Story Boxes are popping up all over town–in museums, libraries, and schools. To date, about 130 Story Box units have been produced, and that’s just the beginning. So what exactly are Story Boxes, and what do they mean for children in Pittsburgh?

A Story Box is a 21” x 12” x 4” portable device containing images with “hot spots” that, when pressed, play related audio clips. For example, the “My Favorite Animal” Story Box features photographs of young children with illustrated embellishments to make them look like different animals. By pressing on a child’s photo, the listener can hear audio clips of that child roaring like a tiger, describing a zebra’s fur, or remembering the time they met a unicorn on the beach.

Each Story Box focuses on a specific theme. Story Boxes produced to date have included topics such as:

  • What I Am Thankful For
  • Unique Things I Know How To Do
  • My Favorite Animal
  • Bullying
  • Martin Luther King
  • Personal Narratives
  • Impact Of The Arts
  • Hope For The Coming Year
  • Environmental Documentaries
  • Career Profiles

The devices are funded by Spark and produced by The Saturday Light Brigade. The Saturday Light Brigade (SLB for short) began in 1978 as a weekly public radio program focusing on family and community life. Today, SLB has grown into a non-profit with a permanent home in The Children’s Museum of Pittsburgh. In addition to broadcasting live for six hours every Saturday, SLB also offers technical and self-expression workshops for children and youth from 8 to 18 years of age.


In 2008, SLB began working with the CREATE Lab at Carnegie Mellon on a project called HearMe. HearMe and Story Boxes have a lot in common as they both focus on collecting and distributing children’s stories. In many ways, these projects take the original intent of the SLB radio show and mobilize it. Host and Founder Larry Berger explains:

“When SLB began in 1978, it was reasonable for us to use radio to inform and delight an often-unexpecting audience with children’s stories and ideas.  We designed Story Box technology with hopes of achieving this goal in today’s fragmented media environment and fast-paced world.  As mass media shrinks and user-directed content increases, we wanted a simple way to reach people and, frankly, tempt them to listen to voices of children.”

Not only do Story Boxes provide a space where children’s voices can be heard, they also help to sharpen and define that voice. While working on Story Boxes, children are also working on reading, writing, listening, and speaking skills. Larry adds,

“Many of the children we work with are amazed that someone wants to hear their ideas and, therefore, write better knowing they will have an audience. For many, we also are providing a first-time opportunity to read aloud.”

SLB is already at work expanding the applications of Story Boxes. Current projects include the voices of adults from Hazelwood, Homewood and the Hill District. Doctors offices have requested Story Boxes that will allow visitors to hear what each health care professional in the office does. SLB is even working on a project that will use Story Box technology to provide a plain language technical explanation of shale gas extraction through hydraulic fracturing to rural Pennsylvanians. The more Story Boxes that are produced, the more voices that are heard. Larry adds,

“Story Boxes also have an indirect effect on the entire community – as we distribute more Story Boxes it causes adults and children in our region – and visitors – to recognize that Pittsburgh is a region that values the thoughts, ideas and stories of our children.”

For more information on The Saturday Light Brigade, visit slbradio.org.

Visit neighborhoodvoices.org to learn more about the workshops provided by The Saturday Light Brigade and to listen to audio from local children.

If your organization is interested in hosting a Story Box, contact Jeff Baron at jeff@nullslbradio.org.