Intervention results graph
We had statistically significant results in Dreaming (quantity and quality), Grit (perseverance) and Optimistic Thinking. And we also showed improvement in Growth Mindset and Hope.

Dream It! Achieves a Research Publication Milestone

Great news!!! Today is an exciting day for the science of dreaming (goal setting, aspiration, passions).

The University of Cincinnati logo
In collaboration with the University of Cincinnati

We are thrilled to announce that our latest dream research study has been published in the peer-reviewed, scientific journal Child & Youth Care Forum. The paper, titled “Dream It! Preliminary Evidence for an Educational Tool to Increase Children’s Optimistic Thinking,” was written in collaboration with our research partners at the University of Cincinnati and Cincinnati Public Schools. Publishing the results of our study represented an opportunity to extend our work with our workbook, Dream It!, by contributing to the body of knowledge on optimistic thinking in children and the larger social-emotional literature. While this publication represents the results from our latest study, it is truly the result of a larger research effort from six individual studies conducted over five years. We started by validating the content in Dream It! (which is another way of saying we made sure the kids liked the activities and benefitted from them — an important starting point!) and worked all the way up to our latest study, which was the most sophisticated design we have tested so far. An analogy that we like to use is that if our ultimate goal was measuring the circumference of the Earth, we started by verifying that our rulers were accurate. We are excited to share some highlights of our research with you!

Overview of our research program

I am so proud of this paper because it represents so many things I care about: undergrad students doing real research in order to learn about community psychology, school and community partnerships, and the Dream It! Playbook.

Professor Farrah Jacquez, Ph.D., Lead Researcher.

Our facilitators spent a semester working with Parker Woods students teaching them how to dream using our workbook, Dream It! Then we measured whether students showed any improvements before and after as compared to a control group (a group that did not get to use the workbook). As we began our research, we realized it’s actually pretty difficult to measure a dream. A dream is similar to a passion and a life goal, but perhaps without the full commitment (Yet!) to make it a reality. Dream It! teaches children both how to dream and how to turn those dreams into reality. Since it is difficult to measure a dream, we used social-emotional skills as a proxy measure. We theorized that if students became better at dreaming that they would become more optimistic about their futures. 

Our very first research project, with the YMCA after-school program, was inspired by a conversation with the director who noted a gap in children’s social-emotional learning. She said that despite implementing several social-emotional tools in their after-school programs, they had never been successful at increasing children’s optimistic thinking. We like to think this is the day that our research program was born — there was a need for children to strengthen optimistic thinking, which we think of as developing determination, increasing hope, and identifying meaningful life goals, and we had just the tool for the challenge. In our first two research studies at the YMCA, we showed a 27% improvement in optimistic thinking in the first semester and another 17% in the second semester among students working with an early draft of Dream It! Since then, we have continued to test the benefits of Dream It! through additional studies with refined materials, improved methods, and more students.  

The current study 

Thank you gift for the UC facilitators. "Thank you Ms Abby for teaching to love my dreams."
On the final day of our presentation, the Parker Woods students prepared gifts (dream pinwheels) for their UC facilitators. It was an incredible and teary-eyed moment. As Dr Sara said, “It was all the ‘data’ we needed.”

Our recently published study examined elementary school children’s responses to working with Dream It! using an experimental design, which is a good way to test for differences between groups. One group got to use the “Dream It! Playbook” guided by facilitators over the course of a school semester and one group did not. Both groups completed questionnaires about dreams and concepts related to optimistic thinking like grit (perseverance), hope, and growth mindset, at the beginning and end of the semester. We chose to use this “treatment-control” design so we could say with good confidence that any changes observed in the treatment group are likely associated with working with Dream It! since the other group did not get that same experience. 

As you can see in the infographic at the top of the page, the results of the study showed that students in the treatment group, who worked with Dream It!, had statistically significant improvements in the social-emotional skills of grit (perseverance), and optimistic thinking; they also made improvements in growth mindset and hope over the course of the semester, but these were not significantly different from the control group. Overall, these results were just what we expected — children who worked with Dream It! made improvements in optimistic thinking-related constructs more so than the children who did not.  

Two checkmarks illustrating improvements in both quantitative and qualitative types of dreams or life goals.

In addition to measuring changes in those more standard social-emotional factors, we also created our own factor to examine between groups—which we appropriately called “dreaming!” We were interested in measuring whether learning how to dream in a realistic way helps children better define their own life goals. Our dreaming measure consisted of having children list their dreams at the beginning and end of the semester, and then our research team counted up their dreams and also rated them for quality. Results showed that the students in the treatment group not only recorded more dreams (an improvement in quantity), but they also shifted the type of dreams they listed from non-reality-based dreams, like “Go to Candyland,” to dreams about their career aspirations, like “Be a scientist” (an improvement in quality). Finally, we also conducted interviews with teachers and facilitators who rated Dream It! as an easy and fun curriculum to implement with their students. Overall, the study showed us that Dream It! accomplished what we had hoped.

Fun and easy to implement

  • Students not only improved — they enjoyed the book and workshop!
  • Teachers responded positively. Not only did they report that the book was fun and easy to implement, but they also said that the school climate, as a whole, improved.


Results suggest that the “Dream It!” intervention is feasible in the real world and can be successfully integrated into classroom activities.

It’s easy to write a book. Okay, it’s not easy to write a book, it’s also not easy to design, conduct, analyze, and publish a research study about a book, and it’s definitely not easy to prove that a book really works! Most children’s books are not tested in the classroom, evidence-based, or peer-reviewed. However, we have always felt that our research program is a critical part of our work with Dream It! Doing such rigorous evaluation of the materials with many different children has allowed us to learn and grow as authors. Now, we are hopeful that sharing our work in the scientific community shines a spotlight on the importance of creating tested, helpful materials for children and implementing them in educational settings. You might say that Dream It! has realized a dream of its own through this publication by growing the impact of the important work of improving optimistic thinking in children! 

You can read more about the research project here: Improving Social and Emotional Awareness. And, you can read about the project from Cincinnati Public Schools’ point of view in their blog.  At the bottom of this page are links to each individual study where we give detailed descriptions of our process and our findings. If you have more questions about our research, we’d love to hear from you!

The final publication is available here as a free, online PDF: Dream It! Preliminary Evidence for an Educational Tool to Increase Children’s Optimistic Thinking, courtesy of Child & Youth Care Forum and their publisher Springer. Below is the abstract (overview of a scientific paper).

Child and Youth Care Forum. August 2020. Journal cover.
Child & Youth Care Forum publishes scientifically rigorous, empirical papers and theoretical reviews that have implications for child and adolescent mental health, psychosocial development, assessment, interventions, and services broadly defined.


(Overview of the scientific paper)


Optimistic thinking is a facet of social-emotional learning linked to better mental health and problem-solving in children; however, few educational tools exist to improve this important aspect of self-awareness.


To examine the effectiveness of an optimistic thinking tool with diverse students in an elementary school setting. Study hypotheses were that interacting with Dream It! A Playbook to Spark Your Awesomeness would improve children’s understanding of and ability to dream about their futures and increase their optimistic thinking.


Using a non-randomized control group pretest–posttest design, fourth through sixth-grade students (N = 111) participated in a total of nine facilitated class sessions: N = 60 children were assigned to the intervention group and N = 51 children were in the control group. The majority of participants were female (56%) with a mean age of 10.21 years (SD = .93). Mixed-methods pre- and post-intervention assessments were conducted at the first and last sessions with measures of dreaming (number and quality), optimistic thinking, hope, grit, and growth mindset.


Children in the intervention group demonstrated significant changes in dreaming and grit compared to control participants, with medium to large effects. Children’s optimistic thinking, a vital component of social-emotional learning, significantly increased after interacting with an educational tool developed to teach them to dream about life goals.


The present study offers evidence that the Dream It! A Playbook to Spark Your Awesomeness is feasible for facilitation in an elementary school setting and has the potential to improve key social-emotional learning outcomes for children.


  • Social-emotional learning
  • Optimistic thinking
  • Intervention
  • Children
  • Goal-setting


Jacquez, F., Trott, C.D., Wren, A.R. et al. Dream It! Preliminary Evidence for an Educational Tool to Increase Children’s Optimistic Thinking. Child Youth Care Forum (2020).

Stoll, S. M. & Williams, S. E. (2018). Dream It! A playbook to spark your awesomeness. Washington, DC: Magination Press.


Thanks to Dr Farrah Jacquez, Dr Carlie D. Trott, Dr Sara E. Williams and graduate students Alexander Wren and Leyla Ashraf for conducting the research and writing the paper. Also, thanks to all our partners that made this happen, including the University of Cincinnati, Cincinnati Public Schools, the Northside Education Committee, Happen Inc, and everyone at Parker Woods Montessori, in particular, Principal Simmons, who championed the project, and all the teachers that volunteered to take on this project, and the students and parents who gave their permission.

Articles about our original research

So far, we have collaborated on 6 university-led research projects, each one using the scientific process and building on the methods of the previous studies. We have also held a lot of informal workshops at schools and non-profit organizations to test our material. And behind the scenes, we are doing ongoing research, literature reviews and consulting social-emotional professionals to make sure everything we do is evidence-based and peer-reviewed.  See all our research projects below. 

Intervention results graph

Dream It! Achieves a Research Publication Milestone

Great news!!! Today is an exciting day for the science of dreaming (goal setting, aspiration, passions). We are proud to announce that our latest dream research study has been published in the peer-reviewed, scientific journal Child & Youth Care Forum.

Dream Workshop University of Cincinnati Facilitators

Impact and feasibility of the Dream Workshop

A summary of a research study conducted by the University of Cincinnati to test the efficacy of a Dream Workshop and whether it improved children’s self-confidence as measure of Social and Emotional Learning (SEL).

Dream Team at Parker Woods Montessori Elementary. The authors and University of Cincinnati facilitators.

Improving social and emotional awareness using the Dream It! Playbook

Student’s using the workbook “Dream It!” had a scientifically proven, evidence-based improvement in optimistic thinking and perseverance (along with improvements in hope, growth-mindset and overall school climate) among elementary school students. Highlights from our most-important study to date, including lots of pictures and graphs.

Doctor Sara Williams at the American Psychological Association's annual conference

Improving Children’s Optimistic Thinking by Teaching them to Dream about Life Goals

We were honored to attend the American Psychological Associations 2018 annual conference to present the results of our study. This is a new analysis of our data that, essentially, says that young students perform better when they are taught the basics of socioemotional skills, like passion and goal setting, first before more academic subjects, such as reading, writing and arithmetic.

The "How's it going" Dream Workshop station with facilitators and children.

The Dream Workshop Pilot Program

We tested the Dream Playbook in over a dozen schools. We called it our “Dream Workshop” but it was so much fun that the students called it “The Dream Club.”

Picture of Sara Williams

Sara Williams

Sara E. Williams, PhD, is a licensed clinical child psychologist who specializes in assessment and treatment of children and adolescents with chronic health conditions. More about me.

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