Can children make philosophy

Philosophize with toddlers

The fascination with children's ideas

“Thinking is sometimes wrong, but knowledge is always right… If there is the name God, there must be a God… If everything were a dream, then people would not ask if everything was a dream… Where does the stomach ache go when I have no more pain? " (Matthews, G .; 1991).

Thought fragments from a philosophical college at the university? No, far from it, contributions from kindergarten children!

The English philosopher Gareth Matthews was disappointed in his students in the philosophical colloquia, because they only repeated what they had read once and were unable to produce very own thoughts on fundamental questions in life.

Then Matthews came up with the idea: Small children are not spoiled by philosophical lessons and are therefore open to spontaneous ideas. That is why he went to kindergarten and school with children. There he could have witty conversations. He even claims that not even the whole philosophical tradition came up with such ideas as the toddlers (Matthews, G .; 1989).

Individual philosophers and those interested in children's philosophy took a liking to the unadulterated ideas, the powerful images and comparisons, as well as the original ideas of the children and continued to work in this direction (Brüning, B .; 1991).

This examination of children's philosophical questions has established itself as an independent and serious research area at some universities.

Why philosophize with children?

Philosophizing with children is exciting, delightful and extremely instructive for children and adults. Without a doubt: it can be a fascinating affair for everyone.

In the philosophical discussions with children, adults learn how they have to deal with children in order to achieve an open and informal discussion. It takes some methodological and didactic sophistication, but even more a special intellectual and interpersonal climate, to stimulate small children to think about peace, happiness, justice, knowledge, time, ethics, life and death (Matthews, G. 1989).

As the records show, the children come up with very idiosyncratic ideas, novel images and unusual ideas when it comes to such basic human questions.

Children of kindergarten and elementary school age could be won over in a small, manageable group of five to seven children to express their views on basic human issues. Of course there are also young people who take part in the philosophical discussion groups.

What do the children learn from it?

Child philosophers pursue different goals. As in every philosophy, philosophizing with children starts with amazement and questions. Through the philosophical discussions, the impetuous questioning and amazement can be kept awake in children (Martens, E .; 1990). Even more: amazement and questions as a basic testing attitude are implanted for life as a whole.

But philosophizing also requires a critical examination of the concepts. Often thoughtless “wind eggs” should become “hard eggs” through critical reflection (Matthews, G .; 1989). Accordingly, philosophizing lets children recognize that terms should be as precise and clear as possible. Not only terms are scrutinized, but through philosophizing, children learn to look carefully at every offer, every promise, every salvation doctrine.

Finally, it is important to examine the arguments and lines of thought in our debates for their validity. In philosophical discussions, the children learn which explanations approximate or correspond to a thing (Brüning, B .; 1990). Yes, overall the children become more self-confident, more critical and independent in their thinking and acting through the philosophical debates. And it gets even better: several educators see this as a strengthening of children with regard to the dangers of addictions.

Of course, not all of these goals are achieved with young children. If questions and amazement are more in the foreground in kindergarten age, then young people should be more interested in arguing.

With these requirements, however, it remains questionable: Does philosophizing with children show that there is a little philosopher in every child, or are rational games between children and specialists that only make it clear how well children can express themselves on certain topics and where their expressiveness is limited?

One thing should be clear: Philosophical conversations with children promote their thinking skills, develop their expressiveness and develop skills to judge problems and questions from different points of view. This can spark enthusiasm in children to think through fundamental questions of life and the world.

And children who have subjected many things and ideas to a thought-provoking examination are sure to face realities and illusory worlds with a critical distance.

Practical suggestions for entering the philosophical college with children

Is philosophizing with children - a fashionable trend? Yes, maybe in terms of the term - but in terms of the matter, parents have always philosophized with their children on a low-threshold basis; for example, if longer discussions should clarify the size of the birthday or Christmas present. You quickly end up with questions of happiness, satisfaction, the wishes and needs of the children. All topics that a philosopher also has in his program. There are many occasions in families that can lead to philosophical discussions. The following prerequisites are a prosperous ground for philosophizing with children.

  • Time and leisure: Philosophizing is a creative and artistic activity. It cannot take place on the side, but needs time, rest and leisure. When parents and children sit together over tea on the weekend; or when a story has been read aloud, philosophical debates can easily spread.
  • Make up stories: Parents can also - as some child philosophers have done - invent stories that lead to people's big issues. A problem is touched on in a story and the children can continue the story. Example of an old ship: an old ship is dismantled in the port. Board by bed, beam by beam are dismantled. When is it still a ship and when is it just a pile of wood?
  • Provocative questions and stories: Cozy round by candlelight: If I blow out the candle now, where has the fire gone? Where does the fire escape from the wind? Or: does a firefighter have to clean his shoes when he goes into a burning house? A moral dilemma according to Kohlberg: Is a father allowed to steal a drug in the pharmacy if he can use it to save his wife from death and does not have the money to buy it himself?
  • Stupid things are creative places! A relaxed and unconstrained philosophical banter attracts kindergarten children in particular to fool around and get into abstruse exaggerations. Forget about running a philosophical seminar! It is precisely the unlimited freedom of thought and the relaxed and even taboo-free speech of children about everything and everyone that is the seat of radical philosophy.
  • Contribute pictures! Children in small groups or even siblings among each other sometimes slide into a philosophical discourse by themselves. For example, on a long car trip, big questions can suddenly move the discussion (“Is there such a big mountain in the Alps that God can't lift it?”). If the parents themselves contribute unusual pictures, the motivation for a longer argument is increased.
  • Confirmation in the philosophical classics! The parents' fascination with philosophizing with their children can be expanded if one reads up interesting explanations in philosophical works. All basic human questions are already debated in Plato. But philosophers of the Middle Ages, modern times and the present have also produced highly impressive reflections.


Philosophizing with children is not one of the compulsory pedagogical exercises for parents. But it can be extremely attractive to take up unusual trains of thought and extremely gripping images of the children and to work with them and continue them. Children are philosophers by nature and it is up to their parents to take part in an adventurous journey into the land of philosophy. In any case, one thing is certain: parents and children experience immense intellectual enrichment as a result. The necessary prerequisites for this are the same as those required for a successful upbringing.


  • Brüning, B .: With the compass through the labyrinth of the world. How children track down important life issues. Bad Münder 1990
  • Brüning, B .: Philosophizing with Children, Hamburg 1991/2.
  • Freese, H.-L .: Children are Philosophers - Presentation of Children's Philosophy; Weinheim 2002.
  • Martens, E .: Orientate oneself in thinking. Philosophical initial steps with children, Hanover 1990.
  • Matthews, G. B .: Thoughts. Philosophical ideas of younger children, Berlin 1991.
  • Matthews, G., B .: Philosophical Conversations with Children, Berlin 1989.
  • Zoller, Eva: The Little Philosophers, Zurich 2000/4.
  • Zoller-Morf, E .: Philosophical journey. With children in search of joie de vivre and meaning, Freiburg 2000.

Related Links

Philosophizing with Children Hamburg e.V.

Philosophical Practice - Norbert Schikora

Network for practical philosophizing

Swiss documentation center for
Children's and everyday philosophy

Further contributions by the author can be found here in our family handbook


Michael Schnabel was a research assistant at the State Institute for Early Education


Created on October 10, 2003, last changed on June 13, 2012