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.

Chinese New Year Party

Although we had finished our unit study of China, Sweetie wanted to have a Chinese New Year Party to commemorate her studies. We thereby left all her ‘China’ projects out for display and hung paper lanterns for decorations. We invited the neighborhood kids to join us in the celebration. Unfortunately, most came down with a bug and were unable to come to the party. It was therefore a small but very relaxed atmosphere.

newyear2009When the party guests arrived, Sweetie greeted them at the door with “Ni hao”, dressed in her Mulan costume from Halloween ’06. The kids then got started on a couple of craft projects: a paper kite (the Chinese were the first to fly kites) and paper lanterns just like those that hung from the ceiling. I was very pleased that everyone enjoyed the activities and worked well together. Buddy was the only one who wasn’t interested in crafting, instead he took a few photographs and wandered about visiting with his friends.

When the kids finished their projects, they gathered in the living room and watched an episode of Sagwa that I had recorded the day before. My kids love Sagwa! I had tried to get the book from the library (I had checked it out previously) but when we checked on Monday, not a single book about China or the Chinese New Year was available.

While they were engaged in the story, I finished preparing our afternoon snack: pot stickers, egg rolls, and BBQ pork. I encouraged everyone to at least try everything but ensured them that they didn’t have to eat it if they didn’t like it. The BBQ pork was a big hit – the egg rolls, less so.

Following our meal, we ventured to the front yard and enjoyed a dozen or so fireworks that I had left over from the 4th of July (we didn’t get the opportunity to use them in the summer – too dry). This was by far the highlight of the afternoon.

When the kids departed, I gave each a Chinese to-go container with shredded metallic red paper, a fortune cookie, a small firework, chopsticks, a pencil and a Valentine chocolate heart (I had them handy!). The treat boxes were adorable and the kids loved them! Another party success!

I Love China: China Activities for Kids

My daughter, Sweetie, is my guest blogger today.  She shares some of the activities she enjoyed through our China Unit Study.

China Activities for Kids

I have been learning about China. These are some of the things I have made. The first one is a map that I made. The map shows the Himalayan Mountains, the Gobi Desert, and the Yellow and the Ygantze Rivers. China is west of the Pacific Ocean. The yellow section shows where they grow rice. The green is where wheat is grown. Rice is white and is a very important food in Asia. The capital of China is Beijing.

The Great Wall is in the northern part of the country. The first emperor of all China, Qin, built the Great Wall to keep other armies away and keep China safe. He had his people build the soldiers to keep him safe when he died. The soldiers were found by farmers digging a well. I made a model of the terracotta soldiers.


This panda is made of Model Magic. Pandas live in bamboo forests and like to eat bamboo and honey. When baby pandas are born, they are orange and very little. The mom is very protective. Pandas are endangered. Some people try to kill them for their fur. Also, their forests are sometimes cut down for building new places for people. Pandas then have less space to live.

I have been making a lapbook about China. It has lots of mini-books and pictures. Here a couple of the mini-books. One is a mini-book of animals in China. The other one is a book of words about China.


I love learning about China. I hope to visit China when I am older.

Admin Note: Sweetie dictated to me what she wanted to say about each photo. I helped elicit more details by asking questions.

How Will We Begin?

I’ve been giving a lot of thought to my goals and expectations for homeschooling. I actually spent some time coming up with a schedule that alloted a specific amount of time for math, reading and writing each day as well as an hour for theme studies (social studies 2x a week and science 2x a week), nature walks, and picture studies (Charlotte Mason approach to fine arts). Looking back on it, I realized it was too constrictive and would take away from what was most desirable about homeschooling, flexibility.

Through my research, I have discovered that there are probably as many different approaches and styles to homeschooling, as there are those that choose to undertake the responsibility themselves. In other words, I know that I can do whatever works for us and that what we do will most assuredly evolve and change over time. As a teacher, it will be difficult to change my approach… difficult to not schedule specific time for each subject.

However, I know that we all learn best when we are hungry for knowledge… when something has excited us and we want to know more. I’ve therefore decided to let my children lead the way… while I sprinkle the 3Rs daily.

I am very intrigued by the Charlotte Mason philosophy. While some of her ideas don’t necessarily fit with our lifestyle, we already incorporate others. Some of her ideas that I will be integrating into our studies include:

NARRATION
Narration is the process of telling back what has been learned or read. Narrations are usually done orally, but as the child grows older (around age 12) and his writing skills increase, the narrations can be written as well. Narration can also be accomplished creatively: painting, drawing, sculpting, play-acting, etc. I definately want to do more of this… so frequently when I finish a story or book, I close it and set it aside. I am now going to make a more conscious effort to ask the kiddos to give me a narration of what they have heard.

NATURE WALKS & NOTEBOOKS
In spite of often rainy, inclement weather, we will go out once-a-week for an official Nature Walk, allowing the children to experience and observe the natural environment firsthand. We will each have a notebook or artist sketchbook in which we may draw plants, wildlife or any other natural object found in its natural setting. These nature journals can also include nature-related poetry, prose, detailed descriptions, weather notes, Latin names, etc.

DAILY WALKS
In addition to the weekly Nature Walks, we will continue to take our daily walk in the evening with Daddy for fun and fresh air, no matter what the weather.

ART APPRECIATION/PICTURE STUDY
Bring the child into direct contact with the best art. Choose one artist at a time; six paintings per artist; study one painting per week. Allow the child to look at the work of art intently for a period of time (maybe five minutes). Have her take in every detail. Then take the picture away and have her narrate (tell back) what she’s seen in the picture. I love this! I never had the opportunity to study art (with the exception of one art class I took in high school).

JOURNALING
There’s great value in keeping a personal journal, encouraging reflection and descriptive writing. Record activities, thoughts and feelings, favorite sayings, personal mottoes, favorite poems, etc.Couldn’t agree more… why else would I be blogging? 🙂

COPYWORK & DICTATION
Daily copywork provides on-going practice for handwriting, spelling, grammar, etc. Keep a notebook specifically for copying noteworthy poems, prose, quotes, etc. Especially for the younger kids, it is a great way to practice writing without having to do tedious pages of a single letter. A great resource I was introduced to by a homeschooling friend is Draw Write Now. DD has already done 2 pages! After reading the book Stellaluna, I asked if she would like to do the page about bats and she jumped up with enthusiasm! The next day, she asked if she could do one at bedtime rather than color in her color books (as she usually does at bedtime).

BOOK OF THE CENTURIES
A Book of the Centuries is a glorified homemade timeline; usually a notebook containing one or two pages per century. As children learn historical facts, they make notes in their book on the appropriate century’s page about famous people, important events, inventions, wars, battles, etc. I love this idea, too! Even if I choose to later enroll my children in public school, I know this is something we will continue to do as it will enable them to see the big picture and see how events impact one another.

FREE-TIME HANDICRAFTS
My hope is to finish daily academics in the morning, allowing the afternoon hours for free time to pursue crafts and other leisure activities or areas of personal interest. Of course, some academics will also take place in the evening as we enjoy reading aloud to the children or sharing stories of our childhood with them before they go to sleep. This is important for DDs favorite activity is doing craft projects and if you recall, “Scrapbooking, Knitting, Stitching and Painting” are the things she wants to learn most.