This and other ethical questions are explored in Short & Curly, the innovative and fun ABC podcast for children and families. Producer Kyla Slaven explains it's about teaching kids how to think, not what to think.
By Kyla Slaven
How do you spark conversations with your children about some of life’s biggest and curliest questions?
It’s not always easy, and it can easily get too serious and dry, so we’ve tried to make a show for children and their families that tackles big ethical questions in the most fun way possible.
We’ve even built in conversation starters to make family conversations that much more interesting, whether at the dinner table, on long car trips to sport, or on holidays.
Short & Curly takes a different topic or question each episode. We explore the ethical ideas and have lots of pantomime fun while we’re at it.
We take a topic such as, ‘when is it okay to judge other people?’, and translate some of the ethical dilemmas to ancient Rome and the Colosseum, via a time travel device found at the MET Museum in New York.
Or we look at the current trend for pug dogs. They are bred to have adorable squashy faces, but one outcome of the way we breed them is that many have trouble breathing. So should we be breeding pugs at all?
We frame our questions around things and activities that kids are generally interested in. We set our shows in classrooms, on mountain tops, in space, or in the home.
Here are just some of the topics we’ve explored recently: ‘When is it okay to dob on someone?’, ‘Should we ban lollies?’, ‘Do you have to love your sibling?’, ‘Should you eat your pet?’, ‘Who should you save first in a fire?’, ‘Are some people just unlucky?’
In some ways, primary school–aged children are the perfect audience for philosophical ethics. They are curious and questioning, sometimes to an extent that sends their parents into a spin.
Many kids have strong opinions but they are not yet wedded to a particular idea of what it is they believe about people and the world. They’re also really open to changing their mind if someone has a better idea than theirs, while also being surprisingly capable of making a case for what they think. Aside from being curious, children are often really imaginative and this is also an important skill in learning to think philosophically.
The Pause Button Approach
A key to developing a critical and philosophical approach to the world is making sure conversations are not one-sided, with adults telling children what to think. In fact, one of the best ways to develop your ideas about what’s right and wrong is to learn to think philosophically. That means listening to ideas respectfully, questioning your views and those of others, adding to people’s ideas via conversation, and of course being open to changing your own mind as you learn more.
In effect, it’s teaching kids how to think, not what to think.
Research by the ABC found that parents want entertainment for their children that is active and that avoids too much screen use.
So we’ve developed a unique element for the podcasts: the ‘pause button’. Once or twice each episode, we ask listeners to pause briefly and contemplate what they’ve heard or to discuss our questions with their family.
It’s crucial that this podcast doesn’t feel like hard work (yet another educational hurdle a child must be tested on), so we’ve used examples and pop culture references to give these sometimes complex ideas and questions a solid basis in reality, as well as a major dose of fun.
We hope the podcast is also fun for parents, as well as offering insight into the young philosophers they live with.
Kyla Slaven received the Australasian Association of Philosophy’s 2017 Media Prize for her work making Short & Curly.
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