This website is part of Tom Wartenberg's Teaching Children Philosophy website.  It contains material used in the Religious Education Program at the Unitarian Society of Northampton and Florence beginning in the Fall of 2010.  New material will posted each week, as we discuss another children's book.  The individual books are subpages that you can access through the link at the bottom of this page.  Keep coming back as more stories are added!!
Each week, at the Unitarian Society, a "Story for All Ages" is read as part of the service.  This website was developed as a result of our efforts to use those stories to spark thoughtful discussions among children and adults in the Society.  Feel free to browse our questions. 

For a more extensive website for finding and discussion thinking stories, please visit teachingchildrenphilosophy.org

Click here to read a sermon that Tom delivered at the Unitarian Society that explain why he thought it was a good idea to introduce philosophy into the religious education program.

How to Lead a Discussion of a Picture Book or a Story

The new element in religious education this year is the attempt to begin your session with a discussion of the story that the children have heard upstairs.  In each case, we want you to discuss some deep ideas with the children.  This may seem intimidating at first and you may have some reservations about whether the children can actually do this, but I assure you that it is possible if you are patient and keep at it each week.  Don’t expect too much at first, but I think you will be amazed at what the children are able to do.

The central feature of what we are doing is creating an atmosphere in which the children can discuss their ideas with each other.  This means that your role is only that of a facilitator.  You shouldn’t say what you think, but only encourage the children to say what they think.  This takes a bit of getting used to, since we are inclined to listen to what children say and then tell them our own ideas.  But the children will not grow as creative and critical thinkers – which we all want them to be – if we don’t give them a chance to think about their own ideas in a setting that validates their ability to think, feel, and puzzle over deep questions.

Each week, you will receive a short set of questions for discussion.  These are, of course, only suggestions, but they are intended to indicate the subject we think the story addresses.  The idea would be that you ask the children one of these questions or some other one your prefer.  This is the opening move in a discussion:  the posing in the problem.  The next move, so to speak, is to get one of the children to say what they think.  Once they have done that, you should turn to the other children and ask them what they think of that answer:  Do they agree or disagree and why?  Our first goal is for the children to learn how to say clearly and succinctly what they think about some topic, why they think what they do.  Our second goal is to get them to listen carefully and respectfully to what other think and to be able to respond in a supportive but critical manner with their own ideas.

In all of this, is it critical that you listen carefully to what the children say.  All too often, we are not really good listeners to the concerns and ideas of children.  Along with the children learning to think and listen to each other, we adults will learn to listen with more careful and caring ears to what our children have to say.

You may feel some ambivalence or worry about this project.  That’s natural.  You are being asked to try something new.  In my own work with children, I have gone through various different stages of anxiety, but I can tell you that this can really work and the kids will surprise you with their intelligence and their thinking. 

If you want more guidance, I suggest you take a look at some of the early chapters of my book, Big Ideas for Little Kids.  But all you really need is to trust yourself and to let yourself interact with the children in the manner I have described.

Good luck!  And enjoy!!

Tom Wartenberg

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