Resources for Parents, Grandparents, and Family Members

Navigating Philosophical Questions

PLATO is a resource for parents and other family members 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, questions of philosophy don’t have settled and definite answers (that’s what makes them philosophical).

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.

How can parents and grandparents inspire philosophical conversations with children?

Some Guidance

Children’s Literature
A wonderful way to begin thinking philosophically with children is to take advantage of the philosophical suggestiveness of many children’s books. Look at our book-based lesson plans for inspiration! Some authors we rely on regularly for philosophy sessions with young people include Arnold Lobel, Leo Lionni, E.B. White, Jacqueline Woodson, Margaret Wise Brown, and Natalie Babbitt. If you don’t have access to the book, you can often find a read-aloud on the internet.

PLATO’s Philosophy Toolkit
Here you will find many philosophical prompts based on activities, thought experiments, and more! You can search by grade level, topic, philosophical area, and keyword. There are also many posts in our blog Wondering Aloud that describe prompts and questions that might be helpful to you.

Special Topics
At times, we find ourselves navigating challenging circumstances with children—the death of a family member or beloved pet, a particularly lonely or anxious time. We have put together some prompts to help people of all ages reflect about these topics.

A Different Kind of Interaction

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.

Philosophy provides an opportunity for a different kind of interaction because these are not the kinds of questions to which the child necessarily expects or wants a definitive answer. In order to respond to children’s questions in ways that allow for philosophical conversations, our role must shift.

From “Respository of Wisdom” to Co-Inquirer

Philosophical discussions do not require adults to be the “repositories of wisdom.” In these conversations, adults are not the experts, but rather co-inquirers with children, seeking together to better understand human experience.

This requires that adults listen and respond with open minds. Instead of reacting with an answer or advice, reflect about what the child has said. What is the 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 whether your child is searching for meaning, trying to understand a concept in a deep way, or seeking a practical answer. “How do you tell time?” is probably not an invitation to discuss the nature of time, but “What is time?” might be.