As we enter a new year full of new challenges, it is more important than ever to think optimistically. With the ongoing pandemic, social-emotional learning is more important now than ever. In creating our book, Dream It!: A Playbook to Spark Your Awesomeness, with my co-author Sara E. Williams, PhD, we did ground-breaking research that measured the effectiveness of strategies we identified to increase optimistic thinking in children.
In our last post, we shared a recent study published in the peer-reviewed journal, Child & Youth Care Forum, that validates Dream It! A Playbook to Spark Your Awesomeness as scientifically proven to increase optimistic thinking. In this post, we’ll share strategies to help you teach your child to think optimistically and ways to bring books to life, both in general and specifically for our book, Dream It! To help, we will provide some free games and activities, including a new augmented reality game.
How to bring a book to life
As a parent or teacher, you may feel challenged to bring books to life for your children. One of the best ways to do this is to connect what you read in the book to your child’s life by providing hands-on experiences that allow them to explore the concepts personally. For example, if you were reading The Three Bears to a young child, you might make oatmeal or porridge for them to eat, or get them to compare the size of their bed to the size of your bed.
In Dream It!, we use this approach to teach children how to dream and how to turn dreams into reality. We define dreaming as following your passion, thinking optimistically and setting goals. We teach these concepts by playing games and doing activities, each one having been tested in a real-world classroom. Games are fun and interactive ways to help your child explore concepts they read about. To try some, you can download a free sample of chapter 4. [Sorry this sample is no longer available. but if you like the worksheets on this website, you’ll love the book.] These are what we call bucket list games that help kids brainstorm their dreams. For example, the Dream Board activity is a way to help children collect new ideas in one place. Encourage them to add photos, ticket stubs, drawings, sticky notes — anything that sparks their passion. Then every day they can visualize their dreams coming true.
After identifying their dreams, Dream It! shows kids how to sort their dreams according to values and skills and then deconstruct and recombine them to make up new and unique dreams. For example, a child might have the dream of being a cheetah. Adults might dismiss this dream because it’s impossible! However, we encourage children to use their imagination so they can discover their passions and reframe them into more feasible goals. We could ask a child who dreams of being a cheetah why they want to do that. They might say because they love running and being fast and feeling free. We would then help them explore other ways they achieve those same goals and feelings, such as joining the track team at school or dressing up like an animal and running around the backyard. They may even discover that learning how to solve a Rubik’s Cube in record time embodies a similar passion with a skill they already possess.
To help you go through the process, we have a new social-emotional curriculum and facilitator’s guide that breaks the book down page-by-page and step-by-step. It’s perfect for home-school parents and teachers in the classroom.
The next step in optimistic thinking is to put dreams into action, taking even small steps toward goals. That is where bringing this book to life becomes really important–we encourage kids to get out in the world to start living their dreams TODAY! If you want to be an astronaut, you can start by going outside at night and watching the International Space Station fly over. We believe that the inspiration of a new dream is the most important step in our process, but the next most important step is taking a step of action! That’s why we’ve created online activities to help kids put their dreams into action.
Learning through play
The example of watching the International Space Station fly over is one of our Backyard Adventure ideas. The Backyard Adventures are ways to bring the lessons in the book to life in the real world.
You may have noticed that in this article we are talking about a lot of high-level concepts. We don’t name them in the book because these abstract ideas may be boring to kids. Rather than say to your child, “Now we are going to learn how to be curious,” it is much more effective to model curiosity. Instead, say, “Let’s go outside and look for a spaceship.” That sounds much more exciting. You are still teaching optimistic thinking but in a concrete and enticing way.
This is learning through play or learning by doing. We all do it, even animals. Dream it! is a workbook — or as we like to call it, a playbook — that teaches children a lesson in a fun way and then immediately puts that lesson into action. Each lesson teaches children a different step in the dream process.
As authors, we also love to learn through play. We use our website as a test lab for our books. We have lots of activities on our website, many of which are free, and we encourage everyone to give us feedback. In this way, we take the best of the best to make new pages for new books.
Below are a couple examples of the activities that we have been working on. All of our activities reinforce the lessons in the book.
Free downloadable (printable) games and activities
Here is a popular pencil and paper game that was part of our original book, but we ran out of room to include it in the final edition. The Dream Bubbles activity teaches kids how to visualize a dream, idea, or goal. This activity will also give children an understanding of how passion motivates actions, resulting in a better ability to sympathize with others, even if the other person’s motivation (dream) isn’t apparent.
If you prefer arts and crafts, our most popular activity is learning how to make your own dream catcher. We even have games and activities designed for groups of people.
Augmented reality for children’s books
We love to experiment, and we are always looking for new ways to bring our books to life. Just recently, technology has made adding interactive features to paper books easy. As you can see from the video below, we’ve begun adding AR (augmented reality) to our book. Imagine turning a page in the book and having a character jump out, a movie begin to play, or an interactive game launch. And, all of these features help teach the lessons in the book using different learning styles.
Watch the video (my cat, Furrell, makes a cameo) and try it yourself.
This is my first AR (augmented reality) project, and it is also my first video tutorial, where I show readers how to use the app. I’m using the free Adobe Aero app and an iPad. (You can also use an iPhone.) As you can see in the video, when the iPad’s camera sees the image of the book cover, the Donkeycorn pops up. You can also interact with the Donekycorn to make it spin around.
Here is the link to download the Donkeycorn AR game.
For now, the app only works on iPads and iPhones. The link will prompt you to download the Adobe Aero app if you don’t already have it (and it’s easy to do). By the way, you don’t need our book, but it is more fun.
Putting Optimistic Thinking Into Action
Helping kids learn new skills and concepts is all about creating concrete, hands-on, personal experiences that solidify understanding and allow kids to practice those skills. Digital resources are helpful and fun, and looking at the space station or eating oatmeal are powerful experiences, too. We purposefully made Dream It! interactive and want kids to make it their own, because building social-emotional skills helps kids go after their dreams.