Outside Assistance

No Outside Assistance is the most significant concept that makes Odyssey of the Mind different from all other programs for children. Odyssey requires that, “team members must design and create ALL aspects of their problem solution.” This rule is essential for students to fully benefit from Odyssey. Essentially, in a nutshell:

  • If the team wants to use an item that is too dangerous, they must find another way to do it.
  • If a team needs a costume, adults can teach them how to sew but the team alone must sew the costume used in the performance.
  • If they are running short on time, “allow the project to go unfinished” or  the team can find another way to accomplish the task.
  • If the information the team seeks can be found in a book, that is ok. If it is information specific to the problem solution, that is outside assistance.

When the students do all of the work, it levels the playing field, makes the competition fair.  Kids compete against kids. How proud can the team be when they win, if adults did their work? It is often said that judges can tell Outside Assistance because adults aren’t creative as kids can be.  But, whether or not, judges can tell Outside Assistance, it is by the team doing the work themselves, that they grow in confidence and enhance their problem solving skills.

Children learn by doing. They are active learners who manipulate materials and play with them in order to understand. The process of ‘doing’ is often the most important part, not the product. The struggle to figure out a solution is critical to learning in Odyssey. If adults help bypass the struggle by providing the answer, much valuable learning is lost.

Benefits come from failure. Did you know that Thomas Edison developed over 1800 light bulbs before he found his ultimate solution?   He knew where he wanted to go and he struggled to find a way to do it. Every failure adds to the final solution. Think about what the students learn when they persevere and find a way to make that device work. Odyssey is a process.  It can take years for teams to develop the teamwork, the team personality and problem solving skills necessary to make it to the top of the Odyssey pile. The journey is  often fun, long, hard, but worth it.

Adults, please resist the temptation to leap to the rescue! Not only is it not fair if you neaten up the solution, build the device, or fix the scenery that keeps falling down, but you deprive the students from finding their own solutions and testing them out.  Put aside your worry that the team’s solution may be embarrassing or reflect poorly on you.  Let them do it. They can handle it. Let them find out that working hard does make a difference. Let them discover the creativity inside each and every one of them. There is always next year. Some teams may come in last in the scoring but actually come in first in learning what to do differently next time, in overcoming adversities, or in making progress as a team.

Your job as a coach, parent or grandparent, is to encourage them to try again. Help them explore the possibilities, even if they go in the opposite direction than what you think would be best. We want to ‘stimulate’ their thinking not ‘influence’ it. Odyssey is not the end point,  but hopefully a strategy to develop creative problem solving skills that will last a lifetime. No Outside Assistance is not only a rule but an inspired idea!

What parents can do:

  • Transport the team to buy things
  • Transport the props
  • Teach the team members a skill if the teams asks, such as: sewing, woodworking, calligraphy, art, electronics, engineering, principals of simple machines, welding, and so on
  • Help provide snacks
  • Bring spontaneous problem supplies
  • Help get props into the building for the tournament, even to the staging area
  • Open attics, closets, basements for “garage sale value” materials
  • Assist the coach with snacks and supervision tasks
  • Volunteer to be a judge at the tournament!

What parents cannot do:

  • Suggest what to buy
  • Repair props if broken in shipping
  • Suggest to the team which skills to use to solve a problem
  • Suggest to the team which skills would result in a better looking or better functioning solution
  • Give the teams any ideas for their problem solution
  • Sew anything, paint anything, do anything to contribute to the team’s problem solution
  • Analyze why something failed
  • Expect perfection from a solution not done by adults (or from a solution done by adults, for that matter!)
  • Suggest what materials to get from the attic, closet or basement
  • Fix anything that breaks
  • Criticize any part of a team’s solution
  • Put emphasis on scores instead of fun