One of my favorite read aloud stories is Not a Box by Antoinette Portis. The premise of the story is simple and confirms how different children and adults look at the world. In the story, the rabitty-type creature sits, stands, and wears a box while “the adults” repeatedly ask the same question: “Why are you sitting, standing on, wearing a box?” When you turn the page, the illustration is imposed on the rabbity-creature and he is not sitting in a box but rather driving a race car or flying in a hot air balloon. I often read the story to inspire students to think creatively, but what I usually find during my read aloud–they don’t need it! For adults, a box is often JUST a box. It’s a catchall for recyclables, a way to get donations to the charity shop, or a device to keep the Christmas decorations free from dust.

But for a child, a box is, well… anything.


Children are born with ideas. They are visual or abstract, concrete or inventive. But when school (read: objectives, standards, benchmarks, and summative assessments) gets ahold of them, ideas are erased for: “Will this be on the exam/assessment/report card?”

And that’s where ideas die.

But now that Design Thinking is resurfacing with importance in schools, it’s crucial that educators reignite the fire in creative thinkers and inspire “ideation” as a cycle of thinking that takes the spark of an idea and helps students actualize that idea.

My first grade students are part of the global Tribe of Travelling Tales. In their tribe, students from Cambodia, Switzerland, China, Canada, and (then us in) Oman are using the spark of an idea (the UNs Sustainable Development Goals) and then collaborating to write, illustrate, and publish a story. The story is built as it moves around the globe and each group of students must actualize their story ideas for the next part in the tale.

The Travelling Tales process requires inquiry (What happened before? or What topics are we learning about in school?), empathy (How does this connect to real world issues?), and ideation (What can we do about this? or How can we solve the problem in new and creative ways?). In their classes, students create prototypes of their ideas by storyboarding or testing on their peers. And then… they create!

Here’s how the first 4 parts of the story’s journey have taken shape. (I will update this with the completed story) as soon as my students wrap it all up!

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How will you think outside of the box?