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How does P4C impact on a child’s resilience? Part 2

Image: Idea Go /

Image: Idea Go /

Imagination is more important than knowledge.
For knowledge is limited, whilst imagination embraces the whole world.
– Albert Einstein –

In Part 1 of this two-part post, I outlined the rationale and key outcomes of using Philosophy for Children (P4C), including the ‘c’ words espoused by Matthew Lipman, the acknowledged founder of Philosophy for Children.

In this post, I explore some of the specific benefits of using P4C, in particular, four fundamental skills that I promote constantly and which help children develop practise resilient thinking in all my workshops: the capacity for self-control and the ability to create, communicate and collaborate. P4C (also known as PwC – Philosophy with Children) follows a very simple but clear structure to enable children to follow a line of enquiry – but it provides opportunities for creativity, communication and collaboration in many forms, some of which I will outline here.

Firstly, though, the structure: using literally ANY stimulus (I’ve demonstrated it with a pencil in classes and staff training events):

a) WHAT I KNOW: make objective and factual observations about the stimulus, such as events in a story, characteristics of an object

b) WHAT I DON’T KNOW: open-ended questions about characters or events in a story, features of an object, a scene in a painting, eg. I don’t know why / how / what… OR, I wonder why / how / what…

c) WHAT COULD BE: a range of possible answers to one of the questions put forward, eg. I think…, Maybe…

The thinking processes involved present excellent opportunities for children to learn the skills of observation, recollection, assimilation, making links, identifying gaps and anomalies, asking questions, making critical judgements, thinking rationally, arguing points of view and surmising. However, the real strength of this process lies in collaboration: children thinking for themselves but then sharing their thoughts, ideas and viewpoints – and being able to strengthen their thinking through the sharing process. Clearly, not all children are comfortable with articulating their thoughts so it is important that structures are in place which encourage the more reluctant speakers.

Many schools use Kagan breakout structures to facilitate opportunities for individuals to share their thinking. These are very effective and easily implemented. I often use what I call ‘Speed-Dating’ (go and share your thinking with a partner for a minute then, on the signal, find another partner, and so on) or ‘Sliding Lines’ (children in two lines facing each other share thinking with the person facing them and then one of the lines slides along two people so that the children have a new partner, and so on – the two that ‘drop off’ one end join the other end). In this instance, EVERY child is involved in conversation: the effect is energising and the impact is almost guaranteed.

When it comes to collaborative thinking, I ask children in small groups to agree on an idea (eg. a good question or a good answer to a question). This does not always come easy, as you can imagine: some children are very precious about their ideas and quite unwilling to let go of the notion that their idea is the best. However, in a group context, each child has to recognise and value the contribution of each and every other child – and listen to and consider their viewpoints. This often means conceding that another person’s idea is actually better than your own and that their ideas enrich yours. Just imagine every child in a class learning to think like this! The resilience is in that the child maintains their dignity and poise as a group member, whilst exchanging and modifying their ideas. This process fosters mutual respect and consideration and promotes creativity, confident communication and effective collaboration. It also ensures that each child’s thinking is validated, which naturally builds their confidence and resilience as thinkers – and contributes to what Robert Fisher calls ‘building community’.

As resilient thinkers, children are more likely to hold their own viewpoint, listen to and consider others’ viewpoints, be willing to change their viewpoints, be willing to try and persuade others to change their viewpoints – and accept that others may think differently from them. This also enables children to justify their thinking and be able to rationalise their viewpoints – essential in today’s multi-media, information-saturated knowledge climate. I often tell children that what we are practising in their classroom are the skills they will need in the future to solve the world’s big problems.


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.