Philosophy for Children at the Freud Museum

A ‘philosophy for children’ session in full swing at the Freud Museum

Once a month, children have been getting together at the Freud Museum to discuss big philosophical ideas.

Their dialogues are conducted under the expert facilitation of Peter Worley from The Philosophy Foundation (TPF).

We asked him what it was all about.

Our philosophy sessions consist of open discussions that delve into philosophical themes.

We use various stimulus materials, including picture books, activities and poems.

The facilitator guides these discussions with strategic questions, encouraging participants to explore and expand their understanding collaboratively. These interactions are designed to help children think critically and articulate their reasoning clearly, enhancing their ability to form and evaluate arguments.

Essentially, they are engaging as a community in philosophical enquiry, learning to express and refine their ideas together.

Peter Worley and TPF have spent 20 years developing their signature methodology.

For example, in a lesson on inference-making, we explored the following statement:

‘If Mr. Worley has an Irish Rugby ball, then he must be Irish.’

“The children learned to critically engage with each other and reflect on their own thoughts in a respectful and collaborative manner.”Peter Worley

One of the key strengths above other discussion-based activities is its rigour: One participant suggested that if I were Irish, I would have an Irish accent, relying on the common inference that people from certain places have specific accents. However, another participant, E, challenged this inference by sharing that although he is from a particular country, he does not have that country’s accent because he lives in the UK. This counterexample prompted the original speaker to reconsider, admitting:

‘Actually, I’ve changed my mind because of what E said,’

and further illustrated his point by mentioning,

‘My gran is from a certain country, but she doesn’t speak with that accent either.’

Through this exercise, the children learned to critically engage with each other and reflect on their own thoughts in a respectful and collaborative manner. This is typical of our sessions which all aim to incorporate evaluative elements, teaching participants to apply critical thinking skills to assess the claims they encounter.

The critically evaluative elements are apparent in the example.

What other benefits of philosophy are there?

Philosophy has many benefits but the way that we do it, with children, is a dialogue-based, critical, and collaborative approach embodying many values:

  • Exploration – the enquiries begin in an exploratory mode of searching and discovery. Participants contribute at their own level drawing on their intuitive ideas and experiences.
  • Autonomy – Children are encouraged to think independently but with a mindful consideration of others’ views.
  • Dissent – philosophy is where thinking differently is celebrated. Challenge is encouraged (alongside respect). Disagreement is nurtured and treated constructively.
  • Enquiry – philosophy is the place where all the doors are there to be opened and looked behind, where curiosity is the motivating guide for participants, where straying off the path IS the path.
  • Open, questioning mindset – this is where the questioning goes way beyond the yes/no answers to uncover what pupils are really thinking. Enabling pupils much deeper by themselves, whilst never using leading questions to push them in a direction.
  • Friendship – a community of philosophical enquiry is a place where the participants meet as ‘friends’, they welcome each other, they listen to and understand each other, they approach things together in a spirit of critical collaboration, good humour, fairness and charity.
  • Excellence – (not to be confused with ‘elitism’) a community of enquiry aspires to better answers and draws upon the best answer or answers offered. The enquirers are not afraid of being wrong, of modifying their ideas or even rejecting what they believed at the beginning of the session.
  • Oracy – philosophy is one of the best ways to activate, practice and improve speaking, thinking and listening. Yes, philosophy is about thinking (having ideas), but it is also about how we use talk to articulate our thinking or communicate our ideas, and it is about how we can better understand, through listening, the ideas of others as well as our own.

These values are adapted from Peter’s book, Corrupting Youth.

This approach to doing philosophy conversationally in a Socratic mode of enquiry is called PhiE (philosophical enquiry) and has been developed over more than 20 years by The Philosophy Foundation’s Founder Peter Worley with his colleagues at TPF. The method is described in detail in his two-volume book Corrupting Youth (Rowman & Littlefield 2021), named after the charge against Socrates when he was condemned to death by his peers in ancient Athens for engaging the young people of the city in philosophical conversations. Lesson plans and classroom activities can be found in his books, The If Machine (2011, 2019 Bloomsbury), The Philosophy Shop (2012 Crown House), The If Odyssey (2013 Bloomsbury), 40 Lessons to Get Children Thinking (2015 Bloomsbury).

Peter is a resident philosopher at the Freud Museum.

The philosophy sessions take place every second Sunday of the month

If you know a young person between the ages of 5 and 10 who likes to think outside the box, challenge ideas or explore their own thinking, why not sign up to a session?

Details of upcoming sessions, plus access to our families e-newsletter, are available on our families page.

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