Food for thought

Child looking sad whilst eating meat

Challenging children’s perceptions

My 14-month-old loves meat, I believe she would be happy on a meat-only diet. Recently, a thought crossed my mind: How will she respond when she realises that she is eating animals? Will it make her angry that I let her do this unknowingly? How will I explain to her that the roast chicken we enjoyed for dinner did not spend a happy life pecking seeds on a lush field? What if she starts asking questions about the most ethical way to nurture your body without causing any harm to other living beings? She cannot even form a proper sentence yet and my head is spinning already.

Entering the territory of ethics and philosophy can be daunting because in most cases there is no clear, satisfying answer. Seemingly simple statements such as, “Buying locally grown rice is always better than purchasing a product from Asia” become complex when more closely examined. Engaging with children in philosophical and ethical conversation leads us off the path we feel comfortable on because these topics force us to accept that things are not as simple as they might seem.

Writing this last sentence, I was hit by a realisation: Yes, these conversations are hard but if this means my daughter develops the ability to comfortably navigate grey areas as opposed to categorising the world in black and white, I accept the challenge. In my opinion, there is no better way to prepare your children for life than to equip them with essential life skills such as critical and higher-order thinking.

The importance of critical thinking as an essential skill in the 21st century cannot not be underestimated. According to the Australian Curriculum Assessment and Reporting Authority (ACARA), the development of students’ thinking tools is as important as content delivery. Although ACARA does not provide an approach on how to develop critical-thinking skills, engaging in philosophy with children as early as preschool age has been identified as a tool to enhance higher-order thinking. After all, philosophical inquiry lends itself to the careful examination of abstract topics, including the study of meaning and logical reasoning.[1]

You might be wondering how someone without a PhD in Philosophy can engage children is such conversations. The good news, a university degree is not needed. You might need some practice recognising a philosophical question but there are plenty of resources out there to assist you. Philosophy for young children by Berys and Morag Gaut could be a great starting point, providing guidance whilse leaving it up to you how closely you follow the structure.

As part of the STEM Hour webinar in August 2021, I interviewed the authors, who told me that the idea for the book arose when Morag, a kindergarten teacher, challenged her husband Berys, a philosophy professor, who strongly believed philosophy and young children were not compatible. “After only a few weeks, I had to admit that I was wrong,” Berys said with a cheeky smile, “Children might even be better philosophers than adults because they are much less rigid in their ways.”

[1] https://education.nsw.gov.au/teaching-and-learning/professional-learning/scan/past-issues/vol-33–2014/the-case-for-philosophical-inquiry-in-k-12-classrooms

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Article author: Heike Hendershot
National Training Manager

Heike manages the development of our workshop content and supports our training facilitators. A critical thinker with the ability to wonder, she believes in honouring each child’s individual skills and abilities.

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