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by Susan V. Bosak

Easy, effective program ideas help kids believe, do, think

"There's not as much pressure as real school. It's more fun." That's how one young person explained why he liked his afterschool program. Afterschool programs and youth groups like Boys and Girls Clubs, Girl Guides, Girl Scouts, and Boy Scouts often ARE more fun for kids!

Afterschool and youth programs have the flexibility, freedom, and more relaxed setting to encourage kids to explore and discover something very important – who they are. Program leaders can play a key role in preparing young people for their life by helping them to become aware of and start pursuing their dreams and goals – whether they are academically-oriented or not. Students who may not thrive in a traditional classroom setting can find new hope and direction in an effective afterschool program.

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. The Dreamers in this world are the ones who have the courage and creativity to see beyond "what is" to "what can be."

Illustration by Steve Johnson and Lou Fancher from Dream

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 all the 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 illustrators – including two-time Caldecott Medal winners Leo and Diane Dillon – with quotations from historical figures and a multilayered, poetic story.

Dream has won 11 national awards, among them a Teachers' Choice; an iParenting Award; and an International Reading Association Children's Choice (10,000 children across the country read and vote on the books they like best).

You can use Dream to encourage kids 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 young people of different ages.

Use the Dream book and all the resources that have been developed around it to help you encourage young people to discover who they are.
Here are some ideas to get you started...


Read Dream aloud. Even teens enjoy being read to – though they might not admit it! Dream is a good resource to start discussion beause it doesn't look "babyish." In fact, the sophisticated artwork challenges young people, even those with low literacy levels. Because we live in such a visual age, teens will often respond very thoughtfully to the illustrations. You can springboard from what they pick up on, and return to the book periodically. Each time young people look at the book, you may be surprised at the new things they notice.

There are some tips on How to Read Dream, with separate ideas for using the book with young children.

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.

Talking Tool

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

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.

My Dream

Use the My Dream and Different Dreams fill-in sheets to encourage young people to articulate their dreams and goals. Particularly for young people who are economically disadvantaged, you may need to give them "permission" to dream. Hope begins with an idea. In fact, all dreams begin in our imagination.

Discuss the inventions and discoveries illustration on pages 16-17 in Dream. There was a time when none of the things in the illustration existed – even the fire represented by the candles on the wall. Then, someone had an idea and made it a reality.

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 young people 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. Young people 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

When you're working with young people individually or in small groups, open a discussion about what worries them, what they're afraid of, what they see as obstacles. Young people 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.

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

When you're in the gray, how can you make your way from the gray back to the green? That's an important life skill – the ability to find hope. Talk with young people 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. If you're dealing with issues like bullying and violence, many of the Safe Schools resources are useful.

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 young people 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. Young people 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, good follow-on activities are Ladder to the Stars and 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 group project, fill a wall in your space 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 young people identify 100 wonders?
200 wonders?

Expand the Wonder Wall to include questions about things young people 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? Encourage group discussion on the questions during a quiet time.

Star Qualities

Encouraging young people 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. Young people can also identify perceived weaknesses that they'd like to develop into star qualities.

A good companion activity is the Dreamer Profile.

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.

Encourage young people to 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 month or so, 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

Club of Dreamers

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 young people choose a role model from history and find out everything they can about that person. Young people can share stories about their historical heroes. Fill a wall with inspiring photos and stories celebrating the amazing things Dreamers can achieve.

Why not start your own Club of Dreamers? It can be open to anyone and everyone with the courage and creativity to make a difference in their own life and the lives of others. Start by talking about some of the members of the Club of Dreamers – the famous people illustration on pages 14-15 in Dream. Who are they and what did they do? Remind kids that you don't have to be rich, a genius, or famous to make a difference; talk about Harold Allen, the "ordinary person" in the top, right corner of the illustration. Then your Club of Dreamers can choose a community service goal and work together to make it happen.

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 young people 8-18 years interview an older adult over 50 years about their life experiences – how they achieved goals, overcame obstacles, how their dreams may have changed along the way. Young people then submit a 300-word essay. Prizes include a computer and book gift certificates.

This popular contest is a great way to encourage young people to make meaningful intergenerational connections, learn about life, understand life choices, and give a very special gift.

Candice Bidner and Daniel Alston of Long Branch Middle School in New Jersey wrote that when they first saw the contest, "we thought it would be a great community outreach program. Across the street from our school is a specialized hospice care facility for the elderly. The children were scared at first, but once they met their grandfriends, they really bonded." They go on to say, "our students are middle school pre-teenage to teenage students and many are from economically disadvantaged backgrounds. Normally, they are the recipients rather than the givers. With this experience, they clearly enjoyed giving their time as well as receiving the life lessons from their grandfriends."

You can also give young people an opportunity to share their essays with the group and with the people they interviewed, and in this way build reading and speaking skills.

Be Dramatic

Have teens develop and present a dramatic reading of Dream to younger children and members of the community. They can serve as leaders and role models. Make an event out of it – with everyone participating to make Dream Stars at the end.

One youth group put the book to music. Another altered the text to make it a rap song. The possibilities are endless, and can be a source of inspiration for young and old.

Dream Stars and More

The star is a key symbol in Dream. Your whole group or community can make origami Dream Stars with dreams and goals written inside.

Young people 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

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.

© SV Bosak, www.legacyproject.org


Dream by author and educator Susan V. Bosak
is in bookstores across the country, including Barnes & Noble and Chapters/Indigo. Read a description of the book, check out the reviews, and take a peek at some of the remarkable illustrations. Click here to find out more about


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

fueling children's aspirations... Useful to adults looking to instill children with the belief they can attain their dreams."
Kirkus Reviews

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