Mar 1, 2015: The Great Odyssey

It’s done! It’s over! It’s finished! Saturday was our big Odyssey of the Mind tournament, which the kids have been working toward for months. What a day!

For those who don’t know Odyssey of the Mind, it’s basically a competition for kids that stresses creativity, outside-the-box thinking, problem-solving, and teamwork. Grades K–2 are considered Primary teams, and they just compete for fun, although they are held to the same standards as the competitive teams, so they can get an idea of what it’s like. They actually think they’re competing, but then at the tournament, every year there’s an amazing tie for first among all the Primary teams. 😉 Starting in Grade 3, though, it’s a real competition.

Anyway, back in October, I volunteered to coach Theo’s team, because I really wanted him to be able to participate, and they were short volunteers. (The entire organization is volunteer-based, so without volunteers, it simply doesn’t happen.) It was a mostly good experience, I must say. I ended up with a relatively young team of two kindergarten boys, two first-grade boys, and two second-grade girls. (One of the other Primary teams from our school was entirely second-graders, and there’s definitely a difference in working with second-graders and kindergartners. I’m not sure whether it’s better or worse, but second-graders are more self-directed, which works well for OotM. So having such a young team was a bit of an interesting challenge.)

I was lucky because I had an awesome group of parents. Some of the other teams didn’t have the same experience, but my group of moms was always very present and eager to support the kids without helping them, which was awesome. (The biggest rule of OotM is no parent participation, so that’s why it was good to have moms that were super supportive but able to step back and not help.)

Honestly, the most challenging kid to motivate on my team was my own…because, as I said last week, he’s not so much into teamwork and prefers to do things independently. He wasn’t badly behaved by any means—just didn’t particularly want to be a part of the group. He liked the other kids and wanted to play with them, but he just didn’t particularly feel like contributing to the project very much. So I was surprised and pleased when, during the tournament, he actually made an attempt to be part of the performance. Yay!

The tournament was a long day. We were lucky that it was held about 10 minutes from our house. Our region is the largest in California for OotM, so you can imagine that some teams had to travel quite a distance to the tournament. But we were just 10 minutes away. Whew!

Chris volunteered as a judge, so he had to be there at 7am for training, and then he had to judge from 9am to 4pm. Because we’re a Primary team and there is no official scoring (just positive feedback), he was allowed to judge our session, which was very cool.

Two of the Odyssey moms volunteered to watch Sam for the day, since I couldn’t watch him while fulfilling my duties as coach, and he had a blast. They took him to the park and played with him all day, and I’m surprised he even wanted to come home with us at the end, because he clearly had a ball!

The rest of us Odyssey moms and dads arrived at the tournament around lunchtime, because our team’s Spontaneous Problem time was 12:50. Coaches and parents aren’t allowed in for the Spontaneous Problem, and the kids aren’t allowed to tell what it was after they exit (because there are still teams after them that have yet to compete), so I didn’t hear much about it. Only after the tournament was over could they tell us, and I learned that Theo volunteered to sit out, as they only took five of the kids from any given team (and we had six). I did hear that the Spontaneous Problem had something to do with explaining how to get a princess out of a tower, but that’s all I know.

Our Long-Term Problem wasn’t scheduled until 3:50pm. (In fact, we were the last one of the day!) So, after the Spontaneous Problem, Theo and I walked to a nearby restaurant for lunch with one of his teammates and her mom. Mmm, banh mi sandwich and Thai iced tea! (I say that to make my aunt envious, although she has yet to try it because she likes the Thai iced coffee too much!) And then we headed back to campus (it was at a local high school) to sign in for our Long-Term Problem.

As I said, no parental (or coach) involvement is allowed, so the kids have to do everything themselves. That included putting on their makeup, so they sat and helped each other with face paint, which was very cute. They also had to drag their own props to the staging area and then answer questions from one of the judges on their own. So neat to watch these little kids really step up and take on a lot of responsibility when they have to!

As for the actual performance, they did awesome! We were all so proud of them! Honestly, our last practice (the afternoon before) was rather dismal. The two girls (the meteorologists) were on task and knew what to do, but some of the boys (my own included) were doing as boys do, and paying very little attention. 🙂 I wondered how our performance would go, but I knew it was all in fun, so as long as they had fun, it was all good.

But they surprised me, and the entire team really pulled it together for a great performance! I recorded it for you and will post the clip here, but a few warnings first: It’s long—more than five minutes. So settle in! Second, because it’s hard to hear the dialogue, you may not quite follow the story. The prompt was that they had to create a wacky weather forecast with at least one meteorologist, at least one audience member, a weather-forecasting device, a device in which they’d tune into the weather, and three types of wacky weather, at least one of which was acted out. They also had to write the script themselves, and it had to be all in rhyme.  Now, keep in mind, they had to do this all themselves. The only thing I was allowed to do was transcribe their script for them, since at their age their handwriting skills still don’t really allow them to write out longhand a long script. But they had to compose the script on their own, assign parts, conceive of all of the props and set pieces and costumes, conceive of the idea behind their storyline, design all of the props and set pieces and costumes, implement them, etc. My only role in this, other than to transcribe the script, was to make sure no one got hurt and to facilitate if they needed something. For example, if they needed to borrow a hammer, I could give them a hammer. But I couldn’t use it for them or suggest an alternative tool—if there was a safety issue, I could only say, “That wouldn’t be safe, so let’s think of another way we could solve this.” But I couldn’t say, “A hammer isn’t safe, so let’s try tape.”

So when you consider all that they had to do on their own, with no help, I think this performance is pretty amazing. Their ultimate skit had them all pretending to be different animals (even the meteorologists), and they used a spaceship to go up into space to forecast the weather. The wacky weather was rain inside the house, a tornado inside the house, and a simultaneous tornado and earthquake where nothing breaks. And at the end, everyone eats cake.

You may wonder why the video has a long stretch of them eating cake. Well, that was the one part they hadn’t practiced—they had just pretended to do it in practice, and I said we’d have the actual cupcakes at the performance. Which we did, and I assumed they’d just take one bite and then stand up and bow (their cue to the judges that they were finished). Um, no. They ate the entire cupcake each and then went back for seconds before taking a bow. That’s why you keep hearing people snicker…because it was pretty darn funny to watch them sitting there so very seriously eating before they wrapped up their performance!

One of the moms asked me if I’d coach again next year. Honestly, I don’t know. I would do it again for sure if Theo wanted to, even though it’s a lot of work (despite the fact that I’m not really allowed to do anything!). But I’m not sure how much Theo enjoyed it. I don’t want to push him to do something he doesn’t enjoy, but I can’t tell whether he did or not. I know he liked the kids. I know he liked them coming over every week. I know he had a lot of fun at the tournament yesterday. But I’m not sure whether he got any enjoyment out of the actual building/designing/creating part. So I’m undecided as to whether it’s something we’ll try again. Honestly, I think it’s a completely awesome program, and I love that they have this for kids. Since we no longer have gifted programs in many districts (ours included), this is a great way for them to do some gifted-type learning, which I honestly think all kids can benefit from—gifted or not. But as I said, I’m not sure whether it was Theo’s cup of tea or not.

Chris, by the way, had a great time! He agreed to judge because without a judge, we couldn’t participate. But he texted me on his breaks a few times about how much he was enjoying watching the kids, and at the end of the day he thanked me for roping him into judging, because he thought it was a really cool program and he loved seeing what all of the kids had done. Plus, they fed him breakfast and lunch, so he was happy. 🙂

We did find out some bummer news yesterday, though. We ran into a woman from Theo’s old school program, where he went for kindergarten. You may recall that I loved that program, and honestly I’ve been kicking myself for switching him out of it, even though logistically it works better to have him at our neighborhood school. I just thought it was a great program, and I really liked the group of kids, parents, and teachers. But as it turns out, I would’ve had to switch him anyway: The program is closing at the end of this school year. The school campus it’s on is considered a disadvantaged school because a lot of the students live below the poverty level and don’t have English as a first language. For that reason, that school campus had gotten a grant to keep class sizes capped at 20. The grant expired and was not renewed, so now class sizes are going up to 30…and there isn’t enough enrollment in the co-op program (which Theo was in) to sustain classes of 30. So, they’re closing the program. What a shame—it really was excellent! Ugh, bureaucracy…

Speaking of schools, I spent Thursday evening participating in a local Catholic middle school’s Diverse Abilities Awareness Week program. They had seven groups of kids and their parents rotate through various classrooms, and one was mine—on behalf of Down Syndrome Connection. So I prepared a couple of quick activities and a talk on what Down syndrome is, what abilities people with DS have, and what students can do when they encounter people with DS, and I got to deliver it to seven groups. It was so much fun! I really enjoyed it and would love to do it again sometime—I wish more schools did things like that! I felt like most of the kids enjoyed the presentation and learned some, and I’m hopeful that maybe it made an impression on at least some of them, so when they meet someone like Sam, they’ll know to treat that person as a potential friend—like they would anyone.

Honestly, that evening was a great way to emerge from a fog I’d been in since Monday evening, when we got some interesting information about Theo. That deserves a blog post in itself, so I wrote one here.

Speaking of Theo, the poor kid had a double ear infection this week, but he was so brave! He’s had a cough for over a month…but so has pretty much everyone around. So, since it didn’t come with any fever or much congestion, we’ve just been letting it run its course. Monday, he came home from school and said calmly, “My ear hurts, Mommy.” I checked it with an ear scanner my mom got me a long time ago, and it showed fluid in there (as did the other ear), so I made a doctor appointment for the next day. I had to keep Theo out of school and take him in for an OT evaluation anyway, so I figured we might as well have his pediatrician take a peek at the ears. Sure enough, he had a double ear infection, and one side was particularly nasty. She said she was very surprised he hadn’t acted like he was in a lot of pain. Tough cookie, that kid.

Anyway, I’m going to wrap up and post this early because Grandma Kathy and Papa are coming for a visit shortly, and I need to get the house picked up. 🙂 Happy March, all!

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