I love/hate Alaska

Confession: I am South American.  I don’t do winter sports.  And I was raised swimming outdoors in ocean water every weekend.  As a result, Alaska isn’t “natural” for me.

img_1670I have this love/hate relationship with Alaska, as I think most people do who weren’t born and raised here.  It’s definitely not a ‘meh’ state.  It’s always going big or going home, in everything from sunlight (and lack thereof) to snow.  Winters are long and hard on my joints.  Summers are short and sunny even during midnight.  It’s very extreme.

And very beautiful.

One of the reasons why we have stayed as long as we have (and plan on staying) is the way homeschooling has just opened up doors for our family.  We have a family we could have never imagined.  We live in a way that feels almost fairy tale like.  And I’m so thankful!

img_1674Just a few Sundays ago we went on a homeschool fieldtrip organized by our charter school.  Drove three hours one way to sit on a boat for 5 hours, and do marine biology lessons and experiments.  And whale watching.  And sea lion watching.  And glacier watching.

It’s the part of Alaska you fall in love with, the views that leave you breathless.  The smell of rain and pine trees that I’m sure I would never smell in any other place.  It’s the big ocean and the big mountains all in one panoramic view.

Then there’s an almost unbelievable amount of homeschooling support in this state that has afforded us to be here.  Paid for by their school (and not my pocket).  Learning about our ecosystem and being surrounded by kids just as interested and curious as my children.

img_1688My children (and I) learned:

  • Alaska (south of the Arctic circle) is indeed a rainforest.
  • We are so rich in phytoplankton that it is visible in our waters from outer space.
  • Alaska is the final frontier to many species of pelagic birds – birds that can swim and fly.  These birds have dense bones to help them really fly underwater but can still get airborne.
  • Marine mammals have had multiple adaptations which help them survive in these cold waters.
  • The tail of a humpback whale is worked by a muscle called a peduncle.  It is so powerful that in two swipes it will get a whale completely out of the water and into the air.  That’s 66,000 lbs!
  • Otters have such lose fur that they can literally grab their back, bring it in front of them for grooming, and put it back.

img_1690My kids got to look at and identify plankton under a microscope that they caught in the bay.  And they learned a lot about how unique our state is, the state I’m learning to fall in love with after all these years.

We also went outside and learned how to spot humpback whales by watching the patterns of the birds that feed around them.  We came to understand their behavior and know when they were going to dive for a long time.

How many people in the world could honestly say they’ve seen a humpback whale?

We also spotted sea lions resting on rocks to conserve their energy.  And so many birds.

img_1730I can get tired of the long, dark winters… but I don’t think I’ll ever get tired of exploring the beauties of this place with my children and seeing the wonder in their eyes.  When you are in front of such big wildlife, you are more aware of how small you are in comparison to the rest of creation – and more in awe that God loves you THAT much.

 

One Week of Idita-Reading

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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.

http://iditarod.com/photo/

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/SchultzPhoto.com (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!). 

http://iditarod.com/photo/

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/SchultzPhoto.com (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!

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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!

iditaread2

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?