Posted in Family, Homeschooling

One Week of Idita-Reading


Confession: My oldest son loves to read.  In fact, when he gets into a book we’re all normally annoyed by how he binge reads – and neglects everything and everyone else.  My daughter likes to read too…

… But when it comes to my youngest, asking him to sit down and read a book is like asking him to volunteer for wisdom tooth extraction.

Caleb at Iditarod Start
Here’s Caleb, freezing cold but happy to see the Iditarod Ceremonial Start in Anchorage!

Sit the youngest in front of the pediatrician and  he can read 4th grade level texts at age 7.  He knows a lot of “encyclopedic information” from books about animals and human anatomy.  But there’s something about sitting down with a book for a few minutes, specially a fiction book or a chapter book, that he was just not having it.

Enter IDEA, stage right! (Interior Distance Education of Alaska)

Anakin's Artwork
Original Artwork by Anakin Hass, done entirely by freehand 3/4/17

They are our homeschooling charter school.  I’m always very thankful of their educational support.  They have always stood behind me as a homeschooling parent – an experience I’ve heard is unique to charter schools in Alaska.

Our schools every year participate in the Iditaread, a race against mushers actively competing in IditarodThis race to Nome is a big deal for us Alaskans, as these Mushers access towns that are off the road system completely – only reachable by dog mushing or plane.
Mats Pettersson lead dog jumps and is ready to continue to run after Mats checked in at the Kaltag checkpoint during the 2017 Iditarod on Sunday afternoon March 12, 2017.Photo by Jeff Schultz/ (C) 2017 ALL RIGHTS RESERVED

In the Iditaread, kids read on average a page per musher’s miles.  They log their miles and try to make it from Fairbanks (only this year) to Nome (979 miles) before their selected musher does.  Many homeschooling families do this challenge outside of the official Iditaread because it’s very fun for readers. (That’s the key… It’s a marathon of reading, usually all pages are done in two to three weeks!).
Jason Mackey runs on the Yukon River with many snowmachine tracks running alongside on the trail nearng the Kaltag checkpoint during the 2017 Iditarod on Sunday afternoon March 12, 2017.Photo by Jeff Schultz/ (C) 2017 ALL RIGHTS RESERVED

Obviously, this was daunting for my 7 year old.  But I have a couple of liberties recommended to me by the teachers and staff at IDEA:

  • Pick rookie mushers for emergent readers!  Caleb is racing against Roger Lee in his first Iditarod, all the way from England! It gives them a chance to learn about new mushers.  If your kid is a good speedster reader, he can tackle the more challenging mushers.  My son always races against Dallas Seavey – and that’s hard to beat! He’s won multiple times and finished last year in record time.
  • I get to “vet check” the books the way veterinarians check the dogs to make sure they’re healthy.  In that sense, I can offer Caleb 2 miles per page if the book is more 2nd-3rd grade level, as well as make sure with my oldest who has read the entire I Am Number Four series that the content isn’t entirely inappropriate for a 10 year old.
  • Keep track with maps and colors and progress book marks – provided entirely by IDEA, Caleb now has a visual so he doesn’t feel discouraged.  He can trace his finger along his map and see how far he’s come!


We started with a kick off party at the school where each kid did a cut out of their lead dog.  Then the staff can move their dogs along as the kids reach the check points along the way.  This captivated all three of my kids!

Then we added a twist: Mom and Dad are doing the Iditaread too!  We’re racing mushers as well (and falling tragically behind, but it’s the effort and attitude that counts!).  We’re leading by example.  The rules for us are a little different though:

  • I can’t count pages I read during Paul’s work hours, because that’s not fair!  So the pages I read have to be between 12-1pm (his lunch break) or after 5pm in the evening.
  • Pages of books we read aloud to the kids in the evening or during lunch count for the parent who reads and the children who sit still and actively listen.  Woo-hoo for the Read Aloud Revival led by Sarah McKenzie!


We’ve spent a lot of evenings just reading after dinner until bed time. The TV is collecting dust, and I kind of like it that way! However, we decided to take the weekend off, and our mushers didn’t, so now we’re pretty far behind them.  But there has to be a balance to everything – a big learning point when you have 1 confirmed and one awaiting diagnosis for ADHD.  So there is still school work, math, writing, chores, family board games, outings and church.

And for the record, Caleb read 300 pages this week.  Motivated himself to make it 400 pages starting tomorrow.  He’ll make it to Nome with his “lead dog Max” in no time!

caleb and max

How do you motivate children to love reading when they seem to prefer doing ANYTHING else?


I am a Christian homeschooling mom of three kids, a happy dog owner, a happily married wife, and a faith/family/fitness blogger... Who now teaches classes for homeschooled kids with

20 thoughts on “One Week of Idita-Reading

  1. I love how you have taken a great idea and made it even better, by customizing it for your own family. Now I need a reason to have to read all evening!

    Liked by 1 person

  2. This is absolutely the coolest reading challenge ever! What a great way to not only engage and cheer on a musher but your children as well. I’m going to have to look into this for my kids for next year.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I’d do this even with triathlons or races coming up locally – the Iditarod is pretty unique, but I’m sure there are others that kids can get behind!


  3. Thanks for the link Maria – I’m now following, so you’ll show up in my Reader. I need the prompts or blogs fall off my radar.

    What a super idea to keep everyone engaged. I think it’s GREAT that you are a reading family and that you go out of your way to find ways to encourage reading. I believe you are correct that most states don’t support Home Schools as well as Alaska, btw. I know that some of my clients and students had to put together Mom’s groups for support. You guys sound like dream parents.

    Your oldest and I are similar in book hyperfocus. I truly hate to have to stop until I’ve finished the entire book, and can get quite grouchy with interruptions. Your little one’s dislike of reading may be due to ADD or another Executive Functioning challenge — many struggle staying cognitively tracked on long strings of text and read best “from rock to rock.” That is why my blog text is formatted the way it is, despite the fact that most English teachers would shudder. I’m sure you’ve already tried finding books in topics he is already loves, and have checked out dyslexia, so I doubt either of those are behind his reticence – it may be as “simple” as locating books from writers who use tons of white space, short paragraphs and larger fonts.

    Another possibility you may not have considered is an audial processing challenge (well-respected neuroscientist Michael Merzenich and Fast Forword info for more about that). Nothing wrong with physical hearing, in that case, but Merzenich has discovered that, for many who struggle or don’t enjoy reading, the brain didn’t make the correct representation for some of the sounds of language initially, so it wasn’t able to form the correct links to the one-off representation of reading. So they stumble. If they also struggle with distractibility, it’s a big hassle that few of those who don’t have the problem consider. If I couldn’t hyperfocus and didn’t get LOTS of reading aloud practice in my first career in the theatre, I doubt I would have become the voracious reader I am today.

    Many with mild challenges are *able* to read well when tested, it’s simply so much work (concentration/cognition-wise) they don’t enjoy the process and tend to avoid reading as a result. Same with ADDers who struggle with reading, btw. They can rarely say why they don’t like to read, and many adults won’t admit even that, they simply don’t become readers.

    The Merzenich program remediates the initial sound problem and reports excellent response in a great many different individuals, even from dyslexics. It’s pricey, because he tests rigorously for “real world” application, and testing costs are reflected in the program. But understanding how it works might allow you to come up with some other manner to remediate brain-based sound skills. Getting him to read to others may help, btw. – especially with simpler books read to younger kids.
    (Madelyn Griffith-Haynie – ADDandSoMuchMORE dot com)
    ADD Coach Training Field founder; ADD Coaching co-founder
    “It takes a village to educate a world!”

    Liked by 1 person

    1. My goodness you described Caleb – reading “from rock to rock” but we found a series he likes, called “Andrew Lost” – it’s small chapter books with some sort of sciency adventure and lots of pictures, he’s been tackling those a few pages at a time. He also gets credit for sitting with his sister or dad and listening to them read. Meanwhile my oldest is in the bathroom for 1 hour and 45 minutes and doesn’t understand why we’ve all beat on his door by now… Interesting though, the youngest LIKES information and remembers A LOT of what he reads, it’s more the chore of working through a book… I bribed him with timers and small progress charts. He’s realizing that 30 minutes can actually be very enjoyable! As for me… I need quiet to read, because I really DO enjoy my books, and I hate constantly looking up from the text. I’ve learned to do my reading after everyone falls asleep! With a good book, I’ll stay up all night. 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

      1. I am so grateful that reading and writing never been one of my own ADD challenges. I have been so sleepy at times that I’m reading with one eye closed because I can’t focus with two, desperate to get to a good stopping point (which is never until I reach the back cover – lol).

        I’d suggest double credit for reading aloud to little kids, if there’s any way you can work out the logistics. Education experts like Stephen Krashen have quoted studies that reading fluency improves most with regular periods of self-initiated silent reading (along with other cognitive elements) – but other studies show that below grade level reading aloud helps struggling readers best. The younger the children the better, since they won’t notice or care about stumbles, and their books use smaller words and fewer of them. He may be self-conscious reading to you or his siblings.

        There are also studies of comic book readers – countering the opinions that “graphic novels” don’t help. I think he mentions those in at least one of the videos. So if Caleb likes comic books of any sort, don’t worry about letting those count in some fashion.

        Opinions are mixed about the long-term value of rewards, but it makes sense to me that if it seems to work for Caleb, keep ’em coming.

        btw – great YouTube college-level video lectures from Krashen on reading, but they do take some time which you may not have, given all. I think he’s a hoot – and he certainly understands how to hold an audience’s attention.

        Liked by 1 person

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