WINSLOW — The life of an elementary school student is filled with instruction and direction from adults — whether they are parents, guardians or teachers.

Perhaps that’s what makes Odyssey of the Mind so attractive for fourth-, fifth- and sixth-graders at St. John Catholic School. The after-school program forces the students to think for themselves, to be spontaneous, extroverted and imaginative and with very little adult oversight. But most of the 18 students participating in Odyssey at St. John say their favorite part about the extracurricular activity is creating and building things, writing and performing songs and being with their friends.

“I like creating and seeing how we can make up something different because all the plays can be very different,” said Emma Farnham, a fourth-grader.

In its second year at St. John after about a decade-long hiatus, the Odyssey program is gaining popularity in the halls of the school, as well as success at large. The 18 students — 17 of whom attend St. John — were divided into three teams with all three teams making it to the statewide competition last Saturday. At the tournament, held at Thomas College, one team finished in fourth place of six teams in its division, another in third place and one team finished first, earning a trip to the Odyssey World Competition in Iowa in May.

“We were really excited when we won at states,” said Dorothy Anne Giroux-Pare, a fifth-grader. “We were happy, but our other two teams were really happy for us, too.”

Odyssey is an international educational program that provides students in kindergarten through 12th grade opportunities for creative problem-solving. There are more than 60 participating schools in Maine, and more than 800 students from kindergarten to grade 12 participate statewides.

Teams of up to seven students take part in a range of activities, including building mechanical devices and interpreting literary classics.

The students work for weeks and sometimes months to solve problems related to five things: vehicles, technical issues, literary classics, building a structure and performing.

The St. John team is one of 31 teams representing Maine and one of 10 in its age group.

Teams across the state are given a choice of several prompts to create a scene that involves construction, making costumes, singing and acting. A price limit is set on buying supplies, and recycling old materials is recommended. It’s thinking outside of the box, while using old cardboard boxes, PVC pipes, duct tape and any other useful materials.

“If a team gets to a competition and one part is broken, all the other teams there will try and help and search for something that can make it work,” said Michelle Giroux-Pare, Dorothy Anne’s mother and coach of the team that’s heading to Iowa. “I love the collaboration.”

The prompt from the first-place team from St. John was “It’s How We Rule,” and the objective involved recreating a king’s court from history while making their own royal court set in an original kingdom from a different place and time.

The price limit was $125.

The group recreated Queen Elizabeth’s rule in a snow world, where Aidan Warme, a fourth-grader, played its leader, King Olaf. The group had to make costumes for its characters, create usable instruments, make up a song, several jokes and perform it all for judges.

The scene was performed well enough to earn the trip to Iowa State University in Ames, Iowa, where teams from 32 states and 17 countries will compete May 28-31. While meals and lodging are taken care of — competitors and family will stay on Iowa State’s campus and be fed by the university — traveling costs will be about $1,000 per competitor, which includes one parent each.

Jesse Scardina can be contacted at 861-9239 or at:[email protected]Twitter: @jessescardina