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Destination Imagination– A Parent’s Perspective

October 14, 2012

Coppell parent Madhulika Saxena shares her experiences with DI, both as a parent and as a team manager.

Hurray!  We have a Destination Imagination (DI) team of third graders.  Then, five months later, after many Sunday afternoons spent practicing for the final competition, it was suddenly over.  The children did not have a trophy to show for their efforts.  I know they were disappointed that they did not win.  You can tell children that winning is not important, and that it is the journey that counts.  The reality is that when kids compete, they want to win.  So, what was the point of it all?  What did the children gain from all that effort, juggling other extracurricular activities, practicing hard over weekends and spending days at DI practice workshops?  “Destination Imagination” – the very name of the program conjures up a lofty and somewhat vague goal.  Did they achieve that goal?  Here are some thoughts from a parent and team manager on our team’s collective experience with DI.

At the start of the DI program, children solemnly signed a ‘Declaration of Independence’ stating that their work will be done entirely on their own, with no adult interference.   The ‘challenges’ that teams can choose from are not easy, especially for eight year olds.  The same challenges are offered to all teams, though they compete at elementary, middle and high school levels.   In our case, the children selected a challenge with three distinct elements:  create a four-minute movie trailer, acted live, showing interaction between two diverse cultures, create a technical effect and provide appropriate sound effects to accompany the movie trailer.   A couple of weeks before the competition, it all started coming together magically – the roles they created, the script, technical effects (a ship crashing amidst thunder and lightning), and sound effects (camel hooves, glass breaking, a cuckoo clock, “tension” music).   At the beginning of the program, they had no idea that they would get here.   I was absolutely amazed that our little team of four could do all this, with minimal adult intervention.  The most important takeaway for the kids was that their ‘production’ was essentially their ‘own.’  It was a very real sense of accomplishment.

A much talked about benefit of DI is that the children learn teamwork.   Our children have the opportunity to practice teamwork in many situations nowadays.  They work on teams through class projects, sports events and summer camps.  In team sports, for instance, a child is trained to selflessly pass the ball on to his or her teammates so that a goal can be scored against the competition.  In DI programs, however, there are no clear paths to a goal.  There are many alternate paths to be considered and evaluated.  This is especially evident in Instant Challenges, where teams are given a problem that they have never encountered before and are given just a few minutes to solve it working as a team.  They are scored on the creativity of their solution and overall teamwork.  If just one or two teammates dominate, it is a negative for the team.  If they are not all able to agree quickly, their time will be up and the challenge unsolved.   Sometimes a wonderful idea is shot down because other children just do not see it the same way.  The child has to handle feedback, adjust and move on.  I cannot say our team did not go through its share of frustration, but they learnt to deal with it, figured out each other’s strengths and finally developed the bonds and dynamics needed to make a team successful.    They learnt to resolve a conflict when ideas clashed.  I was a mediator at times, but often let them work it out, asking them to give reasons when they did not like a particular idea.

Another aspect of DI I appreciated was the wide variety of skills the program brought forth – theater, writing, art, painting, engineering, and technology to name just a few.  As each team member has to participate, she or he discovers strengths, but also learns to appreciate a particular skill in another.   One of the boys in our group could draw beautifully, while another girl was a natural engineer.  They got a chance to use these talents in their project and got positive reinforcement from their team, who were clearly glad they had an artist and an engineer onboard when it came time to creating the movie trailer.  They all participated, but let different teammates take the lead in line with their natural talents.

During the course of the DI program, the kinds of problems our team solved were entirely new.  Some paths led nowhere and children learned through trial and error.   For their skit, the kids had to show a ship crashing and the front crumpling from impact.  The team was stumped for a while.  Several ideas did not work, until one led to a simulation which finally provided the right visual effect.    At the end of several such experiences, the kids got confidence in their ability to deal with challenges that they had never encountered earlier.

When the competition is over, there is a certain flat feeling.  No more practices!  All those months of preparation and excitement leading to a four-minute performance!   Despite the disappointment of not winning competitively, the children knew that they had done a great job together.  Far beyond what they had imagined they could accomplish at the beginning of the program.   Children quickly move on to other interests and they may not remember much as they work with other teams over the course of their lives.   In this instance, despite skinned knees and stumbles, they had traveled quite a distance together, learning how to deal with new challenges with confidence.

For more information on Destination Imagination in Coppell, contact Kim Sossamon at

Click here to see the 2012-13 Challenges.

One Comment leave one →
  1. January 28, 2013 4:10 pm

    This is so well said! I’ve been a team manager for 5 years. After my 6th grade team fell apart through conflict, I began again with a group of 4th graders. I am hopeful! We are seeing the frustration already. I have to keep remembering that it’s the process that counts, but it’s so hard to sit back and realize that they may choose to fail. The one hour a week set aside is not enough and the kids are having a hard time finding the effort inside to dig down and read the challenge and work outside of our regular practice time. Thanks for writing this!

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