In the late 1960s, Matthew Lipman initiated a programme of philosophical thinking for children, which is now widely known as P4C (Philosophy for Children). His approach was built on the foundation of the Community of Enquiry, a format or structure for conducting philosophical sessions.
The Community of Enquiry can be run by any teacher: it is a thinking circle where each child is given an opportunity to speak on a subject of the group's choice. Some P4C practitioners are now moving beyond this by introducing the children to philosophical concepts and even posing metaphysical questions that puzzle many adults.
A recent poll of BBC Radio 4 listeners on The Today Programme suggested that there is popular support for the proposal to teach philosophy in schools.
Why should children learn to think philosophically? Back in the 16th Century, Michel De Montaigne proposed: since philosophy is the art which teaches us how to live and since children need to learn it as much as we do at other ages, why do we not instruct them in it?. Research shows that philosophy improves a child's academic performance at school by raising confidence, esteem, concentration and IQ (Trickey and Topping, 2007).
There is of course another reason for encouraging children to exercise their intellect with philosophical thoughts: it's fun! Different children prefer different aspects, but most agree that they especially enjoy the opportunity to say what they think. In particular, philosophy gives them an opportunity to follow through their own lines of thought in more depth, supported by the rigour and discipline of philosophical coaching.
For philosophers and teachers: The Philosophy Foundation trains philosophy graduates to teach philosophy in schools, and introduces teachers to the method of Philosophical Enquiry.
For teachers: Sapere (the Society for the Advancement of Philosophical Enquiry and Reflection in Education) provides classroom teachers with training to run and facilitate philosophy sessions with school children, in the classroom or in after-school philosophy clubs.
Article fromThe Independent on Philosophy in Year 3: http://www.independent.co.uk/news/education/education-news/i-think-therefore-i-am-philosophy-in-year-three-965456.html
BBC News report on Philosophy for Seven Year Olds: http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/education/6264378.stm
Guardian article on academics' recommendation that philosophy should be taught in schools: http://www.guardian.co.uk/education/2008/jul/02/schools.uk4
Guardian article by Jo Woolf on teaching philosophy in schools: http://www.guardian.co.uk/education/2007/dec/04/highereducation.news
Stephen Law's chapter from Philosophy in Schools (ed. Michael Hand and Carrie Winstanley): http://stephenlaw.blogspot.com/2008/07/religion-and-philosophy-in-schools.html