Our Iditarod Unit Study – A Summary of Our Activities

We have recently completed our unit study on the Iditarod Sled Dog Race. We enjoyed learning about the Arctic and the history of the race. We also enjoyed charting the progress of our mushers each day and learning more about sled dog racing. This post serves as a summary of the many activities we incorporated. I owe many thanks to the homeschooling families that preceded me and posted their activities on their own blogs. They are an invaluable resource and I turned to them most frequently as I planned our own activities. Sweetie also enjoyed looking at their blogs and would occasionally ask if she could also do one or more of the activities they shared.

ACTIVITIES

Math – We printed musher stat sheets to record the progress of each musher. We also created probability graphs for this years participants. I walked Sweetie through the calculations and we used tiles to create a visual to represent each group. I didn’t expect her to understand much of the process but I wanted to at least expose her to circle graphs and probability. I was very surprised when DH came home that evening and she excitedly narrated what each graph represented and who she predicted would have the best chance of winning. She remembered what each graph represented and what the numbers were communicating. I was very pleased. iditarod unit studyArt & Handcrafts – We studied the artwork of Pacific Northwest Indians and Inuits. We still working on a carving a family totem pole in rock (more on that later). We carved Arctic animals in ivory soap. Sweetie created watercolor paintings of Balto, Arctic Wolves, and an Aurora Borealis.

Science – We watched a few movies about the Arctic. Sweetie made a coloring book about the animals from Alaska. Buddy sorted pictures of Arctic Animals with Sweetie’s help. We joined our COOL friends for a guided snow shoe walk. The walk was led by naturalist volunteers with the Forest Service and they pointed out many things in relation to winter adaptations, the water cycle and climate.

History / Social Studies – We added the Serum Run and inaugural Iditarod to our Book of Centuries. We learned how the musher prepares for the race, including the supplies needed, clothing, food and equipment. Sweetie made a model of a dog sled with Popsicle sticks and labeled the parts of the team. We scanned the newspaper for articles about the Iditarod. As a family, we enjoyed a REAL sled dog ride near Mt.Bachelor.

Geography – Created a wall map with all the checkpoints marked. We checked on the progress of each of our mushers daily and marked their location on the map. We discussed the climate and other characteristics of several of the checkpoints.

Language Arts – We read several books about the Iditarod, the Arctic and Alaska (see resource list below). Sweetie did several pages from Draw Write Now! (Arctic Loon, Arctic Fox, Polar Bear, Walrus, and The Polar Regions). She did a few worksheets with related spelling/vocabulary words. She used many of the little books & worksheets to put together her Iditarod Lapbook.

RESOURCES

Books:
The Bravest Dog Ever: The True Story of Balto by Natalie Standiford
Whale in the Sky by
Iditarod Spirit by Kim Heacox
No End in Sight by Rick Steber
Arctic Lights Arctic Nights by Debbie S. Miller
Woodsong by Gary Paulsen
Looking at Indian Art of the Northwest Coast by Hilary Stewart
Kiana’s Iditarod by Shelley Gill
Polar Animals by Wade Cooper
Akiak by Robert J. Blake
The Great Serum Race by Debbie S. Miller
“Iditarod” Bend Living magazine Feb 2008
Animal Survivors of the Arctic by Barbara A. Somervill
Arctic Babies by Kathy Darling

Blogs & Websites:
Official Site of the Iditarod
Martin Zoo (homeschooling family)
Toad Haven (homeschooling family)
Scholastic (lesson plans)

Movies:
Free Iditarod Insider Video
Arctic & Antarctic (Eyewitness Video)
Arctic Bears (PBS Nature)
Eight Below
Snow Buddies

To see how we began our unit study, see my earlier post Our Iditarod Unit Study.

Come Gee! Come Haw! – A Sled Dog Ride to Remember

We enjoyed a spectacular morning as a family today. A sled dog ride to commemorate our unit study of the Arctic and the Iditarod. It was truly a wonderful experience and one we will never forget.

The kids had been a little nervous on the drive up to the mountain. They weren’t sure what to expect and didn’t want to be scared. I assured them it wouldn’t be scary…. that it would be similar to me pushing them in the jogging stroller only they would be pulled by dogs instead. This seemed to alleviate their concerns.

We arrived a little early so that we would have an opportunity to get to know the dogs and help with the feeding. When we arrived at the site, the dogs were tied to stakes awaiting their turn to pull the sled. They run anywhere from 1-6 tour runs a day – alternating dog teams for each. There were two teams out pulling sleds and we waited from them to return before they harnessed the dogs for the next two sleds (one for us and one for another family). The dogs were very amicable and enjoyed our caresses. One dog even put his front right paw around another woman’s leg in what resembled a hug as she was petting him.

When the dogs were brought to the tow line, they were lifted up onto their back legs and walked on two legs to the line. I asked the mushers why they did this and they explained that the dogs are strong and anxious… it is one of the first things they are taught when they start working with the dogs. It essentially takes them out of ‘4 wheel drive’ and helps assure the musher isn’t overpowered and so the dog doesn’t take off.

Twelve dogs pulled our sled… I didn’t catch the names of the Team Dogs but the others were as follows:

Lead Dogs: Pepper & Ripples
Swing Dogs: Pele & Echo
Wheel Dogs: Yoda & Joe

It was amazing to see how their personalities and experience had a huge impact on the sled. Both Pele and Echo were essentially puppies (18 and 12 months). Occasionally, Echo would get distracted and would look over his shoulder or get a little tangled in the line.

These are the same dogs that Rachael Scdoris trains with and it was great to essentially meet ‘her family’. Mushing is certainly a lifestyle – but it was nice to take a peak into that way of life, even if just for a couple of hours.Along the trail, Sweetie even asked, “Can we do this again?”

Like all organized tours, they even had a photographer to take our picture. I can’t wait to see them! :)

Check out my Squidoo lens The Iditarod: A Homeschool Unit Study for resources and activities to bring this historic race to life for your family.

Book of Centuries ~ CM Carnival

One of the most intriguing components of Charlotte Mason’s approach to learning is the Book of Centuries. Essentially it is a timeline kept in a notebook, a growing resource that a child adds to continually. The original description was literally one page of writing selected events and one sketching page per century. It may include essays, booklists and sketches, as well as dates, names, and events.

When we started homeschooling in August, this was one of the first things I set up and started using. Though I don’t know how long I’ll continue to homeschool (my hope is at least through 8th grade), the Book of Centuries is one component that I know we will continue to use through adulthood. It is just such a great idea! I wish I had had one when I was growing up.
The first thing we did (once the notebook/binder was put together) was to add photos of ourselves, as DH and I were both born in the 1970s and the kiddos were born in 2002 and 2005. We also put a photo of DH and I at our wedding (1995) and one of the kids and I dressed in our period costumes (1880).

Whenever we read or watch something that applies ~ Art Study (Renoir, Degas, etc.); Emperor Qin (the first emperor of China); Marco Polo & Genghis Khan; Helen Keller (we attended the play, “The Miracle Worker”); Serum Run and the 1st Iditarod ~ we add the date, a brief description and a photo (sometimes from the internet, sometimes copied from a book, other times hand-drawn).

It is such a great learning tool because it provides a visual of what was happening in the past and connects subjects that are typically taught independent of one another. For example, on the page 1800 – 1899, we’ve already included Renoir (fine arts/France), Helen Keller (Eastern USA) and ourselves as living history volunteers (Western USA). It makes the past come to life – puts it all into perspective in regards to what was happening throughout the world at any given time.

We are, of course, just beginning, so there are many, many blank pages, but as we progress, I know it will become more and more useful. It will be fun to compare the writing she has done this year in comparison to what she will be doing 10 years from now.

Though there are many different styles and pre-made timeline books one can purchase, I chose to create a simple one in a 3-ring binder with tabs for easier navigation. We can expand it if the need arises later. If you would like a simple one of your own, follow this link to download a free Book of Centuries document that labels each two-page spread with a date (in hundred-year increments) from 4000 B.C. to A.D. 2099, and follow the easy steps below to create your own.

Our Family Totem Pole ~ Part One

Shortly after reading, Whale in the Sky, and making a large paper totem pole to represent the one in the book, we coincidentally came across an activity idea in local newspaper… choosing animals to represent each member of the family to make a Family Totem Pole. As we’ve been exploring the art of Northwest Coastal Indians alongside our Iditarod unit, I felt this was the perfect extension to our studies. One of the books we’ve most enjoyed is Looking at Indian Art of the Northwest Coast by Hilary Stewart. We browsed through the book together and guessed what was depicted in the photos/sketches before we read the captions. We talked about the mediums the Native Americans would use in their artwork and what the animals symbolized to them. We talked about the animals we liked and which most represented each of us.

Beaver – The builder, a symbol of security and activity. Creative, Artistic and Determined. Me
Wolf – Symbolizes family, loyalty and endurance. Intelligence and Leadership. DH
Hummingbird – Symbolizes love, beauty, luck and is a joyful messenger. Sweetie
Otter – Trusting, inquisitive and bright; loyal friendship. Buddy

Sweetie and I then brainstormed the media we wanted to use. We wanted to create a totem pole that would become a family keepsake… not a paper craft that we’d likely toss in the near future. I suggested getting a small piece of wood to carve… she suggested carving on stone. As I’ve done some stone carving with my Dremel in the past for gifts, we decided to go this route. I had made several wall plaques for friends and family but had yet to create one for ourselves… this was the perfect opportunity.

I’ve stopped by a couple of local stone and landscape places but haven’t yet found the right piece. Ideally, we would like it to be rather narrow and long; maybe 2′ x 8″. This project is turning out to be more time consuming than I had anticipated. I will thereby post pictures of the final product when we’ve completed it. Stay Tuned! 😀

Dragon Theme Birthday Party ~ Another Success

Several weeks before his birthday, I showed Buddy the Wilton Yearbook and asked him to select a cake (and thereby a theme) for his party. My assumption was that he would select Diego or Lightening McQueen from Cars and that I would thereafter purchase the specified pan … a relatively simple undertaking. However, the cake he selected was 3-dimensional and required both fondant and buttercream icing. Substantially more involved than I would have liked. I certainly couldn’t refuse, however. So, Dragons it is …

Dragon Theme Birthday Party

I spent some time researching ideas on the internet… games to play, foods to make, unique treats for the goody bags. I found a very cute graphic online that I used on the invitation and on the goody bags.

GOODY BAGS

  • I found a candy mold with a dragon image so I made hard candied lollipops for each of the party guests (banana and orange flavored).
  • A Dragonology bookmark
  • A Fourth of July ‘popper’ (more left over fireworks from the summer)
  • A scratch-off ticket I designed whereby all tickets were winners. The kids exchanged their winning tickets for a mini dragonology figurine which I discovered on Clearance at Fred Meyer. This was a huge hit!!

ACTIVITIES & GAMES

  • Egg Carton Dragon Craft

Before the party, I cut purple egg carton cups down the middle, into long, 6-cup, rows. I hot-glued google eyes onto plastic easter eggs for the heads and DH drilled two small holes into the back end. Finally, I cut green pipe cleaners into small lengths. When the kids arrived they poked a piece of pipe cleaner into the back of the head and twisted it through the hole in the egg carton to attach it. They then decorated the body with glitter glue and sequins and stuck a red feather into the mouth for fire.

  • Dragon-Foot Relay

Before the party, I cut four claw-foot shapes from cardboard. Divide your guests into two equal lines and give the first person in each line two feet. These feet become the only thing they can step on as they travel from the front of the line, around a chair, and back to the start. Begin with the first two players placing one of their claw-feet on the ground and stepping on it; then, they place the other foot on the ground and step on it. They continue this all the way around the course and then return to the line. When they reach the finish line, they hand the two feet to the next person. The relay continues until everyone has a turn. The team that completes the course first wins!

  • Dragon Tag

Basically, the kids line up and hold onto the waist of the child in front of them. The person in front is it and tries to tag its tail (the last child in the line). Once he succeeds, he moves to the end of the line. {We didn’t actually play this one as we were inside – certainly didn’t want anyone getting hurt or something getting broken.}

  • Dragon Egg Relay

Again, divide your guests into two equal lines and give each child a spoon. Each child has to carry a dragon egg on their spoon to the other side of the lawn and back again. If they dropped it, they could just pick it up. We used glittery easter eggs I found at a local party store.

  • Hunt for the Dragon’s Lair

I showed the children a page from Dragonology that describes how dragons hoard treasure in their lairs. I had made up a treasure map before the party, and told them that an old dragon-hunter had given it to me. The map wasn’t very specific, and as most of the children can’t read yet, I embellished our hunt orally as we went along. I wanted to make sure that the children weren’t scared. As we followed the map, we found dragon scales in the desert (small abalone shells in the sand box), and a few jewels that the dragon dropped along the way (plastic treasure jewels). We knew that we were getting near the lair when we found all the baby dragons out playing (small plush dragons). Inside, the kids found the dragon’s treasure: more jewels, chocolate gold coins, and Mardi Gras necklaces. I think that this was the best part of the party in the children’s eyes. They LOVED the treasure hunt! The kids put everything that they found in the dragon’s lair into their goody bags.

THE CAKE

I am generally pretty critical of my creative endeavors, but I was very pleased with how the cake turned out. Certainly room yet for improvement but I actually enjoyed making this one and I didn’t stress out about it! Everything came into place in time. Buddy loved it! Looking at the pictures now, I am actually surprised how similar the cake and invitation/goody bag graphic are… the cake just needed wings!

In the end, the guests enjoyed the games and my little man was all smiles.  The dragon theme birthday party was a roaring success. 

Our Iditarod Unit Study

With great anticipation, our Iditarod Unit Study has begun.  Over the next few weeks, we’ll be following along with the mushers as we also learn about the history of the race, the ecology of Alaska, and integrating numerous other activities across the curriculum.

We made our course map or outline of the route with checkpoints marked.  I think it may be too small (we’ll use it but if we do it again next year, we’ll likely create a bigger map). Sweetie loves geography and shortly after we created the Iditarod map, she made a map of Oregon on her own. :)

We also selected our mushers. As we live in Central Oregon, we didn’t put too much thought into our selection, we knew we wanted to go with Rachel Scdoris. In fact, we hope we will get a chance to meet her soon. We also selected 2 other Oregon mushers, Cliff Roberson of Corvallis and Liz Parrish of Klamath Falls. As we have strong familial ties to Norway, I also selected a Norwegian musher, Sigrid Ekran. Next year, if we choose to do it again, we’ll likely be more statistical in our selection.

We have read a few books, most notably Woodsong by Gary Paulsen. I was a little sad to learn he has pulled out of the race this year. We read Whale in the Sky by Anne Siberell and Sweetie asked if we could make a totem pole. I’ll post more about this little project later, but until then, here is a sneak peak.iditarod unit studyAnother book we recently read is The Bravest Dog Ever, The True Story of Balto by Natalie Standiford. When we finished reading, Sweetie said, “I want to draw Balto. He is the best dog ever.” Here is her drawing;
Iditarod Unit StudyAs she worked, she narrated a summary of the book, “Some kids were sick and Balto was the leader of the dog race. He pulled the sled with the medicine for the sick kids. When he was pulling the sled, Balto stopped and the guy said, “Go!” but he didn’t go because the ice on the river was cracking. The man was happy. They got the medicine to the kids in 5 1/2 days. Gunnar and Balto were heroes.” A few inaccuracies but overall she nailed the basic idea.

Narration is one of the key characteristics of a Charlotte Mason education. Telling later without prompting is very characteristic. Your child should be able to tell Daddy what they read when he comes home or Grandma over the phone this weekend without referring to the book. You want to know what ideas caught her mind, not get a formal book report. This is a skill we’ve been working on more and more. Right now she verbalizes her narration but as her writing skills develop, I’ll ask that she also write her narrations.

We also try to incorporate daily copywork. I love the Draw Write Now! series of books and we are currently using the Polar Regions edition. Here is a sampling of her work;

To read of our later endeavors and activities in this unit study, see my later post Our Iditarod Unit Study: A Summary of Our Activities.