The Perfect Bedroom
Watch the entire story being read to a class by clicking the video!
“Well, it is amazing but I don’t know if it’s, you know, perfect…”
“I build better room,” the builder answered.
“What? Really? You can make it better than this?” Delphi asked, impressed.
“Can build anything.”
“Anything?” Delphi’s mind went into overdrive. She looked around her enormous bedroom and pictures started forming in her mind - big, ridiculous pictures.
Delphi is stuck at home and bored. But a visit from a foreign-sounding, mysterious builder seems to liven up her day. When he offers to make Delphi her perfect bedroom, she doesn't think much will actually happen. But when she wakes up the next morning, she realises this is no ordinary builder...
What do you need to be happy?
Can you be perfectly happy?
Do you need to be free to be happy?
Suggesting different answers to a question
Using your imagination to develop ideas
Finding reasons for more than one answer
This lesson starts to move the children’s thinking from concrete to abstract thought. It does this by helping the children see a philosophical question will have several possible answers depending on what we mean by different ideas – in this case, about happiness and freedom. This enquiry is a reworking of the 'Happy Prisoner' thought experiment found in John Locke's philosophy.
Lesson Blog: The Perfect Bedroom
First of all – did you notice the video at the top of this page? Yes – this time we’ve decided to make available this ENTIRE chapter of Delphi the Philosopher available for you to watch. Alongside the story, you’ll see the slides showing the Big Questions. We hope this will give you a great insight as to what a Delphi story is like, and you could even watch it with your class and have the discussion yourselves!
We loved putting this story together and it’s fair to say the children loved it too, though that may have had something to do with Delphi’s unicorn, which sent my unicorn-mad class of 7 and 8-year-olds almost delirious with excitement. But it’s a funny, surprising and, at times, scary story which is a huge amount of fun to read aloud. It also can have a huge impact on children’s learning. The purpose of this lesson is to take children from a concrete problem (designing a fantasy bedroom) to an abstract one (what is freedom and happiness). This is a really important step in the development of their reasoning.
The questions in this enquiry also give lots of scope for a great range of responses. Later in the blog, Rosie will tell you how this was the breakthrough lesson with her Year 5’s in terms of abstract reasoning. For my Year 3’s, we focused on using our imaginations to think of new ideas and to realise that big ideas aren’t always as simple to understand as we think.
After the warm-up discussion, where Delphi thinks about what would make her happy, a mysterious Builder offered us all the chance to design our own perfect bedroom. The children got stuck into this with gusto, filling their rooms with all sorts of wonderful things. But mainly unicorns. And fridges.
Along with Delphi, the children get two goes at this. It’s interesting to see how effective it is to repeat the activity after Delphi has more ideas about her own bedroom. As Delphi filled up with her increasingly enormous bedroom with unicorns, baby elephants, fields and dragons, so the children filled up theirs with discos and huge fridges. Throughout all this, we kept coming back to the same question – does it make you happy?
Many children, despite filling their room with all sorts of delights, were keen to stress that they didn’t think it would make them perfectly happy. They generally felt it was family and friends that made them happy rather than possessions, and some children were starting to question whether we could ever be ‘perfectly’ happy however good our bedroom was.
But then comes the twist (spoiler alert!). When Delphi tries to leave her bedroom she finds the door locked and the Builder refusing to let her go out. This brings the big idea of ‘freedom’ into the mix – does it affect our happiness if we know we can’t get out? This is a reworking of a thought experiment by the philosopher John Locke (and of the philosophical enquiry ‘The Happy Prisoner’ in Peter Worley’s The If Machine).
The children reacted very strongly to this revelation. Most children felt this would certainly affect their ability to be happy. This discussion can be taken in all sorts of directions. We focused on how this changed our happiness, and whether Delphi would still be happy even if she hadn’t tried to get out. Rosie delved into some much more abstract thinking about the connections between freedom and happiness with her Year 5’s. This is a great illustration how these stories can be used with different ages and abilities. So, I’m going to let Rosie tell you about the ending of the story this week!
You know when you get to the end of teaching a lesson and you just think to yourself ‘wow’? Well, that was me for Delphi lesson number seven: ‘The Perfect Bedroom’. We broke through so many boundaries in this lesson and stretched our thinking to levels beyond any discussion we have yet had in that classroom. I was absolutely amazed by the level of dialogue and critical thought my Year 5s were able to reach mostly independently in just one hour. It was incredible. So here’s what happened…
In this chapter, Delphi is visited by a rather strange visitor (think spooky monk mixed with a touch of the ghost-of-Christmas-yet-to-come.) This character, a bizarre builder with an unrecognisable accent, offers to build Delphi a bedroom beyond her dreams. Immediately, Delphi, although sceptical, jumps onto this idea and begins imagining what her new room could look like. Of course, we couldn’t allow Delphi to do this without the children experiencing it as well – so off they went to design their very own bedroom too! It all started quite tame, with some just saying “Well, I’d make my bed bigger” or “I’d have my games console attached to the wall so I wouldn’t have to get it out again.” But then came the children who dared to take greater steps – “I’d have a candy floss machine!” “What about a slide in the middle of the room?” “Can I have a cinema screen?” The answer was yes! Philosophy is all about the freedoms of thought, so why not?
The children were definitely hyped up and excited by their bedrooms and when I asked them if they were happy, the majority were nodding their heads like one of those dogs you put on your car dashboard. There were a few, however, who could see some flaws with their bedrooms and weren’t entirely sure if they were happy. For example, one child said, “I’m not sure yet because I think I’d need a friend to be happy so I would ask for a friend to share my bedroom for me.” It was interesting to see right in front of me the effect of that comment as I could make out that a few were starting to doubt their own happiness with their own bedrooms. I knew that this was the exact point to plough on with our story as similar thoughts would soon cross Delphi’s mind too.
When Delphi is visited once again by the mysterious builder, he says he can make the room even more perfect so that she is happier. Delphi can’t believe it and goes wilder with her ideas, including asking for her friends to be part of her bedroom and an array of exotic pets to join her too. This suddenly led to the bedrooms that had been designed in my classroom becoming zoos for some children, some added waterslides and swimming pools, others wanted race tracks or an all-you-can-eat buffet. Again, I posed the question: “are you happy?” and I was met with lots of satisfied grins. They had everything they wanted! Who wouldn’t be happy?
Well, a child, who had been sitting rather uncomfortably during the design phase of the lesson, put their hand up and offered an intriguing answer: “I am happy but I am also unhappy. I am happy because I have all that I want but I am unhappy too because my big bedroom might have taken up all the space in the rest of the house. My family might not have enough space to live in because of my bedroom. I think it’s quite selfish.” This was absolutely where the lesson was aiming to reach – the children giving two possible answers, agreeing and disagreeing with an idea. I asked the children to reflect on this answer and was immediately bombarded with lots of answers that now considered both sides of the argument. It is fascinating how one seed of an idea that sprout out so many other ideas.
So we were quite confident in offering two ideas and so we ventured on into the climax of the story, where Delphi discovers that, although she has everything she would ever want, she is in fact locked inside that perfect bedroom. The gasps and protests that raptured when I reached that part of the story were quite terrifying to be on the other side of. It felt like the ceiling had collapsed in on the classroom and the children suddenly realised their perfect bedroom wasn’t so perfect after all. We discussed why as a class and this led us to the word ‘freedom’. What do we mean by freedom? Is freedom important? Is freedom more important than happiness? Without even thinking about it, Year 5 had entered the world of abstract thought. Here are some of the responses we heard:
“I think freedom is getting to go where you want so Delphi isn’t free and she can’t be happy.”
“I don’t think Delphi can be happy in her bedroom because she is locked in and won’t ever see her father again”
“To be happy, you have to be free and to be free, you have to be happy.” – this response amazed the whole class and we tried to think of situations where this would be true or untrue.
“If Delphi wishes her dad to be part of her bedroom then she would be free and happy.”
There were lots of different reactions to this idea of freedom and with each response, new doors were opened within the concept. One child said, “I think Delphi is free in her bedroom because she made her own choices.” This was interesting because it led to us to really unpicking our understanding of freedom. Up until this point, the children had understood freedom as being the idea that you can go wherever you want to, but now we were considering other forms of freedom, such as the idea of being able to choose something for yourself. I had no idea that we would reach this point in our thinking this lesson and it just shows how complex thought can become from a certain starting point. We even got so far in our discussions that we began considering answers to the question: “Is it possible for us to build freedom?”
Sadly, as is always the case, we did eventually run out of time to delve further (and I am sure we could have done for days) but I was so interested that I asked them all to jot down what they thought freedom was. I knew this would be a big topic for our next Delphi lesson so it was definitely a good opportunity to see where they all stood on the matter. My favourite answer from the many I collected had to be “I don’t know what it is because I don’t know what freedom is.” An answer Socrates would have been proud of!
This week my class truly astounded me and I am so excited to continue are journey into more abstract ideas after our half term break. On our final day before the break, we had some time to reflect on what we had enjoyed during our first half term of Year 5 and one girl answered, “I’ve just REALLY loved Delphi!” We couldn’t ask for much more!
Whether it’s developing children’s imaginations, teaching them how to reason with abstract ideas, or just getting massively excited about unicorns, The Perfect Bedroom is definitely one of our favourite Delphi enquiries!
You can use the video at the top of this page to share this story with your class – or if you want to read the story yourself, you can download this enquiry by clicking the link below. Or, as ever, you can download the entire Delphi the Philosopher scheme by clicking here!
Until next week, thanks for reading!
(This enquiry started life as an enquiry from The If Machine by Peter Worley, at the Philosophy Foundation, which offers a goldmine of philosophy resources and training. Many thanks to Peter for supporting our work!
Explicit consent has been obtained to publish the photos and videos on this website. Do not copy or replicate these in any way. Many thanks to parents/carers for their support and to Mrs Hegedus, TA superstar, for taking the photos.)