Iditarod

Iditarod public domain photo

The 2017 IDITAROD will start on March 4 in Alaska. If you haven’t yet heard of the Iditarod Race, let me tell you it is one very exciting 1,150 miles! Men and women race with teams of dogs and sleds to see who will arrive in Nome, Alaska first. (There are two starting points, Anchorage or Fairbanks, depending on the year, the weather, and the snow coverage.) The race is based on true events that occurred in 1925 when the children in Nome, Alaska were ill with the deadly disease of diphtheria. They were in need of a special medicine and they needed it quickly, as many children were dying. That medicine was far away in Anchorage, Alaska, it was January with freezing ice blocking the ports and grounding airplanes. The race was on to get the medicine to the children as quickly as possible and it seemed the only way to do that was to use the mushers and their faithful dogs. A relay of the best sled drivers and dogs was arranged and after five and a half days of grueling weather, the last sled driver and his dogs arrived in Nome. Many children in Nome were saved and an epidemic was halted all thanks to the amazing teams of dogs that each man had cared for. One special dog team leader was a dog named Balto.

The famous sled dog Balto with musher Gunner Kaasen.

You can read more about Balto, his bravery, and the events in The Great Serum Race: Blazing the Iditarod Trail by Debbie Miller. The first Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race was held in 1973 and has been raced ever since in honor of the first race to save children’s lives.

In the past years, while the race is on, children and families have taken up the challenge of spending the same amount of minutes outdoors as the mileage of the Iditarod. That’s 1,150 minutes! Why not take up this challenge with friends and family members? Keep a record of your time outdoors and what activities you did!

By the way, when the Oak Meadow group was at a conference in Alaska last May, they contributed to a fundraiser for the 34th annual Yukon Quest, writing messages on the protective booties that the dogs wear in the race (they need a LOT of them!). One of Oak Meadow’s booties was on team #3!

Here are some books that you might enjoy for further reading:

Mush! The Sled Dogs of the Iditarod
by Joe Funk

Winterdance: The Fine Madness of Running the Iditarod
by Gary Paulsen

The Great Serum Race: Blazing the Iditarod Trail
by Debbie S. Miller

 

Jump Into Spring!

Jump Jim Joe

Jump, jump, jump Jim Joe!

Shake your head and nod your head and tap your toe.

Round and round and round you go,

‘Til you find another partner and you jump Jim Joe!

(American Tradition)

It’s official! Spring has arrived! It’s time to jump for joy! 

As we all know, spring is the season of the year when everything comes alive in nature. Spring begins on the day the center of the sun is directly over the equator. This year, the spring equinox (also known as the vernal equinox) arrived on March 20th, as the sun crossed the equator and started moving northward. As the sun travels north, its rays strike the northern countries more directly each day. Spring will last until June 21st; hence, summer arrives! (In the southern hemisphere, spring begins in September and ends in December.)

Springtime brings a new sense of renewal and rejuvenation, and everything bursts forth with a revitalized energy. It always seems like children grow springs on their feet in springtime, for their physical activities heighten at this time of year. One of my favorite activities to share with children during the season of spring is jump roping. It is an old traditional favorite that is often forgotten. Not only is it extremely enjoyable, it also builds physical endurance and is healthy for the heart.

I recently attended a basketball game at a local university. A troupe of jump ropers called the Firecrackers performed at halftime. They are an awe-inspiring performance jump rope team of physically skilled 4th-8th graders from the Kings Local School District in Ohio. They perform at venues around the country, and have even performed at the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade, a Presidential Inauguration, and on The David Letterman Show. Your children will delight in watching one of their video performances.

Anna Banana bookThe Firecrackers’ amazing feats with their ropes inspired me to get out my own jump rope. I have especially enjoyed sharing with my local home school students a number of jump rope rhymes I remembered from my childhood. If you are inspired to jump rope with your children, here is an excellent website that offers a plethora of rhymes. You might also look for a book of jump rope rhymes the next time you are visiting your local library. One of my favorite books is  Anna Banana – 101 Jump-Rope Rhymes, written by the author of The Magic School Bus series, Joanna Cole.

So, now that spring has arrived, we delight in witnessing flowers bursting into bloom, birds beginning their nesting rituals, and bunnies happily hopping about. Spring is the time to shake off winter and explore the great outdoors. Watch your kites soar, splash through puddles, poke some fat pea seeds into the earth, hop like a bunny, or just jump for joy. There are so many wonderful ways to celebrate the arrival of spring!

Nature and Physical Activity: Antidotes to Anxiety

by Chris Mays

Anyone with a teen at home has probably worried about how today’s young adults are affected by the stress of modern life. The rise in anxiety levels of students in their teens and early twenties has grown to an alarming level. Leading research confirms that the number of teens experiencing unhealthy levels of anxiety in modern America is estimated to be five times the rate it was in the 1930s, a time of high anxiety for our country. We have much work to do to interrupt this pattern.

Photo credit: Brooke Doughty. (Oak Meadow archives.)
Photo credit: Brooke Doughty
(Oak Meadow archives)

While many teens are able to process daily stress effectively, for some, the stress lingers and builds. Pervasive anxiety can be debilitating, often leads to depression, and creates avoidant behaviors, which further stress family systems, promoting even higher levels of anxiety. Students who struggle with anxiety often seek escape from the uneasiness of social, environmental, and academic stressors by avoiding situations and retreating to their rooms or home, appearing to be unmotivated or uninterested in the larger world. Many opportunities are lost for expanding their perspectives and life options.

Why is this happening? Several key factors contribute to this trend. They range from an overabundance of choices, social media influences, suspect diets, lack of physical activity, and a shift from intrinsic goals to extrinsic goals. Neurological changes take place as a result, and some of these changes are not for the better. Those of us working with high-schoolers level know how important it is for students to achieve self-regulation and engage regularly with the larger world. It is important to first understand these issues and then take effective action through a coordinated plan that actively involves the student in the solution.

Photo credit: John Paul Huber. (Oak Meadow archives.)
Photo credit: John Paul Huber.
(Oak Meadow archives.)

So, what can we do? The discovery of physical activity in aiding depression and anxiety is well known and has been monumental in helping those who are suffering. Spending time outside has also been linked to positive effects on the human psyche. Walking, hiking, biking, skateboarding, horseback riding, swimming, running, and any other active way to enjoy the outdoors has myriad benefits. As Richard Louv (2005) worded it, “Time in nature is not leisure time; it’s an essential investment in our children’s health.” Engaging students in outdoor physical activity is a powerful way to address anxiety and other mental health issues.

There are many possible kinds of outdoor activity that can help students cope with anxiety and other challenges. One form of physical activity that has proven successful in healing and transformation as a therapeutic sport is surfing.

Surfing can promote physical well-being, combat discrimination, build confidence and a sense of security, as well as play an important role in the healing and rehabilitation process for all children affected by crisis, discrimination, and marginalization…programs with organized and supervised activities can offer important opportunities for leadership development, discipline, teamwork, and personal and professional growth” (Lopes, 2013)

Connecting students with the natural world through hard physical exercise challenges them physically and mentally in a way that can be life-changing. In fact, there are many programs for youth that focus on spending time outdoors because simply being outside in nature has a therapeutic effect.

Photo credit: Natasha Diamondstone. (Oak Meadow archives.)
Photo credit: Natasha Diamondstone.
(Oak Meadow archives.)

Some students benefit greatly from a residential, outdoor-challenge-based program. Such programs can offer students a supportive environment for their emotional and physical needs while also providing an appropriately flexible educational program. One such program is the Point School in Puerto Rico, which provides an Oak Meadow education as part of their program for high-schoolers.

All students can benefit from the opportunity to learn while engaging in their natural environment, challenging themselves physically, and receiving support from encouraging adults. Incorporating regular physical activity and outdoor time can help every individual, regardless of age or circumstance, lead a happier, healthier life.  


Chris Mays is the CEO of The Point School, a residential community in Puerto Rico for young adults who need support and guidance to assist them in graduating high school and/or preparing for college. Chris has worked for over 30 years as an employee and manager of adventure-based youth development and treatment programs including sail training ships, Outward Bound programs, and private centers.

World Juggling Day!

imageWhat is World Juggling Day?

“To honor the founding of the International Jugglers’ Association in June 1947, the IJA annually declares a Saturday in June as “World Juggling Day.” This year it is inviting individual jugglers and juggling groups around the world to create events on Saturday, June 20, 2015, designed to spotlight juggling — a regional juggling festival, a teaching session in a school or park, a “Big Toss-Up,” juggling games or media related juggling stunts.

Teaching the art of juggling will also be a focus of World Juggling Day. Jugglers worldwide will be sharing their knowledge to teach the ancient art to as many would-be jugglers as possible.

Make your plans now to be part of something big in the world of juggling! Join up with your object manipulating friends across the globe for World Juggling Day!” IJA website

For Oak Meadow students looking for some new tricks or how to videos, be sure to check out the ezine eJuggle, the official publication of the National Juggler’s Association.

I'm Bored!

When I was young, I quickly learned that announcing I was bored brought on the intense displeasure of my mother. My brother, sister, and I didn’t say it very often because of that. Mom would say, “Only a boring person is bored! Go find something constructive to do!” Not very helpful when we couldn’t think of anything to do! Inevitably she would speak a list of things we could do, knowing full well we didn’t want to do any of them. “Go fold the laundry, and there are toys to pick up in the living room, and while you are at it, you could change the beds.” We would immediately run out of the house and go find something to do. Going outside was just the answer for my boredom! I never got tired of skipping rope, riding my unicycle, playing marbles with my brother, swinging on the swings, climbing trees, or the zillion of other things I could think of to do outside. Inside we played endless games of Scrabble, Sorry! and Monopoly. I also got really good at Jacks! I loved to doodle with colored pencils, and I liked to sit and read. I wasn’t an early reader. I remember not knowing how to read in second grade. We had just moved to a new state and I hid my lack of reading skills by pretending to be shy. So, when I actually learned how to read, I was really ready for a good book!

Reading a recent article in the newspaper about being bored really got me thinking. It stated that today’s many technological advances and devices don’t allow us to be bored. What if I had never been bored? What if I could have turned to my phone, the internet, video games, TV, or Netflix? Would I have developed the skills I have now? Would I love the outdoors and always be able to find things to do outside? Would I enjoy playing board games with my sister and brother and later with my own children? Would I have learned to enjoy reading? Would my art projects bring me joy?

I’ve recently read some studies about boredom. In each one researchers found that allowing oneself to be bored may increase a person’s creativity. I think my mom was right. Being bored–and finding ways to alleviate that boredom on my own–helped me become a more creative person. A creative person takes on boredom and turns it into something to do!

If you find your family turning on a device when boredom hovers, check out the list of ideas for screen-free fun in this great article, first published in Oak Meadow’s Living Education and later in Peggy O’Mara’s blog. It’s written by Deb Velto, mom, teacher, and Oak Meadow’s K-8 Program Director. I love her last sentence!

 

 

 

Wild Time!

GO WILD!

From Project Wild Thing:

Wild Time is what we call time spent outside.

It’s free time to be spontaneous, for exploring, playing, imagining and creating.

There’s no plugs outside . And you won’t need batteries.

But we promise you’ll find a deeper connection.

It’s also free!

No cash is really needed.

Wild Time is great for building confidence, creativity and independence.

It’s also healthy, good for the mind and the body.

And there’s also lots of other life out there to discover and connect with. If you just look up, listen and start to notice.

Wild Time can be taken on any doorstep, anywhere from the middle of the city to the remotest rural countryside.

There’s all kinds of Wild Times to be had, from a few minutes to hours and days.

You can search the Wild Times here for ideas or share your own ideas to help others.

Keep it Wild!

Gotta Get Outside!

Each season in New England, where I live, brings a different type of outdoor play. Fall brings the crisp, cool days good for hiking and biking and playing in fallen leaves. Winter is full of building snow people and snow caves, skiing, snowboarding, ice skating and ice fishing, sledding, and hiking. Spring takes us outdoors to enjoy sunning and fishing, kayaking in full rushing rivers, canoeing on lakes in newly melted waters, and playing in mud! Summer lets us rest by the lakeside, take trips to the ocean, bike, hike, and picnic.

When we can’t “go somewhere”, the city streets may look boring to some kids, but in my neighborhood I see a group of kids that really love playing outside! Some have unicycles that keep them happy up and down the sidewalk. They’ve gotten really good at it! They also have a permanent hopscotch pattern made on the street. They seem to enjoy endless hours of tossing a ball back and forth. As the beautiful spring season brought them outside, I got to thinking about all the wonderful street games there are to play. At our library we have a terrific book, Go Out and Play!: Favorite Outdoor Games From Kaboom. It is newly published by Candlewick Press. I recently discovered Kaboom which is an organization dedicated to getting kids to play! Check it out! Here’s a terrific list of games to play: Streetplay.com: The Games

Cowichan, British Columbia

ca-bc-lc

Numerous Oak Meadow home teachers with students in first through third grade have commented on how much their children love the map work and studying about other places and cultures around the world. Geography and history are quite fascinating to me, as well, and when a certain place grabs my attention, I want to put on my “traveling shoes” to visit and experience the uniqueness of the place.

 

Cowichan

This is what happened when I recently watched the delightful, musical art piece and masterfully done video, “Once Upon a Day.” It captures the spirit and essence of the majestic Cowichan, a district on Vancouver Island in British Columbia, Canada. The spectacular scenery, the diversity of live music played in various settings, the outdoor activities, the creative arts, and the scrumptious looking food offers great temptation for exploration of this inclusive and diverse community. So, put on your own “traveling shoes” and watch the magic of this inspirational video with your children.

 

Clayoquot-Resort-lake