How Destination Imagination Helps Kids Thrive Socially and Emotionally

If your kids or students have participated in Destination Imagination (DI) for a while, you may have seen them improve their social and emotional skills (see part 1 of this blog here). As a parent who managed 22 DI teams over 15 years, I certainly noticed that social and emotional behaviors improved in most of the students who were on my teams (including my own children), but I didn’t understand how it was happening.

As I became more aware of the educational pedagogy behind DI and was exposed to the social-emotional learning competencies, I began to recognize that as students worked through the creative process to create their solutions to DI Challenges, they were also practicing the SEL competencies that are necessary for their futures. Here is how participation on a DI team impacts social-emotional skills:

Optimistic Thinking: In Destination Imagination, a student will work together with teammates to create a solution that has been dreamed and designed solely by their team. Adults are not allowed to give direct input of any kind into a solution. It is owned by the students. As I have worked with teams, I have watched several students continue to push forward with an idea even through several failed attempts. Since the idea is theirs, they believe that their efforts will result in success and they keep trying. When a student has finished the task so that it meets their individual and team goals, they gain significant pride in their work. Even at the end of the season when the team doesn’t advance to the next level of competition, the team members tell each other that it is alright, they will try again next year.

Self-Awareness: As individual team members attempt solutions to the DI Challenges, they learn through trial and error what works and what doesn’t. Team members try out new skills and learn what they are good at doing. They also learn which tasks they may not be great at accomplishing and they learn about their interests. My daughter was not the best at school subjects (other than language arts) and she often felt less smart than her teammates. However, she learned that she is gifted at creating a vision and inspiring her teammates to keep working to reach their goals. DI exposes students to STEM subjects, art, teamwork, leadership, problem-solving, project management, and hands-on skills that allow them to determine their strengths, weaknesses, and interests.

Self-Management: A student on a Destination Imagination team will learn how to manage their emotions when their project is not going as they expected and they learn to celebrate when their project is going well. A DI team member learns to ignore distraction and focus on getting the task completed. I had a team member who would only do the amount of work that was necessary, but would never put his entire self into the project. His team asked him to create a model of a helicopter to add to a large platform. He created one, but it was poorly done and not up to the team’s standards. The team asked him to try again and explained that they knew he could create something better. He took the time and built a helicopter model that was detailed and had moving rotors. DI team members learn to support each other, ask for help from other team members when they need it, and to follow through on their promises.

Social-Awareness: Watching teams work together on an Instant Challenge (a 5-7 minute Challenge that students solve on the spot), on their solutions during meetings, and at tournaments, I have heard DI team members say things like: “you are much better at this than I am, you should do it” or “does anyone have any ideas? John, you haven’t said anything and I know you are good at building things.” DI team members become aware of their team members’ strengths and learn to trust them to complete the task. Many of the solutions I have observed tackle current social issues, emotional issues like families dealing with cancer, and show concern for the self-esteem of others. When we give students the responsibility for creating their own solutions, they show us how much they are aware of the world around them.

Relationship Skills: Creating a solution to a DI Challenge can bring up powerful emotions, especially for younger students or for students who are new to DI. Team members get angry with each other at times or may not even like each other on some days. The common purpose and goals of a team can help those students overcome those differences and learn to get along. They learn to listen, to be kind, and to rely on others.

Goal-Directed Behavior: DI teams set their own goals that align with the Challenge they have decided to solve. Working on goals that are team-determined allows team members to practice meeting goals without pressure from teachers and parents. Team Managers guide their team members as they set goals and make their project plans. Team Managers also remind their team members of the goals and help them stay on track. However, the team members do the work on their own and decide together if the goal needs to change. The Team Manager models what a team leader does and the team members experience working together. DI students will be able to join a work team and help that team be successful.

Personal Responsibility: In DI, students learn to own their own mistakes. Individual behaviors can have an impact on the entire team. A former Team Manager told me about a student on his team who really had trouble with accepting responsibility for his actions. While the team was solving an Instant Challenge at a tournament, the student started jumping up and down, which caused the tower to fall. The team didn’t get any points for their tower. The student realized that he had caused the problem, apologized to the team, and vowed to pay better attention next time. His team accepted his apology and were kind to him about the mistake. The entire team learned how to accept personal responsibility and forgive each other for mistakes.

Decision Making: There are many decisions involved in creating a DI Challenge solution. DI participants learn to weigh their decisions against the requirements of the Challenge, the time they have available, the skills and abilities of their team members, and whether or not the decision made advances the team’s goals for their solution. Team members also learn to let go of their individual idea for the good of the team. This skill gets easier as the team gains experience and they practice group decision-making. Learning to analyze the consequences of decisions and choose a path is one of the most important skills DI participants learn.

Social-emotional skills are necessary for our students’ futures. Imagine how your student will feel when they walk into their first job interview and they are able to describe how they work on a team, how they work to get along with others, and how they work to set and meet their goals. The Destination Imagination Challenge Experience allows students to learn and practice workforce skills starting in kindergarten.

Don’t let your students and families fall behind this year.

Download our social-emotional learning (SEL) handout to learn about four practical ways you can integrate SEL into your curriculum—no matter what your physical learning landscape looks like—and hear from educators on why they use DI as a fundamental tool to help their students blossom socially and emotionally.

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Together we will prepare our students for the future!

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