Hayley Room from Dandelion Learning writes about using a philosophical approach to ensure high-quality coverage of British values EYFS concepts…
Children are born philosophers. Innately inquisitive, their thirst for knowledge is persistent. To teach children how to think, we must nurture this curiosity and embrace these questioning moments.
Seemingly simple questions, such as the familiar ‘Why?’ is one such moment; and the most exciting type of ‘Why?’ question is one which has no definitive answer.
This is the moment when a child’s active and curious mind begins to expand. They begin to understand that there is not always a right or wrong answer, and that there are also opinions and ideas.
As adults, it is our role to delve into this realm of ideas, explore opinions and concepts, and debate non-judgmentally, with gentle curiosity and skilful questioning.
A philosophical approach to learning is a central part of our ethos at Dandelion. We use ‘Philosophy For Children (P4C)’, which we trained in while working with primary-aged children.
We encourage and teach children to engage in meaningful ‘open’ dialogues, with adults and one another. Through dialogue, they explore concepts such as friendship, love, hate, reality, imagination and death.
These ideas are all known to us, regardless of ethnicity, age or gender, but we may not all have the same definition of what they are.
Teaching children how to engage in these deep ‘open’ dialogues, for which there is no ‘right or wrong’, supports them to develop key skills.
These key skills support life-long learning and work to ensure our small humans will become adults who are able to function well in society and meet their future potential. Using this approach helps to develop:
It may not have escaped your notice that many of the benefits and concepts listed above are also linked to the part of the Early Years framework known as ‘British Values’.
You may not be philosophy trained, but there are many ways to promote a selection of skills linked to the benefits of a philosophical approach while meeting the aims of ‘British values’. Let’s consider British values and how we can develop them using a philosophical approach:
We ensure that children understand their own and other’s behaviour and its consequences, and learn to distinguish acceptable behaviours and unacceptable behaviours. Staff discuss rules and codes of behaviour, for example: the rules about playing games, using tools, cooking, tidying up and the rules of polite conversation.
We demonstrate fairness and equity so that children understand that rules apply to everyone – even adults!
At Dandelion we encourage children to value each other’s views and beliefs, and we talk about their feelings openly using our bespoke emotion cards. Our approach to managing positive behaviours and our high staff ratios ensure this happens.
We ensure that children are aware that their views are important and make a difference. For example, we undertake groups vote for a book choice, children make choices about which gloves to wear, and where and what to play.
We demonstrate that we support the decisions that children make and provide activities that involve turn-taking, sharing and collaboration. We give children opportunities to develop inquiring minds in an atmosphere where questions and responses are valued.
Dandelion has created an ethos of inclusivity and tolerance where views, faiths, cultures, family dynamics and race are valued.
Staff discuss similarities and differences between ourselves and others and among families, faiths, communities, cultures and traditions.
We’re always explaining the importance of tolerant behaviours such as sharing and respecting opinions. We promote diverse attitudes and challenge stereotypes. For example, we share stories and books that reflect and value the diversity of children’s experiences.
We provide resources and activities that challenge gender, family, cultural and racial stereotyping. We model expected behaviours and tolerant attitudes and explore opinions in a philosophical, inclusive manner.
The key to understanding difference is not to avoid the topic, but to approach it openly, at a child-appropriate level, and without offering a bias of one’s own.
We help children develop a positive sense of themselves, and provide opportunities for children to develop their self-knowledge, self-esteem and increase their confidence in their own abilities. For example, we allow children to take risks around our site when using tools, climbing, playing and running.
We talk about their experiences and learning. Staff also encourage a range of experiences that allow children to explore the language of feelings and responsibility, reflect on their differences and understand we are free to have different opinions. We talk about how we can have different ideas and options and still be friends.
During book readings, playing and during philosophy, we openly, non-judgmentally, discuss differences and similarities, equality, gender, etc. We celebrate our differences within our families and within each other.
As Early Years practitioners, you may feel that reflection to this depth is unrealistic with younger children. However, we lay the foundations for creative and critical thinking, along with British values, with our two-year-olds. In our 2013 Outstanding Ofsted inspection, the inspector noted that the quality of: ‘speaking, listening and questioning skills, exceeds beyond ‘normal’ standards’.
In our 2017 and 2022 Ofsted inspections, both inspectors saw our British values EYFS approach embraced in a purposefully, meaningful manner and this was noted in our reports.
Without staff to debate with the children, discuss concepts and unpick misconceptions, there’s little promotion of British values. We train our staff to engage in these dialogues and how we can promote British values.
There will be concepts that some adults may find tricky, but they must be prepared to question beliefs and misconceptions.
This also relates to adult-to-adult situations. If a staff member shares an idea or opinion, it’s not uncommon for us to ask them why they think that, what evidence they have to support that belief, and offer an example that may challenge the idea.
The way to avoid any feelings of awkwardness is to make debate and professional curiosity part of your team culture, offering a gentle, non-judgemental curiosity with staff as well as with children.
Importantly, when using this approach with children, please wear a poker face. Any expression is a form of judgment and this can silence children, and adults too.
With the ever-increasing decline in children’s speaking and listening skills, never has it been so vital that we ensure that opportunities are created for these meaningful dialogues.
Our ratios mus remain at a level that allows us time to talk. We must feel confident and comfortable to unpick children’s ideas without judgment to promote their creative and critical thinking.
Today’s society and schooling system has little time or inclination to pause long enough to allow a child thinking time, let alone debate opinion. But if today’s children are to survive in tomorrow’s world, it’s our duty to nurture these skills and support them to develop the tools that they need.
Find out more information about Dandelion’s approaches on its website, including its training and consultancy page and its shop.
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