Kids’ magic is an established genre of performance, but teaching magic to kids is another animal entirely. Discover Magic is an educational magic company taking the idea of magic for kids in an inventive new direction by focusing on building life skills through magic tricks. It’s a magic curriculum that can be adapted to any situation, anywhere: a summer camp, an after school program, even activity time on a cruise.
Discover Magic students may never pursue magic professionally or take the tricks they learn beyond their summer camp days, but building young magicians isn’t the primary goal. The team behind Discover Magic is willing to bet that kids who learn to be respectful, creative, authentic, and humble will carry those traits with them for the rest of their lives. And if they fall in love with magic along the way, well that’s worth bonus points.
Michael Ammar was the first of three Discover Magic founders. Ammar is known around the world as a prestigious performer and inventor, with a legendary wealth of knowledge about the art and history of magic. Ammar brought his original idea to Brian South, a professional magician who had experience with the business side of the industry through successful companies like Creative Magic and Teach by Magic. “I loved the idea,” South tells GeniiOnline. “With social media and smartphones, people are disengaging. Ironically, social media is killing social skills, specifically the skill of caring about others. We’re more connected than we’ve ever been, we have more relationships than we’ve ever had, but those relationships don’t go as deep.”
Together, Ammar and South decided to focus on a younger demographic, tackling this social skills gap where they saw a market need—with summer camps and after school programs for kids aged 8-12. “Magic is an empathetic art. It forces you to think about others, what they’re experiencing, what they’re understanding, and it builds communication skills and confidence naturally.” There are plenty of magic camps and classes dedicated to making lifelong magicians, where the tendency to teach magic skills first, and let the life skills unfold as a natural byproduct. Confidence and communication skills were being treated as a side effect of magic education, not the goal. “What if we started there, that the focus is to build these life skills, and wrap the magic around that?”
In tailoring their magic curriculum for kids, Ammar and South decided to bring on magician and actor Michael Rosander as their third partner. With over a decade of experience teaching kids magic at his North Carolina summer camp, No Sleeves Magic Camp, Rosander rounded out the tripod of Discover Magic’s expertise: magic, business, and kids. These days, South and Rosander steer the business, with Ammar on board as a trusted friend and advisor taking a less active role in the day to day.
Ammar, South, and Rosander first announced Discover Magic to the wider magic community in spring 2015, when they were still incubating the idea. Over 400 people signed up for the waitlist to buy a license to teach the curriculum, and the curriculum didn’t even exist yet. “We started testing things with kids and creating the final content,” says South. “By the end of 2015, we rolled out our first course and the company has been growing more and more ever since.”
Practically, the Discover Magic curriculum is divided into a series of standalone courses, identified by the wands kids receive upon completion. “We’ve created it like karate, where kids advance in colored wands. At the end of each course, they get their purple, green, orange, or blue wand. But unlike karate, there’s not a sequence you have to follow,” says South. To earn their wands, students learn and perform magic tricks using custom-designed props. Bonuses like online video content and “top secret file folders” get kids excited about the world of magic by making them feel like they belong to a private club that’s full of mysteries to unlock.
The most important technology underlying the curriculum is that each wand teaches a selection of Discover Magic’s eight traits of a true magician. “We started with a huge list of traits and characteristics,” says South. They pulled from other educational life skills programs, like the Boys and Girls Club, the YMCA, and Eagle Scouts before settling on: respectful, prepared, enthusiastic, confident, humble, authentic, creative, and giving. The idea is that any number of life skills can be packed into these traits: kindness, honesty, and teamwork, for example.
Kids are aware of the eight traits, but they’re presented more as a pathway to becoming a true magician than as a list of life skills to learn. Laying a foundation for respect ensures that kids interact with each other and with instructors in a positive way moving forward—they’re taught to look each other (and look the audience) in the eye, introduce themselves, and address others by name. Teaching kids to be prepared ensures they’re ready for magic class and ready for their performances, and establishing enthusiasm that’s powerful but not disruptive tunes kids into their surrounding environment.
And although the Discover Magic courses don’t have to be presented in a set order, each trait does lead to the next, in a way. Teach kids to be respectful, prepared, and enthusiastic, and a certain sense of confidence just follows suit. “I’ve never once questioned our eight traits—what they are, what order they’re in,” says South. “There was some divine intervention in coming up with those eight traits, and they’ve affected me personally. I’ve seen the influence on my life.”
Of course, all of that is wrapped into the tricks. Discover Magic’s trick development process involves updating simple, well-known gimmicks to make them relevant and exciting for a young audience today. “Whenever we come up with a magic trick, the first thing I start thinking about is what will make this fun for a kid,” says Rosander. One of their recent releases is called Mind Trip. It’s based on a gimmick called Mind Control: “It was a cool trick, but the problem is magicians had been doing that for over 50 years at least. Nobody had ever changed it. It needed a story.”
The original trick is a multiple-out setup that lets the magician predict whether the spectator would choose a yellow, red, or blue dot on a piece of paper. “Instead of three dots, we made postcards to crazy destinations that any kid could travel to,” Rosander explains. “There’s the coral castle, where you can play go fish against a crab to win sunken treasure; the jungle treehouse, where birds deliver pizza all night long; or the moon, where martians are having a disco pool party. They can’t find the pool but it doesn’t stop them from getting funky.”
Discover Magic’s update leans into Rosander’s belief that every trick needs a story to make it come alive for a kid. “Without a story, it’s just a magic trick, but look at the difference we can make for a kid. If they’re excited and laughing, they know that somebody else is going to laugh about it. They want to share that, and magic only exists if you share it with others.” South swears Rosander thinks like a kid. “Even my wife says I’m just a big kid,” Rosander admits.
Mind Tripis also an example of how Discover Magic sets the bar high for quality in everything they produce. The artwork on each postcard mirrors the patter kids are expected to learn, so the storytelling is supported by the props themselves. And the props are designed to last: “It’s important to us that we give kids a good first impression of magic,” says South. “We want kids to have a good experience, so we force ourselves to be on the extreme of not cutting corners. We’re in a position to have a whole generation that expects more detailed instructions, better illustrations, better videos, higher quality.”
Most Discover Magic tricks are simple gimmicks, making them easier to learn and more adaptable for all ability levels and age groups. Across the country and around the world, presenters, as Discover Magic licensees are known, craft their own approaches to teaching the curriculum to best suit their local communities. Some presenters teach weeks-long summer camps where the curriculum progresses every day, others teach one after school classes one afternoon per week, breaking up the curriculum into smaller chunks. South and Rosander actively support presenters in building successful businesses in their local markets.
“All they have to do is call and we’re there,” says Rosander. “I spent two or three hours out of my day with presenters yesterday. Somebody wanted to talk about grants, somebody wanted to talk about pricing, another presenter asked about how to manage kids better during class time.” The support presenters receive sets them up for success with their programs, and also gives Discover Magic a communication avenue to ensure that their curriculum is being honored and taught as designed.
The Discover Magic business model is built on a licensing agreement. “It’s not a franchise, it’s a license to teach our curriculum,” says South. He likens the structure to buying a Costco membership: buy a license in order to purchase student kits, swag, games, puzzles, and more from the Discover Magic store. Whereas franchisees typically expect a fully formed product that can (and must) be modeled perfectly anywhere, the licensing format gives Discover Magic freedom to grow the curriculum organically and incorporate feedback, ideas, and requests from the presenter community.
“Discover Magic is a living, breathing curriculum,” says South. “When we opened it up to the first 50 presenters, we were very transparent about the fact that we’re not saying the program is perfect. Part of being a presenter and a licensee is that you’re on that journey with us and you’re helping us figure it out.”
Individual presenters all come to Discover Magic with varying backgrounds in business and in magic. Some presenters have been involved with the magic community for decades, some are burgeoning entrepreneurs at just barely 18-years-old. Some presenters grow their programs so extensively that they train non-magician assistants to teach more classes to more kids. “I would say that it does not matter at all what level of magic experience you have,” says Rosander. “If you have a passion to make a difference in a kid’s life and you want to leave a legacy, Discover Magic is a great tool for you to use.”