What is it like to be a pig?
What makes someone a superhero?
Is a hotdog a sandwich?
We try to offer educational games and shows and hope that our kids will enjoy them. Common Sense Media has a wonderful list of programs that weave in various amounts STEM, social-emotional content, reading lessons, history, culture, cooking, and other forms of enrichment. But even the most recommended shows, like Daniel Tiger’s Neighborhood, have been shown to be effective only if parents discuss them with their kids. And anyway, our kids still beg for the shows and games that were designed mostly for entertainment, not education. We find ourselves giving in, and allowing these ‘treats’ as a break from the healthy stuff.
If you have time to watch TV with your kids, or get a synopsis, you’ll find plenty of things to talk about that are interesting for both of you. But too often, we are mostly in the dark about our kids’ media. We might restrict them to PBS Kids or Disney+ or Khan Academy Kids, and we might know the names of some of their favorite shows, but we usually know little more.
When catching up with your kids over a meal or on a walk, try asking some of these questions. Don’t play teacher and treat this as an assignment or quiz –many of these can open up long, fun conversations that connect parents and kids together, deeply, as human beings:
Did you watch any TV shows today? What was one of your favorites?
Who were the most interesting characters?
What was an interesting challenge/problem in the show? What was interesting about it?
What does the show make you wonder about?
Think of an interesting character from the show. What do you think it was like for them in that situation?
How would you have felt in that situation? Why?
Think of some other characters (maybe antagonists or ‘bad guys’). How do you think they felt? Why?
Did anybody in the show believe something that wasn’t true?
What would you have wanted to know if you were in that situation?
Is there anything you would NOT have wanted to know?
Can we ever really know what an experience is like for someone else?
What if the ending were different? What if the beginning, or the middle were different?
What would have made the show more interesting?
What if the characters were different (maybe from another show)?
What if the events happened in a different place? What if they happened in your house/town/class?
What other what-ifs would you like to explore?
What did the characters do? Was it a good idea or a bad idea for them to do those things?
What were some of the rules in the world of the story? Are those rules good to have or bad rules to have?
What was assumed in the world of the story? Are those assumptions good to have or bad to have?
What other ‘good idea / bad idea’ questions are you wondering about?
What kinds of animals/people were in the show?
What makes something/someone belong to that category?
Does it have to have each of those features to belong to the category?
What other kinds of objects or substances were there in the show?
You can go through the questions above with any category of thing or stuff. Philosophers puzzle about the necessary and sufficient features of all kinds of things: water, fruit, life, matter, personhood, happiness, knowledge … even holes, and sandwiches! We take these categories for granted, but when we look closely we find them quite confusing! Does a straw have one hole or two? Is a hotdog a sandwich?
These questions are inspired by the Philosophy for Children movement that started in the 1970s, using children’s content to stimulate philosophical inquiry. You can read about the movement at PLATO. If you’d like to find out about Philosophy for Children programs in the Bay Area, visit The Paradox Lab.
About the Author: Iris Oved received her doctorate in Philosophy from Rutgers University in 2009, with a dissertation on Concept Acquisition. She then spent 2 years as an NSF postdoctoral fellow in Machine Learning at the University of Arizona, followed by 4 years of postdoctoral research in Developmental Psychology at UC San Diego and UC Berkeley. Along the way, she founded the Paradox Lab to share with kids the joys of inquiry and help develop their higher-level thinking skills. She is now based in San Francisco and has been an Education Volunteer for Children’s Creativity Museum. For more info, see www.paradoxlab.org.