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by Susan V. Bosak

School counselors
help prepare students for the life ahead of them

I was in a routine "what do you want to do with your life?" session with my high school counselor. She glanced up from her stack of student profiles and, just as she had for the dozens of kids before me, asked, "So, what are you thinking you might want to do after high school?" With the egomaniacal optimism of youth,
I answered, "I'd like to be famous." It was the end of the day and I could see she was tired. "Uh huh," she said, "Life isn't like that." Knowing full well I was starting to push her buttons, I had to ask: "What is life like, then?"

In this age of American Idol, has much changed? During my visits to schools, I meet students who want to be pop stars, basketball stars, or just "rich." Students today may be more sophisticated, but I don't think they're necessarily more mature. I do, however, believe school counselors are more aware than ever of the need to prepare young people for the entire life ahead of them -- real life in the real world. And that real world can at times be overwhelming. So, school counselors also have a role in nurturing dreams and helping students find hope.

Have you ever noticed that the word "if" is in the middle of "life?" There's this tentativeness to it all -- all these choices you have to make, not knowing how any of it is going to turn out. You're born into this world and you have to find your way, your place. For some it's easier than others, but we all have to do it. And dreams are foundational to how we live our life.

Dreams encompass goals and more. They give your life purpose, direction, and meaning. They shape your life choices, help you build toward the future, and give you a sense of control and hope. They're an expression of your potential and give voice to your talents. They're a source of pleasure and help develop the self. And they can change the world. It's the dreamers who have the courage and creativity to see beyond "what is" to "what can be."

Everyone needs a dream. We're all similar -- my book Dream begins with the words "I started out just like you" -- and yet our personal journey is very individual -- Dream ends with "dream a dream... your very own dream."

Dream is about the course of life and the evolution of hopes and dreams along the way. It's about a personal journey within the greater story of humanity. Five years in the making, the book brings together contemporary artwork from 15 top world illustrators -- including two-time Caldecott Medal winners Leo and Diane Dillon -- with quotations from historical sages and a multilayered, poetic story.

Dream has won 11 national awards, among them a Teachers' Choice; the Benjamin Franklin Award as Best Book Celebrating the Human Spirit; an iParenting Award; and an International Reading Association Children's Choice (books are read and voted on by 10,000 students across the country to choose the ones they like best).

You can use Dream to encourage students to think about the entire life ahead of them, and to make them aware of their own hopes and dreams and their place in the world. You might even get them thinking about how they can make the world a better place. Dream is what I call a "big picture" book.

The picture book format is a powerful, effective art form for all ages. The best way to communicate a complex idea is to identify the core messages and then combine words and images to reach the left and right brain. I use Dream from elementary to high school. The book offers something different to students of different ages. And it isn't a book students just read. It's a map to life, a book they can use to create meaning for themselves at a deep level. The book encapsulates the core essences of living and dreaming, based on social science research.

The role of a school counselor is to promote academic achievement, career planning, and personal/social development. School counselors are moving from a service-centered model that reaches only some students to a program-centered model reaching all students. The guidance curriculum is infused throughout the school's overall curriculum and presented systematically through K-12 classroom and group activities. Counselors also meet with students individually to establish personal goals and develop future plans.

Use the Dream book and all the resources that have been developed around it to help you achieve your counseling goals and support teachers in your school with their lesson goals.

Here are some top tips for bringing Dream into your school and using it as part of your counseling program...


Start and/or end the school year by reading Dream. Do it during an assembly or classroom-by-classroom.

There are some tips on How to Read Dream. There's also a new Begin and End With a Dream activity set with ideas for beginning and ending the school year.

You may also want to use the Dream CD, which includes an author reading of the story as the illustrations unfold on your computer screen; a slide show of all the illustrations that you can control as you read the story; and an automatic presentation of key themes, images, and questions accompanied by the Dream theme music.

Illustration by Steve Johnson and Lou Fancher from Dream

The Dream book can set the tone at the start of a school year and then you can introduce topics for further exploration. Students can springboard from the book to various areas of the curriculum, and return to it periodically throughout the school year as a familiar touchstone. Wrap up the year by revisiting the story to explore how students' thinking has evolved.

Talking Tool

Use Dream to introduce ideas, topics, even sensitive subjects. Jump in at any page you feel is appropriate, and engage students with the text, quotations, and/or illustrations to get them thinking and talking. As a picture book, it's inviting and nonintimidating, even for students with low literacy levels.

For example, you can bring elementary students in through the childhood page, or the teenager page. Children are usually aspiring one life stage ahead, so they're often excited to talk about all the things they're looking forward to doing as a teenager. For teens, bring them in through the teenager page or the young adult page.

Life Line

Where have young people been in their life and where do they want to go?

Dream depicts all the major life stages. Have students create their own life story by lining up six 8½ x 11 inch sheets of paper and joining them together into a Life Line. Each sheet represents one life stage – baby, toddler, child, teenager, young adult, older adult. Students can fill sheets with photos and notes on where they've been (e.g. baby photos, anecdotes from their family about when they were younger, special events or achievements they remember) AND what they imagine for their future (e.g. photos of hobbies, career possibilities, lifestyle goals, etc).

Illustration by Raúl Colón from Dream

Go From Bad to Good

Particularly when you're working with students one-on-one, start with what worries them, what they're afraid of, what they see as obstacles. Students have to confront and work through their fears before they can begin to find the courage to try new things. You might open a conversation by exploring the illustration on pages 10-11 (the teenager page) or the illustration and text on pages 20-21 (the first gray page).

Research shows most adults spend most of their life moving between "gray" and "green." We'd love to spend all of our time in the green, where things are positive, happy, and flourishing. But the reality is that hard, bad, and sad things happen. How do you make your way from the gray back to the green? That's an important life skill
-- the ability to find hope. Talk with students about ways to "get out of the gray" (i.e. to find courage, strength, to learn new things) and what the green represents (e.g. maturity, wisdom, cooperation). Use the From Gray to Green activity.

Each life stage in Dream is associated with a different color. What color do students think they are now?

Illustration by Shaun Tan from Dream

Climb the Mountain

The mountain illustration on pages 12-13 is a collage made up of bits of maps, symbols, and text in different languages, suggesting culture, learning, and experience. Have students make their own mountain collage in the center of a large sheet of paper, using words and images they draw/paint and clip out of newspapers and magazines.

The goal is to create a mountain of obstacles. Whenever you have a dream or goal, it's important to think ahead, to be aware of the possible obstacles and problems you may encounter. Possible obstacles might include lack of money, education, experience, skills, not knowing the right people, fear. Students should use color and texture to create the right mood for their mountain.

Once the mountain of obstacles is complete, the next step is to brainstorm ways they can overcome the obstacles. They should write these ideas in a variety of bright colors all around the mountain.

After you climb the mountain, a good follow-on activity is Believe, Do, Think.

Wonder Wall

One of the quotations in Dream is "A hundred million miracles are happening every day" from Oscar Hammerstein II. Take time to accentuate the positive -- celebrate all the miracles and wonders around us! As a school project, fill one wall with specific phrases and images showing examples of the miracles, wonders, and amazing and positive things in the world -- from natural wonders like the sun rising every morning and mountains that reach to the clouds to human wonders like medical advances and architectural marvels. How quickly can students identify 100 wonders? 200 wonders?

Expand the Wonder Wall to include questions about things students wonder about. Why is the sky blue? Why does it hurt when you cut your finger but not when you cut your fingernail? Why is there war? Then tie lessons to questions on the Wonder Wall -- the questions that students themselves have helped generate.

Can students add more questions every month? This can be a source of inspiration and exploration for the entire school.

Star Qualities

Encouraging students to do an inventory of their strengths -- skills, talents, personality traits -- is a key step to self-awareness. They can ask family and friends to help them come up with their list. Students can also identify perceived weaknesses that they'd like to develop into star qualities.

Dream Chest

One of the biggest challenges young people have is clearly identifying their dreams and goals. Dream begins at the end of the rainbow with the Dream Chest, a portal between "what is" and "what can be." The cover of the book is actually a close-up of the front of the chest, so opening the book is like opening your very own chest of dreams and going on a colorful journey of a lifetime -- your lifetime.

Students can take the next step by creating their own Dream Chest -- it can even be a decorated cardboard box.

Over time, they should fill the Dream Chest with clippings from magazines and newspapers -- articles, cartoons, images, and quotes that inspire or interest them. They can also include stories about people who are heroes or role models for them.

Looking through their Dream Chest every few weeks, and talking about what they've put in and why, can help them crystallize their dreams, goals, and sense of self.

Illustration by James Bennett from Dream

Historical Hero

Research shows that having a mentor can make a huge difference in the degree of success a young person achieves. One form of mentor experience is to have students choose a role model from history and find out everything they can about that person. Students can share stories about their mentors.

Students can also join the Club of Dreamers by downloading the famous people illustration (pages 14-15) and adding their own face.

Listen to a Life Essay Contest

There's nothing better than learning about real life from real people. Listen to a Life is an annual essay contest in which students 8-18 years interview an older adult over 50 years about their life experiences. Students then submit a 300-word essay. Prizes include a computer and educational software.

This popular contest is a great way to encourage students to make intergenerational connections, learn about life, understand life goals and choices, and develop interviewing, listening, and writing skills. Many schools also give students an opportunity to share their essays with other students, and in this way also build reading and speaking skills.

Meet the Author

Meeting a real author and hearing the "story behind the story" can bring a book to life for students. I truly love traveling across the country visting with students in schools!

School visits start with an interactive multimedia reading of Dream and engage students through both the text and illustrations. I share inspiring stories of how others have achieved dreams and goals, and then introduce the members of the Club of Dreamers -- the famous poeple illustration in Dream. With some techno-magic that's the highlight of every presentation, I invite students to join the Club of Dreamers to make a difference in their own life and in our world.

Dream Stars and More

The star is a key symbol in Dream. Your whole school can make special origami Dream Stars with students' dreams and goals written inside.

Students can creatively express their dreams and goals by creating The Next Page in the Dream book and their own life story. They can also get to work on a Life List and discover their Dreamer Profile.

From the time we're little, we make wishes on stars... "Star light, star bright/First star I see tonight/I wish I may, I wish I might/Have the wish I wish tonight."

As the last page in Dream reminds us:

Look up, up, up
into those billion billion sparkling stars.
What dreams do you find?
Little dreams, big dreams,
each a hope looking for a life to make it real --
a life like yours.

Get more LifeDreams activities.

© SV Bosak, www.legacyproject.org


Dream by author and educator Susan V. Bosak
is in bookstores across the country, including Barnes & Noble. Click here to find out more about


"A dazzling book
that challenges us to find a dream and follow it."
Bloomsbury Review

"Inspirational... Beautifully produced."
Publishers Weekly

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