Encourage Your Child's Creativity With Destination Imagination

Every school year, my kids talk about which clubs they want to join. My son does archery, which doesn’t start until later in the school year but is a lot of fun. My youngest daughter chose Destination Imagination this year. It’s a club I strongly recommend if you want to help your child be more creative. My oldest daughter has participated in Destination Imagination in years past, and I think it was a good boost to her creativity.

What Is Destination Imagination?

Destination Imagination is an organization that encourages kids to come up with creative solutions and apply them in a variety of ways. The kids are challenged to use a variety of skills. It’s not all technical, and it’s not all performance.

The challenges the kids choose from change from year to year. There are some basic types – fine arts, technical, scientific, structural, improvisational and service learning, as well as a challenge for younger kids. The details, however, are always different.

Choosing a fine arts challenge doesn’t mean your child won’t use their skills to build something. Choosing a scientific challenge doesn’t mean they won’t need to come up with a story to go with their presentation. Teams build multiple skills as they complete their challenges.

Then come the Instant Challenges. Your team won’t know what their Instant Challenge is until they walk into the room at the competition. They’re sworn to secrecy about the challenge until after the world competition is over. This is so that no team gets an advantage on the Instant Challenge by knowing what it is in advance. There are penalties for revealing what happened at an Instant Challenge after you’ve taken it. The revelation can impact more than your own team. Keeping the secret until after the World Competition is a huge deal, even if your team isn’t going that far.

Teams can practice Instant Challenges on their own before competitions, as old ones are released. These involve a lot of very quick thinking and planning. One of the most important things the kids have to show is teamwork – no leaving a team member out of the challenge.

Every school year, Destination Imagination puts out a variety of challenges for teams of children to work on. There are regional and state competitions, and an annual world competition for teams that make it that far.

Destination Imagination is run by volunteers, and that includes any team your children may join. Be prepared to volunteer, whether as a Team Manager, Appraiser at a competition, or other roles. Teams must provide a certain number of volunteers at competitions in order to participate. This can be difficult, especially if you have a small team, but it is an absolute requirement. It’s best to choose your volunteers as the team forms.

What Do Destination Imagination Teams Do?

The kids on the teams with Destination Imagination must do all their own work. Adults aren’t even supposed to give them ideas. The kids sign a statement at competitions saying that all work is their own – having an adult help can disqualify the team. Adults can teach kids skills needed, but the kids have to figure out what they need to learn and ask for it.

This is where the kids learn a lot about creative thinking. The solutions the kids come up with are amazing. They might build things out of old toys, cardboard boxes, or anything else they can figure out a use for. They might spin a tale that will keep everyone laughing.

There are some expenses you may need to help pay. Each challenge has a budget that the teams are not allowed to go over. Expenses must be tracked to prove that the team did not spend more than was allowed. This helps level the playing field. Keep your receipts, as they will be turned in.

Expect a scramble to get things done as competition time approaches. The kids will almost always seem to be running way, way behind, but somehow it comes together just in time for competition.

What Can Adults Do?

Adults can handle the required volunteer roles their kids need in order to compete. These roles may involve a couple training sessions. Appraisers have to learn how to grade team projects. That means at least one day of training done in person, usually at a reasonably local school. You’ll try out some of the old Instant Challenges with the other volunteers there so that you better understand what the kids go through. You’ll learn what to look for.

Being an appraiser is a lot of fun. They encourage silliness and silly hats. The idea is to make things comfortable for the kids as they present their ideas.

Adults can also be Team Managers. The role of the team manager is to keep the team on track, not to give ideas or help make anything. The team manager can store the team’s supplies, but there is a point at competition, where they aren’t allowed to help with so much as carrying supplies. They also cannot give guidance during the competition itself.

Being a Team Manager can be a heavy commitment. Teams will meet at least weekly as they make their projects, and may need extra meetings as competition approaches. The year I managed my oldest daughter’s team, I sometimes had them come over to my house to work. One student used my sewing machine to make a backdrop. Weekends get gobbled up as the team works hard to get everything done on time.

Adults are allowed to teach kids skills as well. If the kids on the team don’t know how to make something, they can find an appropriate adult to teach them the skill. The adult may not make the item for them. Adults may also make sure the team is using tools safely.

Overall, the entire process with Destination Imagination is a lot of fun. Everyone will probably be tired at the end of the competition day, but it should have been a good day overall. Whether your team makes it to the state competition or even World shouldn’t matter as much as what they’ve accomplished together.

I’d like to finish off with a TED Talk shared by the California Destination Imagination Facebook page. It’s about raising successful kids without overparenting. It goes well with DI’s rules.