pp. 787-796(10)

Additional research papers on Philosophy and Children on cognitive and affective skills at compiled by MontClair University.