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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