There may not be a board book version of Plato’s republic, but that doesn’t mean that famous philosophers from past eras aren’t of interest to pint-sized wisdom-seekers. In fact, when researching and testing our “ThinkAboutIt” series, one of the most common requests we had from parents was that we include a number of actual philosophers. Over the years, we’ve found that children really respond to hearing about actual people who’ve made their fortunes asking big questions (and they tend to think Nietzsche had a cool mustache too).
Here are a number of reasons to introduce children to historical figures in philosophy:
- Historical thinkers provide a valuable link to what children learn at school. Got a kid who’s studying ancient civilizations? Bring in the Greeks! Doing a unit on ecology? Call on an environmental philosopher. For just about any subject area, learning objective or topic, there’s a famous thinker that kids will love.
- Providing a “who’s who” demonstrates very clearly that philosophy isn’t something ethereal and abstract, but something that real human beings do, and have done for thousands of years. It humanizes the practice of asking big questions. Philosophers are a cool, quirky bunch, and are interesting studies in humanity. Kids love learning about people just as much as they love debating ideas. Why not combine the two?
- Diving into the philosophical cannon, if done properly, can make a child feel represented with respect to cultural back ground and gender. There have been both male and female philosophers in all parts of the world, who spoke all different languages and came from all different cultures. All of them can serve as role models for budding young thinkers. It’s thrilling and empowering for a child to think “That could be me!”
Of course, when doing philosophy with children, questions and concepts take priority. However, no one studies science without learning about scientists, and literature and art without a little bit of info about writers and artists, leave something to be desired. While diving into the wondrous world of philosophy with your child, don’t forget to pause and take stock of the long list of great minds who, like your wee thinker, have fallen in love with big questions.