Posted by: chrisdavis | March 6, 2011

The Dream Poster

I have just received an email from a mom who has been following this blog. After stating that she has been helped by what I’ve been sharing, she said, “…at what age do you think children begin to understand what their passions are? My 9 year old son (my oldest) has never really been enthusiastic about anything, and apart from his wonderful, kind and compassionate soul, no apparent giftings have yet been discovered. I’ve prayed and prayed for God to show me what his gifts are that I can nurture them and help him live a passionate life.”

I responded to her, saying that she might be helped by giving her son the opportunity to create a Dream Poster.

What is this? Here is some background along with the details…

Several years ago I was asked to speak to a conference of homeschoolers and I was offered accommodations at the home of one of the coordinating families. Most speakers like to stay in motels where an event is taking place. I usually allow my hosts to make this decision, but I very much enjoy staying with, and meeting, local families.

As I recall, this family had six delightful children. During my first evening in their home, each child asked if I would visit his or her room so they could each show me something they had created. What they showed me became a staple activity in my seminars whenever time allowed.

One of my favorite things is to ask children what they want to do or be when they grow up. Very young children are usually the ones most able to come up with something and, as they tell me, their eyes light up with the excitement that someone is actually interested in knowing what is meaningful to them.

“I’m going to be an astronaut,” one will say. Another: “I’m going to be President of the United States.” The whimsical, impractical notions of childhood! But if we think of what’s being said here, we have to admit that someone has to grow up to become an astronaut or President of the United States. Why not one of these little guys?

Try this on a teenager. Usually, by the time children become teenagers, they have difficulty locating within themselves any passions they might have had early on. I ascribe this to the fact that, by the time we become teens, we have experienced years of adult input, telling us what is and isn’t important for us to pay attention to. As we get older (here I purposefully avoid saying “more mature”), what we were born to do sinks deeper and deeper into the recesses of our hearts until it finds a safe place to hide from total annihilation.

We grow up doing what is practical, accepting the reality that everything that could be thought of to do has already been thought of. We simply choose something to do from what already is.

But, every now and then we think we hear a little voice calling to us from deep within our souls, “You are living someone else’s life”. But, of course, that can’t be. We are adults who are doing what adults should be doing: making money and continually improving our standard of living. We are good at what we do and, besides, we owe too much money to change horses in the “mid stream” of our lives.

Back to my story of the host family.

One by one, I was led by the hand into these children’s rooms where each child proudly pointed to their Dream Poster displayed on the most prominent wall. There each child pointed to a science-project-sized poster board containing pictures cut from magazines and pasted in seemly random order.

Each child acted as if he or she had invited me into the Holy of Holies of their life and were allowing me the privilege of knowing their deepest secrets and most profound dreams.

The drama wasn’t lost on me. I instinctively knew they were honoring me with something only their family members knew existed.

What, then, is a Dream Poster?

In creating their posters, the children had been given a large number of magazines of all kinds, containing pictures of every imaginable activity. They were told to slowly page through each magazine and cut out any picture that made them say, “Here is something I would love to do!”

When the children had found all the pictures they wanted, they were then instructed to place the pictures on their poster board. As this was explained to me, I realized the pictures had not been randomly placed at all. The children were to put the one, most important, picture in the very center of the poster and arrange the rest of the pictures radiating out from the center (most important) picture with those going toward the edge still important, but not as important as the ones closer to the middle. This took quite some time as each child gave serious consideration to where to place each picture in order of priority to them.

Then it came time to paste the pictures on the board. This was done with double-sided removable tape (the kind of tape that is similar to a Post-it Note). The purpose of using removable tape is so pictures can be moved around (or discarded altogether and replaced with others) as the child gave more consideration to his or her poster.

The idea stuck with me and I have been using it ever since.

I once led a group of about two hundred children in this activity using the floor of a high school gym. Each family had to bring a dozen or so magazines and place them in a huge pile in the middle of the room. The children sat on the gym floor and worked feverishly. I didn’t allow the parents to sit with their children because I didn’t want any child to filter his choice of pictures through the fear that a certain picture might displease his parents. If a child sees a parent looking disapprovingly at a picture the child has chosen, he may discard it.

The parents sat around the perimeter of the gym floor with instructions to do one of two things while they waited. First they could choose one of their children and create a Dream Poster for that child, one they thought that child might create for him or herself. When the child was finished, the two Posters could be set side-by-side for the parent to see how well they knew their child.

The second option was for the parent to create his or her own Dream Poster (which I advise every adult to do, anyway).

A family who had been in one of my conferences earlier that year was also attending this conference. When I announced that we would be making Dream Posters later that day, the mother spoke up and said to the group, “We did this activity earlier this year and my children haven’t done anything with their posters since.” One of her teenage girls heard her mother say this and the girl blurted out, “Mom, that’s because you haven’t been paying attention. I am changing my Dream Poster all the time!” The mother turned to her daughter and said, “Oh, dear, I’m so sorry. I didn’t know it was that important to you.”

At another time, I was speaking at a conference in Perth, Australia and I happened to share the Dream Poster idea with the conference coordinator. She immediately insisted that we go to the local office supply where she could purchase all the materials to do Dream Posters for all the children of the conference attendees.

Next day, children filled the floor of a large, empty Sunday School room working diligently, cutting out pictures from a stack of magazines. They looked like a hive of bees and took their work seriously.

When everyone was finished and pictures were pasted on poster boards, I assembled all the people in the sanctuary with the children in the front three rows and parents seated behind.

This time I noticed something I had never seen anywhere else where I had done this activity: Every child held his or her poster tightly against their chest, with the back of the posters facing out. This way, I could not see any of the pictures. Imagine what that looked like with every child holding his or her poster the same way. I wondered what was going on. When it was explained to me later, I understood.

Australians often speak of what they term the “tall poppy syndrome” which all Australians understand from the time they are children. The Australian psyche says it is dangerous to stand out. It is the “tall poppy” that gets cut down because it is the one that sticks up above the rest. “Never raise you head above the crowd or it might get whacked off!” Australians tend to be people who don’t try to “stick out”.

Because I didn’t know what the children were doing, and since I was used to working with American and Canadian children, I asked, “OK, who wants to be the first to show everyone their Poster?” Every other time I had asked this question, all the children in the room raised their hands and jumped up and down as if to say, “Choose me!” They couldn’t wait to show what they had created. This time no one moved nor spoke out. No one volunteered.

After a few minutes of coaxing and with parents asking their children if they could see the posters, one boy, about eleven years old, agreed to come up front and show what he had done. When he turned his poster around for everyone to see, his poster was filled all over, but with only one kind of picture. This young man had cut out all the pictures he could find of skyscrapers, huge building projects, large hotels, shopping centers filling acres and acres and massive buildings of every kind.

I turned to the assembled adults and asked, “As parents, what do you think could be done for a young man who has represented himself in this way”

Often what cannot be articulated has to be seen.

Have you ever seen someone give all their effort to climb the ladder of success only to arrive at the top and discover they had put their ladder against the wrong wall? What a waste of years of a person’s life! We should never fear being a failure, but rather fear being successful at something God has not called us to do.

Maybe a Dream Poster will help display your child’s giftings and callings. Consider giving it a try…



  1. Thank you, that was great and very helpful. Thanks for taking the time to explain that all to me. 🙂

  2. Okay, Chris. I have stacks of magazines to do this project again. It’s been in the works for a while. My older 2 did this many years ago. I failed to follow through. My younger 2,(10 and 14) will be starting this week. I think I will encourage, Nikki, my 22 year old, to try it again. The realities of being a wife and mother have changed her prespective a bit. She thought she would be fine with going out to work once she had children, but, has found it difficult 😦 My question is, what magazines should be provided? Maybe include their favorite catalogues? How can I be sure I have provided the resources they need? A thought that just occured to me would be to go to the library and photocopy anything they would want to use. I do not think that I offered enough variety the first time we did this. The only thing I know for sure is that we need at least one photo of a unicycle!! LOL We will let you know how it goes.

    • Julie. Please let me know how this turns out for you. The last time I did this (recently), I had trouble finding enough of a variety of magazines. I guess times have changed and we need to go another route for media…

      • I managed to get a decent stack of magazines from around the house, but to make sure I had enough for ‘boy’ interest, I went to a used book store and got a stack of magazines like boys life, outdoor life, field and stream, mother earth news, country…

        His first attempt at it went pretty well, though everything he cut out was a vehicle – trucks, 4 wheelers, motorcycles, vans… I wasn’t expecting that.
        🙂 He says he is going to be a mechanic when he grows up.

  3. Marisa. So…what are you going to do with that knowledge? With my own sons, I found that where they began was not the place they ended up; however, where they began did have SOMETHING to do with where they ended up. I used to say, “Sometimes we have to let our children go down the hall to explore because, at the end of the hall, is a door (we didn’t know was there) that will open to where they are supposed to go.”

    • I completely agree. I was telling my kids yesterday that when I was a kid I could spend hours pretending to be a business owner – when other girls played princess and with baby dolls, I owned a real estate/travel agency. I also wanted to be a teacher, and collected outdated textbooks from my teachers.

      And here I am, running a small business with my husband and I am a “teacher” – just not the kind I was originally thinking. I’m so glad I can trust the Lord to bring my kids into their calling, as He did with me.

      With my son, I’m going to let him explore hands on as much as I can. My husband has built a ’56 vw beetle basically from scratch and luckily is very handy with automobiles. 🙂 Time will tell if he’s just trying to follow in his daddy’s footsteps or truly has an inclination for this sort of thing.

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