Welcome to Book and a Big Idea Autumn Edition!
For our contribution, we thought we would bring back a popular series – Kids Doing Philosophy. Kids are naturally curious about the world. Helping them explore the “big questions” in life can develop critical thinking skills. You can read more about why studying philosophy with your kids is a good idea.
In Kids Doing Philosophy, we introduce and discuss philosophical ideas using the Socratic Method and picture books!
Ethics and Commander Toad
A very fun way to introduce children to the school of philosophy known as Ethics is through the Commander Toad books.
In Commander Toad In Space, the crew finds a planet that is covered in water. It looks like a great adventure, until they meet the creature that lives underneath! Deep Wader is not interested in peace, he would rather have Commander Toad in pieces!
This book brings up questions about how a person views the world, motives, bravery, and self confidence.
After many adventures, the crew has learned a thing or two about visiting planets. They are extra cautious in Commander Toad and the Planet of the Grapes. But while they find no critter foes, they soon become engulfed in giant growing grapes. Is the planet trying to eat them or greet them?
The answer to that puzzle brings up ideas about environment, thinking about the future and the decisions we make, and consequences.
“Rules” for philosophical discussion with kids
Unlike a literature study, the questions you ask will have no “right” answers. They will most often lead to more questions. The outline I lay out is just that, an outline. It is meant to guide a discussion, but it is perfectly ok to go off in another direction. Kids are often better than adults about asking open-ended questions.
Not all of the questions need to have answers either. We sometimes find ourselves simply ending a discussion night pondering a great paradox that we have unravelled.
Your family might be hesitant at first when trying this out. Assure everyone that there are no wrong or silly answers either. This is free thinking time – the craziest notions will be taken seriously and discussed.
There is a time for the adults to share their own views and beliefs on the topics at hand, but make sure that you are not stifling the ability to disagree or bring up differences of opinion. Remember, this is not worldview boot camp. This is an exercise in critical thinking and definition of terms. If your daughter says she believes aliens are real, let her explore that belief. Ask probing questions (no pun intended) but don’t dismiss the idea or give her a lecture on how it’s not reasonable.
- Ethics – the study of right and wrong. Exploring justice, morality, character, action, “goodness”, and “badness”.
- Environment – the place around where someone or something lives, ecosystem, climate, the natural world.
- Consequence – something that happens because of a decision or action.
Discussion and questions
We started out by reading both books together and talking generally about what happened, who was involved in each adventure, and what our overall thoughts were on the topics.
Both books give an introduction to Commander Toad and his ship the Star Warts. The mission statement for the ship is, “to go where no spaceship has gone before. To find planets. To explore galaxies. To bring a little bit of Earth out to the alien stars.” Talk about what that might mean, especially how one would “bring Earth out to the alien stars”.
- From reading the books does it appear that Commander Toad intends to conquer other planets? What exactly do they do?
- Discuss each mission – did they succeed in bringing Earth to these alien planets? What were the consequences? In other words, what happened on each planet as a result of their visit?
We used the The Philosophy Book by DK publishing to expand our discussion. It’s not necessary because I will share all the quotes we used from the book. But it might be worth investing in for later! Another book to look into is Ethics: Behave Yourself which is written just for kids.
We discussed four ideas from famous philosophers.
1. Arther Schopenhauer (1788-1860)
Every man takes the limits of his own field of vision for the limits of the world
Everyone can only experience so much and know so much. Commander Toad and his crew had no idea what it was like to live as a sea animal on a water planet. Deep Wader did not know what it was like to be a space-exploring toad.
- How did each character view the world? Think about Deep Wader and how he wanted to eat the toads. What did Commander Toad and his crew come for? (communication, peace, explore, make friends) Was either party right or wrong? Did they act in right ways?
- Discuss how each character could have seen an action as bad or good.
2. Ahad Ha’am (1856-1927)
Men with self-confidence come and see and conquer
Sometimes wise people sit back and think through what consequences of each action, and while they are thinking people with self-confidence take charge and act. Sometimes this is foolish, but sometimes it takes a person with self-confidence and bravery to act in order to save the day.
- Who was wise and liked to think about things? (Mr. Hop) Who had the self-confidence to act? (Lt. Lily and Commander Toad)
- How did Commander Toad’s actions save the day? How did Mr. Hop help or hurt their situation?
- At the end of the first book, Commander Toad states that you cannot be brave unless you are first very afraid. Is that true? Does being afraid cause people to be brave? How were each of the characters brave?
3. Emmanuel Levinas (1906-1995)
Reason lives in language
Levinas wanted to express the idea that reason (a situation or condition where it is right to do or feel something) comes from language – even nonverbal language. This might be hard to explain to your kids. But try this example. When you walk by a homeless person, your mind tells you that they are in need of food and shelter even before they ask you for help. This “language” helps us decide things about a person or a situation even without clear rules.
- What could you tell about Deep Wader and what he wanted through his actions? Could you tell he was unwilling to make peace before he said anything?
- How did the actions of Commander Toad and his crew speak to Deep Wader?
- The Planet of the Grapes could not talk to tell the toads it was allergic. How did Doc Peeper know what was wrong? What reason spoke to the toads? (They were harming the planet and the right thing to do would be to leave)
4. Arne Naess (1912-2009)
Think like a mountain
To think like a mountain means to realize that we are a part of the environment, and that we have responsibilities to other living things. We must think about the consequences of our decisions for the future.
Commander Toad and his crew visit a lot of different environments. Sometimes, it doesn’t seem like they belong.
- How did the toads “think like a mountain” when it came to the water planet and Deep Wader? What about the Planet of the Grapes?
- This is a good time to discuss how our actions and decisions have an effect on our environment.
- In both books, the toads decided to leave the planet soon after they landed. Why did they make that decision? Were they thinking only about themselves? Or did they think about the long-term effects they would have on the planets?
- What do you think would have happened if they stayed on the planets?
Leaping from star to star
At the end of each book, the toads are safely back on the Star Warts and ready to go find another planet to visit. Why do you think they still want to visit planets even after their bad experiences? Do they have any fear about what damage they might do? Do they fear that they will be harmed?
I hope you have enjoyed our little philosophical journey with Commander Toad. You can check out the other picture books and philosophers we have covered:
And make sure to check out the other bloggers posting activities to go with their favorite books!