Paradox Box Game

“How wonderful that we have met with a paradox. Now we have some hope of making progress.” —Niels Bohr
A paradox forces us to think outside the box, to think about the infinite grey areas that live between true or false, and yes or no. Paradox invites us to say, “Yes, and…” to generate new ideas. A paradox invites creative thinking, imagination, and empathy.

Freedom is a paradox. It is something we celebrate as citizens of a democracy like the United States, but what does it really mean? Are there limits to freedom? How does that work? Who gets to decide? 

As an 8 year-old at Opal School once explained, "Everyone can't get what they want or be happy all of the time, but I want to be happy!"

Through this activity, we highlight possible ways to explore the big ideas of freedom and independence alongside your children. We invite you to engage in Playful Inquiry around this paradox of freedom because working our way into a relationship with complexity gives us a chance to feel more comfortable with the ambiguity it creates.

Build a Paradox Box

Your Paradox Box can made from recycled materials, such as cardboard or wood. Or it can be an old jewelry and shoe box that you don’t use anymore, such as a shoe box or jewelry box. Feel free to decorate your Paradox Box with paint, glitter, fabric, feathers, or other materials that you may not typically use together.

Next, write some, or all, of these conversation prompts on strips of paper and place them in your Paradox Box. If you need help from a caregiver or friend, just ask!
Bring your Paradox Box to a picnic, backyard fireworks celebration, or your dinner table this weekend. Take turns passing around the Paradox Box and give each person a chance to select and answer questions:
  • What does freedom feel like to you?
    • What does it feel like to be included?
    • What does it feel like to be left out?
    • Invent a new word or sound for each of these feelings.

    • "Being brave is going up, being pulled up. Then the freedom comes when you are flying down like a bird." —Ruby, Age 8

  • What does it mean to be independent?
    • Do you have to be alone to be independent? Why or why not?
    • Is it possible to be independent while receiving help from others? Why or why not

  • What happens if doing something that makes you feel free, makes a friend feel afraid?
    • What should you do with your freedom?
    • What should your friend do with their fear?
    • How do you decide what’s most important?
  • If you created a Flag of Freedom, what would it look like?
    • Colors? Symbols? Shapes?
    • Why does it look this way?
    • What does it mean to you?
    • Feel free to draw your flag!
  • Can you feel alone even when you are in the presence of others?
    • Why or why not?
    • Have you ever felt this way?

      "It is hard for our community to love each other because we tear each other apart for our differences.” —Alijah, Age 8 
  • Does understanding something or someone make them less frightening?
    • Is it possible to hurt someone without being mean?
    • Is it possible to help someone without being nice?
    • Do some people need to be more understood than others?
    • Think about why or why not for each of these questions.

  • Can you create a recipe that helps you be understood by others all the time?
    • What are the magical ingredients?
    • What would it taste like?
    • What would it smell like?

      "When you feel freedom you know it. My brain tells me!"
      — Isobel, Age 3

  • Share a story of when you felt strong.
    • How did your body feel?
    • What were you doing?
    • Did you receive any help or encouragement from others?

  • Share a story of when you felt weak.
    • How did your body feel?
    • What were you doing?
    • Did you receive any help or encouragement from others?

  • Does depending on others make us stronger or weaker?
    • Give an example of why. 
    • Is the opposite of strong always weak? Why or why not?

That Is My Dream!
A Picture Book of Langston Hughes's "Dream Variation"
by Langston Hughes
"Dream Variation," one of Langston Hughes's most celebrated poems, about the dream of a world free of discrimination and racial prejudice is now a picture book.

Reflection Questions:

After you finish a round of conversation inspired by your Paradox Box, you might consider:

  • What did you learn about yourself that you didn’t know before?
  • What did you learn about others that you didn’t know before?
  • What surprised you?

  • What confused you?
  • What did you struggle with?
  • What new ideas are you wondering about?
  • What thoughts or ideas may have shifted in your mind since the start of the game?
  • What new questions should we add to the box?
*Certain prompts generously adapted from the Institute of Philosophy, Citizenship and Youth. 

Recommended Reads: Stories to Share

Mumbet’s Declaration of Independence
by Gretchen Woelfle with illustratrations by Alix Delinois
Provides young readers a slavery-to-freedom narrative about Elizabeth Freeman's true story of resistance and liberation. For a review of the book and additional resources, click here.

Grandfather Gandhi
by Arun Gandhi, Bethany Hegedus & Evan Turk
A Picture Book for All Ages
Mahatma Gandhi’s grandson tells the story of how his grandfather taught him to turn darkness into light in this uniquely personal and vibrantly illustrated tale that carries a message of peace.

Harvesting Hope: The Story of Cesar Chavez
by Kathleen Krull & Yuyi Morales
Grades 3–6
A biography of Cesar Chavez, from age ten when he and his family lived happily on their Arizona ranch, to age thirty-eight when he led a peaceful protest against California migrant workers' miserable working conditions.

Dreams of Freedom in Words & Pictures
Amnesty International UK 
Grades 2–6
Worldwide champions of human rights, from Harriet Tubman and Anne Frank to Nelson Mandela and Aung San Suu Kyi, share their dreams of freedom in words illustrated by artists from across the globe.

Peaceful Fights for Equal Rights
by Sanders and Schorr
K–Grade 2
Every voice matters, no matter how small. It's time to make a difference.

Two Friends Susan B. Anthony and Frederick Douglass
by Dean Robbins
K–Grade 3
This story imagines what it was like when Susan B. Anthony and Frederick Douglass got together for a cup of tea and discussed their struggle for civil rights.

Freedom Soup
by Tami Charles with illustrations by Jacqueline Alcántara
Every year, Haitians all over the world ring in the new year by eating a special soup, a tradition dating back to the Haitian Revolution. This year, Ti Gran is teaching Belle how to make the soup—Freedom Soup—just like she was taught when she was a little girl. 

I Have the Right to be a Child 
by Alain Serres
What it means to be a child with rights, emphasizing that these rights belong to every child on the planet, and makes evident that knowing and talking about these rights are the first steps toward making sure that they are respected.

Freedom in Congo Square
by Carole Boston Weatherford
Grades 1–5
Six days a week, slaves labor from sunup to sundown and beyond, but on Sunday afternoons, they gather with free blacks at Congo Square outside New Orleans, free from oppression.

Almost to Freedom
by Vaunda Micheaux Nelson
Grades 1–4
Tells the story of a young girl's dramatic escape from slavery via the Underground Railroad, from the perspective of her beloved rag doll.

The Streets Are Free
by Kurusa with illustrations by Monika Doppert
Based on the true story of the children of the barrio of San Jose de la Urbina in Caracas, Venezuela.

Milo's Museum
by Zetta Elliott
Milo gradually realizes that the people from her community are missing from the museum. When her aunt urges her to find a solution, Milo takes matters into her own hands and opens her own museum

That Is My Dream!
A Picture Book of Langston Hughes's "Dream Variation"
by Langston Hughes
"Dream Variation," one of Langston Hughes's most celebrated poems, about the dream of a world free of discrimination and racial prejudice is now a picture book.