Moving at the Speed of Creativity by Wesley Fryer

Learning about Philosophy with Younger Kids

Thanks to a VoiceThread project on “The True Story of the Three Little Pigs” by one of my UNT students, I learned recently about the website “Teaching Children Philosophy.” Tom Wartenberg, the creator of the website, published the book “Big Ideas for Little Kids: Teaching Philosophy through Children’s Literature” in 2009. Tom built his website using MediaWiki, and it includes a course website (taught at the Martin Luther King Charter School of Excellence in Springfield, Massachusetts) as well as book modules with teaching resources related to different children’s books which address philosophical issues. Sample course sequences are suggested for courses on Philosophy, Ethics, and “Metaphysics and Epistemology.” Each book module includes entries for:

  1. Book Summary
  2. Guidelines for Philosophical Discussion
  3. Questions for Philosophical Discussion

One example module is for a favorite book and movie of mine, “Fantastic Mr. Fox” by Roald Dahl.

The Fantastic Mr Fox

The suggested questions to discuss how “Boggis, Bunce, and Bean vow to destroy Mr. Fox at all costs” are superb:

  1. In the process of trying to kill Mr. Fox, the farmers destroy the entire hill he lives in. How does this harm others? Did the farmers mean to hurt others?
  2. Is it wrong for the farmers to want to kill Mr. Fox? How about his family? How about all the others harmed, was it wrong to harm them? Why or why not?
  3. Did the three farmers think about the consequences of their actions? What were the consequences? Make a list.
  4. Do you think the farmers will ever catch Mr. Fox? Why or why not? Do you think that it would be good if Mr. Fox never got caught? Why?

We need more openly published and openly licensed instructional materials like these in our classrooms and homes! In addition to checking out Tom’s book, link to his Facebook website. The April 2010 New York Times article, “The Examined Life, Age 8” gives more background about the course, book, website, and idea of using children’s books to help kids learn about philosophy. In reference to a lesson about “The Giving Tree,” Tom stated in the article:

“We don’t actually try to convince them [the students] that trees deserve respect,” he says, “but ask them, ‘What do you think?’ We’re trying to get them engaged in the practice of doing philosophy, versus trying to teach them, say, what Descartes thought about something.

How refreshing is this? Educators working to help young students understand that philosophy is not simply a list of facts to be memorized, but rather an activity in which one can and should ENGAGE. This reminds me of the speech and debate tournament I attended as a volunteer judge a couple of weeks ago in Putnam City, Oklahoma. It can be invigorating to hear young people discuss and debate philosophic ideas!

Something tells me a lot of us, as adults, could learn a great deal more about philosophy through these guided studies Tom has prepared as well! Maybe these book modules could provide some fodder for discussions at your house in the upcoming holiday vacation time?

Hat Tip to Rachel Frank of UNT for sharing the link to Teaching Children Philosophy in her VoiceThread project. What a GREAT example of how important, beneficial, and powerful proper image attribution can be!

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