Philosophical questions to help parents and guardians provide their children with engaging opportunities to think, learn, and have fun at home.
Whilst limiting, the coronavirus lockdown provides many moments for families to engage in educational activities beyond formal schoolwork to enhance home-based learning for children of all ages.
Discussing philosophical questions is a great way to spend quality time and connect with your children.
Engaging young minds in philosophical thought experiments encourages them to expand the horizons of their thinking and develop their perspectives on what is important in life.
All sorts of home and family activities, such as mealtime, play, or even household chores offer precious opportunities to talk to your children. The more varied these conversations can be the more children can learn.
We have prepared a list of questions to serve as a resource for children (and adults) to engage in philosophical thinking and look anew at the world around them. What will you discuss with your child today?
1. What makes us human?
- What is one thing that all people have in common? (think beyond bodies!)
- Can you name something?
- How are you different from your pet?
- What can you do that an animal can’t?
Let your child become a researcher and ask them to interview the family. Equip them with a pen and a notepad to interview family members with the same questions, and some more of their own (you could even reach extended family via the phone!). Compare and discuss the answers to see what they found.
2. Can a robot be human?
- What can your computer do that humans also can?
- Is there anything that humans can do that computers cannot? Name as many things as you can.
- Does your computer have feelings? What makes you think so? Can you be sure?
Draw or build a robot (you could use recycled materials) and ask your child to pretend it is alive. How would they treat it differently if it was alive?
Please share your children’s creations with us, we would love to see them.
3. Are animals persons?
- What does it mean to be a person?
- Is being a human and being a person the same thing?
- Why do we treat animals differently to humans? Should we treat them the same?
Together with your child, create a Declaration of Animal Rights. Include several short rules describing how animals should be treated.
Let your child lead the way.
Once finished, let them read the Declaration aloud to all family members and collect their signatures.
4. What is it like to be a bat?
- What is it like to be a cat/dog/dinosaur/table/chair?
- Could you recreate their lifestyle?
- Would you swap lives with a bat for a day? Forever?
Philosophical talk goes well with hands-on art.
Together with your child, create an origami superhero mask – there are plenty of tutorials online. We recommend Origami Batman Mask (instructables website).
You could also ask your child to draw a bat or even pretend to be one.
5. What is fairness?
- What does it mean to treat someone fairly?
- Can you give an example of a time when someone treated you unfairly? How about when you treated someone unfairly?
- Does fair mean equal? Are there situations where equal is not fair?
Give your child a packet of sweets and ask them to divide the sweets among the family members. Ask the child why they split the sweets the way they did. Challenge their decisions if they seem unfair.
Now repeat but make sure your child has an unequal number, see how they divide them unevenly and ask why they distributed them the way they did.
6. Your body or your mind?
- Would you rather keep your body or your mind?
- Would you still want your body without your thoughts?
- If you could switch minds with anyone, who would it be? Why?
This one is for the most daring parents. Try switching roles with your child for an agreed period of time – they become a parent and you become their child.
Observe each other as you act out your new roles. When the experiment is over, discuss with your child what they liked / disliked / enjoyed most about being a parent.
You could watch the film Avatar together.
7. Do we live in a simulation? (8+)
- How do you know that the world around you is real?
- How do you know that we aren’t inside a video game right now?
- How do you know you’re not dreaming right now?
For your next family movie night, watch Jumanji or Wreck it Ralph.
8. Can you trust your eyes? (8+)
- Do you believe everything you see?
- Can you think of a situation when your eyes have deceived you?
- Look at the night sky: are stars as close as they seem?
Together with your child, have a look at some optical illusions – try the famous duck-rabbit image for younger children or try more Optical Illusions (Optics4kids website).
9. Do animals have consciousness? (8+)
- Do animals have emotions?
- Does your dog miss you when you’re gone?
- How do you know what your pet wants?
If you have a pet, create a “pet diary” for your child to keep for a day or two (or however long they want).
Ask the child to note down changes in the pet’s behaviour and mood – together, reflect on why and when they occur and how you respond to them.
10. Can you control your mind? (8+)
- Where do your thoughts come from?
- Do you only think what you want to think?
- Is there a limit to our imagination? Can you imagine a new colour? What does it look like?
Try the classic experiment on thought suppression: ask your child not to think of a polar bear.
Immediately after, ask them what they are thinking about. Spoiler alert: it’ll be a polar bear.