An Introduction to the Philosophy for Children (P4C) Method

Find out how to use the Philosophy for Children (P4C) method in your lessons today!

3/23/202313 min read

What Is the ‘Philosophy for Children’ (P4C) Method?

Philosophy for Children (P4C) is a teaching method that is gaining popularity worldwide due to its effectiveness in fostering critical thinking, creativity, and communication skills in students. This approach encourages children to ask and explore philosophical questions in a supportive and respectful environment.

P4C has its roots in the works of philosophers such as John Dewey, Matthew Lipman, and Paulo Freire, who recognized the importance of philosophical inquiry in the development of young minds. P4C sessions usually involve students sitting in a circle and engaging in a structured discussion that centres around a particular philosophical question or dilemma.

P4C is an educational approach that goes beyond traditional methods and empowers students with a philosophical toolkit for practical application in various aspects of life. Unlike a subject with fixed content and a textbook, P4C employs Socratic dialogue to teach conceptual thinking and philosophical questioning.

This method is compatible with all school subjects and appropriate for all age groups, from pre-schoolers to adults. It has been adopted in over 60 countries worldwide and centers on community dialogue as a means of stimulating thinking through the "community of inquiry" educational model.

In this model, the teacher acts as a facilitator in an open-ended philosophical dialogue, with students playing an active role in developing knowledge and meaning. Participants engage in Socratic Circles where they interact and respond to a philosophical theme presented through a stimulus such as a picture book, short clip, or film.

Through group work, students learn to create open philosophical questions, which are then discussed in a Socratic dialogue led by the facilitator, who employs various techniques to delve deeper into the question. At the end of the session, individuals are encouraged to reflect and evaluate the dialogue.

P4C promotes four types of thinking: caring, collaborative, creative, and critical. This approach develops powerful mental habits such as connectivity, differentiation, concept formation, argument refutation, giving examples, clarifying criteria, returning to hypotheses, and logical reasoning.

The child-centred structure of P4C fosters sustainable learning, develops logic while nurturing emotional growth, and cultivates skills such as active listening, fluent speaking, and clear expression. Studies have shown that P4C enhances students' learning of school subjects and behavioural learning, offering a positive challenge to children, youth, and the public, including teachers who assume a unique role as facilitators in the Socratic Circle.

The Benefits of the P4C Method

One of the primary benefits of P4C is that it encourages students to think deeply about complex issues and develop their own ideas and opinions. Through exploring different perspectives and ideas, children learn how to evaluate arguments, challenge assumptions, and develop logical reasoning skills. This approach also fosters creativity and imagination, as students are encouraged to think outside the box and explore new ideas.

Another significant advantage of P4C is that it helps students to develop communication skills. Children learn how to articulate their thoughts and opinions clearly and respectfully, listen to others, and engage in meaningful conversations. These skills are essential not only for academic success but also for social and emotional development.

To incorporate P4C into your teaching, it is essential to create a supportive and respectful environment where students feel comfortable expressing their thoughts and ideas. It is also important to select appropriate philosophical questions that are relevant to your students' age and interests.

When introducing P4C to your students, it can be helpful to start with a simple question or dilemma, such as "What is fairness?" or "Should we always tell the truth?" Encourage your students to share their ideas and opinions, and help them to develop their reasoning skills by asking follow-up questions and challenging their assumptions.

Philosophy for Children is an excellent teaching method that helps students develop critical thinking, creativity, and communication skills. By introducing P4C into your teaching, you can create a supportive and respectful environment where students can explore complex philosophical questions and develop their own ideas and opinions. With its many benefits, P4C is an approach that every teacher should consider incorporating into their teaching.

The Philosophy for Children (P4C) Method: A Step-By-Step Guide

The P4C teaching method consists of ten steps that guide the process of philosophical inquiry and dialogue. These steps are as follows:

  1. Getting Set: This initial step involves creating a suitable environment for philosophical inquiry by establishing a safe, respectful, and inclusive space. This may involve setting up the physical space, establishing ground rules, and ensuring that all participants feel comfortable and engaged.

  2. Presentation of Stimulus: In this step, a stimulus is presented to the group, such as a story, picture, or video, to provoke discussion and spark ideas. The stimulus is chosen to be open-ended, allowing for a range of interpretations and viewpoints.

  3. Thinking Time: Participants are given time to reflect individually on the stimulus and their initial thoughts and ideas. This quiet time helps to promote independent thinking and reflection before group discussion begins.

  4. Formulation of Questions: Participants work together to generate questions in response to the stimulus. The questions should be open-ended and philosophical in nature, allowing for a range of interpretations and discussion.

  5. Airing of Questions: Each group member takes turns sharing their question with the group. This allows for initial clarification and exploration of the questions.

  6. Selection (Voting): The group votes on which question to focus on for the rest of the discussion. This encourages participation and engagement from all members.

  7. First Thoughts: Participants share their initial thoughts and ideas in response to the chosen question. This can include personal experiences, opinions, and beliefs.

  8. Building: This phase is where students construct their own ideas and arguments related to the topic that has been introduced.

  9. Last Thoughts: The facilitator encourages the students to share any final ideas, reflections, or questions they have about the topic that was discussed during the session. This step allows students to express any remaining thoughts or concerns they may have and provides closure to the discussion.

  10. Review: The facilitator and students review the discussion that took place during the session. They reflect on what was learned, how the discussion progressed, and how they could improve future discussions. This step allows students to consolidate their learning, identify areas of growth, and acknowledge any insights gained during the discussion.

Exploring Each Step of The Philosophy for Children (P4C) Method
  1. Getting set: This step involves preparing the students for the upcoming discussion by creating a supportive and safe learning environment. The facilitator sets the tone for the session by establishing ground rules, building rapport, and creating a sense of community among the students. This step aligns with the P4C value of creating a supportive and collaborative learning environment where all students feel valued and heard. This step is important because it helps to build trust, establish expectations, and create a sense of shared purpose and community.

  2. Presentation of stimulus: In this step, the facilitator presents a stimulus, which could be a story, a video, a piece of art, or any other thought-provoking material, to the students. The stimulus is used to introduce a philosophical concept or question that will be explored during the discussion. This step aligns with the P4C value of using engaging and imaginative stimuli to spark curiosity and promote critical thinking. This step is essential because it provides a focus for the discussion and helps to create a common frame of reference for the children.

  3. Thinking time: After presenting the stimulus, the facilitator provides the students with some time to think about the material and formulate their initial ideas and questions. This step aligns with the P4C value of giving students time and space to reflect on their thoughts and ideas before engaging in discussion. This step is crucial because it allows the children to engage with the stimulus in their own way, develop their own questions, and explore their own ideas without the pressure of immediate discussion.

  4. Formulation of questions: In this step, the facilitator encourages the students to formulate their own questions related to the stimulus and the philosophical concept it represents. This step aligns with the P4C value of promoting student-led learning and inquiry. This step is important because it encourages children to develop their questioning skills, to articulate their ideas, and to learn from the questions of others. One of our main aims as philosophy teachers is to help students to develop their philosophical questioning skills and this phase is a vital part of that process.

  5. Airing of questions: Once the students have formulated their questions, they are given the opportunity to share them with the group. This step encourages students to communicate their ideas and engage in dialogue with their peers. It aligns with the P4C value of promoting respectful and inclusive dialogue where all voices are heard. This step is important because it encourages children to listen to one another, to appreciate different perspectives, and to challenge their own assumptions and beliefs. The fostering of listening skills is one of the main benefits of the P4C method.

  6. Selection (voting): In this step, the students are given the opportunity to vote on which questions they would like to explore further during the discussion. This step aligns with the P4C value of promoting democratic decision-making and empowering students to take an active role in their learning. This step is significant because it helps to ensure that the discussion is relevant and engaging for the students, as they have had a say in the selection of the topic. It also encourages the development of critical thinking skills, as students must evaluate the merit of different questions and make informed decisions based on their own interests and the interests of the group.

  7. First thoughts: Once the questions have been selected, the facilitator encourages the students to share their initial thoughts and ideas related to the chosen question. This step allows students to articulate their ideas and encourages them to listen to the perspectives of their peers. It aligns with the P4C value of promoting open-mindedness and empathy in communication. This step is valuable because it allows students to express their own perspectives and experiences, which can help to generate a diversity of ideas and foster empathy and understanding. It also provides a starting point for further exploration and development of ideas during the Building step. By sharing their initial thoughts, students can also develop their communication skills and learn to articulate their thoughts more clearly. Additionally, this step helps to establish a safe and supportive environment for discussion, where all voices are valued and heard.

  8. Building: In this step, children work together to build on their initial thoughts and ideas. They begin to explore the implications of their ideas, examine their assumptions, and consider alternative perspectives. The goal is to develop a more nuanced understanding of the topic at hand and to refine their thinking through collaborative discussion. The building stage is vital because it encourages children to engage in dialogue with others and to consider multiple viewpoints. Through this process, they develop their capacity to think critically, construct logical arguments, and engage in respectful discourse with others. This step aligns with the values of P4C because it emphasizes the importance of collaboration and dialogue in the development of critical thinking skills. It also encourages children to approach philosophical inquiry as a process of exploration and discovery rather than as a fixed set of answers or beliefs.

  9. Last Thoughts: In this step, each child is given the opportunity to share their final thoughts on the topic. This provides them with an opportunity to reflect on the discussion, clarify their thinking, and consolidate their ideas. The Last Thoughts stage is important because it encourages children to take ownership of their ideas and to develop their ability to express their thoughts clearly and persuasively. It also provides them with an opportunity to evaluate their own thinking and to identify areas where they may need to do further research or reflection. This step aligns with the values of P4C because it emphasizes the importance of individual reflection and self-assessment in the development of critical thinking skills. It also encourages children to see themselves as active participants in the process of philosophical inquiry, rather than passive recipients of information.

  10. Review: In this final step, the teacher and children review the discussion and reflect on the process of philosophical inquiry. They consider what they have learned, what questions they still have, and how the process could be improved in the future. The Review stage is so powerful because it helps children to develop their metacognitive skills and to reflect on their own learning process. It also provides them with an opportunity to evaluate the effectiveness of the P4C approach and to make suggestions for future improvement. This step aligns with the values of P4C because it emphasizes the importance of continuous improvement and the pursuit of knowledge through inquiry and reflection. It encourages children to see themselves as active agents of change and to engage in ongoing learning and growth.

The Values Behind The P4C (Philosophy for Children) Method

Philosophy for Children (P4C) is a teaching method that has been gaining popularity in recent years, and for good reason. P4C is based on the idea that children are capable of engaging in philosophical inquiry and that this inquiry can lead to significant benefits in their intellectual, social, and emotional development. At the heart of the P4C method are several values that underpin its approach to teaching and learning. In this article, we will explore some of the key values that make P4C such a powerful and transformative method of education.

  1. Critical thinking: One of the core values of P4C is the development of critical thinking skills. Through engaging in philosophical inquiry, children are encouraged to think deeply, question assumptions, and develop their own perspectives on important issues. By examining different points of view and evaluating arguments, children learn to approach problems in a logical and analytical way. This helps them to become better problem-solvers and decision-makers, both in the classroom and in their daily lives.

  2. Community: P4C is a collaborative and inclusive approach to teaching and learning. In P4C sessions, students are encouraged to work together, share their ideas, and listen to each other's perspectives. This helps to create a sense of community and fosters empathy and understanding among students. By working together, students learn to appreciate the diversity of ideas and experiences that exist in their classroom and in the world.

  3. Creativity: Philosophy is a discipline that encourages creativity and imagination. P4C sessions often involve open-ended questions that allow for a wide range of responses and interpretations. By engaging in creative thinking, children learn to approach problems from new and innovative angles, which can lead to unexpected solutions and insights.

  4. Ethics: Philosophy is also concerned with ethical questions and the development of moral reasoning. In P4C sessions, children are encouraged to examine their own values and beliefs and to consider the impact of their actions on others. This helps to promote ethical awareness and responsibility, which are essential for becoming good citizens and contributing members of society.

  5. Reflection: P4C sessions often involve reflective activities that help students to think more deeply about their own learning and growth. By reflecting on their experiences, students can identify areas of strength and weakness, set goals for themselves, and develop strategies for improvement. This helps to promote self-awareness and self-motivation, which are important qualities for lifelong learning.

P4C aims to create a caring classroom situation where children:

  • learn to listen and respect each other

  • learn to be clear in their thinking and to make responsible and more deliberate judgements

  • learn to be more thoughtful by basing their decisions and actions on reasons

Selecting Stimulus for Your P4C Sessions

One of the keys to a successful P4C (Philosophy for Children) session is selecting the right stimulus to spark students' curiosity and engage them in philosophical inquiry. A stimulus can be any object, text, image, or experience that prompts a question or provokes thought. In this article, we will explore some tips for selecting the best stimulus for a P4C session and where teachers might find ideal stimuli for P4C sessions.

  1. Consider students' interests and experiences: The first step in selecting a stimulus is to consider the interests and experiences of the students. What topics or issues are they passionate about? What experiences have they had that might relate to the topic? By selecting a stimulus that is relevant to students' lives, teachers can increase their engagement and motivation to participate in the discussion.

  2. Choose a stimulus that is open-ended: A good stimulus for a P4C session should be open-ended, meaning that it can be interpreted in multiple ways and can lead to a range of questions and discussions. A closed stimulus, such as a math problem with a single correct answer, is not ideal for P4C sessions because it limits the scope of inquiry and stifles creativity.

  3. Use stimuli that are age-appropriate: Teachers should select stimuli that are appropriate for the age and developmental level of the students. A stimulus that is too complex or abstract may be overwhelming or confusing for younger students, while a stimulus that is too simplistic may be uninteresting for them.

Where can teachers find stimuli to use in P4C sessions? Consider the following:

  1. Literature: Children's literature is an excellent source of stimuli for P4C sessions. Books and stories often contain complex themes and questions that can be explored through philosophical inquiry.

  2. Current events: Current events can be a rich source of stimuli for P4C sessions. News articles and media stories can spark discussions about important social, ethical, and political issues.

  3. Art: Visual art, music, and other forms of artistic expression can also serve as stimuli for P4C sessions. Art can be a powerful way to explore complex emotions and ideas, and can inspire deep and meaningful discussions.

  4. Personal experiences: Teachers can also draw on their students' own experiences as stimuli for P4C sessions. Asking students to reflect on their own lives and experiences can help to promote empathy and understanding, as well as foster a sense of community in the classroom.

  5. Everyday objects: Everyday objects, such as toys, tools, or household items, can be used as stimuli for P4C sessions. Encouraging students to think critically about the purpose, design, and use of these objects can help to develop their analytical and problem-solving skills.

  6. Nature: Nature can be a powerful source of inspiration and reflection for young learners. Exploring natural phenomena, such as the changing seasons, weather patterns, or animal behaviour, can spark discussions about scientific concepts, environmental issues, and ethical considerations.

  7. Historical events: Historical events can provide a rich context for philosophical inquiry. By studying past events and their impact on society, students can develop a deeper understanding of social justice, human rights, and cultural diversity.

  8. Social media and technology: Social media and technology can be used as stimuli for P4C sessions, particularly for older students. Discussing issues such as cyberbullying, privacy, and digital citizenship can help students develop critical thinking skills that are relevant to their daily lives.

  9. Popular culture: Popular culture, such as movies, TV shows, and music, can be used as stimuli for P4C sessions. Analysing the themes, characters, and messages in popular media can help students develop their media literacy skills and encourage them to think critically about the world around them.

  10. Philosophy itself: Finally, philosophy itself can be a valuable source of stimuli for P4C sessions. Introducing students to classic philosophical texts and ideas, such as those of Aristotle, Plato, or Kant, can help them develop a deeper understanding of philosophical concepts and ways of thinking.

Final Thoughts

In conclusion, the P4C teaching method provides a unique opportunity to foster critical thinking, empathy, and community in the classroom. By encouraging students to explore philosophical questions and engage in open-ended discussions, P4C can help to develop skills that are valuable both inside and outside the classroom. While implementing the P4C method may require some preparation and adaptation, the benefits for students are clear: improved communication skills, enhanced social-emotional learning, and deeper engagement with academic content. So why not give it a try? Whether you choose to start small or dive right in, the P4C method is a powerful tool that can help to create a more thoughtful, reflective, and inclusive learning environment for all students.