Young Philosophers

 
 

Big questions. Epic science. Good food.

Kids ask huge questions:

What does it mean to be "smart"?
Why do bananas change color?
Does "getting what you want" make you happy?

Why is fruit sweet?
Is it wrong to kill a bug?

But questions like these rarely come into grade school.

Children can do real thinking — it's just that most American schools don't cultivate it! In fact, 20th century schooling was built on the assumption that young kids can't understand real science, real history, or real life.

This is a tragedy, because children are born philosophers: their minds are designed to make sense of the world so they can live in it. Kids' minds run on an operating system that worksheets ignore: one generated by heroic tales and vexing puzzles, by mysteries and metaphors, by games and making real things.

These are the real fundamentals of learning — and they've been left behind.

Young Philosophers is a program held Sundays and Mondays that helps kids ages 5–8 geek out on the wonders of reality. We help kids think about life and science by exploring history and cooking brunch together.

It's a place for kids to be engaged, challenged, and understood — and to spark a joy of history, philosophy, cooking, and science.

Interested in signing your 5–8 year-old son or daughter up? Please fill out this registration form.

Everything around you that you call ‘life’
was made up by people that were no smarter than you.

And you can change it, you can influence it.
Once you learn that, you’ll never be the same again.
— Steve Jobs
Steve Jobs 4.jpg

 
 

Update: We've been asked to talk about Young Philosophers at TEDxStanleyPark — an audience of 2,500+ people! Watch a video of a Young Philosophers science lesson that may play a central role in the talk!


Why Young Philosophers?

We go deep — into science, into stories — and stretch kids' minds to their limits. We use stories to spark philosophical questioning, and we use cooking to spark scientific questioning. 

We immerse kids in complexity, and use Socratic conversation to develop specific intellectual moves —

  • Pay close attention.
  • Recognize when you don't know how something — an organism, an idea — works. (When kids achieve ignorance, they become interested.)
  • Formulate questions yourself. 
  • Risk new ideas  even ones that sound crazy.
  • Listen carefully to others' ideas — genius is communal.
  • Change your mind — overturn your assumptions.

These are some of the moves that matter in the 21st century — in business, in entrepreneurship, in academics, and in daily life.

We help children think outside the box, and become thought leaders themselves.


What will my son or daughter do there?

In Young Philosophers your child can find community with other kids who love to learn through doing history, philosophy, cooking, and science together.

First, they learn an epic story from ancient history.

+ What sorts of stories?

Like that of Socrates, the Buddha, Confucius, the Pharaohs, or the Incan emperor Atahualpa. These stories — even when told at a primary-school level — are filled with real human drama.

We go deep, exploring each story over multiple weeks. And we prompt kids to reflect on the struggles characters find, and the choices they make.

+ Can young kids really understand history?

Grade school social studies typically limits itself to talking about what kids have already experienced. This is based on the assumption that kids can't understand anything that happened long ago or far away.

That George Lucas has personally made three billion dollars on a movie franchise that begins with "A long time ago, in a galaxy far, far away..." probably demonstrates just how wrong this assumption is.

Human brains are, in fact, wired for story — as long as it's told well.

+ Why learn ancient history?

The human world is big, and to navigate it, it helps to know the diverse stories that still shape it. Also, our oldest stories are some of our best ones — the dull ones have all been forgotten!

 
 

Then, using the story, we help kids discuss questions that matter to them.

+ What sorts of questions?

  • What makes someone a "good guy", rather than a "bad guy"?
  • What does it mean to be an adult?
  • What does it mean to be brave?

Crucially, the kids pose their own questions — our job here is to tease the questions out of them, not to tell them what to talk about.

+ Can young kids really understand philosophy?

Nowadays, many folks assume "philosophy" and think of what's done in philosophy departments: people with advanced degrees pondering obscure questions.

Originally, "philosophy" meant "the love of wisdom" — it was science, history, logic, politics, and art all explored together!

Philosophers tackled questions as diverse as how the tides worked, what kind of life brought the most contentment, and what justice was.

So, can young kids understand philosophy? Certainly: it's what they're doing outside of school already!

+ What's the goal?

A big question rarely has a simple answer, and we certainly don't champion any specific ideas.

Our goal is to help cultivate adults who question persistently, who reason precisely, who look for the limits of their own assumptions — and who love to engage in conversations about things that matter.

 
 

After our philosophical conversation, we cook a fancy brunch together.

+ What sorts of brunch?

Crêpes, for example, or frittatas, grilled sandwiches, pasta, or French toast — along with a drink, and side dishes. We don't do "kid cooking" — assembling and microwaving simple foods. Rather, we give kids adult skills — and help them fall in love with real food.

In each 3-week cycle, we make a single recipe. We start simple, and add variations each lesson. By the end of the cycle, they've developed the actual skill of making an adult meal.

+ Is it seasonal? Ethical? Local? Organic?

Well, we try! We can promise that the ingredients are fresh, and that we buy our eggs pasture-raised. We don't serve meat often, and when we do, it's only as an optional side.

What matters most to us is that the food be delicious and nourishing.

+ How healthy?

Mostly healthy! We may make a mousse or a creme brulee from time to time, but we hold to Michael Pollan's advice to eat real food, made from scratch.

+ Can young kids really cook?

Yes — and learn other skills while they do it! Beyond kitchen skills like food safety, kids practice leading and following directions. Because it's challenging to work as a team, we even help them work on being courteous.

+ Why learn cooking?

American grade schools typically don't do much cooking — which is a horror, since what's sold as "kids's food" is often either (A) unhealthy or (B) unappetizing. Learning to cook well means learning to feed yourself — and others — responsibly.

+ What's the ultimate goal in this?

To help cultivate adults who love to make, and eat, real food from scratch.


Finally, as we eat, we have an in-depth conversation about the real scientific mysteries hidden inside any one of our ingredients.

+ What ingredients do kids explore?

Bananas, for example. Or flour, honey, or cheese: ingredients that seem simple, but that end up being amazingly complex.

+ What sorts of questions do you puzzle over?

  • Where do bananas come from?
  • What are those little stringy things inside them?
  • Why do plants even grow fruit, anyway?
  • Why are bananas so ridiculously easy to open?
  • Why is fruit sweet and delicious?

...and so on!

+ Can young kids actually understand real science?

American schools of all levels typically focus on memorizing facts rather than understanding the big picture of science.

But kids can achieve a clear understanding of the simplest things.

This might sound dull — it's the opposite! Getting clear about the fundamentals of biology, chemistry, and physics is enthralling.

And when we seek clarity by using stories, riddles, metaphors, and duelling theories, kids can understand how everything — even a lowly banana! — connects to everything else, in complex and amazing ways.

+ What's the goal in teaching science like this?

To show kids that everything around us is more complex and interesting than meets the eye — but is held together by just a handful of laws. We help kids realize that reality, when we understand it clearly, feels enchanted.

Human intelligence is richer and more dynamic
than we have been led to believe by formal academic education.
— Sir Ken Robinson

Who's behind Young Philosophers?

Kristin and Brandon Hendrickson are parents and educators who are passionate about training kids to question, create, and live well. 

+ Kristin Hendrickson...

Kristin is a Montessori teacher with a summa cum laude B.A. in English literature and a minor in history. She's a valedictorian and a former GRE tutor. In her few spare moments, she whips together cobblers, curries, and crêpes, sews children's clothes, and writes fiction. She can tell you the cosmic origin story of pretty much any world culture you name. (And, yes: she has raised chickens.)

+ Brandon Hendrickson...

Brandon is a high school humanities teacher with summa cum laude B.A.'s in religious studies and history, and an M.Ed. in educational theory. He leads the test-prep wing of a local tutoring company, The Learning Professionals, that translates brain science into better thinking, and is on the advisory board of foundry10, a local educational not-for-profit. He can answer more-or-less any dinosaur question you have, and talk for long hours about existentialist philosophy. He's still not quite sure what that wobbly red thing is on top of the chicken's head. [BRANDON: IT'S THE COMB. –K.]

They met whilst National Merit Scholars at the Barrett Honors College, where they were initiated into the Great Books tradition of learning. Together they raise two kids (currently aged 4 and 6), both of whom share an uncanny behavioral resemblance to Calvin of Calvin and Hobbes. They're also launching a K–2 school of Imaginative Education on the Eastside in 2017.

 
 
 
 
Teaching kids how to feed themselves
and how to live in a community responsibly
is the center of an education.
— Alice Waters

When and where is Young Philosophers held?

We meet on Sunday mornings (10 am – 12 pm, in Kirkland) and Monday afternoons (12:30 pm – 2:30pm, in Kenmore), in a separate three-week cycle each month. Here's what we'll be up to for the rest of the year:

+ January

Story: How the tiny Greeks fought the huge Persian Empire... and won.
Big question: What makes a fight "right"?
Meal: Delicious salsas of many kinds.
Science mystery: Chilies: the history, biology, and chemistry!
Dates: Sundays January 8, 15, 22 or Mondays January 9, 16, 23

+ February

Story: How a gang of rich people faked being gods, and brought peace and stability to Egypt.
Big question: Why should some people be in charge?
Meal: Chocolate chip cookies.
Science mystery: Chocolate!
Dates: Sundays February 5, 12, 19 or Mondays February 6, 13, 20

+ March

Story: How Pizarro lied and cheated the Incans out of their land.
Big question: Is it ever okay to be mean?
Meal: Pizzas.
Science mystery: Corn!
Dates: Sundays March 5, 12, 19 or Mondays March 6, 13, 20

+ April

Story: Alexander the GREATEST.
Big question: What is greatness?
Meal: Jam and scones!
Science mystery: Berries!
Dates: Sundays April 16, 23, 30, or Mondays April 17, 24, and May 1

+ May

Story: Julius Caesar.
Big question: Who are you loyal to?
Meal: Homemade ice cream!
Science mystery: Milk!
Dates: Sundays May 14, 21, and June 4, or Mondays May 15, 22, and June 5

+ July

Story: Augustus Caesar.
Big question: What's a leader?
Project: Electrical Play-Doh circuits!
Science mystery: What is electricity, really?
Dates: Sundays July 16, 23, and 30; or Thursdays July 20, 27, and August 3 (10am–12 noon, both days)

+ August

Dates:
Sundays August 13, 20, and 27, 10am–12 noon
Thursdays August 17, 24, and 31, 10am–12 noon

+ September

Dates:
Sundays September 10, 17, and 24, 10am–12 noon
Thursdays September 14, 21, and 28, 10am–12 noon

The lessons (including the cost of food) are $90 for all three weeks. You can hold a spot by filling out the form, linked below.  

Our classes currently meet in private homes. We will send an email with the address and drop-off instruction to registered families before each cycle begins.

Please note that the Monday classes in Kenmore take place in a home owned and operated by kittens.

Kristin’s patient and gentle nature
was just what my son needed.
— a Montessori mom

Questions / Answers

+ Can I, the parent, stay?

Space will be limited, but you're free to stay and look on for as long as your child requires! (We start with a game, to help ease the transition.)

+ This meets on Sunday morning. I see the Buddha is mentioned. Is it religious?

Nope! It's not about getting the right answers, but about asking the big questions common to all people. Families of any and no faith are invited to sign up.

+ My child's a picky eater. Like, a really, really picky eater.

Great! Part of our mission is to help connect kids with foods they think they'll hate, but might love. We have some ideas to help, if you're interested.

+ My child has some food restrictions. How far are you able to adjust your recipes?

Let us know about their restrictions, and we can discuss how we might work around them! All of our meals are no-meat, or meat-optional.

+ My child is super-active; I'm not sure they can sit still this long.

Our kids are, too! We have a lot of experience working with super-active kids.

+ Where are you pulling these teaching ideas from?

Quite a few places!

History & science: We draw a lot from Imaginative Education, which shows how to connect intellectual content to kids' emotions. We also draw from Big History (this TED talk is a good place to start), which demonstrates how everything — even a lowly banana — connects to everything else in unexpected ways.

Philosophy: We're a part of the Philosophy for Children movement (UW's Center for Philosophy for Children is a good place to begin), which shows how to turn almost anything into a vibrantly intellectual and age-appropriate discussion of real questions.

Cooking: We love the Finnish program Sapere, which teaches young children how to make nutrious, scrumptious food — and how to use it to learn more about the world.

Taking classes from Brandon strengthened my love of learning,
increased my appreciation of diversity,
and helped make me a confident speaker.
— Frances, UW math major

How can I sign my child up?

Interested in signing your 5–8 year-old son or daughter up? Please fill out this registration form.

Not interested in signing up — but would like to find out more? Please fill out the "Want to Learn More?" form at the bottom of the page!