Philosophy for Kids

June 10, 2016 | By Suzanne Buracas
© Ian Douglas

On March 19, 2016, as part the Tilt Kids Festival, the Cultural Services of the French Embassy in New York initiated a one-of-a-kind event for children, inspired by the French books "Les Goûters Philo".

Special workshops for children ages 4-10 were designed in collaboration with philosopher Simon Critchley, moderator of The New York Times philosophy column “The Stone” and celebrated author of The Book of Dead Philosophers.

Under the starry ceiling of Albertine Books, 80 children gathered in small groups to deep dive into philosophy and express their thoughts on subjects such as friendship and the infinite. The workshops were led by Critchley’s PhD students, who shared their experiences with us following this first-time event.


Simon Critchley - "For a few morning hours, on March 19th, we conducted a little experiment in philosophy. We taught philosophy to kids, roughly between the ages of 4 and 10. As all parents know, children are very philosophical. They raise all sorts of awkward questions about life, death, reality, illusion, truth and lies, right and wrong, good and bad. Children are possessed of a mighty curiosity and also, very often, not scared to speak their minds. We invited them to be as curious as they liked and ask as many awkward questions as they wanted.

To conduct this experiment, I asked 4 of the best young philosophers I know to teach the classes. They were Kathleen Kelley, Joseph Lemelin, Ryan Gustafson and Hannes Charen. They are all PhD candidates at the NSSR and highly experienced teachers, although the students they teach are usually a little older.

The content of the classes was a surprise. We all like surprises. I will let them say in their own words what happened…"

Hannes Charen - "My approach was to take a few classical philosophical problems and frame them in a way that I thought would appeal to the experiences of children. We discussed questions concerning reality, the infinite, identity and difference, and what it means to philosophize. The conversations rolled on, turning naturally from one idea to the next. I was particularly astounded by the rich imagination of the older group, who did not hesitate to take the discussion to the next level of complexity. They had no problem following along even when discussing topics I introduce to my university students. My impression was that these were obviously questions they had been thinking quite a bit about without perhaps having a formal place to voice them."

Joseph Lemelin - "In my group we discussed how we understand the way in which things can remain the same throughout many different changes. To start our discussion about the notions of identity and difference, I gave them all a piece of gum and asked them to describe what the object was that they held in their hand. After that, we chewed our gum for a few minutes and I then asked them to take it out and describe the transformed, chewed object. When we realized that our new descriptions gave an account of a totally different object, we were all puzzled: Is this really the same thing? Since kids are always proud to share incremental changes in their age (“I’m three and a half!” “Well, I’m five and three quarters!”), I thought it would be interesting to think with them about how they are different and how they are the same throughout these changes. The young philosophers were very receptive and came up with some sophisticated responses to these questions. I was really impressed by their level of attention. But most importantly, we all had fun!"

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