Early Stage 1 (kindy) topics 2019

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Topic 1: Questions, puzzlement and what is okay

One of the goals of ethics classes is to nurture children’s curiosity, as well as their own thinking abilities, so that they are motivated and confident enough to think well and for themselves about issues that matter to them.

lessons-1-4-image-1-miaIn this topic we meet Mia, who likes asking lots of questions and finding things out. Mia asks her mum ‘Can I have ice-cream for breakfast?’ which might be a pretty simple question for Mia’s mum to answer. Mia sometimes asks her brother Oscar other questions which he finds hard to answer, like ‘How do fish breathe under water?’

And then Mia finds a slug in the garden, and she’s never seen one before!

“What is it?” Mia asks. “Is it a snail that’s lost its shell?” And then, picking up a snail, “if I took his shell off, would it be a slug?”

“No! Don’t do that!” Oscar yells. “Don’t!”

“Why not?” asks Mia. She has so many questions for Oscar…

Topic 1 aims to build on students’ developing capacity to recognise questions and answers as parts of speech, and to encourage students to think for themselves about:

  • why it is that we ask questions
  • whether we sometimes ask questions of ourselves
  • why we might sometimes be afraid to ask questions of others, and
  • whether sharing and discussing our questions with others can help us make progress towards answers.

Research indicates that supported, collaborative inquiry is one of the most effective means of bringing about understanding.
In ethics we use the term ‘community of inquiry’, coined by Mathew Lipman,es1-t1-rules-rule-2 to describe a group who puzzles over issues together and makes progress towards answers. For a community of inquiry to achieve its purpose, participants need to show respect for one another and for one another’s ideas by paying attention to whoever is speaking, by giving others a chance to speak, by not talking over each other and by refraining from ‘put-downs’.

These behaviours are captured in the ethics class rules for kindergarten, and a further aim of this introductory topic is to elaborate on the role of such rules – and the principles on which they are based.

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Topic 2: Secrets and a big important question

Have you ever wanted to ask a question out loud but didn’t, because you were worried it would sound silly?

This is what happens to Oscar, Mia’s big brother, in our story.

Oscar is able to explain to Mia and her friend Max that the strange pale shape in the sky they see one afternoon is actually the moon. But he has no idea why it’s not possible to see the stars during the day. Maybe Mia and Max know why. But Oscar is more worried about how he sounds than about discovering the answer to his question. Being curious and asking questions can take courage.

Being curious together

Research indicates that supported, collaborative inquiry is one of the most effective means of bringing about understanding.

Matthew Lipman explains:

If some children offer generalisations, others may offer counter-instances; if some voice opinions without reasons, adequate reasons are promptly requested. They gradually come to discover inconsistencies in their own thinking. As time goes on, they learn to cooperate with one another by building on one another’s ideas, by questioning each other’s underlying assumptions, by suggesting alternatives where some among them find themselves blocked and frustrated, and by listening carefully and respectfully to the ways in which other people express how things appear to them. When participants fully appreciate the process in which they partake, they internalize this process, and it becomes a method of approaching any [ethical issue].

  • From ‘Philosophy and the Cultivation of Reasoning’ Thinking, Volume 5, no. 4, 1985, p.37

In ethics classes, students are presented with developmentally appropriate ethical issues and encouraged to inquire together so that they make progress towards answers.

Such an approach depends upon students’ willingness to ask questions of each other, even when those questions may not be clearly formulated, to accept help from others and to modify their views in the light of others’ comments.

This requires a degree of courage and some children may initially be afraid to expose their thinking to scrutiny from other members of the group. In the topic Secrets and a big important question we raise this issue openly in the hope that doing so will help students develop the sensitivity to others and confidence in their own thinking that forms the foundation of a fully functioning community of inquiry.

Making inferences

Students also become aware of making inferences. This process of drawing conclusions from information we already have comes naturally to all of us, but it is a skill that develops steadily from Kindergarten to around Year 6 and that development is enhanced when these skills are taught explicitly.

Across the Primary Ethics curriculum there are numerous topics focusing on the skills of inference. These topics form a developmental sequence and one that begins in kindergarten. In this topic we make a very simple distinction between drawing a conclusion in such a way that you can be sure that the conclusion is correct and making a ‘guess’ on the basis of whatever scant knowledge or information you have.

Activity: Asking questions

Ask your child: if Kelly is in the same basketball team as Rory and Rory is in the same basketball team as Phoebe, is Phoebe in the same team as Kelly?

Then ask your child if that was a guess, or did they figure it out? Listen to their reasons and support them to explain this thinking process as much as they can.

Perhaps then you could ask a question like ‘what did I have for lunch?’ (as long as you didn’t eat together!)

Then ask your child if that was a guess, or did they figure it out?

Your child will have to have guessed, although the guess doesn’t have be a total stab in the dark. It’s more likely than not that you didn’t eat ice cream or jelly. It’s more likely to be in the range of rice, a sandwich or a salad. Your child’s background knowledge will guide their response, despite there still being a lot of guesswork involved.

Lastly, hide a coin in one hand and ask your child to guess which hand it’s in.

This time it is a stab in the dark – pure guesswork, although the child is still likely to get the answer right half of the time.

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In this topic, we aim to encourage students to think for themselves about the difference between meaning or intending to cause harm and causing harm ‘accidentally’ or without wanting to.

More particularly, in this topic we aim to encourage students to think for themselves about

  • The idea of meaning to bring about a particular effect
  • Whether we can mean to bring about a good effect, but nevertheless cause harm
  • Whether such harmful side effects sometimes result from our own carelessness or thoughtlessness.

It’s not unusual to hear a young child insist that he or she ‘didn’t mean to’ hurt another child or that it wasn’t done ‘on purpose’. In making such a claim, the child shows they understand that they have caused harm, but also that their actions will be judged on whether or not they are seen to have or intended to cause harm.

Max, for example, knows he’s not supposed to throw the ball to his dog Watson inside the house.

But today it’s raining, and Watson really wants to play. All day long he’s been coming up to Max with a ball in his mouth. So Max is trying to play really quietly so that his mum doesn’t hear. And Watson is having a great time.

Then, suddenly, there is a loud CRASH!

es1 t3 lesson 1 and 3 image 6 - isabels invitationThrough a series of discussion questions, children break down the different factors at play in this scenario, and in the following conversation that unfolds with Max’s mother.

In another scenario, Mia wants the trip to the zoo to be a big surprise for Isabel. But Isabel cottons on that there is something being hidden from her and feels sad, thinking that maybe Mia doesn’t want to be friends with her anymore.

Did Mia mean to make Isabel feel sad?


Aesop wrote a fable called ‘The Ass (or donkey) and the Lap Dog’, which considers the unfortunate  (yet amusing) events that unfold when the donkey tries to behave as the dog does. You may like to read it to your child.

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