What is P4C?

P4C, or Philosophy for Children, is an approach to learning and teaching which enhances children’s thinking and communication skills, boosts their self-esteem, and improves their academic attainment. It was established over forty years ago by Professor Matthew Lipman of Montclair State University in the United States and is now practised around the world.

In P4C, a stimulus, such as a story, video clip or image, is shared with a group of children. The children are encouraged by a trained facilitator, such as a teacher, to come up with the kind of big, engaging philosophical questions about the stimulus which are at the heart of P4C. 

Philosophical questions are open to examination, further questioning and enquiry. They are contestable, central and common – that is, there is more than one valid point of view, the question is important in the lives of the children, and it is a shared issue or concern. Children might come up with philosophical questions such as:

  • Is it ever OK to lie?
  • What makes you you?
  • Do we have to respect everyone?
  • Can good people do bad things?
  • Do we all have the same rights?

Through a vote, the children then choose the question they would most like to discuss. The teacher gives the children time to think and reason individually about the question before facilitating the exchange of ideas and opinions as a group, or community of enquiry. Over time, the teacher supports the children to think more deeply and philosophically by encouraging the 4Cs of P4C – critical, creative, collaborative and caring thinking.

As questions grow more philosophical and imaginative, children learn to listen carefully to each other, to explore differences of opinion respectfully, and to value the ideas of others.

P4C is a whole school approach. It can be used across the curriculum, in every subject, and with all ages and abilities. It can be used with groups such as school councils, eco councils, and with governors and parents. We work with nurseries, primaries, secondaries, colleges, universities, alternative provision, and in SEND settings.

P4C is intended to be a regular activity so that the children develop their skills and understanding over time. The role of the facilitator is crucial to ensuring quality dialogue and progress, as well as integration with the curriculum.

P4C is a thorough pedagogy with considerable academic pedigree. Professor Matthew Lipman, frustrated by his students' lack of engagement with learning and thinking, was influenced by educationalists and philosophers such as Vygotsky, Piaget, Dewey as well as the tradition of Socratic dialogue.