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How does P4C impact on a child’s resilience?


Master Isolated Images courtesy of Free Digital Photos

When did you last get asked to justify what you are doing? It might be challenging but it’s healthy and it helps you to be clear about what you’re doing and why you’re doing it. As Socrates said in a time before mine,

The un-examined life is not worth living.

During a recent Philosophy for Children (P4C) INSET, I was asked the following:

What’s the link between P4C and resilience? How does P4C impact on a child’s resilience?

Great question. I was modeling P4C with the staff after having spent the day delivering P4C workshops with classes. And there should always be a good reason for what we ask children (or staff) to do. So I attempted to come up with a good answer. So how – and why – does P4C impact on children’s resilience (stick-ability, bounce-back-ability)? I bang on about resilience (and resilient thinking, in particular) a lot in my workshops, training events and school assemblies because I know it makes such a difference to outcomes – and overall success – in life.

However, resilience isn’t something you can just talk about, lecture people on or deliver a set of instructions on – it’s not like a cooking recipe. It has to be identified, explained, modeled – and promoted and practised in activities which offer a safe and secure bedding ground for growing resilience. So that’s why I use P4C.

But how does P4C impact on resilience per se? Those who have used P4C with children will have their own stories to tell about their observations. Here’s a couple of mine: I usually divide a class into smaller groups for part of a P4C discussion, especially when they are required to come to a consensus about an idea. On this particular occasion, a group included some fairly strong-minded characters, few of whom were prepared to agree on a single idea (the intended outcome). When it came to a time for each group to submit their chosen idea (from among the several they had aired), the said group were unable to offer anything  – but they were prepared to admit that they couldn’t come to an agreement. I always aim to use humour to defuse a potentially difficult situation so I made light of it and challenged the group to spend a little more time to come to an agreement. Within minutes, they had, indeed, resolved whatever issue had prevented agreement and we moved on.

In terms of resilience, the children had to relinquish pride and accommodate each other’s perspectives. This takes risk but it builds mutual trust and respect and, in the end, resilient thinking (what I define as the capacity to hold and justify a perspective whilst taking account of others’ and, if necessary, adapting one’s own thinking accordingly).

However, that wasn’t the most important outcome of that particular experience: I asked them (and the rest of the class) to evaluate the session and to state what had helped them to think, to create, new ideas, to communicate, to communicate – to solve problems (and, sometimes, collaboration – or NOT collaborating – IS the problem). Invariably, children will identify not only the skills they have been using and how well they have been using them – but also why they are important.

The structure of P4C doesn’t just impact on children’s ability to ask ‘out there’ questions – it massively impacts on their communication and collaboration skills. Within P4C circles, four important realms of thinking (all ‘c’ words) emerge within a so-called ‘community of enquiry’, as put forward by Matthew Lipman, the acknowledged founder of ‘Philosophy for Children:

Critical thinking – giving reasons and evidence

Creative thinking – generating and building on ideas

Co-operative or Collaborative thinking – engaging in thoughtful discussion

Caring thinking – developing awareness of self and care of others.

  I’ve added a couple of my own, which I think are pertinent to children in the 21st century :

Concentrated thinking – focusing on, and exploring, a specific topic for a sustained period of time

Controlled thinking – being measured, mature and rational – and, if necessary, constrained.

 In Part 2, I explore more of the particular skills and attitudes relating to resilience that children are encouraged to develop as they undertake P4C exercises, including the capacity to develop imaginative thinking, communication of ideas, validation of thinking and more on that essential pre-requisite to collaborative thinking: building community.

Why Rounders is Good for Resilience


When did you last play rounders with a bunch of children? How did it feel – for you? The children? What did you observe as the children played? Enthusiasm? Joy? Empathy? Encouragement? Fun? Disappointment? Despair? Jubilation? Triumph? Camaraderie? Independence? Collaboration?

I recently played a game of rounders with a bunch of Year 6 children who are not the most cohesive bunch I’ve come across: there are characters and clashes. However, without a doubt, it was the highlight of my day – possibly my week. Rounders has that uncanny attraction that draws children into something that I think is even more powerful than a playground football match: it draws boys and girls together into a concerted team effort to score points – rounders – in a climate of intense fun and challenge. What I observed was team spirit that overcame boundaries that traditionally separate children: gender did not come into it, nor did race, ethnicity, height, weight, ability or popularity. It was a great leveller, which is possibly why every single child wanted to take part: there was no hesitation, no anxiety, no reluctance, no fear – just a willingness to be part of a team with the shared goal of getting those points. It was refreshingly liberating.

Ok, great plug for rounders, but what has this got to do with resilience?

Resilience begins with acceptance: every child in that game was accepted into the game. There was no exclusivity or division. Resilience also requires belonging: every child felt they belonged to their team and, more importantly, that their team needed them (the ongoing calls of encouragement directed at each child in turn were testament to this). And, finally, confidence: every child, without fail, had a go. Even the ones who admitted that their batting – or bowling – sucked: that didn’t stop them putting all their effort into trying to propel that flying sphere.

Two essential elements for resilience are independence and collaboration: these were present in abundance. When you’re holding that bat, all eyes are on you. All on your team are willing you to hit that ball into next week. The opposite team are anticipating where you might direct the ball. You have to stand there holding yourself together and not worrying about what is going on around you. If you’re fielding, your team are relying on you to watch that ball and, if possible, apprehend it and even catch it. You’re on your own but you’re in a team. Operating independently but working in collaboration with others to achieve a common goal: either to get the points or to get the other team out.

Motivation is obviously high. This drives up expectation. And expectation drives focus and achievement. It was enormously gratifying to watch children improve their bowling, or persist in working on their batting technique, or repeatedly chase after the ball with the aim of stumping a frantic runner cheered on by an enthusiastic team.

And it wasn’t just the successes that proved important: children were out when they wanted to be in; some didn’t even reach first base when all they wanted to do was to fly home; potentially they had ‘failed’ or, even worse, let their team down. But it didn’t seem to matter with this lot: when you see a game for what it is, when you value what’s important and give that it’s due prominence, personal failure becomes less significant and resilience is strengthened.

Without a doubt, those children were developing skills and attitudes that enable resilience to grow and develop.

At the end of the game, breathless, red-faced and excited, we all walked back into the school building feeling a great sense of achievement and satisfaction.

‘Sir, can we play rounders again at lunchtime?’

So we did.

Let your knees do the talking


Working with a Reception class recently, we recounted the well-known fairy tale of the Three Billy Goats Gruff. With a little imagination, a low-level chair became a bridge and a child duly took on the role of the troll. In this version, no less than six billy goats trip-trapped across that hapless troll’s bridge, much to his consternation.

The rest of the children joined in with trip-traps and rumbling (the troll’s hungry tummy) and the troll eventually received his comeuppance and was tipped into the river, never to be seen again.

You can imagine the enthusiasm of the 5-year-olds. So much so that they did it again in smaller groups outside – using an upturned crate for a bridge and building a wall of foam blocks behind which the troll could hide and spring up from. By far the most exciting part was the biggest billy goat knocking the wall down on top of the troll…

But don’t we all just love a good drama?

What is so compelling about role-play, about that often-admired but seldom acquired skill of acting?

At the start of a drama workshop, I often ask children when they last saw a drama – people acting. They respond with suggestions such as a Christmas nativity, a pantomime, a school trip – but are surprised when I state that most of them would have watched drama on their TVs the evening before.

Drama is a natural part of our human experience – we use it to communicate, to tell a story, to persuade, to deliver a message, to make sense of our humanity. Drama is compelling form of communication – and it sticks.

Drama requires us to capitalize on forms of communication that we take for granted: voice intonation, facial expression, body language. Try NOT using your voice, relying only on your body – let your knees do the talking. Children find drama empowering and they often surprise us with their insight, interpretation and ability. It brings out essential creativity and communication skills and, within a group, builds collaboration effectively. This clearly has the potential for impact on their learning and achievement right across the curriculum and, of course, in their relationships and personal well-being.

Even a troll can work that one out…


Some useful drama resource websites:


Image by Victor Habbick, courtesy of

Snowflakes – a lesson in resilience


As I write, the UK is experiencing one of its rare near-blanket-coverings of snowfall. The unusual weather  dominates the news, causes traffic to grind to a halt, stops aeroplanes from taking off, closes thousands of schools and brings a deathly hush to the countryside.

What causes this beautiful mayhem?


Snowflakes are a great illustration of resilience. Vesta Kelly is credited with the following profound and memorable sparkle of wisdom, one of my favourite aphorisms:

Snowflakes are one of nature’s most fragile things, but just look at what they can do when they stick together.

Just a few days ago, I was teaching a Year 1 class while snow fell out of the sky, some of it having snuk indoors on welly boots, mittens and fake-fur trimmings. We snipped random shapes out of folded pieces of paper to unfold into snowflakes and we looked at startling photos of snowflakes online. Another website,, describes snowflakes as ‘wonders of natural chaotic symmetry’.

A snowflake, as delicate, finite and temporal as it is, combines with millions of others to cause devastating beauty. And it is utterly unique. No two snowflakes are the same – these tiny, individualised crystals of incomparable beauty teach us a lot about resilience. How important it is that we recognise both our individuality and our collective strength – and teach children the same. The snowflake on its own is of little significance and is easily dissipated. Combined with those with whom it sticks, it presents a formidable force.

A short while ago, I heard someone describe resilient people as those who draw their strength from others. It is only recently that I have realised just how important this is: when life sucks, you need to draw sustenance from others – you can’t do it on your own. Like the tiny, vulnerable snowflakes, we are almost nothing on our own but, strengthened by those with whom we collaborate, together we can be indomitable.

As I have often seen in primary schools I have visited or worked in:

TEAM: Together We Achieve More

Winter Landscape by Dan, courtesy of