Rollins College teaches preschoolers about ethics, philosophy

Big Ideas for Young Thinkers program inspires deeper thinking

By Julie Broughton - Anchor

WINTER PARK, Fla. - At Rollins College, preschool students are learning some big life lessons as they explore ethics and philosophy. The curriculum is based on a new book by three Rollins professors.

The program is called Ethics for the Very Young: A Philosophy Curriculum for Early Childhood Education or Big Ideas for Young Thinkers.

"So we see philosophy for kids as part of a big system of training children to think for themselves and understand their beliefs and the beliefs of others," psychology professor Sharon Carnahan said.

The students start each lesson by reviewing the rules of philosophy. First, they listen.

"Our first rules are think and then respond," said 5-year-old Brooklyn. "If you don't know how to control your feelings, you can come here and learn how to control them."

Monday's discussion centered around the concept of what it means to be brave. Students identify when an action is brave versus when it could be considered irresponsible. 

"It's really about putting it into an environment or pattern of activity that really allows them to think about it more deeply," said Diane Doyle, director of Hume House Child Development and Research Center.

Philosophy professor Erik Kenyon said this project was sparked big a broader societal concern.

"Just looking at all the division around us and the ability to ask questions in the right kind of way and disagree in a useful way," he said.

Kenyon explains because the preschool center is a school within a school where undergrad students prepare lesson plans for the children, it allows both the children and undergrads to learn useful debate. The Rollins undergrad students also take these lessons to other preschools in the Orlando area. 

"We need people who can think for themselves and who can ask questions in the right way and deal with things that are complicated. So, our hope is that they'll be well equipped for living in the 21st century," he said.

And while parents may think it's counter-intuitive to teach your kids to disagree, Carnahan said it is an important life skill.

"The important skills are to engage in respectful dialogue, to disagree without being disagreeable, to pause and listen to what the other person says," Carnahan said. "Parenting is messy and we should always be willing to try something new and in this case it's teaching our children to talk back essentially,"

If you'd like to learn more about Rollins Early Childhood Program, click here.

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