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

Philosophy for Children

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

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?”.

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Intended Outcomes
Target Group
Resources Needed
Philosophy for Children can be implemented by one teacher but it's more effective when used as a whole school model. P4C offer different levels of training to schools including a 3 year ‘Going for Gold’ training and support package is available to help embed P4C into the school in an effective and sustainable way. This costs around £4,000 per year over 3 years. SAPERE's P4C resource database provides recommended reading, stimulus material, web links and downloadable resources.
HundrED Criteria
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.

See this innovation in action.



Inspired to implement this? Here's how...

Begin with training
Sapere offer various levels of training for schools wishing to begin the P4C journey.
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Get started
Access the on-line SAPERE Getting started with P4C guide
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Find the time
Regularly scheduled sessions increase chance of success.
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Select a champion
School leaders appoint a P4C leader to drive implementation
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