Monday, December 10, 2012

Toy Box Philosophy: 3 Big Ideas Small Children Learn Through Play

Guest Post by Amy Leask

For most parents and educators, it’s pretty obvious that playtime has a number of benefits.  With respect to physical development, it teaches fine and gross motor skills, and allows children to expend energy.  Cognitively speaking, it teaches key concepts like numbers, colours, shapes and sizes.  However, what many caregivers don’t consider is that while immersed in games and toys, their young child (or baby) is actually learning to think philosophically.

Here are just a few examples:
1. Children at play engage with questions like “Who and what am I?” and “How am I different from other people, and other things?”  This happens when they pick up a doll or stuffed animal, or when they watch movies or cartoons.  It also happens when they play with other children.
2. Games of make believe help children to ask questions about what’s real.  The line between real and imaginary is obviously more blurry for a child than for an adult, but playing pretend does allow for exploration of both.
3.  Play introduces ethics to children. As they establish rules for games and guidelines for sharing toys, small children begin to consider ideas like right and wrong, empathy, fairness, and equality. 

Play may seem like simple fun, but it brings up a lot of the same big questions that great thinkers like Socrates spent their lives pondering. Children obviously approach big questions in a very different way than an adult would, but they do think about them, nonetheless.  There’s no training, special toys or extra effort required to get a child to play philosophically. The best part is that participation by caregivers and educators makes philosophical play even richer, for both children and grown-ups. 

Amy Leask is a writer and educator who believes that amazing minds come in all sizes.  She is the author of a series of philosophy books for children, and her work can be seen at

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