“The greatest achievement was at first and for a time a dream…in the highest vision of the soul a waking angel stirs. Dreams are the seedlings of realities.” — James Allen
It was a parochial school near the center of Denver, Colorado. 98% of the second grade students in this classroom were “school lunch eligible”, meaning their family’s income falls below the poverty line. I was an observer in the classroom as the teacher delivered a lesson on “setting goals”. The teacher finished and invited the five adults in the back of the classroom to mingle with the students and to admire their Dream Boxes.
I had noticed a Hispanic boy a few rows in front of me. He had raised his hand enthusiastically each time the teacher had asked a question but never been called upon. I approached his desk and said, “I’m Mr. Warnick, what is your name?” Jose grinned shyly as he uttered his name.
“Jose,” I asked, “what is this box on your desk?”
“That’s my Dream Box,” he replied, slowly opening the box to reveal a variety of rocks and other stuff. The sides of the box, top and bottom were covered with pictures cut from magazines and other material and then pasted on as a collage of dreams and goals.
“Looks to me like you like rocks, Jose”. “Yeah,” he smiled, “I want to be one of those rock scientists when I grow up.” “A rock scientist….do you mean a geologist?” I inquired. “That’s it….I want to be a geologist.” Our conversation turned easily to a short discussion of what he would have to do to become a rock scientist. He was going to have to study hard, get good grades, so he could get into college and study for five or six years more to become a geologist. I was amazed at the clarity he had and how his teacher had helped him discover the steps he would need to take to reach his goal.
How did a seven or eight year old gain this clarity and set such an audacious goal?
It started with a shoe box. Each student brought a shoe box to the second grade classroom.
Next, his teacher brought magazines, Sunday newspaper advertising inserts, and anything else she could find that was full of colorful images. The students were asked to dream about what they wanted to become when they grew up, to think about things they wanted to do, places they wanted to visit or see, or people they wanted to meet someday. Finally, they were asked to cut out pictures from the magazines and advertising materials which could tell a story about what they were fascinated by, what they wanted to learn more about, the places they wanted to visit, and things they wanted to see or do.
So Jose’s box was adorned with pictures of mountains (“they are full of rocks” he told me) but it also included a soccer ball (“I want to play soccer…maybe if I’m good enough I can get paid to play soccer in college”), pictures of Disneyland and Disney World, and a picture of the Pope and the President.
And, inside of box were at least ten different rocks that Jose had collected since the start of second grade. He could tell me if this rock was igneous, metamorphic or sedimentary and where it came from.
This summer I’m going to pull my eight and nine year old grandchildren together for cousin camp. I’m going to either bring shoe boxes or perhaps we’ll go buy some shoes they’ll need for school this coming fall. But with those shoe boxes I’m going to ask them to dream…dream big…dream about the things they want to do, the places they want to visit, the people they want to meet, and what they want to become.
I believe these dream boxes are the seeds of future greatness. They are a powerful visual reminder of the freedom we enjoy to dream and achieve. Everyone should have a Dream Box, not just second graders. What would your Dream Box look like? And how might it influence the next five, twenty-five or fifty years of your life?