Opening up children's minds to the philosophical questions we usually put aside in everyday life can help them learn better, concentrate longer, develop social skills and even minimise bullying, says "community philosopher" Dr Vanya Kovach.
Kovach co-ordinates P4CNZ – the local branch of an international educational programme which helps train teachers how to teach kids to think creatively about philosophy
New Zealand is one of more than 50 countries participating in the P4C programme, which trains 60 to 100 Kiwi teachers every year.
Kovach tells Kathryn Ryan that philosophy gives kids the opportunity to ask fundamental and penetrating questions about "the things we put aside while we rush around" such as fairness, beauty, freedom and reality.
Recently, Kovach showed a Year 1 and 2 class in Auckland a picture of a colourful flower and asked them if it was beautiful – they said yes because it was colourful.
She followed that up with a black-and-white picture of a kitten, then a picture of a very elderly lady to which they said 'No, she's old. She can't be beautiful'.
When Kovach asked the kids if they could think of something that was both old AND beautiful, one little boy shot up his hand: "Treasure is old and beautiful!"
Just one philosophy session per week for one year (for a duration appropriate to their age) can significantly improve a child's oral and mathematics skills, she says.
It can also help teach important life lessons such as persistence in enquiry and living with uncertainty, as well as improving confidence, listening, curiosity, relationships with peers and emotional intelligence.
"[Philosophy] is a process of reasoning and thinking, making claims, being precise about the claim that your making and then coming up with a counterexample to the claim they've made.
"Both teachers and parents are really delighted by what comes out when they create this free but structured space for children to explore their own questions.
"Philosophy is kind of like the 'too hard basket'. It's the things we put aside while we rush around. That's why I think it's so wonderful to offer children space to explore these ideas that are really, really central."