Promoting Classics through Ancient Philosophy

Promoting Classics through Philosophy

By David Whitney, Teacher and Writer, Delphi Philosophy

One day after school, one of the grandparents of a girl in my class called me over to look at something on his phone. It was a photo of the girl at home, reading with every sign of enjoyment and concentration, an enormous book about Socrates. She was 7 years old.

Delphi the Philosopher

Delphi the philosopher

We had been teaching the Delphi Philosophy scheme of work, which follows a story I created to teach primary-age children about philosophy, the ancient world and how to develop their thinking skills. It was safe to say by this point it had been a hit. One child called it ‘mind-blowing fun’. A Year 5 girl at another school said it was ‘one of the best experiences I’ve ever had.’ What’s more, we had seen a huge impact on the quality of the conversations we were having in other lessons. The children had learned to explain themselves, to evaluate ideas and to reason.

Delphi Philosophy is an approach to Philosophy for Children, based on interactive storytelling. The story of Delphi the Philosopher follows Delphi, a girl living in ancient Athens and an unknown-to-history childhood friend of Plato. Together they set out to become philosophers, meeting many famous philosophers and philosophical puzzles along the way. Throughout the story there are ‘big questions’ which are asked directly to the reader. In the classroom, we use these as the basis of activities, but the story can be used at home too. Behind the story sits a progressive skills framework, meaning children make progress with their thinking skills just by following the story. By the end, Delphi has learned what it is to become a philosopher, and the children following the story have become philosophers too.

The importance of using talk for learning is undeniable. The wonderful thing about teaching philosophy, and why more and more primary schools are, is that it develops the key learning skills which can be applied to any subject. The questions are open enough to be accessible and challenging enough for children to surprise you. Last year, one girl in my class, who couldn’t read out-loud at the start of the term, was able to write and read a speech to the rest of the class by the end of Delphi’s story. It’s great fun, but it has an impact too.

When we created Delphi, we also wanted to bring the ancient world to life in a unique way. Principally thanks to Rosie, our wonderful illustrator, the children get to experience what life in the ancient world would really have been like. After visiting Greece, we created Delphi’s Guide to Athens – a child-friendly and interactive website, with stories, illustrations, photos, facts and big questions. We made it to be the kind of history resource you can never usually find – a way to bring the ancient world to life with stories and pictures, as well as with information.

We have a lot of plans for the future of Delphi. The second book and scheme of work which will be suitable for secondary school pupils (KS3), Delphi the Dreamer, will be ready to trial next year. We will also be expanding the website, releasing more enquiries, and creating new video and interactive content. The impact of COVID has slowed our trials somewhat, but it has reinforced the role philosophy can play in building up the children’s essential learning skills.

As one boy put it: “Philosophy isn’t just a subject. It’s something that helps you in life.”

You can discover more about Delphi Philosophy, download our schemes of work and visit Delphi’s Guide to Athens at:

Delphi and Socrates

Delphi and Socrates