A University of Cincinnati study conducted in the local community
Introduction: The following is a summary of a semester-long research study conducted by the University of Cincinnati. They tested if the Dream Workshop is an effective way to improve optimistic thinking in children and if the Dream Workshop is a feasible method (tool) to use with groups of children.
Spoiler alert — It works! Students participating in the Dream Workshop had a statistically significant increase in confidence* and the workshop has been proven to be an effective tool for groups. And, along the way, we discovered lots of ways to improve the material. Below is a breakdown of the research process and a summary of our findings.
*Self-confidence as one of the Social And Emotional Learning (SEL) Competencies of self-awareness, “The ability to accurately recognize one’s own emotions, thoughts, and values and how they influence behavior.”
Overview of the Dream Workshop
The Dream It Workshop is based on the book “Dream It! A Playbook To Spark Your Awesomeness” by author and adventurer Scott Stoll and child psychologist Dr Sara Williams. They created the Playbook to teach kids how to dream, set goals and think optimistically about their futures. The Dream Workshop expands on these ideas to also teach kids how to plan their dreams and to practice doing their dreams. The Workshop uses the 3-step formula. 1) Dream it! 2) Map it! 3) Play it!
As you can see above, there are three pencil-and-paper activities, one for each step of the formula. Unlike their book, the workshop is a simple overview of the whole process, meant to be delivered in a quick and memorable way.
- First, we need a dream, so students fill their buckets with ideas
- Second, now that we have a dream, we need a plan. Students plan an imaginary dream to travel the world using the 5 W’s: Who, What, When, Where, Why, How.
- Third, now we just need to do it and have fun. But, it’s not always that easy. Students are challenged to overcome obstacles by solving an “impossible” maze and literally thinking outside the box.
The Dream Workshop Facilitator’s Guide
The Workshop comes with a detailed facilitator’s guide with step-by-step instructions and even a script they can follow with lots of examples. It is designed to be as easy as possible. In fact, we’re still testing it now and revising it each time.
The Dream Workshop Itinerary
- Quick introductions.
- Activity. Ice-breaker.
- Overview: How to turn dreams into reality.
- Activity. Step 1: Dream it! — The Bucket List.
- Activity. Step 2: Map it! — The Journey Around the World.
- Stretch break.
- Activity. Step 3: Play it! — The Maze.
- Activity. Sharing a dream and team-building exercise.
- Certificate of achievement.
Total time = 45–60 minutes, depending on your group.
Summary of research results
The “Dream It! Playbook” was designed to enhance socio-emotional learning in children and to aid them in future thinking. Advanced undergraduates from the University of Cincinnati facilitated three workshops based on “Dream It!” activities and collected pre- and post-test surveys to gauge the effectiveness and feasibility of a Dream Workshop.
Fifteen students from the University of Cincinnati facilitated a one-hour workshop based on “Dream It! Playbook” Three separate, diverse groups of children (N=52) between the ages of 8-12 participated within this study. A pre and post-survey was administered to the groups of children to measure change in their dream confidence, dream importance, and quantity of dreams.
The workshop consisted of three activities which included a dreaming activity, mapping (planning) activity and a playing (doing) activity. The first activity was “Dream It!”, which allowed for the children to create a bucket list of dreams, it could be any dream. The second activity was “Map It!”, it allowed for the kids to think about the dreams they just created and plan on how they would accomplish these dreams. This activity got the children thinking about the who, what, when, where, how, and why. The third activity was possibly the most difficult one, which was “Play It!” Play It! allowed for the kids to try and solve an “impossible” maze, what they didn’t know was that they had to literally think outside the box to find creative solutions. After the three activities were completed, the children participated in a team-building exercise which involved the children sharing their dreams with the group.
Based on the results of the study and the data collected and analyzed from the participants (hosts, facilitators and educators), we can conclude that the Dream Workshop is an effective tool with 8-12-year-old students to significantly improve their self-confidence that they could achieve their dreams. We concluded that the Dream Workshop is an effective and feasible social and emotional learning tool.
Highlights of the research study
- The majority of the children said they liked the maze the most because it was creative, challenging, fun, and it taught them how to think outside the box for solutions.
- The facilitators reported an average level of 3.7 for how excited they were to facilitate the workshop. And, the average level of comfortableness in facilitating the information was reported at 3.9. (This is an important finding because in our discussions with the Superintendent of Cincinnati Public Schools, she emphasized that the teachers must find the curriculums both engaging and easy to implement.)
- Facilitators reported an average score of 4.04 for how engaged they percieved the kids were.
- The children’s self-confidence in achieving their dreams was significantly improved after having participated in the Dream It workshop [t(51)=-2.57, p=0.008].
- Additionally, 77% of facilitators reported that their dreams were impacted by having facilitated this workshop and everyone said they would recommend it to other children.
- These findings seem to confirm that the Dream Workshop significantly and positively affects the dream confidence levels of its participants.
- Also, we are still processing the data but we believe that this increase in confidence was a lasting change, as measured over a 3–4 week period.
The authors provided the Dream It! Workshop Facilitator training. We were provided with 3-hours of in-person training and provided with an 8-page, step-by-step facilitator’s guide. They enthusiastically taught the class the art of dream mentorship and gave coaching on how to work with kids. We learned that it is important to ask what-if questions such as “What if you had three wishes?” or “What if you had a million dollars?” to help inspire children to think about their dreams. The authors also emphasized giving hints rather than answer and to avoid critiquing any dreams.
|St Boniface School||22||13||35|
|Madeira Middle School||13||0||13|
No other information was collected, but we did work with a diverse population. St Boniface is a Catholic school. Madiera Middle School is an affluent suburb of Cincinnati and Wordplay is a non-profit organization that serves low-income families. We’d also like to thank the following partners: The University of Cincinnati, Happen Inc and the Northside Education Committee.
Children’s pre and post surveys
We created short surveys for the children to complete before and after the workshop. We asked them questions like, “How often do you think about your dreams?”, and “How confident are you that you will achieve your dreams?” to help us determine the importance of dreams to the children and to determine their level of confidence in achieving their dreams.
Facilitator’s pre and post surveys
We created surveys that we completed before and after facilitating the workshop. We wanted to know how excited each UC student was to facilitate the workshop, and how they felt that it went afterwards. These surveys also asked how each facilitator felt about the three different activities included in the workshop.
The workshop consisted of three activities which included a dreaming activity, mapping (planning) activity and a playing (doing) activity. The first activity was “Dream It!”, which allowed for the children to create a bucket list of dreams, it could be any dream. The second activity was “Map It!”, it allowed for the kids to think about the dreams they just created and plan on how they would accomplish these dreams. This activity got the children thinking about the who, what, when, where, how, and why. The third activity was possibly the most difficult one, which was “Play It!”, it allowed for the kids to try and solve a maze, what they didn’t know was that they had to think of creative solutions, and think outside the box. After the three activities were completed, the children participated in a team-building exercise which involved the children sharing their dreams with the group.
Activity 1 — Dream It!
Purpose: Encourage students to think extensively about their dreams. At this stage, we wanted to inspire children to dream freely.
Description: The worksheet has a bucket on it with space to write on pre-drawn lines. This activity is designed to allow children to write down any dreams they have and would like to achieve someday. The dream advisors encouraged the students to write as many dreams as possible, no matter how crazy they might have sounded. Along with this, dream advisors could have them talk with one another about their dreams to help stir ideas. Common dreams included: soccer player, chef, married, have kids, have a big house, et cetera.
Feedback for Dream It activity
- 88% rated 4 or higher
- 25% said kids needed help filling in their bucket
- Great starter activity
- Fun, interesting
- Enjoyed writing out their dreams
- Many struggled to be creative and fill out as much as they could. [Authors’ opinion: This indicates that not everyone knows this important skill of dreaming.]
Activity 2 — Map It!
Purpose: Provide students with the opportunity to “map out” or plan their dreams.
Description: The purpose of this activity, as described by Scott, is to demonstrate to students how to “map” or plan any dream by using the who, what, when, where and why technique. This activity asked students to plan an example dream of travel. It included a map of the world with icons of animals and objects to both educate and inspire the students. We also asked them to add at least three more destinations and then connect the dots. This made a map of where they wanted to go. The map also contained a box with the following questions for students to answer: When will you go? Who will you go with? and How will you get there?
Feedback for Map It activity
- 60% rated this activity a 4 or higher
- 40% rated this activity a 3
- The consensus is this activity needs to be re-worked. [Note: we are planning to create alternate activity inspired by a board game with a path through a park with signs and instructions along the way.]
- Many struggled to relate their dreams to travel
- Many, if not most, struggled knowing where places are in the world
- 32% rated this activity their least favorite
Activity 3 — Play It!
Purpose: Illustrate to the students that accomplishing their dreams may not be easy or go as planned and teach them how to remain optimistic and overcome obstacles along the way.
Description: The main goal is to get the mouse at the top of the maze to the piece of cheese at the bottom of the maze. The trick of this activity is that the maze is impossible to solve in a traditional manner. This activity was said to be the hardest of the three because the purpose of this exercise is to represent how our ideas and plans might not always work out the way we want them to. The main lesson to learn in doing this activity is for the students to tap into their hidden creativity and resources while also not quitting or losing hope in obtaining their dreams.
Feedback for Play It activity
- 60% rated this activity with a 5
- 92% rated this activity with a 4 or higher
- Most popular and favored activity
- 50% rated this activity their favorite
- Many of them noted while it was challenging, it was very fun to think outside the box
- 1 outlier rated this activity low because of frustration in completing it
The Dream Workshop is FREE!
Run a workshop at your school or organization. To learn more about the Dream Workshop and download a free PDF of the activities and a facilitator’s guide, please visit the Dream Workshop page.
How did the facilitators perceive student involvement?
- Student’s excitement: avg 4.04/5
- Student’s engagement: avg 3.68/5
- Student’s understanding: avg 4.28/5
How did the facilitators rate their involvement?
- Facilitator and student teamwork: avg 4.72/5
- Facilitator’s Excitement to go again: avg 4.32/5
- 100% of facilitators reported that they would recommend this workshop
- 77% of facilitators reported that this workshop affected their own dreams
Students were asked to rate the importance of their dreams and their confidence that they will live their dream.
Limitations and Further Study
- Some people did not complete pre/post surveys.
- Data confusion. The kids identified themselves by favorite food and color, and sometimes their answers changed. And the data collection system needed to be reworked.
- Not enough demographic data collected to get significant results in all areas. Due to every-day, real-world challenges, we had a small sample size and not enough workshops, which makes it less reliable and not representative of the population of young children.
- Kids needed more questions based on the 1–5 Likert scale, rather than open-ended, subjective questions.
- Question for future thought: How many dreams is a good number of dreams? And, how is this something we measure?
The ceiling effect
Once again, we hit the ceiling with some of our data. The ceiling effect occurs when participants’ pre-survey scores cluster toward the high end of the measure, so there is no room for improvement. In the past, host organizations began coaching kids how to dream before we even arrived biasing our pre-survey. In this case, the students ranked their dreams as very important. In retrospect, of course, we all think our dreams are important. Quantity of dreams is also difficult to measure. A lot of students have dreams, but as we noticed in a previous study where we asked children to write down their dreams before and after our intervention, the change is more a matter of quality and feasibility of a dream. For example, one of the most popular dreams is to be a sports star or YouTube star. Arguably these dreams are not feasible and heavily influenced by pop culture rather than being a result of a child’s interest or skill sets. And, we were challenged to educate the children to differentiate between a dream as a life goal and dreams as sleeping dreams or fantasies, like living in Candyland. So, in previous interventions, children were noted to end with higher quality dreams, meaning more specific to the individual, unique and feasible.
Solutions and Suggestions
- More systematic about obtaining feedback.
- Less time spent on each activity.
- Get kids moving around during ice breaker.
- Use more color, like colored pencils and highlighters.
- More specific roles for facilitators, like timekeeper and liaison.
- Clearer transitions between activities.
- A lower student/facilitator ratio — smaller group sizes of approximately 3–5 students to a facilitator.
What can we prove?
Is the Dream Workshop an effective way to improve optimistic thinking in youth?
- Children’s reported confidence in achieving their dreams significantly improved after they participated in the Dream It! Workshop.
Is the Dream Workshop a feasible strategy to use with groups of children?
- The research supports the workshop being a feasible strategy.
- With improvements and further study, the workshops will continue to be a great way to increase confidence in children.
This article is based on the paper, “Impact and Feasibility of The Dream It Workshop.” Contact us if you would like to see the full paper.
Run a Dream Workshop at your school or organization
To learn more about the Dream Workshop and download a free PDF of the activities and a facilitator’s guide, please visit the Dream Workshop page.
More stories about our original research
We have collaborated on 4 research projects so far, each one using the scientific process and building on the methods of the previous studies. We have also done some test workshops, poster presentations and ongoing literature reviews to make sure everything we do is evidence-based and peer-reviewed.
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).
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.
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 Dream Playbook was tested by the University of Cincinnati in a year-long study called “Promoting Optimistic Thinking in YMCA After-School Students” as part of community service and outreach program.