Saturday, December 15, 2012

SeaWorld for the Holidays! (Florida Field Trips #7)

Welcome back to my Florida Field Trips series!

Our family had a marvelous time at SeaWorld Orlando yesterday during their Christmas celebration.  My husband and I took our five younger kids, ages 7-15.

Just one of many photo ops...
The park is decorated for the holidays, and best of all, many of the shows are themed for Christmas.  Live musicians all around the park added to the holiday spirit.  I wasn't having very good luck with my camera yesterday so pardon the lack of good show and night pictures here.
Christmas toy king

Saxophone quartet

In the snow globe
Of course, they have all the regular year round attractions as well, like the Shark Experience, the Turtle Trek, and the Blue Horizons dolphin show.  The only attraction that is closed right now is the Penguin Encounter, since they are building a new Antarctica Empire of the Penguins exhibit to open in the spring. 

Exhibits and shows aside, the older kids (of the five we brought) would have been quite content to just ride Manta, Kraken and Journey to Atlantis all day long. 

Kraken roller coaster

Manta picture from summer trip

My youngest daughter loves Shamu's Happy Harbor with all the kiddie rides and splash pad, so we had "Mommy and Me" time yesterday while the others went with Dad.

The Sky Tower is also now included in admission.  The view from 300 foot up as the rotating room ascends is quite something to behold.  

We attended three of the Christmas shows and my husband and I loved them.  (Most of the kids enjoyed them, too, but like I said, they go more for the rides.)  Some of the Christmas shows only run in the evening, you need to get to them 45 minutes ahead of time to get a decent seat, especially on the nights that the park closes at 9 and there are fewer shows.  Other nights, the park closes at 11 and there are more shows, but that may be too late for families with young children.  Check Park Hours and Show Schedules and click on the calendar for the day you wish to attend.  Most of the shows run for about 20-30 minutes.

I was especially touched by the "O Wondrous Night" show, which is a musical living nativity.  The singers are amazing, and though there were plenty of comedic moments, it was very reverently done, incorporating contemporary adaptations and medleys of religious carols.  While we waited for the show to begin, a spirited guitar and fiddle duet entertained us for a Christmas carol sing-along. 

(This picture is from a summer visit.)
The next show we attended was "Shamu Christmas Miracles" in the whale stadium.  I always enjoy seeing the whales (magnificent creatures!) and loved hearing the carols as background music to their performance, but I'd have to say my favorite thing here was the awesome saxophonist who played carols before the show!  

We bustled out of the whale show to make it to the "Winter Wonderland on Ice" skating show in the Bayside Stadium.  We sat up in the balcony, which gave us a great overall view from above, but I found it hard to take decent pictures without a telephoto lens.   

The other drawback of balcony seating during Winter Wonderland is that when the Reflections Fireworks and Fountain Finale fireworks go off at the end of the very last show of the night, you can't see the ones way up high in the sky.  

The 100 Christmas trees in the "Sea of Trees" out in the water also change colors to the music at various times during the day.  The Wild Arctic ride has been transformed into Polar Express Experience for the holidays, but we didn't go to it this time.  The two other Christmas shows are "A Sesame Street Christmas" and "Clyde and Seamore's Countdown to Christmas" (sea lions).  I'm hoping to see them next time we go. We want to tuck in one last trip before our 2012 tickets expire! (My mom bought ours for us this summer and we've certainly gotten our use out of them!)

The cool thing is that if you buy a ticket now, they will give you a Fun Pass good for admission all the way through the end of 2013!   Yep, Florida residents can buy one day and get more than a year of park admission!  Adult Fun Pass tickets are $89 plus tax, and kids are $81 plus tax.   (If you really only want one day, you can pay $10 less per ticket on-line only.)  Or you can purchase an annual pass and get free parking and other perks.  A SeaWorld annual pass is $149, but you can pay extra to extend the admission to the Aquatica water park and Busch Gardens amusement park.  Check for the best ticket options for your family.

A word about food:  SeaWorld has great restaurants, but for a large family on a budget, you can bring your own food and eat in the picnic area just outside the entrance gates.  You can bring snack portions of food into the park, but not big coolers or full lunches.  

Enjoy SeaWorld!

Virginia Knowles

Wednesday, November 7, 2012

"The Turkey Shot Out of the Oven" by Jack Prelutzky

"The Turkey Shot Out of the Oven"
by Jack Prelutzky
The turkey shot out of the oven
And rocketed into the air;
It knocked every plate off the table,
And partly demolished a chair.
It ricocheted into a corner,
And burst with a deafening boom;
Then splattered all over the kitchen,
Completely obscuring the room.
It stuck to the walls and the windows,
It totally coated the floor;
There was turkey attached to the ceiling,
Where there'd never been turkey before.
It blanketed every appliance,
It smeared every saucer and bowl;
There wasn't a way I could stop it,
That turkey was out of control.
I scraped and I scrubbed with displeasure,
And thought with chagrin as I mopped,
That I'd never again stuff a turkey,
With popcorn that hadn't been popped!
~ Jack Prelutsky ~

I'm putting this poem in the homework packet for my 5th-6th grade home school co-op English class this next week, and I thought you'd enjoy it, too!

Kids and cooking

Thanksgiving food

Friday, October 26, 2012

Golden Rain Tree with Autumn Seed Pods (Nature Study in the Neighborhood)

If you live in Florida,
you might see these trees a lot in the autumn.
They seem to be everywhere!
That's good, since we don't have too many autumn leaf colors.
This will do, I try to convince myself.

I wondered what they were, so I googled
"trees with red or pink seed pods"
and came up with the golden rain tree.

One golden rain tree in our neighborhood,
with bushes at the base

Pod in the hand, from the stem end

Pod in the hand from the open end
The seeds pods fascinate me,
especially their geometric construction.
I had to pull some apart,
just to satisfy my curiosity.
Two of my kids did, too,
as an impromptu science lesson:
kitchen table botany.

Golden rain tree
pods opened up to reveal seeds inside

You can read more about the golden rain tree.

Look for yellow flowers in the summer!

 God is so creative!

What are you doing for nature study this year?
Leave a comment!

Post will be linked at:

P52 with Kent Weakley
P52 Photo Project 

This week's photo theme: leaves (but my focus is on pods...)

Raising Homemakers 
Whole-Hearted Home

Friday, October 5, 2012

Stuff I Never Taught Them

Stuff I never taught them, but they know anyway....

  • Nursing
  • Copy editing (beyond the basics, anyway)
  • Wedding photography
  • Video special effects and other tech savvy stuff
  • Magic tricks
  • Drawing birds in detail
  • Skate board riding and repair
  • Country cooking
  • AP Chemistry
  • Knitting
  • Soccer
  • Basketball
  • French
  • Italian
  • Spanish

So much more....

My ten children -- ranging in age from 7 to 25 -- have learned so much and taught me so much.   Just today, I listened to my oldest daughter intelligently discuss Nicomachean ethics with my sister.  I had absolutely no clue what they were talking about.

Ladies, if you're just getting started in home schooling, don't blow a gasket thinking of teaching them everything they will ever need to know.  You can't.  They can learn jolly well without you if they are interested enough.

Just give them the basic skills.  Read. Write. Speak in public.  Do math. Draw. Science and history too, of course!

Give them the tools for what interests them - butterfly nets, cookbooks, computer software, a camera.  

Let them take time to tinker, explore, take things apart. Making mistakes is part of the learning process.

Classes, clubs and mentors can help in areas where you don't know as much as they want to know.

Have fun learning new skills from your kids!

Virginia Knowles

Friday, August 24, 2012

What We're Doing for Elementary School This Year

Dear friends,

Blue orchids!

We're just finishing up our second week of "back to school" at our house.  This year, two of our children are in the elementary grades -- one in public school and the other at home.  We also have two in middle school at home, two in high school (one of them dual enrolling in college, the other at home) and two others in college.

First Day!
My 4th grade son has returned to our neighborhood public school, where he went most of last year, and we're all pretty happy with that choice.  He says his teacher (who just graduated from college) is strict but he likes her.  He has homework every night, so I still get to be involved in his education.  They are doing Florida History this year, so I know he'll be going on a field trip to St. Augustine this year. (See Florida Field Trips #1: Historic St. Augustine)

He is supposed to read from a book of his choice for 20 minutes each evening, so he  was thrilled with the National Geographic Reptiles and Amphibians and the Exploring Your Solar System books my sister (who home schooled two of her kids for several years) just sent after cleaning off her shelves.  He had a choice of what to do with his spelling words yesterday, so he wrote them in graffiti style. :-)

My youngest daughter just turned seven.  She is technically in 2nd grade, but it's more like 1st/2nd since she has an August birthday and is a bit of a "late bloomer" anyway when it comes to academics.  She was in public school for a few months last year but didn't thrive there; they push hard in the early grades and she wasn't quite emotionally ready for that. Even though she learned a lot, she was still behind the other students.  She is, however, very bright, observant and curious, which makes it a lot of fun for me to teach her.  She struggled with reading last year, but really took off in the late springtime and over the summer.  She's my 10th child, and I'd say she's in the normal spectrum of reading skills.  Some of my kids learned to read at age four, and some more toward seven.  They are all strong readers now.  In fact, the child who learned to read at the latest age made top scores on AP tests in high school and starts college dual enrollment next week at age 17.  Some kids just need a little extra time to come into their own. (See my article: Learning to Read.)

Math is the weak link in the chain at the moment, but I'm guessing that will click soon, too.  Her brother was math-resistant in second grade (I could hardly get him to do any!) but shot to the top of his class when he started public school partway through third grade -- again a matter of readiness.  I didn't sign her up for the math class in the home school co-op, so I'm doing a variety of things at home, including ideas from Saxon 1st grade teacher manual, a workbook from a teacher's store, A Beka number pages, hands on stuff like poker chips and penguin shaped crackers (from Aldi), and most of all a free math drill app -- Instant Interactive Math Drills Lite -- on my iPod.  In the photo at left, she matched up two sets of the A Beka number pages on the living room floor (numerals to pictures -- the cards are reversible) and then counted out the poker chips for each one.  This morning we took a pile of six similar science books, counted them, divided them into groups of twos and threes, classified them by topic and cover style, compared the the quantities in the classified groups, etc.  Yes, a lot of our math is impromptu.  If you would like to see more of what I have written about math, read here: Math Skills Checklist from Preschool to 2nd Grade, Math Skills Checklist 3rd-5th Grades and My Own Batch of Cookies (math through measurement). If you want to find out my favorite math resources, read to the bottom of the page here: Math.

Daily Language Review Grade 2   -     
        By: Jo Ellen Moore
Many of the classes in our co-op are multi-grade.  She's in 1st-3rd grade for history and science and 1st/2nd for English.  The teachers chose BJU Press for both history and science.  The English teacher is using First Language Lessons for the Well-Trained Mind as her teaching guide.  She sends home worksheets and then the kids do several lessons from the appropriate grade level of Daily Language Review.

We are supplementing all of the co-op classes with additional reading in those subjects at home.  Sometimes I read to her, sometimes she reads to me, and sometimes we take turns reading page by page.  As I mentioned, my sister just sent two big boxes of books, so we should be set for quite a while with Usborne Starting Point Science, Little House early readers, dolphin books, math drill pages, Bible stories, etc.  

Fancy Nancy by Jane O'Connor
We also take frequent trips to the library, where we recently discovered the Fancy Nancy readers. (See here for review.) 

Plus we already have hundreds of children's books at home!  One of our almost daily picks is The Jesus Storybook Bible, which is a bit more poetic and artsy than most kiddy Bible story books.  See my review here: The Jesus Storybook Bible: Every Story Whispers His Name.

I keep her current books and workbooks, school supplies, and a notebook for storing in-process and completed papers, in a clear plastic bin I bought for $5 at Walmart.  It has a spot on a shelf in the dining room, but I usually leave it in the living room where we use it most. See my post: "Bin There, Done That" (Or How to Keep School Clutter from Turning You Into a Basketcase)

I also try to extend the co-op themes with outings and activities.  They have been learning about the library and the post office in history class, so off we go.  They are studying plants in science class, so we went to Lowe's, looked at a lot of different kinds of flowers, and bought some marigolds.  (I blush to say we still haven't planted them and they are shriveling up.  Bad mommy!)  We also have a Fun Pass to Sea World, thanks to some help from my mom.  If you pay for one day, the rest of the year is free!

Another area we're trying to work on is basic life skills.  Each of my five younger children (2nd-10th grades) has the same chores, rotated daily.  I help our youngest with hers so she can get trained well enough to do them independently.  Messy bedrooms are still an issue here, so I checked out Making My Room Special: Creative Ways to Decorate Your Room by Emilie Barnes.  The book uses an engaging story and lots of sidebars to teach elementary age girls how to keep their bedrooms clean, well-organized, and decorated, as well as how to successfully share a room. 

That's mostly what we are doing this year for the elementary grades!

If you would like some more inspiration, check out one of my favorite blogs about home schooling,  I susbscribed via Google Reader.  Two of my recent favorite "don't miss" posts are: Bloom’s Taxonomy: A simple roadmap to learning and Designing big plans to work with your every day.

Thanks for reading!  

What are you doing for elementary school this year?  What are your favorite resources?  Leave a comment and share!

Virginia Knowles

Wednesday, August 15, 2012

Fancy Nancy (I Can Read!) Books Mini-Review

Fancy Nancy books by Jane O'Connor

Last night, I took my seven year old daughter to the library.  They had moved most of the early reader books (and I didn't have time to look for them) but they had several left on top of the bookcase where they used to be.

That's how I discovered Fancy Nancy!

Fancy Nancy is the creation of Jane O'Connor.  There are several full-size picture books about this spunky little girl, but the books we saw were in the I Can Read Level 1 book series.  The cool thing about Nancy is that she likes fancy words like "spectacular" or "crestfallen" -- and she explains what they mean.  So the books build a young student's vocabulary right in the context of the story.  The other cool thing is that Nancy is a very normal little girl, and how she learns to face the very normal little challenges in her life -- whether it is a mean girl at school, or an unfinished project, or wanting something she can't have -- is a good lesson for all kids in the early elementary years.

Now I'll have to go find some more in the series!

Oh, oh!  You know what else is "spectacular" about Fancy Nancy?  Her web site, FancyNancyWorld!  It's got sections for educators and parents, including discussion questions, reading tips, printable activities, recipes, games and more.

So may I commend (that's a fancy word for telling you they're good) these books to you?  Much obliged!

Virginia Knowles

Wednesday, July 25, 2012

Balloons Over Broadway

Balloons over Broadway: The True Story of the Puppeteer of Macy's Parade

Flipping through books on the "new book cart" at our local library, I was intrigued by one of the
titles—Balloons Over Broadway: The Story of the Puppeteer of Macy's Parade. Living in the Northeast as a child, the Macy's Parade was a highlight of our Thanksgiving Day morning; almost as important as putting the turkey in the oven.

I pulled the book from the shelf and placed it in our canvas library bag. When we arrived home an eager, curious little learner retrieved the book from the bag. "Mom, let's read this one!" We did and I learned the back story about the balloons at which I marveled as I child. In the process of reading one of our newest library finds, I was able to tell my children about one of our favorite holiday traditions—watching the Macy's Day Parade while smells of cinnamon and roasting turkey permeated our home. A slice of family tradition and a delightful piece of American history served up during read-aloud time. 

Interested in learning more about Macy's Parade, Tony Sarg, or puppet making:

Other creative experiences:

  • Make puppets and perform a puppet show to entertain family and friends
  • Visit a local marionette theater

[This article is by contributing writer Cheryl Bastian.  It first appeared on her blog There's Always a Story.]

Saturday, April 14, 2012

How to Plan a Unit Study

by Virginia Knowles

What is a Unit Study?
Steps for Planning a Unit Study
Long Range Planning
Unit Study Topic List


Unit study is a natural common sense excellence method of learning in which you choose a theme, and then incorporate various school subjects, such as literature, language arts skills,  history, geography, careers, science, technology, art, music, and math application.  There is a  logical connection between subjects.  They all fit together naturally, just like in the real world. 

Each unit study is different.  Some unit studies concentrate primarily on one subject (history, science, etc.) with the others tucked in.  Some are based on holidays or family trips. Some are more activity-oriented, while others are book-based, depending on the topic and your teaching style.  You can design your own unit study plan, buy a package or guide, or borrow from a friend.  Unit studies can take a few days, week, month, or year. You could do them all year or just once in a while.  You can plan several at a time or do one spontaneously based on a question or interest from your child.  Don't get bogged down in details.  If a unit study bombs, you learn how not to do one the next time. 

A unit study doesn’t have to be elaborate. It can be as simple as going to the library and checking out a few books.  Find what style suits you.  Don't be discouraged if you are not creative or organized.  You don't have to plan a whole year of unit studies ahead of time, or overload on creative activities in each one.

A unit study can include more than one child, but individual attention is still needed.  One goal of unit studies is to build family unity and save mom's planning efforts, but you still need to spend separate time on language arts and math at each child's level.  It may be helpful to plan one time of day for skills curriculum (phonics, grammar, punctuation, math, music theory, etc.) and then another time slot for content curriculum (unit studies covering history, literature, science, art appreciation, etc.) 

Social studies and science themes can be closely integrated.  Human culture and the physical world affect each other.  People discover scientific principles and then act them out in history.   When we studied Ancient Egypt, a history theme, we learned science too: how a mummy is made, how pyramids were built without machines, and how land was irrigated.  In our next unit, we studied the entire desert habitat, including biology (plants and animals), geology (sand dunes), weather (rain patterns), geography (comparing deserts around the world), history (archaeologists), and sociology (Native Americans, African nomads).  Social studies and science emphases can be alternated and intertwined.  

Language arts and math can be incorporated into unit studies.  Research and literature count as reading. Spelling and vocabulary lists, creative writing projects, and dictation selections, and math word problems can complement the unit study.

A Page from a 3rd Grade Notebook

Spelling List about Mexico 
  • Mexico
  • Central America
  • Maya
  • Aztec
  • pyramid
  • temple
  • solar calendar
  • weave                           
  • cotton
  • vanilla
  • chocolate
  • jungle        


TOPIC AND TIME AVAILABLE:  Pick a topic which is interesting to your children, and which incorporates several school subjects.  Whatever you choose, your child should:   hypothesize, integrate related information, analyze, research, read, write, etc.  How much time you can spend determines how specific you can get with your topic. You could cover flowers in a week, but botany could easily take a month.  Children usually start to lose interest after about three or four weeks of concentrated study on a topic; don’t frustrate them with overkill.

SUB-TOPICS AND SCHOOL SUBJECTS: Make a list of sub-topics for your theme.  A study of the Middle Ages could include castles, knights and weaponry, the Crusades, Vikings and their ships, famous kings, peasant life, food and clothing, fairy tales, etc.  As you list the sub-topics, integrate various school subjects such as: Bible, scientific principle, experiments, technology, nature study, history, geography, government, careers, language skills, literature, creative writing, math application, art, music, life skills, etc. 

OBJECTIVES: Write specific goals of what you want your child to understand by the end of this unit.  You won't learn everything, but you should attempt to lay a framework for future learning and whet their appetites to explore more on their own. 

LEARNING MODES: Adapt activities to your children. Cater to their learning styles, whether visual, auditory, kinesthetic/tactile, etc.  Use a variety of approaches to help lock in the material from many angles.  Consider each of your children when you do this planning.   Be sure to ask them for ideas about what they would like to do for this unit study, because children can be chock full of great ideas.  It also gives them a sense of being included and being important!

AGE LEVELS: Preschool and kindergarten children especially like picture books, fun songs, coloring, and make-believe.  Primary grade children can read books, write a little, draw pictures, make crafts, and do simple experiments. Older students can research, write papers, create independent projects, and wrestle with issues and current events. Choose some books to read to all of your children and then give age-appropriate activities to each child, with older doing more than younger. Older children can occasionally help younger children by reading to them, assisting with projects, and answering questions.

RESOURCES: List what you already have: books, encyclopedia articles, videos, music, magazines, recipes, instructions, pictures, craft and experiment supplies, web sites and phone numbers to call for more information.  Include titles, authors and page numbers so you can easily make assignments.  Check the indexes of any poetry or story anthologies you may own.  Write down what you will need, and where you might find it. Make games, worksheets, and pictures.  Plan purchases and order in time.

SCHEDULE: Map out a tentative schedule.  What will you do each day?  How much will you cover in a week?  For a three-week unit, you could tackle one major sub-topic each week.  You might need to raid the library first and refine your day-by-day plan based on your selections.  Vary activities from day to day to prevent boredom.  Start with the simple and work towards the complex.  Plan buffer time and decide which activities are optional so you'll know what to skip in a crunch.  Check newspaper and magazine calendars for field trip ideas.


Several years ago, as I was looking to the future of our home education program, I decided that we needed a plan so that we could learn about various topics and school subjects in a reasonable manner.  From those early brainstorms hatched the idea for a quasi-comprehensive list of 60 three-week unit studies to be covered in five years.  We successfully finished the units in our list a couple of years ago, and we’ve gone on to other schemes since then.  An adapted version of our unit study list is included here, and is organized by school subject, rather than the sequence our own family did them.  This purpose of this list is just to give you an idea of how things can fit together in a long range plan, even if you don’t decide to do a sequenced series of units.  For example, you could study history chronologically and continually (without breaking it up into separate units), cover one continent all throughout the year, and layer various science, technology, and health topics on top of whatever history and geography you are studying at the moment.  (This is what we’ve been doing for the past two years.  It works.) Please note that the “Spiritual Emphasis” listed for each year is not a separate unit, but an overall theme for the year.

  • History: Old Testament, Ancient Egypt, Ancient Greece
  • Geography: Africa
  • Science: Creation Week, Weather, Life in the Desert
  • Health: Babies and Family Life
  • Technology & Trade: Books and Publishing
  • Spiritual Emphasis: Old Testament

  • History: Ancient Rome, Life and Times of Christ, Early Church, Viking Times
  • Geography: Ancient and Modern Asia
  • Science: Farm Life, Chemistry, Animal Classification
  • Health: Human Body
  • Technology & Trade: Buildings (Homes, Construction, Architecture)
  • Spiritual Emphasis: New Testament Church and World Missions

  • History: Middle Ages, Renaissance, Reformation, Explorers, Art & Music History
  • Geography: Europe, Land Forms, Maps & Globes
  • Science: Physical Science, Life in the Water, Plant Life
  • Health: Nutrition & Exercise
  • Technology & Trade: Ships, Musical Instruments
  • Spiritual Emphasis: Reformation of the Church

  • History: 17th-19th Century History (U.S.A.: Pilgrims, Colonial, Patriot, Pioneer, Civil War)
  • Geography: North and South America
  • Science: Life in the Forest, Birds
  • Health: Medicine & Health Care
  • Technology & Trade: Inventions & Modern Manufacturing, Communications
  • Spiritual Emphasis : Liberty and Justice

  • History: Regional History (State/Province), 20th Century, World Wars, Life in the Future
  • Geography: Regional Geography, Middle East, Australia
  • Science: Insects, Flowers, Astronomy
  • Health: General Health
  • Technology & Trade: Aviation, Space Travel, Energy, Economics
  • Spiritual Emphasis : Spiritual Growth

“The more I study nature, the more I stand amazed at the work of the Creator. 
Into his tiniest creatures, God has placed extraordinary properties.”
Louis Pasteur (1822-1895), the French scientist who developed process of pasteurization for milk, as well as vaccines for anthrax and rabies

1-2-3 Ideas to Remember about
Teaching with Unit Studies

  1 Keep unit studies simple!  Don’t feel overwhelmed!

  2    Integrate many school subjects in a natural way.

  3    Plan spontaneously or long-term.

Other unit study posts on this blog:

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