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Why the sky is the limit (and slightly stinky) with Destination ImagiNation

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Last weekend, my first grader Hadley competed for the first time in Jefferson County Schools Destination ImagiNation Regional Tournament at Alameda High School.

Not familiar with Destination ImagiNation (DI)? Join the club.

Actually, “club” may not be the correct word for this international organization that caterers to kindergarten through university students. The concept is simple: teach life skills and expand imaginations through team-based creative problem solving.

Last year, our good friend Marshall Haymond’s fifth-grade team took it all the way to the top and placed second at Global Finals in Knoxville, TN. His positive experience motivated me to sign Hadley up when a notice was sent home at the beginning of the school year.

There are many different levels and newbie Haddie became part of the Rising Stars (kindergarten-2nd grade), the only non-competitive branch in DI. Four other classmates joined her after school each week as they formulated a skit based upon an official theme: “Big Bug’s Bad Day.”

The kids did everything themselves: researched the bugs they wanted to be, made their costumes, choreographed the script and memorized lines they made up. Parent-volunteer Lance Antieau was only there to guide, not instruct.

Which, let’s face it, is needed. First graders aren’t exactly known for staying on topic.

Leading up to the tournament, I have never seen Hadley more excited. Keep in mind this is the girl we’ve exposed to a myriad of activities like dance, skiing, swimming, soccer and art classes.

The difference, I believe, was that she owned this. She’s an imaginative and spirited kid who, for the first time, didn’t have a grown-up telling her what to do and how to do it. Instead, she spent the better part of the year making magic happen with her teammates on their own terms.

And you know what? They did on the day of the tournament. Haddie was the “big bug” (a monarch butterfly) whose bad day consisted of flying into a tree and breaking her wing. Her teammates’ role (a spider, katydid and stink bugs) was to fix it using their natural resources.

It wasn’t polished but it was informative and charming with first-grade potty humor thrown in for good measure (kind of hard to resist with stink bugs).

The second part of the day was an Instant Challenge that was designed to teach students how to quickly assess problem components and the steps necessary to resolve short-time issues.

For the competitive teams, only the students are allowed in the classroom but for Haddie’s level, parents were allowed to watch. Prior to doing so, each of us was required to raise our hands and make a pledge that we would not reveal the topic so as to give other teams an unfair advantage.

Silence ain’t exactly my virtue and I asked if there was a blogger clause (turns out there wasn’t).

During the Instant Challenge, I was thrilled to watch my take-charge-kinda daughter (read: bossy) work synergistically with her teammates. It was rewarding for me to see her newfound maturity and ability to take something ordinary and make it extraordinary.

The day ended with a rockin’ dance and awards ceremony. As we were driving home, I asked Haddie the best and worst things about her experience. “The best was doing our skit!” she exclaimed. “And the worst thing?” Long pause.

“Probably that we had to perform in a little classroom, not on the stage in front of a lot of people.”

Look out, Broadway.

For information on how to get started with Destination ImagiNation, go to

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  • comment avatar Jane March 14, 2011

    I have honestly never heard of DI but I love the concept. Too many of my kids’ activities are parent-driven but I think it’s brilliant to have something the children own. I wonder if it’s at my school, too?

  • comment avatar Amber Johnson March 14, 2011

    Jane, I’d check with your school or on DI’s Web site. If it’s not at your school, you should look into heading it up. Lance (our coach) was new and had to attend a one-day training seminar to get him up to speed. Some of these parents have been doing it for years (and were even competitors themselves). I had no idea it was such a big deal!

  • comment avatar Lori Lavender Luz March 14, 2011

    I love Haddie’s answer to the “worst part” — shall I get her autograph now??

  • comment avatar Amber Johnson March 14, 2011

    Yup, get it now. It won’t be long before she stops wasting time with the likes of us. 🙂

  • comment avatar Julie March 14, 2011

    Um, could she be any cuter? I love the costume, it turned out great!

  • comment avatar Jaime Swartzendruber March 14, 2011

    We participated in River of Words last year which was fabulous, but that program lost funding and cancelled the 2011 competition. Hope to see them come back, meanwhile, we’ll look into this!

    Stink bug humor would be a hit at our house. Too cute.

  • comment avatar Christine H March 14, 2011

    They do it at my daughter’s school. I think it’s basically kids who like to “think outside the box” and learn new thing in new ways.

  • comment avatar Amber's Crazy Bloggin' Canuck March 14, 2011

    That’s exactly it. I love the creative, think outside of the box element to it.

  • comment avatar Joy March 14, 2011

    Amanda’s lame school has never heard of Destination Imagination and I don’t know if I have time to lead a team… maybe next year! I have several friends who have said it’s one of the best things they ever did for their kids.

  • comment avatar Amber's Crazy Bloggin' Canuck March 14, 2011

    I’m in your same boat–no time to head it up, which is why I’m glad Lance stepped in. But it’s really worth it and really, the time was kind of minimal. He did a one-day training session and then spent one hour/week with the kids leading up to the tournament.

  • comment avatar It's a Full Next March 16, 2011

    My daughter did it in K and 1st grade (she’s now in 6th grade). Great fun – lots of work.

  • comment avatar Shelly M March 16, 2011

    It’s a great contest, but a LOT of work for the volunteers. Please be sure to thank your school’s team leader!

  • comment avatar Amber's Crazy Bloggin' Canuck March 16, 2011

    Agreed, I certainly could not have headed it up. We had a bowling party at the end of the season where we bought our coach a nice gift card for all his time!

  • comment avatar LaLa Girl March 16, 2011

    They do it at my school, too – we aren’t involved in it yet, but my neighbor across the street heads it up, and I always see groups of kids congregated in her garage, building amazing things!

  • comment avatar Tee aka The Diva's Thoughts March 18, 2011

    Too adorable!

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