Teaching Philosophy to First Graders

May 18, 2015

Nick Lorenz ’17 talks about his experience engaging local first-graders in philosophical discussions about children's books.

I’ve had the pleasure of taking Philosophy in Education this term. This class gets to go to a local first grade classroom and engage the kids in philosophical discussions after reading children's books. At the beginning of the class we were each supposed to pick a children’s book that we think could facilitate philosophical discussion. Our first task was to have a college-level discussion on the book, to get us thinking about what philosophical issues the book might raise. Afterwards we prepared a module, which could serve as guidelines in the future for anyone who wanted to use our book to teach philosophy to kids.

I really enjoyed being given the opportunity to lead a philosophical discussion on my book. I’m very seriously considering becoming a college professor in the very distant future. Obviously I know that leading this discussion is very different from being an actual college professor, but honestly I felt like it gave me an opportunity to see what being a professor might be like.  It also gave me an appreciation for the role of a professor in mediating discussion. It was definitely a challenge, perhaps something I hadn’t really truly realized until doing this project. I had in my head an idea of the direction I wanted to go in, but students brought up things at different points than I expected. Occasionally I also felt like the discussion got a little too removed from what I intended to discuss, but on the other hand, some of this proved to be very interesting. 

After we saw everyone present their own book and lead a discussion, we voted on which books we would like to use when actually going to the classrooms in Northfield. We are only visiting the classroom five times, so only five books could be chosen. In the end, my book was one of the five that was chosen! This gave me the special opportunity to see my project all the way through.  I worked with a fellow classmate to develop a lesson plan to use at the school. 

Hearing the kids enthusiastically and adorably say “Thank you!” at the end of the lesson really made my day. There was something particularly special about getting to see my project all the way through, from choosing the book and creating a module to seeing the children’s happy faces!  This opportunity allowed me to see the module that I made in action. I was able to see which areas were the most successful topics of conversation, and which ideas (presented in the module) would be better to be left out. Overall I thought our lesson went very well. It seemed to be about a topic that the kids could certainly grasp. I was really pleased to see my discussion group stay on the subject for the most part, and give some really insightful answers. They seemed to be genuinely engaged and wanting to share their thoughts. 

The book I chose was, “This Moose Belongs to Me!” by Owen Jeffers. The book is beautifully illustrated, and quite adorable. The story involves a boy who believes that he owns a moose. They go on various adventures in the wilderness, but then one day the boy encounters someone else who claims to own the moose. This leads to some great discussion about what it means to own something, particularly if it is an animal that we claim to own!

Kids were eager to share their own stories about their own pets. Some of the most successful areas of the discussion were discussing whether it would be okay to own a wild animal (in a domestic setting) and discussing whether our parents owned us. The ‘wild animal question’ led us to discussions about natural habitats and whether or not the pet would be happy. The ‘parents’ question led the kids to draw distinction between themselves and other animals leading one kid to say we are different, “because we are highly intelligent!”

The activity we did with the kids seemed like it was a big hit. We had groups of first-graders dress up a college student as an animal. Even with the limited supplies that we had, the first graders got very creative. It was pretty funny seeing them construct a leash and collar for their ‘pet’ and then holding the ‘pet’ on the leash the whole time. After they had constructed their animal, they were asked if it could be a pet, and if so what it’s name would be. They were also asked where it would live and how they would treat it. The purpose of the activity was to get the kids to recognize that there are certain animals that perhaps we should not keep as pets. I really appreciated getting the opportunity to execute this project. The whole experience was a total blast! I think we all had fun, college students and first graders alike!