In many of my blogs I often mention that we need to help children maintain an enquiring mind and learn how to ask ‘good’ questions as they go through life.
In my last blog I suggested that children should be heard saying things like ‘What if…’ and ‘Why does that happen? ‘I wonder what …?
I recently carried out a ‘mini experiment’. I did a Philosophy for Children (P4C) session with a group of six year olds and then repeated the same session with sixth formers. I used a photograph as the starter for their thinking, which depicted affluent and poor housing next door to each other, somewhere in Brazil I think it was.
Whilst the stimulus was the same, the quality of questions and the confidence to ask them in a group situation, was starkly different.
There were no restrictions or judgements from me- ‘…just ask as many questions that come into your mind’
The younger children’s questions started with: ‘Who lives there?’ ‘Where is that place?’ but with a few gentle prompts they began to ask more open questions: ‘Why is it so unfair that some people have to live in horrible places like that?’ Why don’t really rich people share their money more?’
They had no inhibitions. Yes, they wanted to know the ‘’facts’ of the photograph but it didn’t take much coaxing for their innate sense of curiosity and fairness to come to the fore.
It was a lively, thoughtful and engaging discussion and they weren’t bothered in the least about me not providing them with the answer to world poverty (unlikely in an hour’s session!)
So what of the sixth formers – yes – you’ve guessed, they struggled: really struggled to ask any kind of questions. I paused the session and we just talked about why they found simply being curious difficult to do. At that point they told me ‘Curiosity isn’t something that is encouraged in secondary schools very often you know’
‘We don’t have time to think for ourselves, most teachers tell us to listen and we’re all under pressure to learn how to pass the exams’
‘It’s been knocked out of us. I used to ask lots of questions when I was little. I don’t blame the teachers, they’re victims too’
I nearly cried at that point. I know this was just one school - there are many that practise P4C and embed other thinking skills into their curriculum - and I’m certainly not blaming hardworking teachers in any way here.
But how can it be that within the space of 10 years children change so much?
Our naturally curious youngsters should all be nurtured and given the opportunities to grow into articulate, enquiring and challenging young people – asking thought-provoking questions of the world around them – and forming their own opinions about their place and purpose: to become valuable citizens of the future.
If you want to know more about how to develop P4C practice – or to book training or demo sessions with your children - get in touch: firstname.lastname@example.org tel: 01604 491511