Little Big Minds: Sharing Philosophy with Kids
by Marietta McCarty
We started out with a bunch of thought-provoking activities.
First we made pokeberry ink with berries from Dayempur Farm. Then local artist Hilary Chandler came in as a special guest and gave us a wonderful hands-on lesson on inks and the history of penmanship.
- How to Make Fermented Pokeberry Ink blog post
Then we read Hailstones and Halibut Bones by Mary O'Neill and did the Printed Leaves Art Project, which took two sessions, and donated the resulting art to the For Kids Sake art auction fundraiser.
Printed Leaves Art Project -- black construction
paper, cream and white and dark blue and light blue acrylic paints, sponges, foam brushes, newspaper, wide variety of leaves gathered from outside, colored pencils or chalk pastels
Then we read The Colors of Us by Karen Katz and did the How to Paint Skin Tone Art Project.
- How to Paint Skin Tone Art Project --
brushes, paper, "messy mats," paint palette with several colors (white, yellow, red, brown, black)
- I also showed the students my Prismacolor Portrait Set of 24 skin tone colored
We also went over the Colorsaurus Color Wheel to explain primary, secondary, and tertiary colors, as well as tints and shades.
Next, we had local beekeeper Scott Martin come in on Monday, November 27th as a special guest to teach us about honeybees.
Finally, we began to discuss the philosophical question, What is Nature?
In our Philosophy session on Tuesday, November 28th, I brought in a jar of honey with a piece of honeycomb in it and I asked my students, "What is the difference between this honeycomb and your house? Is one more natural than the other?" We had an interesting discussion, with some children saying that the bees make their own houses all by themselves, and others arguing that we give them the frames to build in and they build from there... and this is like humans having housebuilders and then taking the project forward after the housebuilders have left the scene.
I also talked with the children about the Cassie Stephens art lesson. I watched her video online carefully and took notes. I imitated her personality when I gave the lesson. It was not my nature to be so outgoing... but I tried it. The children could immediately see the difference, and they knew right away when I had slipped back into being myself.
I asked them something I have personally been wondering, which is, "Why do we call someone's personality their 'nature?"
One child explained to me, "The Earth's nature is the plants and vegetation. As humans our nature is our personality and what we do with our life." How eloquent!
So then I asked them, "Is your nature something you're born with or do you get to help make it?"
Students disagreed about this, thinking about events from their early childhood, considering things about them that have always been the same, like being outgoing vs. being shy. But one child vigorously disagreed, saying "I think you're born a blank slate. You have no personality. The people around you and your thoughts change your personality over time."
Our first philosopher for Nature was Lao Tzu, so I read his biography by Demi and gave them time to write in their Philosophy journals their response to his thoughts.
I assured them that anything they wrote would be completely private.
In the next session, which was on Tuesday, December 5th, we revisited Lao Tzu and the concept of the Tao. I asked them, "What do you remember about Lao Tzu?" One child immediately remembered the legend that he was born an old man with white hair. Another remembered that he was stopped at the gate as he was leaving the city and asked to write down all of his wisdom in a book. I read them from page 243 of Marietta McCarty's book.
When I got to the part where she writes, "Think of any and every preposition," I passed out colorful squares of cardstock -- upside down -- with prepositions written on them. I then asked the children one at a time to flip over their cards and physically get up and act out the preposition, saying to them, "Where is the Tao now?" They had SO MUCH FUN that I let them each do two cards! The Tao is within, below, across, under, over, among, above, about, upon, with, on, near, toward, between, beside, without, through, in, behind, outside, and around us at all times. It is the invisible web of energy that holds the universe together. It is older than even the universe. And it supports us all.
I reminded the children that Lao Tzu said that a wise man who hears about the Tao will immediately begin to practice it, a regular man will ask questions about it, and a foolish man will laugh at it.
And I asked the children, "Do you agree with Lao Tzu's idea that our lives will be easier if we just let the Tao carry us, let ourselves stop trying to control things and follow the flow of the Universe? Have you ever had an experience of letting the energy of the Universe carry you, rather than pushing your will against it?"
One child described a time when he was sent to his room for misbehaving and he was really angry. He said that he still believed in Star Wars and The Force, and he tried with his mind to make the ceiling fall so that it would crush the people in his house. He said, simply, "I just wore myself out, shaking."
I moved on to some of Marietta McCarty's ideas for Awe. She has questions on page 256. I asked them, "Has there ever been a moment when you stopped and just said to yourself, oh my gosh, this world is so incredible?" One little boy explained his discovery about how Water seems to soft but it is really strong. He also said it's pretty amazing when "something is sticky."
I talked about when I stood in fossilized dinosaur footprints for the first time, which was a Geology field trip I had in college. One boy responded with "How incredible that the Universe could have made itself." He talked for a long time about different things that the Universe has created and then ended with, "How did the Universe create everything that is anything?"
Then a little girl raised her hand and said, "If I could, I would like to change the subject to fear," and she brought up something that was so awesome it was terrifying.
A little boy raised his hand, then lowered it, then raised it, then lowered it, then raised it and said, "I think it's amazing that the Universe never ends... and that's all I'm going to say." The class then went onto a long discussion about the end of the world, when our Sun goes supernova. Some of the older children explained to the younger children that the end of the Sun's life is many billions of years from now, and that there's nothing to worry about. Still, it's an excellent example of the power of Nature!
One child chimed in, "We don't know when or if the Universe will end. There was the big explosion to make it. There may be a big explosion to end it. Who knows?"
At this point, I wrapped up the conversation by saying that it was pretty amazing that even a Star has a life cycle, like a daisy, like a frog. And I told them that the element gold is made in the heart of a dying star. If you have a parent who has a gold wedding band or gold jewelry, that gold was made when something died, so even in death there is something new and beautiful being created. And I told them that awe and fear go together when we look at the power of Nature.
Since I wanted to choose an art exercise to go with Awe, I chose to read The Whales' Song by Dyan Sheldon, and then I passed out boxes of oil pastels and let the children draw oceans and whales while we listened to And God Created Great Whales (Opus 229, No. 1) by Alan Hovhaness. This piece is 12 minutes and 20 seconds long, and includes whale songs. It is just lovely.
Some pictures from the Philosophy lessons that led up to our discussion:
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