Odyssey of the Mind

This week, instead of focusing on my writing, my mind has been preoccupied with something else. As some of you may have read in the Author tab on this site, in some of my free time, I coach an Odyssey of the Mind team. Odyssey of the Mind is an international, educational program that provides problem solving opportunities for kids from kindergarten through college. Kids work in teams solving problems that range from building a vehicle, or a machine, to creating a structure that holds weight, to performing a new version of a literary classic or performing an original, humorous play. Thousands of teams from across the United States and about 25 other countries work on their projects and then showcase their solutions in regional, state and worldwide competitions!

In all categories, kids must work together to solve the problem as creatively as they can, within a fixed budget and with absolutely no outside help from parents, teachers or other kids. The team learns to rely on each other because they really are all they have!  Coaches (like me) can only offer support and ask questions of the kids that will encourage creative thinking.

I’ve coached for seven years now, first working with my daughter, Danielle’s team and now with my son, Adam’s team. The majority of Adam’s team has been together for five years. This year’s team is a group of five kids- four eighth graders (Adam, Julia, Jake, and Kara) and one sixth grader (Ryan) – each very different, but all very creative in their own way! This year, they’ve chosen a really cool problem. Teams are to create and present an original performance about a community that feels threatened by something in a location it has never visited. The community townspeople will use a creative method to select one or more travelers to visit and explore the location. While at the location, a traveler will use a means of communication to send a message home to convince the community that there is nothing to fear. The performance will also include a narrator character, two rhymes about the travels, and a moving set piece.

The team must create all their own costumes, props, sets and write their own script, without any input from me or anyone else! As you can probably guess, solving the problem takes months of work. Sometimes it’s fun. Many times it’s frustrating. Always it’s amazing for these kids to see the ideas they’ve had swirling around for days and weeks, finally turn into a massive spark! That ah-ha moment when it all comes together into a solution they’re excited about is incredible…for them and for me!

This week in Upstate, NY it’s crunch time for many Odyssey of the Mind teams. Regional competitions are happening all over the area right now. Our region in particular competes a few weeks from now. That means that my team is busy putting finishing touches on their project, rehearsing their performance and practicing spontaneous problems they’ll solve on the day of the competition. It has been exciting to watch the kids interact, brainstorm ideas, overcome personality differences, fix problems with their set that have literally crashed to the ground, and finally solve their problem in an extremely creative way!

So that’s where my mind has been lately. It’s crunch time for my team and I am definitely feeling it! I’m sure any writer or artist or athlete or breathing person can relate to the nerves and excitement an upcoming deadline or book release or competition can bring!  

I’ll keep you posted on the progress of my inspiring team. They motivate me every time they get together.  As a creative person, I live to see any tiny, vague idea, grow into an actual thing that you can see and hear and touch. Maybe I’ll even post pictures when all is said and done! Until then, I’m off to make some snacks because the crew will be over any minute and creative minds need nourishment…or that’s what they tell me anyway. All the time!

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