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What is philosophy for children?

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Philosophy for children is an attempt both to introduce critical thinking and the subject of philosophy to high school students and to explore and develop natural interest in philosophical questions among younger children. In Europe, high school age students have traditionally had at least some philosophy on their curricula; the question in the United States is not whether teenagers are capable of learning philosophy, but how to introduce it and find teachers qualified to do so, as well as funding.

While psychologist Jean Piaget set the paradigm that children are not able to “think about thinking” or engage in philosophy before about age 12, philosopher Gareth Matthews (1929–) argues in Philosophy and the Young Child (1980) that there was evidence of philosophical thought and speech in Piaget’s own young subjects. Before then, Matthew Lipman (1922–) had introduced philosophy to middle school children in Montclair, New Jersey, with his 96-page philosophical novel for children, Harry Stottlemeier’s Discovery (1974). (A philosophical novel for children is a story that raises philosophical issues in language that a child can understand.)

Both Mathews and Lipman have stressed the active nature of children’s philosophical interests. By contrast, Norwegian author Jostein Gaarder’s best-selling young adult novel Sophie’s World: A Novel about the History of Philosophy (1994) leads the reader through a series of studies about philosophy. Thus, philosophy for teenagers may be more didactic than the philosophy already taught to children.

Contemporary journals devoted to teaching children philosophy include Analytic Teaching, The Community of Inquiry Journal, Critical & Creative Thinking, The Australasian Journal of Philosophy for Children, Questions: Philosophy for Young People, and Thinking: The Journal of Philosophy for Children.

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