Using engaged philosophical inquiry to deepen young children’s understanding of environmental sustainability: Being, becoming and belonging

Margaret MacDonald, Warren Bowen, Cher Hill


This research paper shares findings related to our use of Engaged Philosophical Inquiry (EPI) with a group of young children (aged 3-4) as a pedagogical method taken up to extend young children’s thinking about human use of forest parkland and to determine the children’s ontological positions related to environmental sustainability. The study was conducted in a forested area adjoining a ‘living building’ childcare centre. Here researchers, along with a core group of 9-13 children, their teachers, and a Philosopher-in-Residence (Warren Bowen) visited the forest environment on a fortnightly basis over a four-month period from January to May 2016 to explore the forested area, play games and discuss issues related to forest use and human habitation. Video records of the EPI sessions were transcribed and analysed to determine the children’s propositions and related ontological stance(s) across sessions. Findings from this study include: (1) evidence that young children’s views on stewardship are situated within socio-material manifestations of belonging, ownership, and entitlement within the forest; and (2) that absurdities, along with other more traditional EPI and P4C strategies, can be used successfully to playfully challenge young children’s thinking about the rigour of their propositions and to provoke deeper thoughts related to belonging and care.

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