A couple of days ago, I taught my very first philosophy for children in my daughter's school. It is a bilingual (Dutch-English) international school in Amsterdam, and it has a very international group of students. The children were in upper primary, aged 9 to 11. I'll here describe how I approached teaching the class, and the children's and parents' reactions. First, I convened with the teacher about a suitable topic. They have a subject called "intercultural competence" which has different themes. The theme now was the Dutch dike system, which is a wonderful system of shared governance, instated after a deadly flood in 1953. So we decided that I would teach political philosophy (Locke, Rawls, Nozick), to have some connection with the dike system.
I started the class by letting children come up with examples of rights they enjoyed, and we explored some
of these examples a bit further (e.g., their right for schooling, healthcare, and several children mentioned women's rights, freedom of speech), which gave me the opportunity to briefly introduce some relevant people, e.g., "John Stuart Mill also thought freedom of speech was important, because…" We talked about what justice would be, and I introduced Plato's concept of justice.
The children were then divided into five groups of about five each (teacher helped to put children in groups that liked being together and worked well) to simulate the state of nature (source of this exercise here).
We imagined we were in a little Dutch neolithic village, where the only food for winter was a pond with fish (simulated by a paper bag with 15 cardboard fish, about 5 cm long each). Each family was to catch fish they would dry for the winter. If they caught 3 fish they would be comfortable, 4 was too much, but 2 was too little. If the group had only 2 fish, one member (a child or elderly person) would likely die. The settlement was told that they needed to leave 2 fish so the pond could repopulate next spring, and were told how many fish there were in the bag. They were then asked to calculate if that meant there was enough for everyone.
Once they established (quickly) that this wasn't the case, the children could discuss in their groups how many fish they took, before I went around with my bag. They were not allowed to talk to the other groups, and they could not see how many fish the others had taken until everyone had taken their share.