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"Why don't we listen to others during the workshop?"

🔸 Every Wednesday I lead a philosophy workshop for a group of children ages 6-8 at the Maison de la Philo (House of Philosophy). My primary goal is to create a dynamic of reflective dialogue among the children.

When a child has a question, he or she is invited to ask it to the group, and then to give the floor to other children who have answers to propose. The children quickly integrated this functioning.

🔹 The problem is that very often, once they have asked their question, they do not listen to the answer proposed by the comrade. Besides they don't look at him, they contemplate their sneakers, play with their sweater sleeve, they are not attentive.

Yet listening is the sine qua non of dialogue, without it there is only a simulacrum of dialogue...

🔸 So today, I proposed to the children to think about this amazing contradiction:

"Why after asking a question we don't listen to the answers of the comrades?" (A question that would be just as worthy of being asked in workshops with adults!)

Here are their answers:

"Because sometimes the other person's answer is too long and it's boring!"

"Because we're actually thinking of something else we'd like to say."

"Because we can be distracted by something, noise, for example."

"Because we get distracted by something that interests us, for example we start looking at the beautiful posters on the walls."

🔹 The next time a child is not listening during the workshop, it may be interesting to ask, "Do you have any idea why you are not listening?"

Sometimes it is necessary to clarify to him that we are not scolding him, that it is a real question to understand together what is going on. If the child has difficulty identifying the reason, he/she can be reminded of the ideas put forward by his/her classmates:

"Is it because the answer is too long, because you are thinking about what you want to say or because something is distracting you?"

Often, a child has difficulty listening to a peer when the peer gives too long an answer. This is an opportunity to make children aware of the value of being concise.

🔸 To close the workshop, everyone answered the following question:

"What is the point of listening to others?" 🤔

"It's useful to know what others are saying." Anatole, age 7

"It's for learning." Orpheus, age 6

"It's used to better answer a question." Islah, age 8

"It's used to change your mind." Ka-Yeon, age 8

"It's used to understand why we don't listen." Sophia, age 6

🔹 This kind of meta moment, where we reflect on what is happening in the workshop, is important for children to become aware of a problematic attitude, try to understand it, and restore meaning to the act of listening.

🔸 For all that, this cannot replace practice! It is not by simply reflecting on listening that children will make it a habit. It's by practicing it, in every workshop.

As Aristotle says "What we must learn to do, we learn by doing."

🔹 So it's pretty useless to tell kids to listen. Not only do they incorporate the idea that they should listen because it is the adult's desire, but they may just put on a brave face without actually being present to what the other person is saying. They may end up thinking that listening to the other person only means not speaking along with them.

🔸 A more effective way to get children to practice listening is to systematically check after a peer speaks whether or not they have understood what was just said.

🔹 Similarly if they want to express a disagreement or make a comment, they will first be asked to rephrase the idea they disagree with, or wish to comment on. And then they will know if they have really been listening ...

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