Why? A complex world and the ability to think for yourself

Subject: Philosophy

Topic: P4C – Philosophy for Children

Age Group: KS1 & KS2


Why teach children philosophy? Since philosophy is all about asking questions, children are instinctive ‘’philosophers’’. Philosophy can teach your pupils to think more clearly and to be confident in debates and discussions. Socrates, one of the greatest philosophers, pretended that he knew nothing and then he showed people that their ideas were wrong. Transform your classroom into an ancient Greek agora to re-enact a debate on a philosophical enquiry to show your children that all answers and ideas are correct.

This pack exemplify how philosophical enquiries and the use of picture books can be incorporated into sessions for all ages and across curriculum, bringing something important to the life and learning of children. During the intensive discussion, children will have the opportunity to develop critical thinking and reasoning skills as they make sense of arguments and counterarguments. 

The National Curriculum already includes the directive to promote critical and creative thinking across curriculum. Teaching philosophical skills provides children with the tools for enquiry and helps them to unlock their curiosity. Philosophical enquiry enhances learning in English, Citizenship, RE and PSHE. Among the key skills in the National Curriculum, one of the most prominent is communication. An ideal way to improve the quality of both thinking and communication skills in school is to introduce the discipline of philosophy into the curriculum. P4C promotes critical and creative thinking and emphasises the importance of questioning, collaborative enquiry and dialogue, whose roots lie in the Socratic method. Through philosophical dialogue, students develop understanding of abstract concepts such as fairness, normal, good or bad, love. They learn the language of debate and gain an understanding of the difference between argument and quarrelling. In fact, the benefits of teaching philosophy are endless, but the best skills and attitude for children to learn are those that will help them to think for themselves.

Wanda Gajewski
Wandsworth LRS

Librarian’s view:

“Cogito, ergo sum: I think, therefore I am.”

Rene Descartes

Philosophy began thousands of years ago. The earliest philosophers on record lived in ancient Greece is around 600 BCE. Philosophy means ‘love of wisdom’. We all use this method to understand ourselves, and our world, by asking a lot of questions. However, when we are introduced to the idea of philosophy with children, we may be dismissive. The first point to make therefore, is that this is practical philosophy – the process of exploring philosophical questions through Socratic questioning.

Children ask questions and want to understand everything better and see it more clearly. Not all children’s questions are philosophical. So, what are philosophical questions and how can you use them in the primary classroom? Philosophical questions are thought-provoking. They open enquiry, rather than closing it down with a single answer. Pupils will learn that each answer to their previous question raises the next question.

Too begin the philosophical enquiry, pupils make statements such as, ‘I don’t know how old God is’. You can explain to the children that all their statements can be turned into questions. In this way, children learn to ask questions on their own. Your pupils develop the fundamental skill for philosophising which will inspire independent, critical thinking. Philosophical enquiry ignites the curiosity of the world and other people, empowering children in the learning process. 

The programme of philosophical enquiry for children was developed in the 1970s in the USA by Philosophy Professor Matthew Lipman. The aim of the approach was to develop mental and communicative competence in children, including justifying their own judgment; explaining concepts; interpreting and listening to others.

Central to P4C (philosophy for children) is the use of the stimulus. All kinds of stimuli can be used but perhaps the richest opportunities lie in the use of stories. In the early 1990s Dr Karin Murris, a Dutch philosopher working in Britain, wrote about the potential of picture books for eliciting interesting philosophical questions from children. Now, picture books provide a rich stimulus for P4C. The format of the picture book is one already very familiar to young children, and they have both the text and illustrations on which to base their questions. There are a wealth of good quality picture books which are suitable for philosophical enquiry that will enrich your lessons.


Tusk Tusk
by David McKee

Once upon a time all elephants were black and white; they hated each other. The whites lived on one side of the jungle, the blacks on the other. One day they decided to kill each other. Peace-loving elephants from both sides escaped to the darkest jungle and were never seen again. One day the grandchildren of the peace-loving animals appeared, and they were grey!  Since then the elephants have lived in peace.

This story is simple, but the book’s colour and layout powerfully emphasise ‘difference’ and provokes a strong and emotional response from readers.

First, let your children immerse into listening to the story and then go on to exploring the picture book by asking questions. What is this story is about? Is it right to hurt other people or animals? You will keep your class hooked on the story as the young children usually welcome opportunities to discuss moral issues in a structured manner.

Where the Wild Things Are
by Maurice Sendak

Max is wearing his wolf suit and making mischief, his mother calls him ‘’wild thing’’ and he retorts, ‘’I will eat you up’.  She sends him to bed without his supper. In his room a forest starts to grow, and the walls become ‘’the world all around’’. Max steps into a boat and sails off to a place where Wild Things are.  He tames them and they make him the king. After a while, Max feels lonely and wants to be where someone loves him best of all. He sails home and finds his supper waiting for him in his room.

Read the story with your children and look at the illustrations. Tell the children that you are interested in their ideas and responses. Then, by asking a question, for instance ‘’What is a dream?’’, you begin the discussion with your pupils. This story will raise ideas around anger, love and dreaming as some of the intriguing angles for a philosophical enquiry.

Dinosaurs and All That Rubbish by Michael Foreman

A factory owner orders his workers to build him a rocket. The trees are cut down, coal dug and anything that needs to be burnt is burnt. The launch of the rocket is from the top of a waste heap. The factory owner lands on the moon, but there is nothing to see or admire. There are no trees, flowers, or grass.  He is disappointed and chooses to travel to Earth. In the meantime, on Earth, the heat caused by piles of rubbish disturbs the sleeping dinosaurs. They are shocked by the mess and the smell and decide to have a good clear out. Flowers, grass and trees start to grow again. When the man lands on Earth he doesn’t recognise the planet and exclaims that the has found his paradise. This time the Earth belongs to everyone. The dinosaurs emphasize that no parts belong to any one person, but that everything needs to be looked after by everyone.

This picture book focuses on obvious environmental issues and animal rights and conveys a message that we are all responsible for looking after our planet Earth. Let the children work in pairs and invite them to write a few questions, for example ‘’What is a paradise?’’. Then the pupils explore and discuss some of the philosophical concepts.

by Anthony Browne

Zoo tells the story of a family of four visiting a zoo. The eldest of two sons, who is the narrator, tells us about the traffic jam on the way up. He thought that the traffic jam and the animals are all boring, but are the animals bored too? The family appears to be more interested in themselves rather than the animals. The highlight of the day for our narrator was the lunch of burger and chips, his brother liked the monkey hats best, while his dad liked going home best. That night the boy dreams of being in a cage and the story ends with his question: ‘’Do you think animals have dreams?’’.

The thought-provoking images, combined with the influential text, evoke strong emotions, and also give a platform to many ethical questions: animal rights and freedom, for instance.

Let your pupils formulate questions and ideas. Ask the children what is their answer to the boy’s question at the end of the story, ‘’Do you think animals have dreams?’’. Children’s questions and observations will form a base for future sessions and debates.

by Tony Bradman

Michael is a boy who does not fit in at school. He persistently refuses to conform, while pursuing his own interests in flying and spacecraft. He is often in trouble and his teachers give up on him. At the end of the story he flies off in a rocket he has constructed, after independent research, from recycled parts. The teachers then claim that they knew he would go ‘far’.

Michael is an amusing and powerful story. This book touches on all the major themes in philosophy; for example, freedom, the needs of the individual, good and bad. Let the pupils think about their own school experiences and ask them to generate some questions related to the school, curriculum and favourite subject. Your pupils will welcome the opportunities for discussing school rules, classroom behaviour and what it means to be free.

Facilitate a discussion

When teaching P4C (philosophy for children) you might also like to use Storywise: thinking through stories by Karin Murris and Joanna Hayes

Another useful resource when teaching P4C (philosophy for children) is But Why? Developing philosophical thinking in the classroom by Sara Stanley  


Lonely or alone? Building resilience in young children through picture books

Subject: PHSE

Age Group: Upper KS1

Synopsis: Feelings of loneliness are normal, and many children suffer from some form of isolation writes Wanda Gajewski from SLS Wandsworth. In using beautifully illustrated picture books to explore the ideas in this pack, you will not only help to develop the children’s awareness of loneliness and isolation but also enhance their feelings of empathy for others and the children will be able, eventually, to offer help and support to someone who is lonely. 

Wanda Gajewski
Wandsworth LRS

Librarian’s view:

Give your children a reassurance that at certain times in our lives we will all experience feelings of isolation and loneliness. Isolation can take many forms; it can happen where we are physically separated from our family and friends or feel on the outside of things. Incorporating beautifully illustrated picture books, which examine loneliness in an amusing but ultimately reassuring way, and a discussion on being lonely and a role play activity will help you to explore the topic with your class.

Write the word ‘loneliness’ on the board and explain to the children that they are going to listen to a few stories where the main character experiences loneliness. While they are listening to the stories, ask them to think about if they can relate to the main character in each story.

Use the picture books to help children understand that they are not alone. They will see characters learn to deal with feelings of isolation by making new friends, talking with adults and starting new hobbies.

Project Resources

Willy and Hugh
by Anthony Browne

Willy is lonely… and then he meets Hugh. On first appearance they have little in common, but it soon becomes apparent that although they are very different, they both have their own special qualities to bring into their friendship.

The illustrations in this book are subtle and provide an excellent platform for the exploration of the nature of friendship.

The Lonely Beast
by Chris Judge

The Beasts are very quiet creatures, who live alone high in the mountains or deep in the woods.  This is a tale of one such Beast, whose determination to overcome his loneliness leads him to undertake a daring and dangerous quest to find others like him. Question your children how they feel when they are lonely.

Little Beaver and Echo
by Amy MacDonald

Little beaver lives all alone by the edge of the pond. He has no family and he has no friends. Beaver is very sad and lonely. One day he starts to cry and hears someone else crying on the other side of the pond. So Little Beaver sets off to find a friend.

This story beautifully covers the issue of loneliness. The text and the illustrations provide a wonderful context for its exploration.

The Big Ugly Monster and the Little Stone Rabbit
by Christopher Wormell

Once, in a cave, there lived a big ugly monster. Perhaps the ugliest monster in the whole world. He was so ugly that all the animals and birds ran and flew way as soon as they saw him. All around the monster’s cave there was not a single living thing. He was horrible and ugly on the outside, but he was lonely on the inside. He just wanted someone to talk.

You could then ask the pupils to think of ways they can help someone to feel better if they are feeling lonely.

by Birgitta Sif

Oliver felt a bit different. But it didn’t matter as he lived in his own world. He played a tennis match on his own…. He played the piano but no one listened. One day Oliver set off on an adventure and it was the beginning of the best adventure he’d ever had.   

You could then encourage your class to share their own experiences with loneliness and how they can help others who feel lonely.

Discussion and Activities

Facilitate a discussion

Ask the following question: ‘Is being alone the same as being lonely? Ask the children to think of people who choose to be alone for one or another reason.

Ask further questions related to the stories;

  • How did the characters feel at the beginning of the story?
  • How did the characters’ feelings change throughout the story?
  • Do the stories remind you of a time you were lonely?

Through conversation around the picture books and the discussion you can bring children to an awareness of loneliness as natural part of existence that no one can totally avoids. Make sure that you share your own experiences with loneliness in the discussion. Reassure the pupils that everyone feels lonely from time to time.

Suggested fun classroom activities;

  • In a circle time session brainstorm lists of adjectives which describe how people look when they are feeling lonely.
  • Ask children to draw some images for loneliness.
  • Children might like to act out a scene how to treat a new child in their class.
  • Use a Story Sequence Map to retell the story from the beginning to the end.
  • Have your pupils switch seats in your class to help form new friendships.

Saying Goodbye

Subject: Mental Health

Age Group: EY and KS1

Synopsis: Have you ever wondered how to help children deal with a sudden death in the family? Death is never an easy subject to start a conversation about, so what can you do to help writes Wanda Gajewski from SLS Wandsworth. With carefully chosen literature about loss and grief, in particular the much-loved picture book Badger’s parting gift, you can start a discussion that explores the cycle of life and enables you to craft lasting memories with children.   

Wanda Gajewski
Wandsworth LRS

Librarian’s view:

Incorporating picture books into discussion about the cycle of life will help children to understand death and grief. It may help them cope with feelings of sadness after a loved one has died. Children can be naturally curious and are likely to ask many questions, so this is a good time to show children, through nature, that things die. You can use anything around you to illustrate the life cycle, for example flowers. What is the difference between a flower that is alive and a flower that is dead could be a starting point for a discussion.

These picture books about death might also be comforting for children who have not been bereaved, but have questions or anxiety about it.   The books are best used with resources to help the discussion and to inspire activities that will help the children create lasting memories.

Comforting Books

Badger’s parting gifts
by Susan Varley

This comforting book is still one of the most well-loved bereavement books for children. It tells the story of old Badger, who isn’t afraid that he is going to die soon but hopes that his friends won’t be very sad when he is gone. One night, Badger has a lovely dream that he is running on his no-longer tired legs towards a tunnel. In the morning, his friends find that he has died. The woodland folks are very unhappy, but later, they find that Badger has left them special things to remember him by.

Michael Rosen’s Sad Book

This picture book uses words and pictures to express feelings that are sometimes too complicated to explain to other people. Easy to follow for children aged five and up, this is a book for everyone, whether they are missing someone who has died, or care about someone who has been bereaved. Michael Rosen wrote this following the death of his 18-year-old son, Eddie. Complex and often overwhelming feelings are conveyed with beautiful simplicity, accompanied by illustrations that also say as much.

Saying Goodbye to Hare
by Carol Lee

Inspired by author Carol Lee’s experience of supporting her own children through their father’s illness and death, the beautifully illustrated story follows young Rabbit as his good friend Hare becomes ill and dies. As with some of the best books on death and dying, it addresses questions and feelings that younger children may have about death, with honesty and warmth.

The Heart and the Bottle
by Oliver Jeffers

This story is about a little girl who begins to forget about the other things she loves when someone special to her dies. Keeping her heart in a bottle will keep it safe from more hurt, she thinks, until she meets another little girl whose infectious curiosity reminds her about how she used to be.

Always and Forever
by Alan Durant

This picture book may help children understand that feelings of great sadness can eventually give way to comforting memories. Otter, Mole and Hare are so sad when their friend, Fox, dies that they can’t help but think about all the things they miss about him. This makes them feel sadder until Squirrel pays a visit and makes them laugh about some of the happy times they spent with Fox. Squirrel also suggests something they can make in memory of Fox.

Supporting Resources

Resources in the pack:

  • Badger’s parting gift Story prop
  • ‘A first look at death’
  • ‘Goodbye grandma – Helping children to cope with bereavement’

Activities to create lasting memories:

  • Memory boxes – children decorate the box and fill it up with items associated with the person they miss.
  • Patchwork comforters – making them from the clothing of someone special.
  • Christmas decoration – a cufflink or earring could be included in the decoration.