Philosophy with Picturebooks

Inspired by Matthew Lipman”s P4C programme, the basic idea is to use carefully selected picturebooks as starting points for communities of enquiries in all phases of education. This philosophical approach to using picturebooks was pioneered by Karin Murris in 1989 as part of her PhD research. Some of these research experiences were subsequently published in an educational resource to support teachers in 1992: Teaching Philosophy with Picturebooks. Arguably picturebooks are now the most popular resources for P4C in the UK.

A PhD for Karin’s thesis Metaphors of the Child’s Mind; Teaching Philosophy to Young Children was awarded in 1997.

The empirical part of the work shows how groups of British 4-11 year olds make meaning of picturebooks philosophically as part of their literacy lessons. The theoretical part explores how such practices interrogate naturalised discourses about child and childhood expressed in various assumed metaphors. After all, how we evaluate children’s thinking depends on the metaphors we use when thinking about knowledge and the relationship between thinking and talking. The thesis deconstructs certain metaphors, and offers a new perspective on what rationality could mean in the context of teaching (philosophy) to young children.

The use of picturebook artwork opens up alternative ways of constructing and representing knowledge – one that draws on the body, the imagination and the emotions. It is especially in the gap between words and images that possibilities arise for different kinds of knowledge, as well as for different ways of talking and thinking. The natural home for this kind of philosophical work in schools, with its direct links to speaking & listening, comprehension, meaning-making of texts and multiliteracies, is the teaching of English. But, as other documents on this site show, links can also be made with other subjects, such as mathematics, science and religious education. In the Foundation phase, philosophy with picturebooks provides the narrative and thinking/reasoning context for an integrated approach to literacy, numeracy and life skills.

After its initial conception, philosophy with picturebooks was theorised further in collaboration with Joanna Haynes as reflected in their recently-published book, Picturebooks, Pedagogy and Philosophy (2012). In it, they also use picturebooks as vehicles to explain and illustrate complex ideas, concepts and theories. They now increasingly use illustrations from picturebooks as multimodal texts in the education of (student) teachers as part of their in-service or pre-service work.

For practical guidance in applying this practice in schools, see their Storywise: Thinking through Stories.

Click here for a list of Book Titles connected with Philosophy with Picturebooks.

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