Background reading and latest thinking on approaches to teaching philosophy and critical thinking to children.

Within the EYFS Practice Guidance shared thinking is described as: ‘Sustained shared thinking involves the adult being aware of the children’s interests and understandings and the adult and children working together to develop an idea or skill. Sustained shared thinking can only happen when there are responsive trusting relationships between adults and children. The adult shows genuine interest, offers encouragement, clarifies ideas and asks open questions. This supports and extends the children’s thinking and helps children to make connections in learning.’

Throughout the EYFS there is reference to thinking skills and opportunities for developing these skills through adult support and modelling, creating an effective learning environment and giving children enough time to develop their ideas.

Within the Learning and Development theme, two key principles, Active Learning and Creativity and Critical thinking support the notion of sustained shared thinking.

  • Active Learning ‘involves other people, objects, ideas and events that engage and involve children for sustained periods.’ It is through sustained play with another, and in the early years with an adult, that shared thinking can really flourish. The thinking process takes time to develop.

  • Creativity and Critical thinking ‘When children have opportunities to play with ideas in different situations and with a variety of resources, they discover connections and come to new and better understandings and ways of doing things. Adult support in this process enhances their ability to think critically and ask questions.’

These thinking processes occur in all areas of Learning and Development. Specifically they can be found within:

  • PSED: Dispositions and Attitudes – ‘how children become interested, excited and motivated about their learning.’

  • CLL: Language for Thinking – ‘how children learn to use language to imagine and recreate roles and experiences and how they use talk to clarify their thinking and ideas or to refer to events they have observed or are curious about.’

  • PSRN: Problem Solving, Reasoning and Numeracy –‘children use their knowledge and skills in these areas to solve problems, generate new questions and make connections across other areas of Learning and Development.’

  • KUW: Exploration and Investigation – ‘how children investigate objects and materials and their properties, learn about change and patterns, similarities and differences, and question how and why things work. Children should be involved in the practical application of their knowledge and skills, which will promote self-esteem through allowing them to make decisions about what to investigate and how to do it.’

  • CD: Being Creative – Responding to Experiences, Expressing and Communicating Ideas – ‘how children respond in a variety of ways to what they see, hear, smell, touch or feel and how, as a result of these encounters, they express and communicate their own ideas, thoughts and feelings.’

  • Opportunities to promote the development of thinking skills within the EYFS are plentiful. In the key messages of effective practice – ‘Play and Exploration’– it states that: ‘children need to experience making mistakes in a safe environment, they need opportunities to test their ideas, to learn through play situations that they have chosen to explore… [In play] they share experiences and understandings, talk and thinking with the other children and the adults who join in the play and explorations.’


In the last few years, theories about thinking skills have led to different methods for actively teaching thinking skills when working with children in Key Stage 1 of the National Curriculum or above.

Instrumental Enrichment (Reuven Feuerstein)
Learning how to learn through discussion and group work, not rote learning and reproduction of the ideas of others. Reuven Feuerstein’s work involved with young immigrants in England after world war two. Because of the traumas these children had suffered they had very low IQs and were labelled ‘uneducable’. Feuerstein worked on discovering what cognitive abilities the young people lacked and then used ‘instrumental enrichment’ techniques based on learning how to learn. This approach helps students to see problems, make connections, motivate themselves and improve their learning.

further reading

Philosophy for Children – Thinking through stories (Matthew Lipman)
Providing children with stories that promote thinking gives them the opportunities and freedom to think for themselves.

Lipman talks about children as born philosophers because of the natural curiosity they have for the world. He believed that education taught facts, people in authority taught opinions, but no one was teaching children to think. His approach was to use stories to provide a starting point for children’s enquiries; these stories promote questioning and discussion and are used in many countries of the world to support the development of reasoning skills.

further reading

Thinking Hats (Edward De Bono)
By learning to understand how emotions affect their thought process, children can develop their creative and logical thinking.

De Bono is well known for his theories on thinking; this method uses colour-coded ‘hats’ for children to wear physically and mentally. There are six hats: white for information gathering, red for feelings, black for negative feelings, yellow for positive points, green for creativity, blue for organisation and planning. Children work in a small group on a problem, and are encouraged to use one ‘hat’ at a time to understand the different ways they can tackle the problem. When they are familiar with the method they can apply it to working alone as well as in group work. This method is generally used with children aged five and over as it is essential to be able to understand their own and other’s feelings while problem solving.

further reading

Thinking Actively in a Social Context (TASC) (Wallace and Adams)
This approach focuses on problem solving, breaking a problem down into pre-assigned stages in order to work through it to a solution.

The stages in the TASC process are: gather and organise what is already known; identify the problem; generate loads of ideas; decide which idea may work best; implement the idea; evaluate the results; decide on the best way to communicate what happened to others. It is a social learning process and involves small groups of children working together.

further reading

Thinking through Primary Teaching (Steve Higgins)
Instigated the notion of developing subject-specific thinking skills so that teachers can integrate them into lessons.

Higgins monitored and evaluated several methods for teaching thinking skills and devised subject-specific skills for teachers to integrate into their lessons.

further reading


A number of books have been published on philosophy for children. Some are intended to be read by children, others by children with their parents, and educators. Recommended reading (with links to the titles on is given below. We would also be interested in any recommendations that you may have, so please email us at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..


The Foundation for Critical Thinking seeks to promote change in education and society through the cultivation of fair-minded critical thinking. It has produced the Miniature Guide to Critical Thinking for Children, which can be downloaded as a pdf here. They have also produced an accompanying video (see below), which is just one of the videos available on the Foundation's YouTube channel.



What is Philosophy for Children?

Philosophy for Children (or P4C) is a movement that aims to encourage children (or adults) to think critically, caringly, creatively and collaboratively. It helps teachers to build a 'community of enquiry' where participants create and enquire into their own questions, and 'learn how to learn' in the process. P4C is designed to develop thinking and reasoning skills and to enhance self esteem. With its emphasis on collaborative and rigorous inquiry, it serves as a powerful educational model for teachers and students at all levels.



A History of P4C

Philosophy for Children (P4C) was created by Professor Matthew Lipman and his associates at the IAPC (Institute for the Advancement of Philosophy for Children) at Montclair State College, New Jersey. Conceived in the late 1960’s in the wake of student unrest, the aim of P4C was to encourage students to be more reasonable, reflective and considerate.

Beginning with his first novel, Harry Stottlemeier’s Discovery, published in 1969, Lipman wrote a series of stories in which characters grappled with philosophical concepts such as stereotyping, reality, relationships and the mind.

Over the course of the 1970’s and ‘80’s, novels for students between the ages of 6 to 16 were written and corresponding training manuals for teachers developed. Tests were conducted in American schools and the results were very promising, showing improvements in reasoning, logic, reading and maths.

In 1990 the BBC produced "Socrates for Six Year Olds", a one hour film on Philosophy for Children. This was broadcast in the UK, the USA, Japan, Israel and other countries around the world.



Key principles of P4C

  • the key practice that starts and drives the whole thinking process is enquiry (interpreted as going beyond information to seek understanding)

  • the key practice that results in significant changes of thought and action is reflection

These aims and processes can be made more explicit if the teacher asks appropriate questions. These can range from a general invitation (such as: Can anyone respond to that?) to more specific calls that require a considered response. There are ten key elements the teacher can introduce to elicit a considered response.

  1. Questions(What don’t we understand here? What questions do we have about this?)

  2. Hypotheses(Does anyone have any alternative suggestions or explanations?)

  3. Reasons(What reasons are there for doing that? What evidence is there for believing this?)

  4. Examples(Can anyone think of an example of this? Can someone think of a counter-example?)

  5. Distinctions(Can we make a distinction here? Can anyone give a definition?)

  6. Connections(Is anyone able to build on that idea? or Can someone link that with another idea?)

  7. Implications(What assumptions lie behind this? What consequences does it lead to?)

  8. Intentions(Is that what was really meant? Is that what we’re really saying?)

  9. Criteria(What makes that an example of X? What are the things that really count here?)

  10. Consistency(Does that conclusion follow? Are these principles/beliefs consistent?)

Broadly speaking, P4C develops four key types of thinking:

  1. Collaborative - thinking with others

  2. Caring - thinking of others

  3. Critical - making reasoned judgements

  4. Creative - creating new ideas



More information on Philosophy for Children can be found at the website of SAPERE (Society for Advancing Philosophical Enquiry and Reflection in Education).




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