World Poetry Day 2016

UNESCO marks World Poetry Day every year on the 21st March.

In celebrating World Poetry Day UNESCO recognises the unique ability of poetry to capture the creative spirit of the human mind.

The Philosophy Foundation use poetry to explore philosophy, and philosophy to explore poetry.

Thoughtings“As the weeks have progressed I have noticed real improvements in regards to how the children respond to one another when they disagree and the quieter children are really beginning to ‘find their voices’. One particular child who finds writing a real struggle due to language barriers was so inspired following a poetry session that he sat and wrote a mainly phonetically correct poem of his own!”

Louise Toner, Year 2 Class Teacher, Crawford Primary School


The Philosophy ShopFor this World Poetry Day, download and use this free resource taken from one of our multi-award winning books The Philosophy Shop, to get your children writing some philosophical poetry of their own.

Philosophical Poetry

(This extract is taken from The Philosophy Shop © 2012 Peter Worley and Crown House Publishing)

And, from March 14th until April 30th take advantage of a special offer from Crown House Publishing to purchase any of our titles!

The Philosophy Foundation Series:

The Philosophy Shop: ideas, activities and questions to get people, young and old, thinking philosophically £25.00

Thoughtings: puzzles, problems and paradoxes in poetry to think with £14.99

The Numberverse: how numbers are bursting out of everything and just want to have fun £14.99

Provocations: philosophy for secondary schools £14.99

Buy any two titles from the Series at a 25% discount

Buy the complete series at a 50% discount.

Start Date: 14th March 2016

Expiry date 30th April 2016.

To take advantage of this offer contact Crown House Publishing at or telephone 01267 211 345

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Peter Worley | Why use stories for doing philosophy with children?


First of all stories engage. When a teller tells a story well the audience visualize the story so that it seems to happen before them. If you want children to think, first of all they must be engaged.

Secondly, stories enable children to grasp complex ideas very naturally, where in the abstract, they would be lost. Tell the story of ‘Scylla and Charybdis’ from The Odyssey and children can follow the complexities of ethical dilemmas that would be nigh on impossible for them in the abstract.9781441118141 Once Upon an If

Thirdly, stories can be used to activate the children as moral agents. You can stop the story at the crisis point, the difficult decision or the conflict, and instead of simply reading on, you could ask the class questions: ‘What do you think [the character] should do?’, ‘What do you think [the character] will do?’, ‘What would you do?’ and ‘What do…

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Peter Worley | Thought Adventure 41: Here and Elsewhere – thinking about migration and identity


P4C and the curriculum

There is a popular approach to doing philosophy with children that involves presenting a stimulus (often a picture book), having the children formulate questions, gathering and sorting the questions and then having the children vote on a question to discuss. There can be great value in this student-centred approach to discussions, however it can make doing P4C in the curriculum more difficult. The reason for this is that, according to the principles of a standard P4C Community of Inquiry in the UK, the children significantly determine the direction of the discussion. So, if you’ve chosen the picture book Elmer by David McKee because you want the class to explore the notion of ‘difference’, there is always the danger that the children will focus on a completely different theme with the question that they vote on or that they naturally move towards during the discussion, such as…

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Be a Philosopher!

World Philosophy Day is here again on Thursday 19th November.

Download free lesson plans from our website to inspire your classes; don a beret or a beard and get thinking!

In Peter Worley’s latest book, 40 lessons to get children thinking (one for every week of the school year, plus a spare, because philosophy isn’t just for a day!), he wants to inspire young thinkers to become philosophers.

The downloadable appendix ‘Be a philosopher‘ can be handed out to your classes to help them do just that. He suggests:

  • Drink ‘n’ Think: Pour yourself a drink: a cup of tea, a cup of coffee or your favourite soft drink. Sit down somewhere comfortable and drink the drink slowly, thinking only about one chosen question for as long as it takes you to finish your drink. Talking to yourself out loud is permitted.
  • Thought ‘n’ Talk: Find someone (a teacher – if they have time, a friend or family member) who is willing to spend five or more minutes discussing a chosen question with you. Read them the question and then discuss it together.
  • Write ‘n’ Reason: Take a piece of paper (or your philosopher’s notebook) and write your chosen question at the top of a clean page. Either simply free-write (just write what comes into your head) in answer to the question or, if you prefer, use the structure suggested in the attached document.This ties in with a previous article written by Peter on Innovate My School: improving writing through dialogue

In Be a philosopher you will find the writing structure and some suggested questions – of course, you can always come up with your own philosophical questions to ponder.

The Philosophy Foundation this year is running an event at the Mercers’ Company on Friday 20th November in celebration of World Philosophy Day – we have children from some of our London schools ready to run philosophy sessions with other students in a ‘Philosophical Agora’, plus we will be running philosophy sessions with all 150 students at this sold out event.

And join us on Saturday 21st November at Conway Hall for the third annual Philosophy Now Festival. We are running sessions for young philosophers aged 4-7 and 8-14. Our sessions are nearly sold out, but there are plenty of other philosophical adventures happening all day, and the award ceremony for the Contribution to the Fight Against Stupidity, this year won by Cressida Cowell.

Happy thinking.

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Write a #Shorting for National Poetry Day and Win Books

Win a copy of ’40 Lessons to Get Children Thinking’ or the award-winning ‘Thoughtings’.

‘This collection of poems is very, very irritating. It’s irritating like having toast crumbs in your bed. It’s irritating like having toast crumbs in your brain… getting toast crumbs out of your bed is fun. They jump up and down. Some of them refuse to be swept out. Some of them find new places to hide. Some invite you to nibble them. Getting toast crumbs out of your mind is just like that too.’

Michael Rosen, from his foreword to Thoughtings by Andrew Day and Peter Worley

For National Poetry Day 2015 Andrew and Peter would like to invite you, and your classes, to write a Shorting (a short Thoughting). Tweet your short ‘poem for thinking’ with the hashtag #Shorting and we’ll gather them together and post them all here after National Poetry Day.

This competition is open to adults and young people (under 18) . The teacher (or parent, or interested adult) prize will be a copy of Peter’s new book 40 Lessons to Get Children Thinking and the under 18 prize, a copy of Thoughtings.

Need inspiration on poetry in the classroom? Download Thought Adventure Number 8, Is This a Poem? from 40 Lessons, on The Philosophy Foundation’s website.

What’s a Thoughting?


Thoughtings: poems for thinking

In 2012 Andrew Day and Peter Worley wrote a book called Thoughtings: Puzzles, problems and paradoxes in poetry to think with (Awarded Teach Primary Magazine’s ‘Best Teaching Book’ 2014) to use in classrooms to stimulate philosophy sessions. Michael Rosen, who wrote the foreword (or forward!) for Thoughtings recommends it in his book for parents Good Ideas (2014). The title for Thoughtings was coined by a 6-year-old who was asked to say what thinking is without saying the word ‘think’ or ‘thinking’ in his answer; he said, ‘It’s when you’re thoughting’. There are free downloadable Thoughtings for you to use National Poetry Day on our website.

40 Lessons to Get Children Thinking

40 Lessons to Get Children Thinking, Philosophical thought adventures across the curriculum

What’s a Shorting?

In Peter Worley’s new book 40 lesson to get children thinking (out in October 2015) he has a chapter called ‘Is This A Poem?’ to help classes think through what poems are (and what they’re not). In the chapter he introduces the idea of a ‘Shorting’, a Thoughting for the Twitter generation: a ‘poem for thinking’ in 130 characters or less (to make space for the hashtag)! Here are some Shortings by Andrew and Peter:

Nospacetothinkmakesnosense. Space to think makes sense. B ut notw hen thes p ace s a r ei nthew ron gp lac e s.

I’ve got 140 characters I can play. Which one shall I be today? Let’s see what other people do and what they make me say.

Deciding is taking a scalpel and making a clean incision, cutting away the alternatives every time you make a decision.

Over to you! 

Write your shorting, post on twitter with the #shorting, or if you’re not on twitter send it to us via email

Thoughtings (plus more free poetry resources) on our site.

40 Lessons to Get Children Thinking will be available in October, available for pre-order now.

For more on our work on philosophy in schools and with children visit our website


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Tales from the Nursery

By Steve Hoggins

steve listeningI have been doing philosophy with nursery children for the last couple of years (having previously worked as a nursery teacher) and I have noticed some differences between doing philosophy with them and doing philosophy with older children, which I’d like to share.

Get their attention

The first significant difference is that nursery children aren’t regimented into a formal lesson structure. Their activities are child-centred and free flow. As an approach to education there is much to admire here but for our slot of 15 minutes we don’t have the luxury of waiting for opportunities to do philosophy. However, nursery children rarely sit down with the express purpose of following your lesson plan. To overcome this problem I have had to try and make ‘following my plan’ the most interesting thing for them to do. Partly this is achieved through your selection of resources, choice of games etc. but I think one key element is having an infectious enthusiasm yourself. Try stepping into nursery with a pillowcase thrown over your shoulder, a cardboard crown on your head and proclaim “Quick! The story of the Unhappy prince is about to begin!”.

Engagement. Engagement. Engagement. During the beginning, middle and end of the lesson and in the most immediate way, that is to say make them interact with you, their story-teller, narrator, problem-setter or puppeteer. Then you have them and the ground is fertile for you to plant the philosophical problem. However, engagement doesn’t always come easy.

I was being observed when, mid-way through telling a story, one child suddenly pipes up with,

“I want to go upstairs”

“Sure you can go, upstairs”, I reply.

“I want to go upstairs as well” chimes in another.


“Me too!” I let this child leave too.

“Can I go?” Says another as she is halfway out the door.

“Upstairs!” Choruses the rest of the group, rising. Cue a mass exodus. I lose the entire group to the mysterious delights of ‘upstairs’; I look across the empty room to the person observing me.

“This doesn’t always happen…”

Set out the basics

The engagement needed was there, but it wasn’t enough. I also needed to set out some routines and start developing some habits. These are things that our older students are already aware of, we just have to asked them to do it in the right way. Nursery needs to be introduced to these ways of working as a group. First was the concept of ‘sitting down’. As adults we view sitting down as a position that one adopts, usually for some length of time, when one is at rest. Children seem to view sitting down as a split-second transition between standing up and rolling all around the floor, limbs flailing towards the ribs of nearby teachers. Success in this area is never really complete until children are about 23 years old, I feel, but you can make progress. To get them sat in the right place I have tried a three stage strategy:

Games1. A catching game in which the prize for catching the ball is to sit in the special circle! (that I have taped out on the floor prior to the session).

2. Many children will know the ‘Make a Circle’ song, which is set to the tune of Frere Jacques; also a good way of getting them in place.

3. Then, I play the passing game in which they have to call the name of another child and roll the ball to them. The idea behind this is that they develop the habit of talking to each other (not just me), taking turns and joining in. Try this out and if it doesn’t work try it again.

Running games with young children can take a lot of problem solving to get just right.

I’m running the pass-the-ball game with some success. Most of the children have had a turn, many of them said someone else’s name and passed that person the ball. At least two of them have said someone’s name but then threw the ball directly up, dislodging several ceiling tiles in the process. Currently one child is gripping the Elmer ball and incoherently mumbling their own monologue with occasional audible exclamations of ‘elephant!’. I gently lean forward with the glittery butterfly puppet, and as she reaches for it, I whip the ball away with my spare hand so the rest of us can continue the game.

Get to the philosophy

Once I have their attention and covered the basics I have between 1 and 13 precious minutes of philosophy potential. Most weeks I hit around the 7 mark. My success indicators for philosophy are different for younger children and by themselves may not, rightly be called philosophy. However, I consider them to be part of doing philosophy, a significant part too. More so than ‘being awake’ is part of doing philosophy but obviously less than ‘expressing valid arguments in syllogistic form’ is.

One of the greatest struggles is finding the point at which the children find a concept controversial. Friendship, for example is normally a term we reserve for describing human relationships, perhaps stretching to pets before it gets debatable whether Fido can be a friend. Children, I discovered, had few difficulties with considering animals as friends.

Fido & RobotCan Jack and Fido be friends?

“Yes!” several children shout, some hands go up.

“Why?” I ask one child.

“Cause Fido is happy to see Jack”

I ask others in the group. There are no contrary views but I had anticipated this.

“OK, can jack be a friend with a robot?” I whip out a robot picture and pass it to Lyra.

She puts it next to the picture of Jack and proclaims them friends.

We still haven’t got an opposing viewpoint.

“Who thinks Jack and the robot are NOT friends?”

Silence. I begin to improvise.

“Can Jack and this pen be friends?”


I really didn’t think they would say that,

“Can you show me?”

Mason picks up the pen and the picture of Jack. He then puts on a crude puppet show in which Jack and pen meet, say hello and are best friends thereafter.

“Can Jack and this piece of paper be friends?”


“So why can’t they be friends, Casey?”

“Because paper can’t talk”


Finally I was getting to the bite point, the point at which children think of it as a friend and not a friend, the point at which it is controversial. They may not go further to give conditions of friendship (like ‘talking’) as Casey did in my cherry-picked example, but doing philosophy is substantially helped when the children see that there is a problem.

Once a problem has been spotted children tend towards the dramatic response rather than the reasoned response. Unless the dialogue is managed the to and fro of child pantomime will quickly ensue:

FAC: Mason says that they are friends

CASEY: Not they isn’t!

MASON: Yes they is!”


MASON: Yess!

CASEY: Nooooo…No!”

To begin the reasoning I look to put the grammar and language in. This is done elegantly and simply through the use of ‘why?’ as a follow-up question and ‘because…” as a prompt. Admittedly you don’t always get supporting reasons from 4-year-olds, but you will get the language and grammar of reason-giving embedded as a habit. Sometimes I’m tempted to rename my nursery sessions Becausing classes for this reason.

It’s not your session

Honestly, even when you think they have followed your plan perfectly, it is only because your plan happens to be what they want to talk about. There will be more days where they go off at a tangent you couldn’t prepare for.

Saddest KingToday’s story is about this land where the king has made it law that everyone must be happy. The key characters are the king who thinks it’s better to be happy and this boy who wants to be sad. And a dog. These opposing characters will help set up opposing views, enabling the children to see the controversy (adapted from The Saddest King by Christoper Wormell).

“So, the King told the boy that it was better to be happy all the time. Is it better to be happy all the time?”

“Look, the dog is funny!”

“Thank you, Sara. Is it better to be happy?”

“Look! It’s smiling…”

“Happy, sad or something else, Sara, what’s better?”

“…And its tail is wagging” I sigh heavily “So is the dog happy?”

If your question isn’t the one the children are interested in there is little point in pushing it. Sometimes they’ll answer your question if you repeat it but at other times you have to improvise a new question using the content they are interested in. On this occasion my session deviated from the ethics of when one should be happy and moved toward the metaphysical concerns of what happiness is. So I guess the session is still yours in that you are going to still aim for controversy, differing viewpoints and some level of reasoning. However, you can only suggest content to your class to see if they want to run with it and if they don’t you have to see if you can run with theirs.


Four things to try in your next nursery class are:

Bin it

Be ready to bin it!

1. Engage them, make learning interactive at every possible moment.

2. Create the conditions for philosophy to take place; this takes longer to do with younger children.

3. Get to the philosophy, if you hear the word ‘because’ then that’s a start.

4. Keep your lesson plan near the bin at all times. Follow them.


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Response to Dennis Hayes in Spiked Online

Dennis Hayes wrote in Spiked Online, ‘Philosophy for children’ isn’t real philosophy.

(So that I don’t simply repeat myself, go here for my response to the issue of philosophy’s own value: Aeon, should children do philosophy? Also read my response to Tom Bennett’s, Philosophy. For Children?)

My Response to Dennis Hayes

‘Surely the worst, most instrumental reason for doing philosophy is that it might improve your skills in other areas, like maths and reading, while also boosting ‘cognitive abilities’ and pupils’ self-esteem.’ [Dennis Hayes.]


‘P4C is a popular method of exploring concepts such as fairness or bullying in small group discussions. By claiming that P4C might help all primary-school pupils — especially those on free school meals — to do better in other disciplines, the EEF report does a serious disservice to philosophy.’  [Dennis Hayes.]


‘The problem today is that children are being taught bits of philosophy, in their circle-time activities. They should be taught more. Why not start with the classical Greek philosophers? Teach your charges about Socrates and Plato and Aristotle! Let them rehearse the arguments of all the great philosophers.’  [Dennis Hayes.]


‘Childish whining is not philosophy; reading books, even difficult ones, and then having proper classroom chats about them is.’  [Dennis Hayes.]

I agree, childish whining is not philosophy. I don’t see much childish whining in my philosophy classes, because I always ask them to say ‘why?’ When someone complains about something without providing good reasons, that’s what I call ‘childish whining’.

‘The EEF report also said teachers don’t know enough about philosophy and aren’t confident enough to teach it. Yet as we wait for a drive to recruit more actual philosophers into primary schools, which we should do, teachers can easily teach some of the history of philosophy in history, and some of the works of philosophy in literature. Even in nursery rhymes there are challenging topics. Why was Humpy Dumpty on that wall? And a burning question for all young girls: Does kissing frogs work? These are potential philosophical sticklers, and can be addressed without the dumbed-down approach of P4C.’  [Dennis Hayes.]

I agree that many teachers don’t know enough about philosophy. Whether a discussion of bullying and fairness are philosophical is all in how it’s approached. A discussion around whether it’s right to bully people (where the teacher holds the view that it is wrong) probably won’t be, but a genuinely open discussion around what bullying is, that leads to conceptual progress in the children’s views as a result of this analysis (see the response to Tom Bennett ‘progess in philosophy’) is much more likely to be philosophical. I have recommended that teachers be trained in what it is they need to be able to run good dialogues with their classes. And what they need – as a minimum, in my view – is an understanding of what a conceptual discussion is and how to facilitate it. For more on this see my response to Tom Bennett ‘It’s (not?) what you know’.

‘The EEF report has been widely welcomed, but largely as a convenient shortcut away from serious teaching in favour of therapeutic talking shops. If we really want the best education for children, then we should ditch classes on jargon and go back to teaching real subject matter — including sometimes difficult, philosophical subject matter.’  [Dennis Hayes.]

Again: Why?

I agree, there is a danger that philosophy is used as a ‘therapeutic talking shop’, but this is purely down to proper education and training about what philosophy is and how it works. Philosophy is not therapy. When working with teachers I sometimes have to explain that ‘feel’ is not a synonym for ‘think’, as it is sometimes used in the classroom. This may have something to do with the fact that teacher training is saturated in psychology and its accompanying jargon. This can be addressed with proper training. For a glimpse (not exhaustive by any stretch) into the kind of facilitation techniques I’m talking about, then go here:

The Philosophers’ Magazine: how to philosophise with children

In conclusion, Dennis Hayes, has an incomplete view of what philosophy is. He clearly thinks that philosophy is ONLY a subject; one that engages students with the classic debates. Let us take, probably the most famous example of a philosopher from the great canon, Plato. He demonstrated, through his dialogues, that philosophy is more than thinking about the canon. Yes, during his dialogues, the characters sometimes engage with the philosophers of the past, but most of the time, they are engaging with each other, with no reference to the canon. But in almost all cases, Plato is showing us how to philosophise, and also providing models for doing so (for example – and it is just one example – the much discussed Socratic method). My approach to philosophy (with adults, children or whatever) is to facilitate a discussion so that it resembles the kind of discussion we might see in a Platonic dialogue. (I do NOT mean: so that it is identical! – Before you write to say ‘do you entrap people like Socrates did?’) I simply mean: so that it contains a similar dialectical structure with similar dialectical aims. This is philosophy as ‘methodology’ that sits next to philosophy as ‘history of ideas’. (There’s also Hegel, Descartes, Spinoza, Aristotle and so on, who also provides methods for conducting philosophical enquiry, all of which are dialectical.) There are even those that say, along Socratic lines, that studying the history of ideas can be done while doing no real philosophy, where philosophy is understood to be an attempt to show whether real-life example X is a genuine example of category Y. Philosophy was practised long before it became a subject at school.

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