Sophia’s Garden is a project that allows SUNY Cortland students to gain knowledge and experience teaching local children philosophy through the examination and discussion of picture books. The goals of Sophia’s Garden encompass two broad areas: first, to provide SUNY Cortland students, many of whom are pre-service teachers, with quality immersive training and experience teaching young children about philosophy while also building their literacy skills. Second, Sophia’s Garden seeks to provide a service to the local community through teaching elementary school age children the basic elements of philosophical thinking and familiarity with picture books.
SUNY Cortland’s Philosophy Department offers a unique applied learning experience. Each semester, college students travel to various Cortland sites such as the public library, elementary and alternative schools to engage them in philosophical inquiry. Not only does Sophia’s Garden present an interesting opportunity to SUNY Cortland students, but local partners are intrigued by the opportunity as well.
Throughout the semester, college students host discussion groups with children of various ages. Using various means of communicating philosophical ideas, college students ask the children philosophical questions, encourage thoughtful answers, share children’s literature to provide access to narratives from multiple perspective, and conduct research studies to identify myths and biases in children’s literature, and expand children’s understanding. Practicing such inquiry-based approaches, college students encourage and support the children to seek answers from their peers and themselves. The guiding method and philosophical praxis is inspired by philosopher Tom Wartenberg’s four big ideas and curriculum guides for teachers: Teaching Children Philosophy
Sophia’s Garden is pleased to offer a space for intellectual engagement and collaboration for SUNY Cortland faculty. Many of our faculty are involved in their own research projects that support the mission of this project. Such projects include Rhiannon Maton, Ph.D’s work with a SUNY Cortland research team on critical content analysis of picture books for representations of incarceration.
SUNY Cortland, located in central New York, is one of the nation’s leading institutions for preparing teachers for pre-kindergarten through high school. The philosophy department is a service department for those students, who major in early childhood and childhood education with a concentration in the humanities.