Tag Archives: destination imagination

Instant Challenge!

Do you do DI? I’m always trying to spread the Destination Imagination word to people. I think it’s a great activity for homeschoolers especially because it focuses on team building and social skills, but of the real world sort and not the annoying class project sort.

Basically, in DI, your team chooses a challenge (they’re different every year) and prepares a “solution” to present at the tournament. The challenges range from improv games to building robots to creating weight bearing structures to making plays to helping people. This year, my kids’ team chose a challenge where they have to create a mystery story. But, being DI, of course there’s more. It has to be set some time in history, it has to be presented on a wacky shaped stage with the audience sitting facing each other, it has to include some sort of clue that uses engineering of some kind, and the kids won’t know the ending until they start the skit so they had to prepare multiple endings. That’s the sort of thing you do in DI.

There’s one other piece of competition in DI and that’s the Instant Challenge. An Instant Challenge happens super fast. Kids are given just a few minutes to work out a “solution” to this one and it can be anything. Some are performances, like make a skit about a road trip where you meet three monsters or make a skit where one person can’t talk and everyone has to figure out why. Others are tasks and the tasks can be anything. There’s a lot of bridge building and tower building with things like paper cups and chenille sticks, but I’ve seen task challenges were you have to move things around or create secret codes or float boats or send projectiles across a room. Other challenges ask kids to make something, like a painting or a building or anything really, and then use in somehow in a skit.

Instant challenges are great for teamwork and practicing quick thinking. Even if you don’t do DI, you can do Instant Challenges. They could be great for starting off other group meetings like scout troops or robotics clubs. They could be a good get to know you or fun challenge in a class or co-op. They could make an interesting party game. Yeah, I know, I’m a DI crazy person, but I do sort of think it’s true. Instant Challenges are wacky and fun.

Here’s some of my favorite sources for IC’s (aka Instant Challenges). Some of these collections include old challenges really used at tournaments and others are just ones created for teams to practice. None of these documents have names so I had to give them random ones.

The Mouse Set (my favorite set)

The Ruler Set (more from the Mouse author… this is a great challenge writer)

The Gazebo Set (last one from the same author)

The Iowa Set (old tournament ones)

The Tennessee Set (includes some non-IC team building too)

The Ohio Set (from an old official practice set)

The Random Set (another from an old practice set)


Road Trip Comics

We’ve had a rough couple of weeks here at the Rowhouse. Everything is in transition. You know how transitions are. Plus we’ve been sick. Is there anything worse than a spring cold? Plus, we’ve been getting ready for the Folger Children’s Shakespeare Festival, which is today. I hope the kids are able to show off their hard work. And directly after the festival, the most epic thing of all… we’re headed to Global Finals for Destination Imagination. As you can imagine, we’ve been antsy and excited.

We have gotten a little school done amidst all that, but writing assignments for Mushroom got suspended as he very single-mindedly decided he absolutely had to make a comic to share with his teammates at Global Finals. There will be one issue every day with a total of four issues. They’re all short, but clearly drawn and very adorable, about an imaginary Destination Imagination team that is also going to Globals. They have some small adventures and in the last issue, they happen to meet our entire team and trade pins with them.


Mushroom often dreams up big projects like this, but he rarely brings them to completion. His anxiety really gets in his way on that very often. He will begin something and then question his ability to really accomplish it the way he wants and give it up rather than keep working. This time he was convinced he had to finish. He let me help him with his spelling. He even insisted on photocopying, collating, and stapling them himself. I’m so glad that he stuck with this project completely on his own with very little help or prompting on my part. He advocated for wanting to work on his own project during all our writing time and I was happy to agree.

One of the things we’ve been aiming for this year has been more kid-driven learning. Up to this point, the kids haven’t really wanted to drive their own learning as much. Even when they’ve had their own projects, they’ve wanted school to stay school. Slowly though, they’re advocating for picking more of their own work, which is exciting to me. I do want to get back to some of the things we had originally intended to do in the last week, but this is much more exciting – a writing and art project he dreamed up himself, carried out without help, accepted some help editing in the last stage, and now has published himself to give out to friends.

So we’re off to Globals! Wish us luck and here’s hoping that Mushroom’s comic series is well received.

Homeschoolers Do DI

I have many times on this blog shared how much I feel that Destination Imagination is one of the most perfect homeschool activities. This is our sixth year of participating in Destination Imagination (I have coached about half of those years) and the second time we’ve won our regional tournament and had the chance to go to States. However, it’s the first time we’ve ever advanced to Global Finals! The boys’ team took second place at States, which qualified them to move on to the biggest DI party on the planet. I’m still a little bit in shock about it a couple of weeks later. It’s a huge win for them.

In case you aren’t familiar with it, Destination Imagination (and the formerly related organization Odyssey of the Mind, which is very similar) is a creativity competition. Kids choose a central challenge (unless they’re in the special, non-competitive K-2nd Rising Stars challenge) from among technical, structural, improv, service learning, scientific, and fine arts options. The challenges change every year but generally ask kids to make something and incorporate it into a skit. For example, the technical challenge might ask kids to make a vehicle that can travel to a certain box while they do a skit about travel. The service challenge might ask kids to do a service project that incorporates a logo they make themselves and then present at the tournament. Kids spend months working on their challenge solutions. There’s a second component to Destination Imagination. Teams also have to face an instant challenge at the tournament. This is usually something they have to build or a performance they have to present, usually with only a few minutes to prepare.

Getting ready for a Destination Imagination tournament – both the central and instant challenges – involves a lot of teamwork, of the best sort, the kind that doesn’t feel artificial the way “group learning” does in school. This teamwork feels authentic, the way decisions are made in the real world. It fosters independence since team managers and parents have to sign non-interference contracts. It teaches skills and information of all kinds. You never know where a challenge is going to lead exactly. The kids have learned about historic figures, face painting, movie editing, entomology, structural engineering and more. There are always a lot of rules to a challenge, but finding a way to be creative within those boundaries is part of what encourages kids to really stretch themselves. Instead of just a blank canvas, Destination Imagination gives them limitations but asks them to make something anyway, to look for ways to think beyond the limitations.

Really, I can’t sing the praises of this sort of activity enough. As we’ve done this for several years, the kids have gotten into the culture of DI. They collect DI pins, get excited to design their team shirts, know that zany hat wearing is part of being at the DI tournament, come up with silly call backs when the judges ask if they’re ready, and look forward to the generally positive atmosphere at the tournaments. It’s a competition, but the spirit is friendly. Teams tend to be appreciative and inspired by each other. Basically, Destination Imagination is fun even when you lose.

Of course, we’re so proud that the kids won this year. They have dreamed for a few years of getting a chance to attend Global Finals, which is supposed to be both fun and educational. However, we were pretty surprised by the overall cost. Family has helped out and we expect to foot part of the bill, but we did get sticker shock seeing the cost. A lot of teams have the institutional support of their school, but obviously that’s not the case for us. We’re not even part of a large co-op that can raise the money. As such we’ve done what people do these days and set up a GoFundMe to see if we can raise part of the money for the team to attend. Feel free to share.

Winning and Losing

thinking kidsIt’s been a bit of a roller coaster here at the rowhouse.  There were two big trials of skills for the boys in the last week.

First, they had their Destination Imagination tournament.  This is their fifth year doing Destination Imagination.  They’ve moved up from the young Rising Stars program to the competitive division.  Last year, they won their regional tournament and did incredibly well at states, placing fifth out of nearly thirty teams.  I have often promoted the goals of Destination Imagination here.  I think it’s an amazing program and perfect for homeschoolers.  We are really full on DI-geeks at this point.  My boys have DI pins ready to trade and designed awesome DI T-shirts this year.  DI teaches creativity and cooperation and perseverance.    But, alas.  They nailed their instant challenge, but didn’t do well on their central challenge and won’t be going on to states.  The competition was tougher this year with more teams and they picked a different, perhaps more difficult, challenge.  After the tournament, both the boys were in tears and trying very hard to be strong, but they were deeply disappointed.  The team worked hard and did well, just not well enough.

Second, the boys took the National Mythology Exam for the first time.  We’ve never prepared for a test like this one.  It felt like helping two fourth graders prep for a very mini version of an AP exam.  Memorizing names and details has never been either boy’s strong suit.  They’re more big picture kids who can pull out great connections between stories and put things in order, but without remembering the specifics.  This test wasn’t really made for them, so I knew we’d need to work at it.  We read the first half of the D’Aulaires’ Greek Mythology more than once, played quiz games, made flash cards, made posters, made Toontastic animations, practiced narrations, and drilled for this.  I knew we had prepared, but I wasn’t sure they would pass.  Mushroom has a lot of test anxiety and neither boy has a lot of experience with the sort of multiple choice questions on the test.  However, when they sat down to take the exam and bubble in their scantron sheets, they had so much focus and determination.  We won’t know the official results for a couple of months, but from my informally checking their tests, I’m almost positive they both won medals.  I think Mushroom, who really struggled at times with studying, managed to win gold.  Fingers crossed, but it was definitely a win.

It’s so difficult to see your child lose when they worked hard at something.  I think it was as hard on me as it was on them.  I hope this experience doesn’t turn them off of DI, which I know they love.  And I hope it’s a learning experience.  They got a lot out of the process.  And while it’s painful, I hope they learn from losing.  I hope it makes them hungry to work harder and try again.

As for acing the mythology exam, I hope it’s gratifying to them that their hard work paid off.  I hope they learn that when you study and focus, you can meet a difficult challenge.

Why DI?


At our state DI tournament, they asked kids to stand who have done DI for four or more years. My kids and one of their teammates stood up. For a moment, the other team manager tsked them to sit and I thought, hey, wait… But they were right. We’ve done Destination Imagination since kindergarten, making this our fourth year.

It was our first competitive year (K-2nd teams have a special non-competitive category). We won our regional tournament and placed fifth in our state tournament. I’m so proud of all the hard work my kids and their team manager did. While she was navigating the intricacies of competitive DI, I was coaching the younger team in a much simpler challenge.

I have said it before, but I’ll say it again. Homeschoolers should consider doing Destination Imagination (or the similar organization Odyssey of the Mind – check your area and see which one has a stronger local organization as they are nearly the same). There are so many reasons, but here are a few:

  • DI teaches kids to work together as a part of a team.
  • DI teaches kids confidence to go into new situations and think on their feet.
  • DI teaches kids to think outside the box and come up with solutions to problems.
  • DI helps kids practice building and engineering in all kinds of ways.
  • There is a sense of accomplishment and pride for kids who complete a central challenge.

Destination Imagination does all this in a way that is fun and feels absolutely genuine, as opposed to many of the attempts I’ve seen to teach these teamwork and creativity skills in a school setting. This is real “group work” that’s much more like the kind you might be asked to do in a workplace one day, though it will probably involve fewer popsicle sticks and mailing labels than a DI challenge.

First Win

photo (92)This is the first year Mushroom and BalletBoy’s Destination Imagination team has entered the competitive level of the tournament.  The younger teams have a special, non-competitive category.  They chose Project Outreach, a service challenge where they had to help a community and make a movie.  BalletBoy headed up their movie and we went to the tournament last weekend.

Much to our surprise and delight they won!  They only had to beat one other team in their division, but it was a team of older kids wearing awesome homemade Duck tape vests.  Now we’re going on to the state tournament.

As they wonderingly analyzed their medals and discussed the win while cuddled up on the sofa with me, I pointed out that this was the first medal they had ever won.  They’ve gotten medals for soccer and other activities, but they’ve always been participation awards.   They’ve also won prizes that were by chance, such as through a lottery.  This was their very first medals for something that took hard work and effort.

I told them to take a mental picture of how it felt to win and hold it in their heads.  As you get older, they don’t give you a medal for just showing up anymore.  You have to work hard and even then you won’t always win.  But when you do, it feels excellent, just like this.


Destination Imagination Tournament Three

This year for their skit, Mushroom, BalletBoy and one of their teammates played evil villains.  The face paint makes them look very sinister, right?

I’ve sung the praises of our experience with Destination Imagination so many times that I won’t bother doing it in depth again.  DI and the similar organization Odyssey of the Mind are both “creativity competitions.”  Kids from kindergarten through college compete in various challenges at a tournament.  The cost isn’t too high (I believe, once divided up, our team was about $20 per kid).  The program encourages the kind of social and team skills that are hard to come by in other ways.

For the first time, I wasn’t the coach for our team.  That honor went to one of the other parents this year.  She did such a great job and I was so pleased to just show up at the tournament and see the amazing skit the kids put together.  Perfection.

Just One More on Destination Imagination

Well, my last post about Destination Imagination for the year begins with the flu.  First, it knocked me down.  Then it knocked the kids down.  We lost our last two weeks (two very essential weeks, I might add!) to the flu.  We spent a lot of time worried that we wouldn’t make it to the tournament this past weekend.  I have to credit the other parents from our team for making it all come together.  As a coach, racked with the flu and then with a sinus headache (that’s lingering still and keeps threatening to become a proper migraine), I was a bit scattered and useless.  However, somehow, with everyone’s help, we managed to pull it together.

Destination Imagination is a program that teaches kids teamwork and asks them to harness their creativity for a series of challenges.  I cannot sing its praises, especially for homeschoolers, enough.  Kids can face challenges that test their creativity in engineering, performance, arts, and other arenas.  The program goes all the way from preschool to college.  Our team was a Rising Stars team.  At the tournament, the kids participated in an instant challenge, where they had only 4 minutes to put together something with random materials and then put on a quick skit about it.  Then we performed our team challenge – a skit about “Big Bug’s Bad Day.”  Here’s the kids all ready to perform.

The plot of their skit, which they came up with completely on their own, involved a bumblebee who goes for a walk, only to have some ice crack and leave him wet and miserable.  Then, he gets lost on the way home.  Peering into a window, he sees a man with piles of dead bugs which he is carefully pinning to a board.  Horrified, he finally goes home and tells his friends (a roly poly, a ladybug and an inchworm) about what he saw.  They all despair that they’ll all end up pinned to a board.  Luckily, a fairy appears and tells them to follow her.  She leads them to the “Bad Entomologist” and whips out a giant pin.  The man turns around just in time to see the bugs pin him to the wall.  Then the bugs all celebrate.  Yes, it is a gruesome plot for a bunch of six year olds to dream up.  The stabbing was also an interesting trick as Mushroom, the entomologist, had a big hunk of styrofoam taped under his shirt.

BalletBoy’s performance was a little lackluster.  By the time we got home, he was fully sick again.  Then, after spending a full hour whining, Mushroom abruptly passed out on the sofa.  Yup.  He was sick again too.

Well, the show went on, at least.


Consensus for Kids

Our Destination Imagination team is in the thick of it now, making decisions about our team challenge.  Last year’s challenge tested our engineering skills with newspaper and tape.  This year’s challenge is really putting our collective decision making skills to the test as the kids have to imagine their own skit about a bug’s bad day.

After much consideration and some hearty debate, our "big bug" will be a bumblebee.

I’m not always perfect at consensus, but I like working with it.  Between working under Quaker process for many years and having been schooled in grassroots organizing as part of my master’s thesis research, I like to think I know at least a little about leadership and consensus building.  Of course, it’s one thing with adults and something else altogether with 5 and 6 year olds.

I think the same rules still apply, even if the kids need extra guidance.  When our DI team has a decision to make, I turn to consensus.  Here’s what I do:

  • I ask the kids to brainstorm and I put lots of ideas on the board, sometimes with doodles for the non readers.
  • OR… I ask them to begin with their best idea.  Adults often sift out their ideas for the “best idea” and advocate it, but younger children sometimes just want all the thoughts they have to be heard, without any consideration for which one they like the best or think will actually work well, so this question helps them focus their thinking.
  • I ask the group which ideas they could get behind.  They can vote for all the ideas, or just one, but it’s essentially a question of which options could you live with.  Sometimes this is a show of hands and it would need to be in a large group.  Sometimes it’s just a noise level vote as we go down the list and kids twitter or nod with yeses and no ways.
  • I erase the ideas that didn’t have any or much support.  This step always knocks out a large number of things the kids have mentioned – if only one kid, or even no kids – want to stand behind an idea, then it’s usually obvious even to them that it won’t work.
  • BUT…  Before I erase something or mark it as out, I always ask the group again.  “It sounds like this idea is out.  Is that right?”  Typically, the kids just nod.  Occasionally, there’s a sad noise emitted that someone’s idea has bit the dust, but the kid lets it go.  Every once in awhile, a kid insists that an idea stay in the running, so I leave it there.
  • If there are still a lot of ideas left, then I repeat the above, seeing what has the most support and what has very little, then knocking out those ideas.
  • I point out which ideas had the most support and may circle them or put a mark next to them.
  • I ask the kids to talk about the ideas with the most support or take a vote just between those.  Sometimes, the kids waiver.  They’re often pretty fickle about it at this stage.  I don’t let them discuss for more than a minute or two though.
  • I point to the idea that seems to have the most consensus by saying something like, “It sounds like this idea is one that most people like.”  Sometimes they agree and it’s chosen or they disagree and another idea is chosen.
  • BUT…  If they don’t agree, we talk some more about it.  Sometimes a compromise is suggested, such as a way to combine the ideas or another idea altogether.
  • If they’re not doing it already (they usually are), I get everyone to really listen to the objections of anyone holding out against the group.  If the kids don’t (they usually do), then I suggest ways that the hold out kid can pick something else.  There’s bargaining and discussion about what will work best for everyone.
  • We usually don’t stop until everyone agrees, even if it’s not their first choice.  I know that sounds nigh on impossible for such young kids, but I swear it works.  And the more often that I do it with them, the better they get at doing it with each other.

Overall, the most important thing I’ve found is to keep the process moving.  Deciding something, even something contentious, shouldn’t take more than fifteen minutes at most, twenty if the group is new to the process of reaching consensus.  And once something is decided, unless there’s a reason, then I strongly encourage them to stick to their decision.

This is one of the skills that Destination Imagination really teaches if you let it.  In my mind, it’s far and away better than any type of social education they could ever get in most schools, which is why I think the program is perfect for homeschoolers.  It’s also one of those life skills that I hope one day (a long way down the road) will help them, whether they’re team teaching, working in an engineering group to fix a problem, arguing policy in a political office, or working in a hospital with colleagues to help a patient.

Bugs, Bugs, Bugs…

The cool DI logo for our challenge!

I’ve sung the praises of our experience with Destination Imagination before, but I’m about to do it again.  We probably won’t start meeting with our team until November, but I just noticed the challenges have come out since I last checked so I got all excited!  Our team is a Rising Stars team so this year’s challenge revolves around learning all about bugs.  We’ll have to go to the Bug Zoo at the Natural History Museum and the Invertebrate House at the Zoo!  Who knows what else!  I think Destination Imagination (or the organization they spun off from – Odyssey of the Mind) is perfect for homeschoolers because it encourages the sort of socialization experiences that all kids need.  Last year, while I’m not saying they perfected this or anything, the kids on my team learned to work together, to negotiate with each other, to compromise, to brainstorm together and to generally have fun while doing it.  Plus, there is the creative component.  I’ve written a little about creativity here.  I think the way that Destination Imagination provides a structure and rigid rules while also opening the door for complete chaos within that framework is the perfect way to encourage creativity.