Skills for philosophy with children: 1
Those of you who have followed me for many years will know that I have been working with children using philosophy with children... not a specific approach such as P4C (philosophy 4 children) or Socratic Dialogue, but something that I have created myself together with my various colleagues over the years. Mostly because none of these techniques I felt, as a whole, could meet the specific needs of the children I was working with... in part due to the fact most is written about children over the age of four (usually much older) and also because one size does not fit all. So I have put bits together, as well as adding other parts from Reggio Emilia, sustained shared thinking, schemas etc etc. The most important has been listening to the children.
I asked myself what do the children need to be able to participate in philosophical dialogues? What do I feel makes a successful philosophical dialogue? How can I support the children to create a successful philosophical dialogue?
A successful philosophical dialogue for me was one where all of the children are engaged, they all have space to participate, it is respectful, the children are asking questions, challenging each other's ideas, and presenting their own theories as well as adjusting them when inspired by the ideas of others. Also it does not require much participation from me, the children have the power and I am just the bare minimum scaffold.
I think there were only a few times that I can actually say that we had a truly successful philosophical dialogue... often I felt my part was bigger than what I was hoping for it to be, but I always tried to keep it to the minimum, but young children do need more scaffolding in their dialogues as each child is in a different place with their communication skills and therefore some help is needed to ensure that all are following each other...
What I noticed from the start was that if children are to enter philosophical dialogues they need to know how to listen to each other, and not just the teacher. So many activities we did during the week were playful experiences to allow the children to practice their listening skills. they also needed self regulation, concentration and focus - so again many activities that allowed the children to practice these skills. It is not enough to just have the philosophy sessions and think the children will gain all the benefits assigned to doing philosophy with children... the children need support to practice the skills needed in other languages other than sitting in a circle talking... Last week I held a philosophy session with a group of 4-6 year olds. It was their first time to do philosophy. I had talking rings ready, and I introduced them, but felt that this kind of turn taking was something that they had already mastered (as I have been with them on and off since last August). I was right. The turn taking was not a problem. the problem they had was holding their concentration and listening to their peers.
As it was the first time I did a warm up question with a vase of flowers in the middle with different flowers and foliage pointing in different directions. This allowed the children to have all have participated in an easy way, by saying what they could see at the front of the bouquet. Each child could see something slightly different. I commented on this... how we could see something different, yet we were all looking at the same vase of flowers - and I compared this to how the conversation might go. That we might be all talking about the same thing but that we will see it in different ways, or feel differently about it. It also comes in very handy during conflicts, allowing the children to see that two or more children had experienced the same event in different ways, so a great way to help the children develop their theory of mind.
The actual dialogue itself did not last so long, and I was not expecting it to either, as it was the first time. But it did allow me to see what kind of activities the children needed to be able to get more out of a philosophy session. So this week our philosophy session looked more like art.
As we have been looking at bugs for the last 2 weeks I decided that this would be good inspiration... I used masking tape on paper to create lots of different shaped and sized sections. In the sections I wrote the children's names. There name could be found 4-5 times.
The children designed their own colour and then used this colour to fill in the sections with their name.
The children needed to focus... if they painted outside of the lines they would paint in someone else's area... how would that person feel? How should we react of someone accidentally paints in your area... or on purpose? How do the children manage space? Do they all paint in the same area at the same time, is their room that way? So many things to think about and negotiate with each other. This was not a session about being creative... but a session to expose the children to problem solving, interactions, thinking, empathy. All skills needed to participate in philosophical dialogues.
What I noticed as I observed is that the concentration wavered here after a short time, and the children went into experimentation. Now I love experimentation with colours and hands and the whole sensory side... but this was not an occasion for that, because as soon as that started they lost the ability to keep within their own area or consider someone else's. Some did not have the concentration to complete all of their areas (despite me giving them the smaller areas, as I suspected they might struggle). What I learned is that this group of children need more time to experiment with colour mixing, with sensory painting and also with how to use a paintbrush (they were massacring the poor things). It's not like I need to give them lessons (maybe the paintbrush usage needs some help) but they do need to be exposed to activities that will allow them to experience these things, to feel satisfied i their bodies so that they then can focus at the task in hand.
This is why play is so important, no matter what the age you are. As it better allows you to focus, as you are not wondering the "what ifs" because you know you have either already tested them in play before, or will get the chance to test them later...
The bubble game is also another tool I use to help the children with turn taking, listening, self regulation, taking joy in other people's joy etc... but I will write a separate post for that...
Many of the children ended up with green... and I use the phrase "ended up" intentionally. I do not feel like their was enough intentional choice about the colour mixing. Which makes me feel they ned more time to experience this.
there were 9 children aged 4-6 in this group today (many are starting to leave for their summer break, as schools have finished)
after finishing painting
I cut the paper into two after wards (as they will be wings, hopefully) and removed the tape
The children painted the white areas black like the wings on insects
above and below... details from one of the bugs we found in the garden