Caterpillar website introduction

A Brief Introduction to Caterpillar Philosophy for Children Foundation

        Can children do philosophy? And can pre-school children do philosophy? Of course they can! They have the ability to learn philosophy, and moreover, should learn. Doing philosophy is the way children interact with the world---they are full of curiosity and feeling of surprise and awe in how things work, and continually ask innocent questions such as “What is this?”, “What is that?”, “Why”, and “And then?”. As they are asking questions, they are also seeking to discover how all the things that they encounter in life work, including asking questions about themselves. They seek to discover complex meaning about themselves and the world by asking these innocent questions. Adults who are their companions should try to find a way to work with them on these inquiries, instead of planning a specific curriculum to teach them. Moreover, the adults should not hinder their common path of inquiry. The objective of Caterpillar Philosophy for Children Foundation is to promote philosophy for children (shortened to P4C) on Taiwan and emphasize its philosophical and analytical methodology.

        P4C Comes to Taiwan; P4C in Taiwan and Around the World

        In 1975 Peter Yang published “Zhexue jiaoshi [Philosophical Classroom]” in Ehu Monthly, a short story expressing his dissatisfaction with traditional philosophical education as well as suggestions for a solution. A friend who saw the article mentioned to him about seeing an article in the New York Times about Matthew Lipman of IAPC (Institute for the Advancement of Philosophy for Children) in New Jersey. Peter wrote to Lipman, who immediately sent him a complete set of their experimental materials, including the text Harry Stottlemeier’s Discovery (which he translated into Chinese as Chen Mingxuan de Faxian) along with a draft of the teachers’ manual, which was in the process of being created. After reading through the materials, Peter felt an immediate connection and realized that he did not have to reinvent the wheel. He took up the IAPC texts and began to carry out experiments one by one on Taiwan. The texts, with the exception of Suki and Mark, were translated, published, and put into use on Taiwan.

        The P4C Movement

        The Philosophy for Children Movement began with the establishment of IAPC. In its evolution to the present, there have been different emphases and attitudes. There are many people who advocate Philosophy with Children, meaning doing philosophy together with children. But whatever the emphasis, P4C was the brainchild of Matthew Lipman and represented a revolution in the teaching of thinking. It sought to re-evaluate the meaning of philosophical discovery within the philosophical tradition and to establish a close connection of philosophy with real life and return to philosophy’s roots. Its influential thinkers are John Dewey, Charles Sanders Peirce, and William James. During its development it was also influenced by Russian psychologist Lev Vygotsky, 20th century American philosopher Irwin Edman, and English philosopher Alfred North Whitehead, as well as Austrian philosopher Ludwig Wittgenstein.


        Methodologically, P4C emphasizes the establishment and implementation of a “community of inquiry”. A philosophical community of inquiry promotes communication of philosophical ideas, exchange of values, establishing theory, and carrying out discussion. In the process of implementation, P4C emphasizes each individual child’s right to ask questions. The accompanying adults need to avoid over-directing philosophical inquiry. What is emphasized is process, to ensure that everyone listens to each other’s ideas, everyone tries to be serious in attitude as each shares his or her experience. In this way, the community of inquiry develops a habit of reasonableness and understands how to clear up ideological clashes. However, the community of inquiry also learns to live with ambiguity and uncertainty—learning to tolerate and even appreciate these qualities.

        Within the methodology of P4C, whether philosophy for children or philosophy with children, children’s inquiries, interests, and opinions should be foremost and most respected. Adults and experts should learn from them. We believe that in order to respect children, we must learn from them, especially their ability to use innocent questions to explore complex phenomena, an ability that the vast majority of adults has already lost.

        P4C has already spread to many places around the world, taken root, and produced results. It has been recognized by UNESCO as an Education for Wisdom educational organization that promotes democracy and peace and assists society’s new members to understand the world and become good global citizens. P4C has become an international organization, ICPIC (The International Council of Philosophical Inquiry with Children), whose Third Biennial Meeting was organized by Caterpillar Foundation together with sponsorship by Fe Jen Catholic University and held in Taipei in the summer of 1989.

        P4C on Taiwan

        In the beginning experiments and promotion of P4C on Taiwan, we religiously followed the IAPC tradition. Methodologically, we adopted the community of inquiry and all teaching and inquiry was carried out within that community of inquiry. Thus, we did not lecture, but emphasized reading texts together to appreciate, to ask questions, and to discuss, and to self-evaluate alongside producing plans and case studies. On the foundation of analytical thinking, P4C carries out critical, creative, and narrative thinking.

        While developing the above attitude and skills on thinking, we have striven to continuously practice self-examination, and utilize judgment to find error, accept criticism, correct shortcomings, and revise viewpoints. We have emphasized evidence and sharing our subjective views. This is the IAPC tradition, which presupposes that the most meaningful method for philosophy, especially P4C, is to be discovered from our joint lived experiences. Thus this principle holds an important position in P4C education.

        Changes in Methodology

        In the past thirty years of experience in teaching P4C on Taiwan, we have made some changes in our methods and content, the most important difference with IAPC and the other P4C organizations around the world is our use of Playacting with preschool children to carry out philosophy for children, as first introduced in Taiwan in 2006 by Vivian G. Paley from the University of Chicago Lab School. In addition, we make great use of picture books, calling them “paper stages” to help preschool children learning P4C by way of theatrical methods. We also make use of Italian educator and author Gianni Rodari’s methods of developing narrative intelligence and developing children’s imagination. We translated his The Grammar of Fantasy: An Introduction to the Art of Inventing Stories into Chinese and published the text, and organized a book discussion group to help elevate the intellectual level of storytellers.

        In the beginning of Caterpillar Philosophy for Children Foundation’s early stages, in addition to promoting philosophical education, we began an initiative proposed by Professor Lin Mingde for the “Shu xiang man Bao Dao [Book Fragrance all over the Precious Island]” movement, and, having obtained the support of Lin Chunzhi of the Humanities Council [Wen jian hui], carried out this proposal for three years. During this time, we also began to nurture “Storytelling Mothers” to go into every corner of Taiwan to communities, schools, and libraries to tell stories. We also assisted communities to establish Storytelling Associations. Besides accepting Caterpillars assistance in nurturing storytellers, we also tried to emphasize the method of having children ask the questions and lead the discussions. Viewed from a certain aspect, this was a new development for P4C on Taiwan.

        Caterpillar Philosophy for Children Foundation Headquarters and Branch office

        Caterpillar consists of two entities: the main headquarters in Taipei and the Picture Writers Headquarters in Taitung on the east coast of Taiwan. The main headquarters consists of the P4C center, taking responsibility for teacher training and research on P4C, publishing of texts, including the bimonthly P4C Journal as well as other publications.

        The Taitung branch, Picture Writers Headquarters, has responsibility for exhibits in their space, including exhibits of original writings and talks and lectures on picture books. In addition, the space itself is a picture book library. The Taitung branch is open for children to use the library, take part in book discussions, and also carries out grants to assist poor and remote areas as well as disaster areas in reconstruction. They promote one to one reading and discussion                    

        Both Taipei and Taitung headquarters organize winter and summer camps for children. We have also organized a “Caterpillar Study Garden” that was later taken over by Ms. Li Yaqing, who moved it to Wulai’s Xinxian Elementary School in New Taipei City, which became a school organized by the government but run by a private entity and at present has become known as an outstanding alternative school.