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

 

Outdoor Adventures of a Literary Kind

From the Archives – Living Education (Winter 2014)

Literature often inspires nature activities, and it’s fun to carry literary themes into the outdoors. My Side of the Mountain (Jean Craighead George) tells an amazing story of a boy who decides to live in the wild, and he finds a hollowed out tree to make his home. In Pippi Longstocking (Astrid Lindgren), the inimitable Pippi uses a hollowed out tree trunk to hide goodies for herself and her friends to find. Maybe you can find a tree hollow to find goodies in, or a hollowed out trunk to claim as a play space or picnic spot.

Photo credit: The Lugo family. (Oak Meadow archives.)
Photo credit: The Lugo family.
(Oak Meadow archives.)

Older readers may have been intrigued by Call of the Wild (Jack London) or Hatchet (Gary Paulsen), both of which describe in great detail survival skills. Such literary prompts can lead to grand outdoor adventures and the development of important practical skills, including fire building, archery, woodcraft, camping, orienteering (using map and compass), tracking, wildlife identification, and other winter survival techniques.

One great survival skill that’s fun to practice anytime is building a temporary shelter out of leaves and sticks, often called a debris hut. These shelters are easy and quick to build and surprisingly snug and warm. Simple instructions follow. For more detailed instructions and information, check out these two articles from Boys Life and Wildwood Survival.

Building a Debris Hut

The most basic debris hut consists of piling leaves and pine needles into a pile three feet high and longer than your height. Cover the top with branches. Burrow into the mound feet first (or head first, and then turn around so your head faces outward). The forest debris will provide a layer of insulation that traps your body heat and keeps you warm.

ou can build a temporary shelter by using a fallen tree as a supporting framework. Prop branches onto the tree trunk in a tent shape, and then cover the branches with pieces of bark or more branches. Pile leaves on top of the branches and inside the hut to provide a layer on top of the ground. Depending on how big your shelter is, you might be able to invite several friends inside for a snack and a story.

If you have a large rock or boulder nearby, you can use it as the “back wall” of your shelter, propping long sticks or branches against it in a teepee formation. Cover this structure with branches and leaves, and pad the floor with more leaves and pine needles. If you build your shelter against a rock, it will not only provide a sturdy backbone; if you build a fire in front of your shelter, the rock will absorb and reflect back the heat.

Fun fact: Snow shelters are called quinzee.

Learning and the Natural World

“Learning and the Natural World”
excerpted from The Heart of Learning by Lawrence Williams, EdD

Earth and sky, woods and fields, lakes and rivers, the mountain and the sea, are excellent schoolmasters, and teach some of us more than we can ever learn from books.  ~ John Lubbock

There is something very magical about being outside.

When I was young, a child’s connection to the natural world was not something that needed special attention. It was…well, natural. Kids played outside all the live-long day, as much as possible, in all kinds of weather. Then came the TV generation of the 1960s and 70s, and parents were often reminding kids to “Go outside and play!” Being outside was still an integral part of growing up for most children, however, even urban dwellers.

As a child, when you were outside, your curiosity ruled your actions. Your play was self-directed and engaged. Playing outside meant using all your senses. It probably meant meeting up with your friends and running around. It meant using your imagination and, hopefully, getting really dirty.

Nature’s Classroom

The lessons that nature has to teach us are never ending. Being immersed in the natural flow of plant and animal life cycles, weather patterns, seasons, and the intricate dance connecting everything helps us find our own balance in the flow of life. It’s not surprising that children who play outside are healthier mentally, emotionally, and physically. Human beings have spent nearly the entirety of our existence outside. Our connection to the natural world is so profound that when we are deprived of it, it’s no surprise that we don’t fare so well.

Getting Back to Nature, Plain and Simple

If your child hasn’t spent much time outdoors, be prepared to start small. The crack in the sidewalk is always a good place to start. Collecting sticks and building a little teepee is another simple way to get a child who is timid outdoors to start getting his hands dirty. Collecting rocks, shells, nuts, or just about anything will appeal to most children, and it’s just a small step from there to building and decorating a tiny, magical fairy house or woodland dwelling.

Here are a few more tips for bringing the outdoors into your day:

  • Go outside early in the day.
  • Eat snacks or meals outside.
  • Devote a section of your yard to dirt or sand play.
  • Plant a bean teepee large enough to play inside.
  • Make a living fort by trimming the bottom branches from bushes enough to make a crawl space.
  • Make a row or circle of stumps (burying them in the ground partway makes them more stable).
  • Make a mud pit.
  • Create sculptures from natural materials.

Here’s a list of great materials to collect or make available:

  • rocks
  • dirt or sand pile
  • branches, sticks, and logs
  • seeds and seed pods
  • pinecones and nuts
  • leaves and bark
  • driftwood, shells, and seaweed
  • flowers and long stalks of grass
  • feathers

Child-Led Discovery

Sometimes it is tempting to become a bit too involved in a child’s outdoor play. There is something irresistibly appealing about a sand pile or a fairy house. However, just as it was important not to let our own creative process take precedence over our child’s, it is important to allow children the time and space to explore on their own. This self-directed, unstructured play often yields the richest rewards. Be mindful of your child’s process instead of trying to guide it in one direction of another. Let children make their own discoveries, and allow them to make their own mistakes. Just because they aren’t doing something in the most efficient manner doesn’t mean it’s not right. We all learn from experience, and faster is not always better.

The most encouraging thing you can do is express interest in your child’s play without intruding. Be available to show genuine awe or intrigue when a new discovery or creation is shared with you, but refrain from questioning, judging, critiquing, or praising. Even praise can change a child’s play — the focus may shift to doing things that will please you rather than letting the play evolve organically from the child’s creative impulse. Outdoor play has a naturally expansive element, and the use of praise to help maintain creative tension (as we talked about in the last chapter) is not necessary.

Be playful and curious, be interested and excited, but above all, respect the rich inner life of the child’s play. There is something very peaceful about creating a nature scene or just exploring the natural environment. Don’t force the conversation. Sometimes it isn’t possible or helpful to talk about a creative experience. Connecting with nature can be a very personal experience, and one that builds intricate and complex ways of understanding the world. By attuning to your child’s attitude, you will probably be able to easily feel when it is right to just let things be.

While educators (homeschooling parents and professionals alike) are perpetually open to the teachable moment, unstructured outdoor play is often a good time to let the teachable moment pass without comment. Trust that the learning process is in full sail without your guidance. There will be another time to give suggestions, instructions, information, and to ask leading questions. For now, just enjoy the beauty of nature’s classroom.