Designed to meet children’s keen interest in comics.

Credit: Image retrieved from

During the Life Outside the Box initial 2-yr grant — generously funded by B.C. Civil Forfeitures — Grade 6/7 (or Grade 5/6/7 split) teachers, community policing and school liaison officers were trained on how to further foster conversations with and deeper thinking in Grade 6/7 children about issues of character (virtues and vices, good and evil, and the hard choices in life) as children were in the process of creating their comic book scenarios.

Recently, Marvel and DC Comics have been bringing classic comic book heroes and villains to life in spectacular, full-featured movies. More than ever children are immersing themselves in great epic stories that are splashed in full colour on comic book pages. Life Outside the Box was designed to meet children’s keen interest in comics and deepen their understanding of the character and plot themes of their favourite superheroes. The program was delivered in several schools around British Columbia from May 2015 to May 2016. Nearly every child showed interest in the comic-creating activities and successfully completed or made good progress . The Life Outside the Box comic creating activities were enjoyable and show-and-tell sessions were fascinating and funny.

Build a “likeable hero” and learn about character.

Credit: “Baymax” image retrieved from

Life Outside the Box focuses on internal strengths. 
In the process of students building a “likeable hero” and developing an “interesting comic character,” some of the character strengths, traits, and virtues that are discussed are:

  • a flexible, “not yet, but soon” mind set (as opposed to a fixed, “all or nothing” mind set)
  • self-regulation (ones’ personal “engine” not running too sluggish or too hot, but just right)
  • personal sacrifice (giving up a personal gain — sometimes facing embarrassment — to go off and “save the day”)
  • endearing hero qualities (a mixture of strong and vulnerable traits)
  • forgiveness
  • other-esteem (as compared to self-esteem),
  • humility, altruism, civic values, gratitude, prudence, sense of one’s own life meaning, and frequent positive affect.

Empower children and youth to look beyond the “box”

Credit: Image retrieved from

Some past crime-prevention programs have been proven to be inadequate because they focused on warning children and youth to “not commit crimes”, but these programs did not address the root causes of crime-related behaviour — the hopelessness these young people feel when they perceive few positive alternatives and receive little support for following their dreams — i.e., being the hero in their own challenging and rewarding “hero’s journey.” Life Outside the Box activities and conversations can empower children and youth to look beyond the “box” of limited choices and shallow values, and believe in themselves and their dreams of a better future.

Youth should be the heroes in their own life story.

Credit: Image retrieved from

The Life Outside the Box program is an educational and crime-prevention program designed to support children’s and youth’s personal “grit,” resiliency, awareness of others, and sense of life-purpose by examining the classic superheroes in comic book stories. Every hero has super strength but also character weaknesses; supportive allies but also a taunting arch-nemesis; and many failed attempts but ultimately the “epic save!” Through writing and drawing comics, children and youth learn that the greatest stories are not the ones in which heroes are “perfect” or settle for the “easy, quick, materialistic” life, but rather the ones in which the heroes face adversity, learn about themselves, find their calling in life and then discover they are actually in the perfect place at the perfect time to “save the day.” The Life Outside the Box program is designed not only to encourage children and youth to tell their own stories by using the comic book style, but also, to empower them to see how they may become the heroes in their own life story.

Sideways conversations

2015_04apr_06_Life Outside the Box_Back Cover Art_WEB

Though the main focus of the Life Outside the Box classroom workshop is on helping children discuss and learn about character strengths, this learning will happen through sideways conversations about the heroes under construction. These many sideways conversations about building one’s own comic book heroes, villains and other characters, inspire students to ask questions about character strengths and flaws to make their central character a “better read” for their peers. When children “practice” making moral choices and dishing out consequences for their own hapless and heroic comic book characters, children teach themselves about morality and natural consequences in their own life. This increased conversation around and awareness of character, morality and natural consequences may discourage crime-related behaviour later in life.

“Life Outside the Box” – Why?

Toni Morrison, Professor Emeritus at Princeton University

Toni Morrison, Professor Emeritus at Princeton University

You are your own stories and therefore free to imagine and experience what it means to be human without wealth. What it feels like to be human without domination over others, without reckless arrogance, without fear of others unlike you, without rotating, rehearsing and reinventing the hatreds you learned in the sandbox. And although you don’t have complete control over the narrative (no author does, I can tell you), you could nevertheless create it.

— Toni Morrison, Professor Emeritus at Princeton University

Why I chose to name this program: “Life Outside the Box.”

We all inherit our family and cultural stories. We learn from our elders and peers what is expected of us. The creators of popular media also tell us stories that teach us our place and role in life. Specifically, we are surrounded in advertisements, TV shows, movies, video games, etc. that frequently repeat this one epic story: people who are “Hollywood attractive,” White, male, have access to wealth or social power are cast as the “hero” or main character who “wins” or “saves the day.” In contrast, people who come with bodies that don’t fit Hollywood standards, or who are people of colour, female, Aboriginal, poor, or have little access to social power are cast as the secondary — or missing — characters who “lose,” receive the consolation prize, or remain invisible.

I designed the Life Outside the Box program to empower youth to create their own characters and stories in which a person who looks just like them can live an interesting life, learn how to control personal strengths (possibly even super powers), struggle with character flaws, grow in wisdom, reap the rewards that come with hard work, and ultimately “save the day.” My purpose was to help youth — especially if they don’t fit the unrealistic Hollywood or dominant culture standards — to feel worthy and qualified to star as the hero in their own story. By using comic book story-telling and simple drawing techniques, youth — and adults, too — can use comic panel “boxes” to envision a new story, practice grit and resiliency and generate hope as they imagine a life outside the Hollywood or dominant culture “box.” This comic book creating program, therefore, invites youth to imagine, draw, write and then live a full “life outside the box.”

timothy 3

Although you will never fully know or successfully manipulate the characters who surface or disrupt your plot, you can respect the ones who do by paying them close attention and doing them justice. The theme you choose may change or simply elude you, but being your own story means you can always choose the tone. It also means that you can invent the language to say who you are and what you mean. But then, I am a teller of stories and therefore an optimist, a believer in the ethical bend of the human heart, a believer in the mind’s disgust with fraud and its appetite for truth, a believer in the ferocity of beauty. So, from my point of view, which is that of a storyteller, I see your life as already artful, waiting, just waiting and ready for you to make it art.

— Toni Morrison


  1. The above quotes were from Toni Morrison’s commencement speech at Wellesley College, Wellesley, Massachusetts USA on MAY 28, 2004.
  2. The featured image and a transcript of Toni Morrison’s speech can be found here:
  3. The second image of Toni Morrison was retrieved from
  4. Toni Morrison’s speech can be heard here:
  5. A thoughtful discussion of Toni Morrison’s speech can be found here at “Brain Pickings”: