Saturday, July 30, 2011

The Giving Tree: Philosophy for Children

I came across this website a while ago, and I was intrigued. My children regularly ask me very tough theological questions which I encourage and dutifully answer. But I had my first attempt at teaching philosophy to children with my 5 year old (he just turned 5 recently). We read The Giving Tree by Silverstein. It really is a beautiful and sad little book. My son read it to me, and he grasped the content of the story. He knew that the boy and the tree loved each other, that the teenage boy took all of the apples for his own profit and that the tree gave willingly and lovingly, that the middle-aged “boy” took the wood from the trees branches which were given freely so that the boy could build himself a house. That the elderly “boy” took the trunk of the tree to make for himself a boat which the tree gave freely again (although the tree was not so happy this time). Finally, the tree (or really merely a stump), which my son knew she would be before we turned the page, willingly and lovingly became a seat for the decrepit “boy.”
We talked about love. I asked him if the tree loved the boy, and he said that she did. I asked him how he knew that the tree loved the boy, and he said it was because she gave him everything and she liked giving to him. I asked him if the tree was happy to give the boy her trunk for a boat, and he said that she was and then changed his mind and said that she wasn’t. I asked him why she wasn’t happy, and he said that it was because she didn’t have anything left. I wished I had asked him: “She didn’t have anything left for herself? Or she didn’t have anything left to give the boy?” But I didn’t. In any case, I asked him if the boy loved the tree. He said yes until he took the trunk of the tree, and then the boy didn’t love the tree. I asked him why he didn’t love the tree, and he said he didn’t act like he loved the tree. Then I asked him if he loved the tree when he took her apples not to eat for himself but to sell to make money? And what about taking all the branches from her for his house? He said that the boy didn’t really love her then either. I asked him if love had to be shown, and he said yes. (Love shall be known by its fruits.) We called it a night at that question.
It was an interesting experiment, and I thought it went very well. Sometimes I’m amazed by the minds of little ones.