Philosophy for Children

“The aim of a thinking skills programme such as P4C is not to turn children into philosophers but to help them become more thoughtful, more reflective, more considerate and more reasonable individuals.”

Matthew Lipman

As part of the Sociatas Trust, we have been extremely fortunate to engage with the UK’s National Charity Sapere: Society for the Advancement of Philosophical Enquiry and Reflection in Education.

This has enabled every teacher at Ash Green to qualify as a Level 1 P4C Facilitator, with Miss Bishop and Miss Moss extending their qualification to a Level 2.

Your child may have told you about P4C but you may still be wondering what it’s all about! 

So… What is P4C?

P4C, or Philosophy for Children, is an approach to learning and teaching which enhances children’s thinking and communication skills, boosts their self-esteem, and improves their academic attainment. 

It was established over forty years ago by Professor Matthew Lipman of Montclair State University in the United States and is now practised around the world.

In P4C, a stimulus, such as a story, video clip or image, is shared with a group of children. The children are encouraged by a trained facilitator, such as a teacher, to come up with the kind of big, engaging philosophical questions about the stimulus which are at the heart of P4C. 

Philosophical questions are open to examination, further questioning and enquiry. They are contestable, central and common – that is, there is more than one valid point of view, the question is important in the lives of the children, and it is a shared issue or concern. Children might come up with philosophical questions such as:

  • Is it ever OK to lie?
  • What makes you you?
  • Do we have to respect everyone?
  • Can good people do bad things?
  • Do we all have the same rights?

Through a vote, the children then choose the question they would most like to discuss. The teacher gives the children time to think and reason individually about the question before facilitating the exchange of ideas and opinions as a group, or community of enquiry. Over time, the teacher supports the children to think more deeply and philosophically by encouraging the 4Cs of P4C – critical, creative, collaborative and caring thinking.

As questions grow more philosophical and imaginative, children learn to listen carefully to each other, to explore differences of opinion respectfully, and to value the ideas of others.

What does a P4C Session look like?

The children usually sit in a circle to aid good listening and equal involvement. They think about the rules and guidelines for a successful enquiry and possibly focus on particular skills needed. The session usually starts with a game that helps build these skills.

A session usually begins by generating a philosophical question:

After the children have had time to investigate the stimulus (books/videos/photos) individually, with a partner and as a class, they then have to generate a question. The children are encouraged to develop their skills at developing a philosophical question, They learn to understand which type of questions generate a good enquiry and which provide a very closed line of enquiry.

Closed question: What colour is Goldilocks dress?

Philosophical question: Can it ever be right to break into somebody’s house?

Deciding on a line of enquiry

After generating their questions they then have to choose which question they want to discuss. The children vote for the line of enquiry they wish to develop.


The children then discuss the question. They listen to each other, share ideas, agree, disagree, build upon each others’ ideas and all have to the chance to contribute.

Completing the enquiry

After a set period of time the enquiry will be brought to a close and the facilitator (the teacher) will recap on the ideas covered and discussed.

The 4C’s

P4C develops different types of thinking, we refer to these from Nursery all the way to Year 6 as the 4’Cs

1. Collaborative—thinking of others
2. Caring—thinking of others
3. Critical—making reasoned judgements 4. Creative—creating new ideas 

4. Creative—creating new ideas

How can you help your child to develop their P4C skills at home?

Take time to listen to them/talk to them about the P4C sessions in class

Be confident that you don’t always know the answer—its ok to ponder, not everything has or needs an answer.

Give them opportunities to talk about appropriate ‘big issues’ e.g. questions from newspapers or TV.

Use open-ended questions: Why do you think that? How did you decide? What do you think?

Be sure to check back soon….there might be a P4C question that you can discuss at home!