A new fad is sweeping France: tea-parties at which children between the ages of about 7 and 13 sit down to discuss philosophy and the big questions of life. Adam Sage explains:
Les goûters philos — philosophical teas — have become a craze among families who are convinced that children as young as 6 should start grappling with issues that taxed the likes of Socrates and Thomas Aquinas.
Although some may dismiss it as further proof of their pretentiousness, the French see it as an attempt to give children a handle on an increasingly complex world.
Proponents of les goûters philos argue that the subject needs to be broached at an early age when children start asking existential questions.
The parties are held in cafés, public libraries and at home and involve food, drink … and debate.
Some are led by intellectuals who are steeped in the study of philosophy and others by parents who are struggling to tell Nietzsche and Sartre apart. Many are organised by the children themselves.
This fits with my experience of working with families and in schools and parishes over the years. I’ve always found that the best ages for deep reflection are about 3 and 10.
At 3, the most basic questions about reality, life and death come up. Then you attempt an answer, and the question comes back at you in a different form. It’s the ‘But why…?’ stage of life.At 10, the same questions come up, but in a more considered way. There is a new intelligence and maturity, a new curiosity, still with a certain innocence, but without the hormones and herd mentality that seem to close down the possibility of thought during much of adolescence.
The most thoughtful and open discussions I’ve had about philosophy and religion have been with children in Year 5 in the British system – ages 9 to 10. That’s why it’s such a good age for religious catechesis. And why I wonder if it wouldn’t be better to move all the preparation for First Confession, First Holy Communion and Confirmation to Year 5. (Discuss…)
If you want to start a philosophical tea party for children, here are the tips that came with the article:
• Not more than ten people
• Bring food and drink; fruit juice and cakes are best
• Sit on the floor with the food and drink in the middle
• One person proposes several topics
• Everyone votes on the topic they prefer
• The discussion lasts one hour