Elementary School Students

Philosophers in the Schools


Philosophers in the Schools

PLATO’s “Philosophers in the Schools” program introduces young students in Seattle-area classrooms to philosophy in classes led by PLATO philosophy instructors and UW students. We use children’s literature and a wide range of activities to encourage curiosity and wonder and inspire exploration of some of life’s essential and unsettled questions, such as: Who am I? Is justice possible? What is a good life?

Young people are eager for engagement about the big questions that matter to them, and encouraging this interest helps them learn to trust their own ideas and questions. Because of its emphasis on constructing well-reasoned arguments, anticipating alternative points of view, and thinking analytically, there is no better education than philosophy for learning to think well. It is imperative that children develop the critical thinking and listening skills necessary for participation in a democratic society. 

Philosophy sessions create a community of philosophical inquiry — an intellectually safe environment, in which students develop confidence in expressing their own perspectives, listen to one another, and challenge and build on one another’s thinking. We are not teaching philosophy to young people — we are doing philosophy with them. These young philosophers come to appreciate that there are many ways to understand the world and that their own voices are uniquely valuable.

Philosophers in Residence

In 2013 the Philosopher-in-Residence Program was launched in the Seattle School District at John Muir Elementary School with a grant from the Squire Family Foundation. The program expanded in 2018 to Thurgood Marshall Elementary School with help from additional donor support. These are culturally diverse K-5 schools in Seattle’s south end; many of these students are among those least likely to have access to academic enrichment programs.

The Philosopher-in-Residence Program helps to develop strong and sustainable philosophy programs in these schools by creating ongoing relationships with faculty members and staff, many of whom have engaged in professional development opportunities and attended PLATO workshops.  Parents are also involved.    

As a result, both schools now offer philosophy in multiple classrooms across many grade levels, enabling students to benefit from philosophy discussions throughout their elementary school careers and fostering a philosophical culture throughout the schools.

This program has expanded to three high schools around the country, funded by a grant from the Whiting Foundation. PLATO hopes to launch similar programs in schools around the country.

University of Washington Students

UW graduate and undergraduate students who take Philosophy for Children courses learn to “do” philosophy with young students by facilitating discussions on issues such as the nature of ethics, art, freedom, time, knowledge, and identity. These courses emphasize the “community of philosophical inquiry” model, according to which elementary school students are encouraged to ask their own questions, develop views and articulate reasons for them, and learn from one another. The emphasis is on learning by doing. 

UW students then placed in local schools where they facilitate discussions on subjects such as the nature of art, freedom, time, knowledge, and other topics, supervised and mentored by experienced instructors. These placements take place in part through partnerships developed with the University of Washington’s Riverways Education Partnerships, an outreach program that connects students with tutoring and mentoring opportunities in local schools, and the University of Washington College of Education

What Students Say

“I understand my own thoughts so much better after philosophy!”
– Ten-year-old philosophy student
“I now have a more refined ability to look at the things I think and do and say and figure out why I act the way that I do.  I think this ability is extremely useful because it provides a new way of viewing oneself that can help me become a better person in the long run.”
– High School philosophy student
“A lot of things are possible. A lot more things than we think.”
– Nine-year-old philosophy student
“I really like how it makes people think in a somewhat new way, such as looking inside, instead of just looking out.  It’s a different kind of thought process.”
– High School philosophy student  
“There are no barriers in our minds – we can think of anything.” 
– Eight-year-old philosophy student



What Teachers Say

“Philosophy has been an authentic way to connect the children and their thoughts about the world, allowing for meaningful conversations. I have seen significant social and emotional development throughout the year, which I believe has been positively influenced by the philosophy sessions.”
— Second grade teacher at John Muir Elementary School, Seattle

“I have watched students who never participate in anything at school become excited and exuberant over the chance to express their ideas.”
— Teacher at Nova High School, Seattle

“Philosophy in my first grade classroom has been a powerful means through which my students have been able to wrestle with questions and express their thoughts in a safe yet challenging environment.”
— First grade teacher at John Muir Elementary School, Seattle

“In philosophy my students have learned to listen to others’ ideas and add to them or disagree respectfully.  I hear students who hardly raise their hands in class give intelligent, thought-out opinions or challenge others’ ideas.”
— Fourth grade teacher at Whittier Elementary School, Seattle

When teachers have ongoing philosophy sessions in their classrooms, frequently they become inspired to make philosophy part of their curriculum. This can happen either through regular sessions facilitated by PLATO personnel, or by teachers themselves following up with students to explore topics discussed in philosophy, eventually leading entire philosophy sessions on their own, and attending PLATO workshops for more training.

Online Classes


PLATO runs philosophy sessions online for schools, groups of children, and individual children. These sessions are dedicated to exploring some of life’s big questions, including topics such as friendship and loneliness, the treatment of animals, boredom and creativity, the environment, identity, and happiness. We use books, videos, games, and thought experiments to inspire discussions of the questions that matter to us.

We are happy to work with students and schools from any part of the world.

Philosophical inquiry is often valued for the way it promotes critical thinking. Just as important, it nurtures other essential skills, including empathy, creativity, civil dialogue, listening, and open-mindedness.

For pricing and more information, contact us at info@plato-philosophy.org.

To learn about our success doing philosophy online with children and youth, read this New York Times article.

What Students Say