How motivating to go on a course that really inspires you! I recently attended a two-day Philosophy for Children (P4C) course run by Sara Stanley, an early years teacher from the UK as well as a level 1 trainer, which made me re-think how we approach the learning and teaching of young children.
The aim of P4C is to encourage children (and adults) to think critically, caringly, creatively and collaboratively. Instead of asking children ‘what did you do today?’, children are also asked ‘what did you think about/talk about/understand today?’.
Through the examples and case studies of children as young as 3 years, it was possible to see the way in which children are active thinkers who very soon learn to make choices and decisions about good and bad, better and worse, same and different, and are able to put forward their reasons and thoughts on these decisions. These concepts are the building blocks for a thoughtful engagement with the world and those around us and scaffolding for the critical thinking necessary to engage effectively with school content.
Key to this approach is that teachers learn how to build a ‘community of enquiry’ where children create and enquire into their own questions, and ‘learn how to learn’ in the process. There are a number of tools and skills that teachers are taught for creating these communities. The ‘Thinking Bridge’, for example, is a visual reminder (often cards which are arranged as bricks on a wall) of what the teacher and children are trying to achieve through the dialogue and enquiry. This could include:
- We thought for ourselves
- We invited others into the dialogue
- We respected others’ ideas
- We made connections
- We found a space to talk in
- We helped each other understand
It was clear to me that these are essential skills not only for being a confident thinker, but for developing our social skills in communities and societies strongly characterised by diversity.
Storybooks are often used as the ‘trigger’ for questions and dialogue, as are toys, art, music etc. However, this is not a resource-intensive approach. A piece of paper with questions on it, called the Question Board, can just as effectively be used to encourage children’s thinking and reasoning skills:
- Cuddles ? or Presents?
- Scary kittens? or Happy monsters?
- Teachers with wands? or
- Witches with handbags? or
- Kings with clown hats?
Who can come to your party?
- A burglar? or
- A witch? or
- An alien?
All of these questions contain within them, many many opportunities for children to explore, think, discuss, remember, ask more questions, choose, learn about imaginary and factual etc.
While the two days was just the tip of the iceberg of this fascinating approach, I definitely want to learn more. Thinking has never been so much fun!
We are currently looking at the possibility of bringing out Sara later on in the year to coincide with the 6th International Conference on Critical Thinking, Enquiry Based Learning and Philosophy with Children due to take place on 30 August-02 September 2013 at the University of Cape Town, South Africa.
Sara has written three books ‘Why think? Philosophical Play from 3-11’; ‘But why? Developing philosophical thinking in the classroom’ and ‘Creating enquiring minds’ (see www.childrenthinking.co.uk ).