Epistemology for Children

Last summer our family got the privilege to take 2 vacations lasting a week a piece with my mother, father, aunt, sister, and her family. Quite a few people in all including 7 children with ages ranging from 1 to 12 years old. During the first week we decided to hold nightly devotions and, being a spur of the moment decision, our lessons for both vacations were largely ad-hoc with minimal preparation (it was a devotion we held right before bed time after all).

This year I am planning on doing things differently.

First of all I want to have an overarching theme that the kids in particular can latch on to dealing with an issue they face a lot of since my sister’s recent divorce. This is the issue of truth.

Now the study of truth is an academic area known as epistemology which generally contains some very dense material. In fact, I am forbidden from reading aloud articles or scholarly journal entries1 dealing with epistemology in the car with my wife when she is driving since doing so had nearly lead to several wrecks as she nods off because of the repetitive and tedious nature of epistemological arguments2 . The greatest challenge will be to break down the monolithic question Pilot asked in John 18:38, “What is Truth?” so that a child can understand it3 .

As it turns out, there are a few resources available when it comes to teaching basic philosophical concepts (such as epistemology) to children. Most of these resources focus on mining great classic children’s books such as Horton Hears a Who4, Morris the Moose5 or games6 oriented at stimulating thoughts about how we think and how we know what we know7 is generally applied when solving a mystery or puzzle.)).

In fact, philosopher Jean Piaget argues8 that classic games such as Clue or Guess Who, and many others can also fill this role by focusing on specific areas of epistemology such as logic and mathematics. The key to it all seems to be getting the children to communicate their ideas and to help them think through what can otherwise be a very daunting subject.

According to Karen Gallas, using art as a means of expression9 seems to help children express their ideas more freely and concisely than if we were to confine them to merely using verbal means of communication to express their ideas.

Using these techniques and approaches, the next step will be to apply what the Bible teaches about how we know what we know10 . I think the best approach will be to do this using stories from the bible that all relate to truth and specifically truth in relationships, specifically with God.

So here’s the lesson plan for the week:

Day 1 (Monday):

We will all have just traveled quite a distance and will probably be pretty exhausted. This will be a great opportunity to introduce the plan and theme of the week and introduce them to the subject of truth by using the question Pilot asked in John 18:38 as a springboard for the rest of the week. This will also be a great opportunity to hear their thoughts on the matter and perhaps explain some of the ramifications of the topic and how it impacts our entire lives.

Day 2 (Tuesday):

Our first true lesson on the topic will begin by setting up a basic definition of truth and some tests for it. The passage we will use will be the story of Solomon’s wisdom in determining the mother of a child in 1 Kings 3:16-28.

Day 3 (Wednesday):

Today we’ll turn to truth in relationships and look at Jonathan and David in 1 Samuel. Specifically, how Jonathan remained loyal to David and showed it by telling him the truth even when it hurt.

Day 4 (Thursday):

Today we will look at a negative example of truth in relationships with Samson and his wife in Judges 14:1-20.

Day 5 (Friday):

Today we will look at truth ultimately being a person in the form of Jesus Christ using John 14:1-31.

Day 6 (Saturday):

Today we will look at the Holy Spirit’s role in guiding us into all truth using John 16:1-16 as our text.

Day 7 (Sunday):

Our final lesson will focus on trust in God using the story of Abraham going up to the mountain to sacrifice Isaac in Genesis 22:1-18 as an illustration of how much we are to trust God who made everything and can raise us up from the dead if he so chooses.

I’ll probablly edit the lesson plan above after next week when we find out what does and doesn’t work. In the mean time, I need to finish packing…

  1. Like Philosophia Christi []
  2. Because they are generally written to be a comprehensive refutation and portrayal of their positions they generally contain very technical and carefully defined terms. This is understandable, but ends up having the consequence of taking ten pages to say something you could have said in only one, or less. []
  3. Or at least begin to think with a Biblical epistemology. []
  4. Philosophy for Kids, Horton Hears a Who []
  5. Philosophy for Kids, Epistemology and Morris the Moose []
  6. Epestemic Games []
  7. Most of these games focus on deception and detecting whether we are being deceived or not by examining the evidence we’ve been given. The same thing could conceivably be done quite easily with detective stories, games, etc. since the same epistemic analysis ((or analytical thought process []
  8. Jean Piaget’s Genetic Epistemology []
  9. Arts as Epistemology: Enabling Children to Know What They Know, Harvard Educational Review Volume 61, Number 1 []
  10. A Biblical Epistemology []
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