Thinking things through

Philosophy for Juniors

Humfry Hippo
Thoughtful Tales for Little Ones


Selfishness and Guilt




Philosophy for Seniors

A Matter of Life and Death

Human Needs

The term “philosophy” means, “love of wisdom.”

People act philosophically when they try to find the wise course in life. This involves reflecting about the meaning and purpose of their own lives, the world in which they live, and how they should interact with the world around them.

Introduction for Teachers and Group Leaders

This unit provide a set of ideas to help young children to consider some basic philosophical questions. The activities are mostly designed to occupy an hour, but we assume that teachers will adapt them to their needs.

They are a vehicle for using group discussion to develop a range of important skills:

Basic reasoning and critical thinking – stating opinions, giving reasons, considering alternative viewpoints, being asked to justify your views;

Creative thinking – coming up with ideas for solving problems and developing them in discussion with others;

Active listening – listening carefully to what other people are saying, not interrupting and accepting other people’s right to an opinion;

Concentration – learning to participate and pay attention throughout the whole of a discussion in order to to see the big picture and appreciate wider points of view;

Communication – being able to express their thoughts clearly in words and respond to the reactions of others;

Empathy and social concern – being able to imagine how others feel and show an interest in understanding why others think as they do and why they reach a different conclusion.

It is often helpful to begin by allowing young people to discuss first in small groups. This gives each of them an opportunity to express their ideas in the supportive atmosphere of a friendship group. Allow a set time for group discussion (20-30 minutes) and then bring everyone together for a plenary discussion, which gives them an opportunity to hear the views of others..

Group coordinator:  The teacher or group leader should nominate a discussion coordinator for each group. Make sure that young people take turns to coordinate, so everyone has the opportunity to develop coordination skills. Coordinators tasks are to:

  • Ensure that the group remains focused on the task and discusses the topic fully.
  • Give everyone a chance to express their point of view.
  • Making notes to summarise the views expressed in the group.

Plenary discussion: Ask each group coordinator to briefly summarise the ideas expressed in their group and then try to agree an overall summary of the range of views.  If possible, try to achieve a consensus of views (say to the group, “Have we reached a consensus?”, i.e. a common agreement). If there is no consensus, make an effort to summarise what they still disagree about. Is it about facts or basic values? Disagreements about facts can, in principle, be resolved by further research. When people hold different values, they have different notions about what is right and what is wrong. On some matters it is impossible to reach agreement. In such cases, we have to “agree to disagree”. However, we can still end the discussion as friends who respect each other’s right to hold a different opinion.

Ground Rules for Discussion

It is important to establish some ground rules for discussion and to display these prominently so everyone can see them. The following are common ground rules, but please amend them in the light of experience:

Think before you speak.

Listen fully to what others have to say.

Take turns – Only one person should speak at a time.

Respect other people’s opinions.

Disagree reasonably – If you disagree, then explain why you disagree.

Reach conclusions – You may all agree or disagree. If you end by disagreeing, make a note of what you are disagreeing about – is it about facts or opinions?

Build up a list of helpful phrases that can be used during a discussion, such as:

  • I agree with (person’s name) because…
  • I disagree with (person’s name) because…
  • I think…because…
  • Why do you think that….?
  • Please give your reasons…for…
  • Can you give an example?
  • I have a different example that contradicts that one…
  • Can you generalise from one example? Does it apply to other people or cases?
  • On what basis are you agreeing, or disagreeing, with this?
  • Thank you, you have convinced me that I was wrong.

Role of Teacher and Group Leader

The person organising a discussion has a number of important responsibilities:

  • Ensuring a supportive atmosphere in which everyone feels free to speak and express their views.
  • Encouraging fairness and fair play in the way the discussion is conducted.
  • Ensuring that other reasonable views, which have not come up in discussion, are brought to the attention of the group (without the teacher or group leader imposing their own views on the group).
  • Highlighting disagreements about facts and about values.
  • Helping participants to recognise illogical or inconsistent arguments.
  • Highlighting issues which involve fairness – who will gain and who will lose.
  • Pointing out arguments that do not respect human rights.
  • Encouraging empathy – the ability to imagine yourself in someone else’s position and how you would feel.


Recommended books with ideas that can be adapted for use in an African context:

“Philosophy for Young Children – A Practical Guide” Berys & Morag Gaut, Routledge 2012.

“Children’s Book of Philosophy” DK/ Penguin Random House 2015.

The whole problem with the world is that fools and fanatics are always so certain of themselves,
and wiser people so full of doubts.

Bertrand Russell

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