by Gordon and Ronni Lamont
Suitable for Key Stage 2
To consider how we can gain perspective and not allow problems to overwhelm us.
Preparation and materials
- Read through the story in advance.
- Ask the children to put their hands up if they had a dream the night before.
- Ask if any of them know of any stories in which people had dreams that made a difference to their lives or the lives of others. A good example is the story of Joseph in the Bible, well known from the musical Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat. Joseph has dreams about his own future, that one day his brothers will bow down to him; and he has the ability to interpret other people’s dreams. He tells the Pharaoh that his dream means that Egypt will have seven years of good harvest followed by seven years of famine; Pharaoh should store up enough grain during the seven good years to feed the people through the seven bad years.
Say that no one really knows what dreams are for. Some people think they are just random thoughts as we sleep, with no meaning at all. Other people think that sometimes dreams can speak to us about things that worry us or can even offer us solutions to our problems.
Tell the story of Elias Howe and the invention of the sewing machine:
Elias Howe, born in Spencer, Massachusetts on 9 July 1819, played a major part in the invention of the sewing machine as used today. Devising a machine for sewing was proving a very difficult problem, and one night, after working all day and not getting anywhere, Elias went to sleep and had a dream…
He was running for his life being chased by a gang of fierce men with spears. The more he tried to run, the more he seemed to get nowhere and all the time they were gaining on him. He ran faster but seemed unable to move forward and they were coming closer and closer with their sharp spears…
And then, he was on the ground and the men were all around him.
They lifted their spears and he curled up on the ground.
Down the spears came…and up…and down. They kept jabbing at him as he lay on the ground…there was no escape, he was captured, they would kill him…and then he woke up. He said to himself, 'It was a dream, Elias, it was just a dream. Calm down, it was only a dream.’
The fear he still felt was mixed with a joyous relief - he'd escaped.
Then, as he calmed down, he started to think about the dream. He realized that the action of the spears going up and down was just like the action of the needle on his sewing machine. And then he saw something else: each spear in his dream had a hole at the sharp end. This made him think, because all his attempts at building a sewing machine had used a needle like an ordinary hand-sewing one, with the eye hole at the far end.
It was the vital breakthrough. Howe realized very quickly that he could devise an efficient mechanism, and so the sewing machine was born - all because of a breakthrough made in a dream.
Point out that Elias Howe's dream did two things: one, because it was frightening it drew attention to the fact that he was worried and worked up about something; and two, the dream found a way to help him see the solution. This was probably something he would have worked out for himself, if he hadn't been so worried about the problem.
Suggest that sometimes, when we find something difficult and we can't find the way forward, it's a good idea to go away and do something else. Then when we come back to the problem it's easier and we often see the solution straight away. Point out that some people find this with crosswords and other puzzles.
There's a saying, 'You can't see the wood for the trees.' It means that you can be too close to something to see what it really is. Perhaps that was Elias Howe's problem with his sewing machine, and it took a dream to tell him.
Time for reflection
What's worrying you at the moment?
Is there something you are stuck on - the more you look at it, the more difficult it seems?
Can you find a way to go away from the problem so that you can come back to it later with fresh eyes and new ideas?
Help us to develop the art of perspective,
to see things as they really are
and not get so worked up over things
that we can't see the big picture.
‘All things bright and beautiful’ (Come and Praise, 3)