How to Use this Resource

**If you’re brand new to P4C, please read What is Philosophy for Children?  first.

This project is meant to be accessible to philosophers of all ages, of all backgrounds. Each new “Poem” post introduces a poem that I’ve identified as raising some tricky philosophical questions to consider. There are example “Modules” on the top menu bar that include sample questions, activities, related poems, and more resources, or you can browse by category or tags to find particular posts. Educators can pick up a module and use it to lead a large group discussion, or families could use a module to spark stimulating after dinner conversation. Each poem used in this compilation is linked to or can be found in one of the books in the Resource List. (I have cited page numbers when this is the case.)

I have written the discussions assuming that children may pick up the resources on their own, too, so I often address them directly. If you’re a kid itching to ask big questions about the world around you, you don’t have to wait for an adult to guide you! Grab a handful of poems and a friend or two – or just your own curious mind! – and start debating.

The short introductions to different areas of philosophy at the start of each module include some explanation of how many philosophers have approached similar questions in the past. Next, I provide a list of questions that you might ask yourself or a group when discussing the given poem. Keep in mind, though, that these should never be treated as necessary or complete lists! In your discussions, you will likely come up with many more questions that are not listed here. Ideally, students will have the time and the curiosity to ask their own questions themselves. (Refer to “What Makes a Philosophical Question?” if you’re not sure.) If the discussion goes off in an entirely different direction, that is fantastic, so long as you are staying philosophical and respecting each other’s different opinions.

If you are a discussion facilitator, the goal is never to steer the children to a particular topic or conclusion, but to be a resource to help them stay on the path that they’ve chosen. Sometimes things get derailed, and everyone begins to talk over one another. At this point, the facilitator can step in and point this out: “It sounds like there are a few different questions on the table at the same time here,” or “I’m wondering how Stephen’s comment connects to what Sophie said just before.” Try not to assume anything, as often children will surprise you: A comment or question may be relevant in a way that the facilitator did not understand. Explaining connections that are not immediately obvious is a valuable civil discourse skill that P4C discussions help children hone.

It may be useful to point out that many of the suggested lead-in questions, like “Have you ever wanted to become another species?” are not really philosophical questions in and of themselves. However, imagining oneself into a poem can be a valuable lead-in to discussing a philosophical concept that could otherwise be difficult to access right of the bat. “What does it mean to be human?” or “What is the meaning of life?” are generally too big, broad questions with which to start off a discussion.

Following each module, I include a set of optional activities for before and after the discussion. These may be directly philosophical or simply further discussion and exploration of the topic and poetic form. These activities can hopefully be incorporated into a larger group program, and should strengthen critical reasoning skills as well as writing, visual arts, movement, or community building. Each poetry discussion may stand alone, but the goal is for the discussions and activities to be incorporated into a long-term program that opens the door to creative writing and philosophical inquiry from an early age, and sustaining discussion and work on the same issue for days or weeks.

Finally, I include an extended annotated bibliography of resources that I have used and/or that will be helpful for students, parents, and educators who would like to take this work further. Many of the activity suggestions are designed for a group, but can be adapted for an individual to try out on your own. If you’re a kid interested in thinking more deeply about these big questions, don’t be deterred! If you like, you can review “What Makes a Question Philosophical?” to help keep on track and make sure you’re still doing philosophy. Really, all that is required is a pinch of focus, a creative mind, and bushel of curiosity – which you obviously have if you’ve come to this page. You are primed to begin making new discoveries – just pick up a pen or a book and start asking. Have fun!

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