I play, therefore I am

Philosophy for children

HAMISH CARDWELL
Last updated 05:00 19/04/2012
Philosophy
HAMISH CARDWELL

Professor Tom Wartenberg guides Maia Wilkinson, 7, and Stephen Eng, 6, through some of life's thorny questions.

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A visiting Fulbright scholar has swapped the lectern for the mat and is teaching Island Bay School pupils to ask some of life's big questions.

American philosophy professor Tom Wartenberg is a guest teacher in the school's Philosophy for Children programme.

Each session begins with Mr Wartenberg reading aloud from a children's book that illustrates a particular philosophical theme.

"At the end of the book I ask them a question and they start to have a discussion," he said.

Topics covered may include ethics and metaphysics, but the thoughts of philosophy masters are not the focus of the discussions.

"They are not learning what any famous philosopher said about anything. What they are doing is engaging with the problems of philosophy in an every-day manner," he said.

"The goal is to have the children talking to each other. There are currently two classes, one for 6 and 7-year-olds and one for 10-year-olds."

Mr Wartenberg, who is based at Mount Holyoke College, in Massachusetts, is a specialist in teaching philosophy to children.

He said getting children discussing philosophy could lead to some wonderful quotes.

"You could not script it better."

He will also be taking workshops with other teachers and a session with interested parents.

Deputy principal Jane Hossack said the philosophy class had become very popular with teachers and students.

"It is turning into quite a wee movement," she said.

The programme was a good fit with the school's mission to encourage critical thinking, inquiry and discussion.

"We want our children to be deep thinkers," she said.

When Mr Wartenberg returns to the United States in June his classes will be run by other philosophy lecturers who have children at the school.

He hopes to return to Island Bay School in mid-2013.

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- The Wellingtonian

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