I took a philosophy class in college; it was titled "The Meaning of Life". I still remember coming as close as I ever have to falling asleep in class.
This summer I discovered a book called : Big Ideas for Little Kids: Teaching Philosophy Through Children's Literature by Thomas Whartenberg. He talks about how kids are little philosophers and anyone who has worked with young children knows that is the case. They are quick to point out when something just doesn't make sense. For example, my first year teaching we were learning about dinosaurs and I was telling the kids that people weren't around in that time period; it's not like the movies where cavemen were fighting these mighty beasts. One of my particularly precocious students raised her hand and asked "then where did people come from?". I really did not expect to face a question about evolution from a 5-year old-but that's how their minds work.
I was planning to add the concept of ethics to my curriculum this year-a big concept for young kids I know (it's even a big concept for adults). My summer school class this year discovered a book called "Princess Justina Albertina". A story of a completely spoiled brat who requests pet after pet because none rises to her standards. Finally her nanny brings her a gryphon, which she loves, until it gobbles her up. I want my kids to explore why that seems like a fitting end. Another concept I look forward to exploring with them is fair vs. equal. I can't tell you how many times I hear them say "it's not fair" simply because it wasn't the outcome they rooting for. What does "fair" really mean?
We won't be discussing the "Meaning of Life" but I'm inspired to encourage the kids ways to justify their arguments, to listen, to debate. It might be a once-a-week 10 minute activity but I believe it will help them be able to express those ever-important opinions in the long run. Who knows maybe one will grow up to a be a lawyer or Senator one day!