When I was 13 years old I set myself the biggest goal I honestly think I could've set for myself - to swim at the Sydney 2000 Paralympic Games. It was a goal that seemed big to me, but possible, even with my parents saying "we believe you darling, but don't get your hopes up." What helped to keep me going in achieving this goal was the dreaming along the way, the dreaming actually contributed to the motivation to get out of bed at 4.30am every morning, and to push myself to overcome shyness to compete at national and international level. Dreaming was a crucial element of my goal journey, but I still get asked by parents and teachers, should we make dreamers out of our kids? Should we allow them to set goals and dream big? I always respond by saying Adele, Nicole Kidman, and Andy Murray had to start somewhere, and they started with a dream, so why not your kids? Also teaching children to dream can help them develop certain character strengths that will help them reach their potential in all areas of their lives.
There is now research that backs up the positives of allowing kids to dream. In researching the impact, activities were developed, and I share with you some activities you can do, in schools, and in homes, to encourage dreaming so that your children can get the positive benefits too. First, some background research…
Encouragement to have a dream goes back thousands of years, Lao Tzu said: “Be careful what you water your dreams with. Water them with worry and fear, and you will produce weeds that choke the life of your dream. Water them with optimism and solutions, and you will cultivate success.” Dreaming is an important aspect of being human and developing our character traits, in fact some researchers argue that dreams are built from the dreamer, or their collection of character traits, i.e., someone who is creative will probably have dreams that are based on creative pursuits, someone who is caring and loving may have dreams based on service and care-based pursuits, someone who is zesty may be extremely sporty and aim for the Olympics. Having dreams means developing our character strengths, and research shows that developing and exploring new dreams and ideas increases optimism in pupils, teaches them how to judge a feasible goals, and keeps their goals consistently in their mind. Some pretty compelling reasons to make sure that dreaming is a part of your character education curriculum or family lifestyle. These activities are based on research done into using character strengths to create optimism and dreams in children and teens - though could be used by adults as well, cause you know, we all need to keep dreaming.
Activity 1 - Fill Your Dream Bucket.
(This may require an actual bucket, but I leave that up to you)
The bucket becomes a metaphor for our minds, think of all of the emotions, knowledge, memories, ideas, AND dreams that we have that inspire us, and their correlating character strengths. Encourage children to use creativity to fill their bucket with new dreams based on their emotions, knowledge, memories, ideas, and previous dreams. Perhaps you have a child who always wanted to be a ballerina, but their parents couldn’t afford ballet lessons, encourage them to brainstorm other ways that they can bring dance, like ballet, into their life - perhaps they can attend free community hip hop dance classes instead, or even gather a group of likeminded friends to practice ballet tutorials off youtube. Encourage their imaginations to go wild and to inspire new and unique dreams and ideas that are outside the box. Tell them nothing is off limits in their dreaming - even being the first person to step foot on Mars could be a valid dream! This is a solutions based focus.
Activity 2 - Find the Glitter in the Sand.
All of the ideas and dreams in the Dream Bucket are like a mix of sand and glitter. You are now going to ask your pupils to sort through their dream bucket to find the glitter amongst the sand. This may be difficult as you are asking them to place a value on their different dreams and to decide which ones to keep and which ones to let go of. Ask them to think about the kind of person they want to be and the kind of life they would like to live and have them consider how each dream will fit in with this. Ask them to put each dream into a pile - yes, no, maybe - make a game of it, asking the children to sort the piles as quickly as possible (perhaps make it a race or have a time limit) means they trust their instincts about whether a dream is possible or not, or ask them to consider each dreams pro’s and con’s, what good and/or bad would come from this dream, etc.
Activity 3 - A New Dreaming legend/story.
Now have the pupils pick up their yes pile and using these dreams create a new dreaming legend or story. If they could achieve all of these dreams what would it look like? How would it feel? How would it impact on their family and friends? Providing resources, ask them to tap into their creativity again and create either a dream legend/story poster or write a short story/novella/comic book that illustrates this new, awe-inspiring dream. They can then take these home or hang them in the classroom to remind themselves of their dream every day.