This guide for parents and teachers uses 12 favorite story books to help children see and understand the world of systems around us.


  • Students will learn to see the world around them in terms of wholes, rather than as single events.
  • Students will learn to question simple explanations.
  • Students will learn to look for patterns in how things happen.
  • Students will learn to understand why problems arise and how to figure out what to do about them.
  • Students will learn to see and sense how the parts of systems work together, rather than just see the parts as a collection of unrelated pieces. 
  • Students will learn to ask probing questions when things don’t turn out the way we planned.

Systems thinking is an important skill and habit of mind for and sustainable design. Systems awareness can be nurtured in children, even from a young age.

Each chapter in this book focuses on a favorite children’s picture book and reveals two to five systems thinking concepts inherent in the story. Each story is presented with teaching tips, general points for discussion, questions to spark conversation for both younger and older readers, and examples of how others have used the story to teach about systems. Examples of story books discussed include If You Give a Mouse a Cookie, The Cat in the Hat Comes Back, and Who Speaks for Wolf? A Native American Learning Story.


Image: Pegasus Communications / Copyright © - All rights reserved

Book cover

table of contents
Image: Pegasus Communications / Copyright © - All rights reserved

Table of contents

The article, “Systems Thinking: A Means to Understanding Our Complex World,” was adapted from When a Butterfly Sneezes and serves as a good introduction to systems thinking for educators as well as a preview of the concepts explored in the book itself. The article is provided as a free download with permission from Linda Booth Sweeney.