For parents

Does your kid ask "Why?" 50 times per day? Or per hour? Maybe this drives you nuts. Or maybe you wonder: OK, you've heard of the "why" stage, but this seems extreme. Just what is going on? It may seem like they're not really asking in order to know. It can seem frivolous, like they're just playing.

Yes, they are playing, but it isn't frivolous. They are learning logic and morals, developing their minds by exercising them. They don't just ask "Why?." They challenge answers, posit their own, contradict, try new ideas on for size, combine ideas to see how they fit together and where they lead, and turn answers into more questions. They don't hesitate to seem goofy, ask dumb-sounding questions, or state things that sound absurd or outrageous. They may question things at such a basic level that you're stumped. Or don't even follow them, or understand what they're asking. They keep all this up far beyond where a normal adult would quit.

When grownups do these very things, we call it "philosophy." It's not just a cliché - it's really true: kids are natural philosophers.

This may ring true to you, yet provide only partial relief. You may not be able to satisfy your kids. Way too many questions, not so many answers. They can still drive you nuts, out of interest, stumped, frustrated, maybe even dissatisfied with yourself - what kind of parent can't answer their own child's questions?

Want help? Join the club. Send your kid to Young Philosophers. Maybe they'll get it out of their system.

Risks

Parents may see risks in kids thinking independently; maybe learning to demand evidence, or challenge statements or points of view they deem insufficiently convincing, or flawed. Quoting Dr. Thomas Wartenberg, who developed the discussion model we use:

Suggesting that philosophy should be taught in elementary schools raises many deep and controversial issues.

These issues aren't limited to elementary schools; homeschoolers can be concerned about these same risks. Fortunately homeschoolers have a very effective option - don't participate.

Goals

  • Children don't come away sad, mad, or shaken (though they may be puzzled, perplexed, or even "bothered" in the sense of "this really bugs me" - philosophers often feel these things).
  • They learn to focus on and clarify the specific ideas being discussed. Ideally they can clearly state their and others' points and opinions.
  • They learn to have a discussion in which:
    • ideas are presented,
    • disagreements voiced and discussed,
    • points of view and disagreement, and opinions, are clarified
    • this is all done with a foundation and in an environment of respect
    • everyone, even though they might disagree, even fundamentally/strongly, is "on the same team" - working together co-operatively.

Here are some of Dr. Wartenberg's quotes:

[W]e don't tell them what to think about anything; our only purpose is to assist the children so that they can have a productive discussion with one another. For even though young children may be natural-born philosophers, they are not born ready to discuss issues with their peers. That's what we have to teach them how to do.

[T]he teacher serves as both the initiator and regulator of a philosophical discussion but not as a dispenser of philosophical knowledge to the children.

While we don't prescribe what the children say about anything, we do actually require that what they say fits into the rules for having a philosophical discussion . . . But this means that we are actually teaching them something: How to take part in a philosophical discussion. The fact is, acquiring this crucial skill will benefit them in all sorts of ways in their educations and, indeed, in their lives. That's because the rules for having a philosophical discussion are actually the basic rules for thinking about anything at all and therefore form the basis for all the thinking that we do, no matter what we are thinking about.

More information

See here for more detailed information about what we do.

Here are comments from parents of Young Philosophers.

Here are comments from Young Philosophers themselves.

Here is the signup form for Young Philosophers. You may fill it out and return it, or just e-mail the information to contact@prokid.org, or otherwise transmit or convey it.