Tuesday, January 6, 2009

Iditarod overview and lots of links

The 2009 Iditarod is coming up quickly, and we always anticipate the start of this great race.

We have followed the Iditarod for a few years now and I learn something new every year. A little word of warning, I do like to preview any material about the Iditarod as it is a rough country and, as I have found in many sports, when emotions and exhaustion come into play the result is rarely 'G' rated. Not to scare you off, just to forewarn you that an occasional quote or situation ('hallucinations' from running to the edge of physical capabilities, injuries to both dogs and humans, etc.) might be best not mentioned, or with older children, at least prepare for a further conversation about the occurance.


The history of the Iditarod, like the Olympics, is based somewhat on tradition, somewhat on legend, and somewhat on historical events. In 1925 a diphtheria epidemic threatened to wipe out the remote Alaskan town of Nome. Through the valiant effort of many dogs and mushers alike the needed antitoxin got through and saved countless lives. The lead dog on the final leg of this race for life was Balto, and he has since been immortalized in books, statues, and movies.

The modern race is not a relay, it involves a variety of mushers and their teams racing each other to a finish line. It first started in 1973 to commemorate the Great Serum Run of 1925 and has worked to draw more attention and interest to recreational sled dog racing since then. People come from around the world to watch, compete, and volunteer in the Iditarod. Right now a field of 73 mushers is preparing for this year's race scheduled to start on March 7, 2009. Many have their own blogs and websites and even take the time to correspond with fans personally as they have time.

The record for finishing the Iditarod is just under 9 days and the "red lantern" (the last musher to enter Nome) usually takes a couple weeks, sometimes even after the closing banquet. Many scratch, or withdraw, along the way due to various reasons. It is an exciting race to follow as there are various prizes along the way, amazing stories every day of the event, and a whole new world to learn about.


I would recommend the book The Great Serum Race by Debbie Miller that gives a basic look into the historical event behind the Iditarod of today. We try to get this from the library every year and all of my children have enjoyed it.

We have enjoyed various movies about sled dog racing, some more humorous, some more realistic, but all have given us another glimpse into this sport. Snow Dogs, Iron Will, Balto, and others. None that I unreservedly recommend, but there are movies out there if you are looking for something along those lines to tie in.

One teacher made up an educational and fun web-iditarod for students to participate in. It is intended as a group project that may be a bit much for one homeschool family to take on, but you could definitely learn from whatever you did decide to bite off, and there are lots of great links on some of the pages as well. Even if you are just looking for some more information on this truly amazing race, I would encourage you to check out her project.

For a more personal look, you could follow some Iditarod blogs at Cabela's (they sponsor Jeff King and so follow him quite a bit, but they have a good bit of general race coverage as well).

One more, the Ultimate Iditarod website that has some great stats and background info in an easy to find format.

If you want some extra inside information you can register for the Iditarod Insider. About twenty dollars for a one year subscription to exclusive updates, news items, and videos. I have never done this, but many that have say it is worth the money.

This would also be a great time to learn more about the Eskimo culture by studying the Inuits. They have changed much in more recent years, but not long ago they lived separate from outsiders and maintained their age-old way of living. (This simple site has some other Inuit project ideas).

The Inuit people have some beautiful crafts, including soapstone carving. I'm sure you could find a book at the library with great pictures, but here is just one of many sites with their handiwork for sale -- Beautiful!!!

And, perhaps the best, do you want to do something that will actually help the mushers and have a little part of you run on the trail? Can you sew, at least a little? You can actually make booties that the mushers use to protect their dogs' paws. A bootie brigade works each year to put these together. With four feet each and usually about twelve dogs on line, they go through A LOT of booties. For more information on this amazing project, check out their website.

Some fun crafts to supplement the study and build anticipation for race day:

-One class studied the book Woodsong by Gary Paulsen and built a miniature sled with a team of dogs. This does not look too difficult and turned out really cute with the fake snow for a more realistic effect.

- I can't find my pictures now (wasn't blogging yet then . . .), but we did a fun craft our first year of following the Iditarod that involved soap carving. Here are some basic instructions, and since Ivory is the best (softest) soap for this activity, they even have a description of the craft on their website. Their sample patterns are not Inuit inspired, but still good instructions. This site shows a picture of some basic soap carvings that even a young child could pretty easily imitate with a dull plastic knife (even a spoon, but still watch them carefully) and a bar of soap. Some of my kids painted the soap after carving a picture or word (their name usually) onto the face of the soap. This had a totally different effect but also with beautiful results.

Other websites with project samples and ideas:
- Find a homeschoolers great lapbook here.
- A lapbook you can purchase/download here.
- Homeschool in the Woods has a good unit study on the Iditarod with ideas and links as well.

The web is full of teacher created units and iditarod inspired projects. I have only skimmed the surface. If you really love getting your toes cold in this type of project, you could even sign up for the yahoo group that will each year walk you through various projects leading up to and through the race. I talked more about that on a previous post (possibly too late for this year, but keep it in mind for next year).


Anonymous said...

I also love the Iditarod! I worked for 5 years in a K-8 school in the Special Ed. department. One of my friends was a 4th grade teacher with so much enthusiasm and imagination. We split up the whole 4th grade into two teams and designated mushers, lead dogs, etc. When we had enough snow, the kids (dogs) would run the race! It was so much fun, and when the time came for the real Iditarod, the kids knew all about it, first hand! Perhaps you could run the 1st annual Glenditarod. :)

5intow said...


That sounds like so much fun! When we had boys in our cottage we got them in on the fun and every day they would arrive home from school and ask about the standings. We definitely have enough snow right now, I should put together an outdoor "sled dog" race. Thanks for the idea.

btw, I assume you are someone I know IRL, based on the name you gave my version of the Iditarod. :-) But, I don't know who . . . If you wish to remain anonymous I understand, but my curiosity is piqued.

Thanks for stopping by,