I became interested and involved in P4C while teaching philosophy to high school and college students. It worried me that many of the young people in my classes had never been encouraged to construct their own arguments, debate opposing viewpoints, or disagree with their instructors. I got my hands on literature from Matthew Lipman and Gareth Matthews, and started on a manuscript that I hoped would speak to children themselves, but would also make reluctant parents and teachers comfortable enough to approach difficult questions.
What eventually resulted was a series of seven books, each focusing on a particular branch of philosophy. Very early on in the process, I decided to present big questions with the help of a child narrator, Sophia the Wise. Sophia is precocious, funny, inquisitive, and thanks to a great illustrator, quite colourful. With her help, readers are presented with a handful of questions and possible approaches to them.
At the request of parents, I included dialogue between Sophia and famous philosophers. In addition to a desire to teach their children a little history, parents wanted to convey the idea that philosophy was something that real people do, and have been doing for thousands of years. I’ve been pleasantly surprised at how readily children respond to figures like Socrates, Hypatia, and Nietzsche (in his case, the crazy moustache probably helps). My philosophical education was based largely on scholars who were male and western, so when choosing thinkers to feature in the books, I sought out both women and men from around the world.
A final addition to the books were activity pages and thought experiments. With these, I really wanted to send a message that ideas are meant to be played with. It was important to me that the books build on verbal discussions with creative and kinaesthetic tasks, so that a wide variety of learners would be engaged.
We weren’t even finished producing the print versions of the books when we decided to go digital with them. Each one of the books has a corresponding mobile app that’s narrated, animated, and contains even more activities. We’re thrilled that people from around the world are using them, and have heard from parents of reluctant readers , gifted children, children with learning challenges, and those learning English as a second language.
Following the apps, we created packages of teacher resources to accompany the books. 21st Century skills like problem solving and critical thinking are being emphasized in all levels of education, but it’s not often made clear how an educator should implement them into core curriculum. Philosophy seemed a natural fit, but because it isn’t often taught at the elementary level as a subject unto itself, we took a cross-curricular approach, our materials strive to encourage teachers to find the philosophical questions in any area of the curriculum.
My goal in all of this was twofold: to create materials that children would enjoy reading themselves, and to make parents and teachers more comfortable creating an open dialogue with young learners. The children I’ve met in workshops have absolutely floored me with their wisdom, and with their willingness to leap into inquiry. The parents and educators I’ve spoken with have impressed me with their own willingness to say to their children “That’s a really good question. Let’s talk about it.” Getting the word out about P4C has led me to become involved in social media, and I’m excited about the prospect of building online communities in philosophy that encompass all kinds of thinkers.
Amy Leask has an MA in Philosophy from McMaster University, and taught at the high school and college level for over 10 years. She is the author of ThinkAboutIt: Philosophy for Kids and Vice President of Enable Education in Milton, Ontario, Canada. In addition to writing philosophy materials for children, she creates curriculum resources for STEM/STEAM education and 21st Century Skills, and runs two different education blogs.