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Philosophy for Children

How can we encourage higher-order thinking, questioning and enquiry skills?

Philosophy for Children is a global movement that aims to teach reasoning and argumentative skills to children in schools.

HundrED 2018


HundrED has selected this innovation to

HundrED 2018

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Target group
September 2017

About the innovation

What is Philosophy for Children?

Education is not just a preparation for life - it is part of life.The purpose of education is to inculcate a balance of the skills, knowledge and dispositions that will allow all children of all ages to flourish in the current and future spheres of their life: personally, socially, morally, culturally, professionally, economically and as citizens.It should encourage children to become lifelong learners.

Our society needs young people who are trained to think for themselves and to think with others: critically, creatively, caringly and collaboratively.

This is the dialogic approach that underpins SAPERE's Philosophy for Children; an evidence-based programme with a growing body of research in the UK and internationally that demonstrates wide-ranging benefits including increased cognitive ability; improved wellbeing; enhanced social skills; and resilience to extremism.

P4C is an enquiry-based pedagogy, established in 1974 by Matthew Lipman, Professor of Philosophy at Columbia University. His aim was to develop a programme to encourage children to question and think independently. During a P4C session, children come up with philosophical questions around important issues in life such as ‘friendship’, ‘honesty’ or ‘evil’ that are prompted by a stimulus (for example, a story or a video).

In their community of enquiry, the children then discuss the question they have selected, and the teacher acts as a facilitator who supports the children in their thinking, reasoning and questioning. The teacher guides the children to listen, respond and build on ideas during the dialogue in order to reach a shared understanding of the question.

The approach can also be used with younger children. The aim at this stage is to work on developing the skills of P4C, for example; listening, turn-taking, making a choice through a range of ‘thinking’ or concept games and activities, or sorting pictures according to whether the children think they are beautiful or not beautiful, good or bad. There are many games and activities which can be used to facilitate enquiry, and part of the P4C approach is helping teachers to maximise engagement opportunities with the students.

Over time, children are encouraged to take ownership of the process of enquiry. Children learn to refine their philosophical questioning skills, asking and exploring such questions as, “Is it ever acceptable to lie?”. After the enquiry, the children and facilitator reflect on the process of enquiry, suggesting how they might improve as individuals or as a group.

In time, through a structured programme of training and support, the practice of P4C can become integral to the ethos and values of, and teaching and learning in a school. The P4C style of teaching and learning can be used across curriculum subjects, for example, in English, RE, Personal and Social Health and History with such questions as, “Do heaven and hell exist? What does it mean to be free? Can you be friends with everyone? Is it possible to have a just war?”.

Impact & scalability

Impact & Scalability


Philosophy for Children (P4C) is a proven enquiry-based pedagogy that aims to help children develop critical, creative, caring and collaborative thinking skills. Children are encouraged to take the lead and the teaching style is facilitative.


Research has shown that regular P4C sessions in schools can increase cognitive ability, enhance social skills, can support emotional wellbeing and improve resilience to extremism. P4C was found to enable an additional two months’ progress for students in reading and maths and provided the biggest boost for children from disadvantaged backgrounds.


P4C is currently used in 60 countries
P4C easily becomes part of the school ethos, values, culture and teaching and learning. In some schools, P4C has become integral to the way in which staff conduct meetings and training sessions. P4C can also extend beyond the school community to after-school philosophy clubs, and ‘philosophon’ competitions between schools and parent groups.

Implementation steps

Begin with training
Sapere offer various levels of training for schools wishing to begin the P4C journey.

As a starting off point, undertake the two-day whole-school Level 1 foundation training (taken as two days together or split over time to allow for practice).

The Level 1 course provides the basic introduction to philosophical enquiry and the theory and practice of P4C in preparation for those wishing to get started in the classroom or other educational setting.

It takes significant time and practice to become a skilled facilitator of P4C. Courses are designed to become progressively more philosophically challenging.Therefore it usually takes around 2 years to complete Levels 1, 2A, 2B and 3.

Schools wishing to embed P4C into daily practice may choose to follow the Going for Gold training. This is a three year program designed to give schools a planned and structured approach to training and support in order to implement and embed P4C.

Get started
Access the on-line SAPERE Getting started with P4C guide

Some aspects of the pedagogy might feel risky or uncomfortable to teachers initially, as P4C sessions are unlike typical lessons where teachers are in control of the lesson with more formal planning and learning outcomes. Children set their own agenda and teachers follow the children’s line of enquiry, helping them to keep focused on the question being discussed. Often, it is difficult to predict what the children are interested in or where the line of enquiry might lead. In developing their facilitation skills to manage and guide and plan the enquiry. It offers strategies as to how to encourage greater participation from quieter children or to deal with difficult or controversial issues that might arise.

Find the time
Regularly scheduled sessions increase chance of success.

Identify a slot in the school timetable to start regular P4c enquiry sessions with children. Allow 50 to 60 minutes per session. Making it a regular habit will provide children with the best chance of gaining the benefits of P4C.

In these sessionsthe teacher facilitates a student-led discussion on a philosophical question. P4C aims not only to strengthen good reasoning, enquiry and understanding of concepts, but is also a values-based education that aims to cultivate social and emotional skills in order to bring about the transformation of children and young people into more reasonable individuals. Children are encouraged to think critically and creatively, as well as to listen to each other, share ideas and opinions in a caring and collaborative way. This takes place within a ‘Community of Philosophical Enquiry’ the building of which, is central to the practice of P4C.

Schools that have introduced P4C have seen a wide range of benefits from various areas of school life including behaviour, academic attainment and the transition from primary to secondary schooling.

Carry out and record the first six enquiry sessions to be able to complete and apply for the Level 1certification.

Select a champion
School leaders appoint a P4C leader to drive implementation

The school P4C champion may continue training at higher levels and cascade this learning throughout the school.

It is useful to set up further training and support days after Level 1 training for all staff to support the P4C leader in planning for progress, developing practice and working towards to achieve the Bronze award status in the first year following the introductory Level 1 training.

P4C training is not just for the teachers! A student at a school in London took the Level 1 training and now delivers sessions just as well as any trained practitioner of P4C.

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