Every March Jackie Zimmerman’s homeschool room takes on a new look. On the wall hangs a huge hand-drawn map of Alaska, where brightly colored pins dot a trail drawn with magic marker and covering spots such as “Finger Lake,” “Rainy Pass,” and “Unalakleet.” Phrases like “dropped dogs,” “checkpoint” and “eight-hour layover” crop up in conversation regularly.
The Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race becomes the basis for their homeschool curriculum for two weeks out of the year. The Lincoln mom incorporates the excitement of the Iditarod into nearly every subject she teaches to her sons, Johnathon, age 13, and Jeremiah, age 9. Her boys learn about the geography of Alaska as they follow their favorite mushers (sled dog racers) along the 1000-mile trail. Figuring start differentials and racing speeds teaches math skills. Together they write poetry and news stories about the race, study the history of sled dog racing in Alaska, and learn important lessons about leadership and determination through the examples set by their heroes.
“It’s been fun over the years,” Jackie commented, “especially as they grow and really begin to understand what great athletes the dogs and mushers are to succeed. It takes a lot of careful planning and amazing desire to complete this race. It's been sinking in over the years, and it's been a great way to set plans and goals for their own desires.”
Although most of their friends think it’s a bit strange for a Nebraska family to follow a race in Alaska, they usually change their minds once they discover how much fun it is to check race stats on-line and watch videos of mushers crossing the finish line in faraway Nome.
Jackie recommends that homeschoolers start learning about the Iditarod by visiting the Iditarod home page.
The Iditaproject site by the Bering Strait School District, an interactive site for educators, includes practical links and ideas.