I think, therefore I am: Philosophy in Year Three

Philosophy lessons in primary schools teach children how to think

"Eyes closed, take a deep breath through the nose, hold it and breathe out through the mouth," the teacher tells the class. "Now think of that place that makes you feel happy and relaxed."

This may not be what one would normally expect to hear from a teacher at the start of a primary school lesson in these days of concentrating on raising standards at every opportunity.

But the seven- and eight-year-olds being given the instruction were at one of several schools in the country pioneering new lessons in philosophy for children of primary school age.

The plan is that they should clear their minds so they can think, something some teachers would argue is a novel idea in the modern educational world of the three Ts, tests, targets and [league] tables.

Their teacher, Peter Worley, who studied the subject at university, has just set up a company, The Philosophy Shop, dedicated to bringing philosophy lessons to primary school pupils and business is beginning to mushroom.

From modest beginnings at Eliot Bank primary school in Lewisham, south London, his company has now reached the stage where it has four teachers, all philosophy graduates, delivering lessons, and schools in Portsmouth and the Isle of Wight on his books.

Kathy Palmer, the headteacher at Eliot Bank, is in no doubt about their value in a primary school world still dominated by SATs, especially now that Ed Balls, the Secretary of State for Schools, has decreed that the national curriculum tests for 11-year-olds are here to stay.

"Children love it," she said. "When we started it, there were far fewer schools saying this rigid curriculum with the teacher as the fountain of all knowledge just isn't working. This gives them the opportunity to really explore what they think about things. We've got a very broad range of pupils in terms of their background."

The programme, she said, helped pupils of all abilities to develop their thoughts and improve their self-esteem and also had an impact on how they approached other lessons.

In Year Three, the budding Jean-Paul Sartres were deliberating on the story of the frog and the scorpion. The scorpion had seen members of his family on the other side of a river and wanted the frog to ferry him across. The frog was reluctant. "You'll sting me." The scorpion promised he would not but succumbed to the temptation half-way across. "That's what I do," he told the frog as both slid to their watery grave.

"That's evil," cried one of the pupils. But during the debate, most felt no one was to blame because the scorpion could not help himself. One said: "It might have been the frog's fault a little bit for letting the scorpion on his back."

The story was then changed by Peter Worley, known as "The Philosophy Man" to some pupils, to include two humans: a robber with a knife and a ferryman. Again, a similarity, with the robber knifing the ferryman half-way across. Who was to blame this time?

"It's the robber's fault – the scorpion, it's his nature but the robber needn't have done it," said one eight-year-old.

In another classroom, a group aged 10 and 11 were shown four works of art and told two were by the same painter. Then they were told by "The Philosophy Man" that one of them was the most beautiful. He was pointing out the difference between facts and values.

There is a difference, argued Aidan. "Five times five is 25 and that's a fact," he said. "My age is 11," added Connor. "If anyone said my age was 10, they would be wrong." In the end, the class largely agreed it was a fact that two of the paintings had been done by the same artist but which was the most beautiful was a matter of opinion.

Philosophy lessons The questions pupils will face

*Year Three (aged seven and eight)

Problem: The class is told of the frog and the scorpion, who asks the frog to ferry it across the river, promising it will not sting. Half-way across, it does and both slide into a watery grave, the scorpion saying: "It's what I do." The class debates who was in the wrong. The characters are changed to a robber with a knife and a ferryman who meet a similar fate. Debate continues.

Answer: There is no answer. Different people have different views.

*Year Six (aged 10 and 11)

Problem: (a) The class is shown four paintings and told two are by the same artist. Can this be right?

(b) The class is shown four paintings and told one is the most beautiful. Is this necessarily right?

Answer: This is a lesson in the difference between facts and values.

(a) It can be a fact that two of the paintings are by the same person.

(b) Not necessarily. Beauty can be in the eye of the beholder.

News
A model of a Neanderthal man on display at the National Museum of Prehistory in Dordogne, France
science
News
Richard Dawkins dedicated his book 'The Greatest Show on Earth' to Josh Timonen
newsThat's Richard Dawkins on babies with Down Syndrome
Arts and Entertainment
Eye of the beholder? 'Concrete lasagne' Preston bus station
architectureWhich monstrosities should be nominated for the Dead Prize?
Extras
indybest
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
ebooksAn evocation of the conflict through the eyes of those who lived through it
Independent
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
santorini
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs Education

Network Manager - Oldham area - Up to £30,000

£26000 - £30000 per annum + Benefits: Ashdown Group: Working with an exciting ...

Teacher of special needs required for Burton on Trent

£100 - £140 per day: Randstad Education Nottingham: Exciting Opportunity, Rand...

Behaviour Support Assistant

£50 - £60 per day: Randstad Education Nottingham: Behaviour Support Worker Th...

Youth Worker / Teaching Assistant - Nottingham

£50 - £60 per day: Randstad Education Nottingham: Randstad Education are looki...

Day In a Page

Middle East crisis: We know all too much about the cruelty of Isis – but all too little about who they are

We know all too much about the cruelty of Isis – but all too little about who they are

Now Obama has seen the next US reporter to be threatened with beheading, will he blink, asks Robert Fisk
Neanderthals lived alongside humans for centuries, latest study shows

Final resting place of our Neanderthal neighbours revealed

Bones dated to 40,000 years ago show species may have died out in Belgium species co-existed
Scottish independence: The new Scots who hold fate of the UK in their hands

The new Scots who hold fate of the UK in their hands

Scotland’s immigrants are as passionate about the future of their adopted nation as anyone else
Britain's ugliest buildings: Which monstrosities should be nominated for the Dead Prize?

Blight club: Britain's ugliest buildings

Following the architect Cameron Sinclair's introduction of the Dead Prize, an award for ugly buildings, John Rentoul reflects on some of the biggest blots on the UK landscape
eBay's enduring appeal: Online auction site is still the UK's most popular e-commerce retailer

eBay's enduring appeal

The online auction site is still the UK's most popular e-commerce site
Culture Minister Ed Vaizey: ‘lack of ethnic minority and black faces on TV is weird’

'Lack of ethnic minority and black faces on TV is weird'

Culture Minister Ed Vaizey calls for immediate action to address the problem
Josephine Dickinson: 'A cochlear implant helped me to discover a new world of sound'

Josephine Dickinson: 'How I discovered a new world of sound'

After going deaf as a child, musician and poet Josephine Dickinson made do with a hearing aid for five decades. Then she had a cochlear implant - and everything changed
Greggs Google fail: Was the bakery's response to its logo mishap a stroke of marketing genius?

Greggs gives lesson in crisis management

After a mishap with their logo, high street staple Greggs went viral this week. But, as Simon Usborne discovers, their social media response was anything but half baked
Matthew McConaughey has been singing the praises of bumbags (shame he doesn't know how to wear one)

Matthew McConaughey sings the praises of bumbags

Shame he doesn't know how to wear one. Harriet Walker explains the dos and don'ts of fanny packs
7 best quadcopters and drones

Flying fun: 7 best quadcopters and drones

From state of the art devices with stabilised cameras to mini gadgets that can soar around the home, we take some flying objects for a spin
Joey Barton: ‘I’ve been guilty of getting a bit irate’

Joey Barton: ‘I’ve been guilty of getting a bit irate’

The midfielder returned to the Premier League after two years last weekend. The controversial character had much to discuss after his first game back
Andy Murray: I quit while I’m ahead too often

Andy Murray: I quit while I’m ahead too often

British No 1 knows his consistency as well as his fitness needs working on as he prepares for the US Open after a ‘very, very up and down’ year
Ferguson: In the heartlands of America, a descent into madness

A descent into madness in America's heartlands

David Usborne arrived in Ferguson, Missouri to be greeted by a scene more redolent of Gaza and Afghanistan
BBC’s filming of raid at Sir Cliff’s home ‘may be result of corruption’

BBC faces corruption allegation over its Sir Cliff police raid coverage

Reporter’s relationship with police under scrutiny as DG is summoned by MPs to explain extensive live broadcast of swoop on singer’s home
Lauded therapist Harley Mille still in limbo as battle to stay in Britain drags on

Lauded therapist still in limbo as battle to stay in Britain drags on

Australian Harley Miller is as frustrated by court delays as she is with the idiosyncrasies of immigration law