Philosophy with children

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Philosophy with Children in elementary education

Philosophy with Children is a rather recent educational enterprise whose main purpose is to introduce a specific philosophical perspective within the framework of a broader pedagogical project involving elementary education. It is aimed at the development of critical, creative and committed persons, concerned with democratic values and rational dialogue and with the skills related to the ability to think properly for oneself about significant matters.

The idea first emerged in the USA in the 70s, with the gradual elaboration of an exhaustive educational program conducted by Matthew Lipman, consisting in a specific theoretical framework that includes a myriad of pedagogical exercises and resources as well as several manuals providing the teacher with an introduction to the program´s content and suggested ways of proceeding. This meticulous work became the touchstone for thinking a new role for Philosophy regarding pedagogical practices, on the one hand, and for outlining a different perspective with respect to its teaching, on the other.

This educational proposal entails fostering the philosophical dialogue and advancing reflection within a context where both teacher and children integrate a classroom community of inquiry. Such a community concerns itself with the development of critical and creative thinking and with the cultivation of good judgment by means of a dialogical reflective practice based upon questioning and collective construction of sense. In this frame, the role of the Philosophy teacher consists in being the model inquirer, in guiding the philosophical discussion and in coordinating the community, looking after its members’ interests and promoting the configuration of working dynamics that suit the community’s particularities. Thus, the teacher’s skills for asking the appropriate follow-up questions once the dialogue has begun among children and for helping them become more aware of the process of reasoning they use in discussing philosophical themes become the key to a good philosophical practice. Indeed, far from being passive receivers, children are to see themselves as active creators and co-creators of philosophical ideas. From this perspective, Philosophy is conceived as a specific practice that proceeds critically and problematically, constructing and deconstructing the foundations of our common sense knowledge. As Walter Kohan states, Philosophy is not to be considered as a specific body of knowledge but as a “certain relation with knowledge itself” (Kohan 2008:26, translation mine). Therefore, teaching and learning Philosophy involves more of a gesture or an attitude concerning the ability to think differently, rather than the transmission of specific traditional contents.

The gateway to thinking about this new relationship between Philosophy and the teaching-learning processes implied in the Philosophy with Children enterprise is, hence, based upon the conviction that the very core of Philosophy cannot be taught but is to be prompted.


• Kohan W. (2008), Filosofía, la paradoja de aprender y enseñar, Libros del Zorzal, Bs. As.

• Kohan W., Waksman V. (comps.) (2000), Filosofía para niños. Discusión y propuestas, Novedades Educativas, Bs. As.

• Lipman, M., Sharp, A., Oscanyan, F. (1992), La filosofía en el aula, De la Torre, Madrid.

• Sharp A.M. and Reed R.F. (eds.), (1992), Studies in Philosophy for Children. Harry Stottlemeier's Discovery, Temple University, USA.