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Saving the World With Cardboard and Creativity

Leah Hanes

CEO and Chief Juggler, Two Bit Circus Foundation

Imagine the world in 50 years. Are there crazy tech advancements? Smart buildings, cars, and sidewalks? Are we making our way to Mars or focusing on our home planet? Maybe we’ve come together and agreed to only use solar power or clean fuel alternatives?

Now, how do we get there? Today’s youth will be running the show by then and the problems they’ll be facing will be very different from those we face today. To be prepared for an unknown future, we need to teach our youth to solve questions that we don’t yet know to ask.

However, in today’s education system, youth are bombarded with facts and knowledge from the discoveries of those who came before them. There’s very limited opportunity for them to learn how to explore, discover, and build new things on their own. We want kids to feel  encouraged to build the world they imagine, and they need to be prepared with the necessary tools to do so.

STEAM education

For that, science, technology, engineering, art, and math (STEAM) education is critical. The curiosity and creativity that are involved in STEAM education instill invaluable skills for youth, foster entrepreneurialism, support environmental stewardship, and more.

Yet education facilities are often strapped for budget and there is a common misconception that STEAM education tools and resources are expensive to provide. And indeed, some of them are. Maker kits and “build-your-own” packages are great educational tools, but they’re not so good for educational budgets or the environment (with all that heavy packaging). So these resources remain out of reach for many underfunded schools and underprivileged youth who need them.

Enter cardboard

I’d like to propose another idea: cardboard.

Cardboard is everywhere. It’s free, environmentally responsible, and widely accessible. Cardboard can be shaped, cut, painted, bent, and drawn on to become whatever you want it to be. For education facilities that lack adequate funds, something as simple as a cardboard box can inspire worlds of imagination and creativity — both of which are critical components of any education and core to building a bright future.

Fostering creativity

Critical thinking skills stem from creativity. Solutions to complex problems come from creativity. Invention, design, self-expression, engineering — all of these things stem from creativity. Yet there are far too many children around the world who don’t have the support they need to fuel their creative expression.

I believe cardboard could become STEAM education’s most valuable resource. In fact, it’s already had worldwide success with campaigns like the Global Cardboard Challenge, organized by, a division of Two Bit Circus Foundation, where kids are encouraged to imagine a better world and then build something out of cardboard to help that vision come true. Caine of the 2012 video Caine’s Arcade is a great example of what a child can do with an imagination and cardboard.


We add to the cardboard an array of materials that we gather from the manufacturing waste stream, which enhances the environmental stewardship approach to our 164 STEAM Lab Makerspaces. Most communities have reuse centers that can help add color and texture to the creations without adding to the carbon footprint of a project. Another reason for these materials is the need for the child to design, create, and iterate. If we buy the child an expensive robotics kit, they make that robot according to the directions. If you give them cardboard and old motors, they become creators, inventors, and problem solvers.

As you can see, building with cardboard works on numerous levels. On the surface, it allows kids to collaborate, create, and learn resourcefulness. By using a sustainable material, children foster the spark of environmental awareness. Without directions and a predetermined object to build, kids are encouraged to explore their own interests and passions, to imagine how they themselves could improve the world, and to create their own map to get there. A simple cardboard box can kickstart an invaluable entrepreneurial spirit that is sometimes not fostered through traditional education methods. 

To be prepared for a rapidly advancing world, we need to provide children of all means with the tools needed to face tomorrow’s problems. And cardboard is a great tool to start with.

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