How to ask your child philosophical questions?
Updated: Apr 22
What is happiness? Does the universe have an end? What is life?
Did you ever want to investigate big life's questions with your child? Philosophy, meaning simply "the love of wisdom", asks those questions for over 2500 years. Since the early Greek philosophers until now, the curiosity of human beings never ceased to grow. And who is more curious than a child?
Children's natural disposition to wonder needs to be cultivated and encouraged if it is to flourish. Although there are wonderful teachers out there who inspire their pupils, the schools in general are not always a place for inquiry and wonder, but rather for repetition and boredom. Teachers give ready made answers that need to be memorised. Very often need for following the curriculum gets priority over the need for exploration and wonder of a child. But there is a place for it somewhere else...
Do you remember the story of Robin Hood? Was he a good person? Can a thief be a good person? What does it mean to be a good person?
Being a passionate practitioner of philosophical inquiry with children, I would love to share a few tips, on how to progress when tackling the big questions and ideas at home with your child.
Find a question you want to investigate. Once you have it, as a parent, you can ask them during bedtime storytime or at the dinner table, but often children would raise those questions on their own. The questions can be inspired by any books, movies or life events, but in philosophy, we look for the questions that don't have simple answers, but rather take us deeper into the understanding of some big ideas - fairness, goodness, beauty or courage, just to mention a few.
Ask children to expand their answer and elaborate. What did you mean when you said...? Can you tell me more?
Ask for examples and investigate them. Can you give me an example when someone is good? Is it fair to eat half a cake if you share it with two other friends?
Take a step back and anchor the child in the question you're trying to answer. So... (insert the main question)?
Ask for arguments and reasons. Ask why. Can you tell me why? Why do you think that? Why do you think it is so? Why is it important?
Play the devil's advocate. Try to disagree with your child in a very obvious way just for the sake of argument and let the child prove you're wrong.
Ask the child, how could they disagree with themselves or what a person thinking the opposite would tell them.
I recently spoke to Jason Buckley from The Philosophy Man (UK), who told me this nice metaphor. Doing philosophy with your child is a bit like a pretend fight with your child. You want to give them enough resistance to push against, but you don't want to overwhelm them either. Be playful and enjoy your deep conversations. Children are full surprises and who knows who will learn more.
If you look for some inspirations to investigate some philosophical questions see our YouTube series: Thinking together at home, where I and our two boys (age 5 and 10) ask some questions inspired by our favourite children's books. We'd love to hear from you about your conversations.