Wednesday, November 12, 2014

The Alpha Virtues Song

"The Alpha Virtues Song"
by Virginia Knowles
Sung to the tune of "Jesus Loves Me"

I can be ALIVE today!
Jesus died to make the way.
Now I can be born again.
Eternal life will never end.

BELIEVING in the Lord is right.
We walk by faith and not by sight.
When we come to God in prayer,
He will show us that he cares.

COURAGEOUS people are so brave
Because they know that God will save.
They go ahead and do what’s right,
And turn the darkness into light.

Let’s be like Jesus! Let’s be like Jesus!
Let’s be like Jesus! The Bible shows us how!

DILIGENT means working hard.
Don’t be lazy!  Do your part!
When you have a job to do,
Keep on working ‘til you’re through.

We should be ENCOURAGING,
Saying only helpful things.
You can share about God’s grace,
With a smile upon your face.

FORGIVING is the way to win.
Jesus pardoned all our sins.
You should pardon others, too,
When they do bad things to you.

Let’s be like Jesus! Let’s be like Jesus!
Let’s be like Jesus! The Bible shows us how!

We should be so GENEROUS,
With what God has given us,
To the needy, to the poor,
We should give and give some more.

HUMBLE people know they’re small.
God is bigger than us all.
We should serve, but never boast
About how we love God the most.

Jesus was so INNOCENT!
He had no sin but still he went
To the cross and took our place
So that we could know God’s grace.

     Let’s be like Jesus! Let’s be like Jesus!
     Let’s be like Jesus! The Bible shows us how!

JOYFUL, joyful people sing,
Praises to the Savior King!
When they see someone who’s sad,
They will try to make them glad.

KIND to others, we should be,
Doing all the good we see,
Don’t be rude!  Be kind and sweet,
To the people that you meet.

LOVING others is the way,
To make God happy every day.
Jesus loves to see us care,
For other people everywhere.

Let’s be like Jesus! Let’s be like Jesus!
Let’s be like Jesus! The Bible shows us how!

MODEST clothing we will wear,
Not too fancy or too bare.
A gentle spirit and quiet heart,
Is the very place to start.

A NOBLE man makes noble plans,
And by noble deeds he stands.
But first he takes the time to pray
For the Lord to guide his way.

We should be OBEDIENT,
When we do wrong we should repent.
If we follow God’s commands,
He will guard us with his hands.

Let’s be like Jesus! Let’s be like Jesus!
Let’s be like Jesus! The Bible shows us how!

PATIENT people learn to wait,
Even when it seems so late.
When other people bother us,
Let’s be calm and never fuss.

A QUIET person is not too loud,
Or too busy or too proud.
Listen when God speaks to you,
So you’ll know what’s good and true.

REVERENT people seek the Lord,
And they love his holy word.
They worship God throughout the day,
As they work and as they play.

Let’s be like Jesus! Let’s be like Jesus!
Let’s be like Jesus! The Bible shows us how!

SELF-CONTROL is good for me,
I can do what’s right, you see.
I tell myself not to be bad,
Because it makes my Savior sad.

TRUTHFUL, honest, we should be,
Living with integrity,
We tell the truth and we will try,
To never ever tell a lie.

UNITED people make a team,
God has given them a dream.
Strong and weak each do their part,
And work together with one heart.

Let’s be like Jesus! Let’s be like Jesus!
Let’s be like Jesus! The Bible shows us how!

When there’s a war inside of us.
More than conquerors we shall be,
Jesus’ power can set us free.

Jesus wants us to be WISE.
To choose the best, to win the prize.
Don’t be foolish, just be smart.
Let Jesus be Lord of your heart.

EXCELLENT doesn’t start with X,
But still it tries to do its best.
Learning new things is the way,
To get better every day.

Let’s be like Jesus! Let’s be like Jesus!
Let’s be like Jesus! The Bible shows us how!

A YIELDED person wants to please.
He seeks God’s will and then agrees,
To do whatever God will say,
With happy heart he serves all day.

ZEALOUS people keep God’s word,
They preach so that it will be heard.
The glory of the Lord comes down
And fills up hearts all over town.

Many years ago, I started writing a curriculum which featured one virtue each week, from A to Z, with stories, craft ideas, Bible time, science, social studies, etc. I wrote this song to go with it. I got about half way through the project before abandoning it for lack of time.  However, many folks around the world have enjoyed the Alpha Virtues song so far.  You can sing it to the tune of Jesus Loves Me!  Every three verses or so, sing the chorus, “Let’s be like Jesus” as noted. 

Note: You may want to clarify what each verse means. Looking back after all these years, I see that many of them could be misinterpreted. This is not about perfectionism or earning God's favor. And even children need appropriate personal boundaries, and there is a time for them to assertively speak up and object if those are crossed - even if they are generally supposed to value quietness and obedience and other related virtues. Just a thought!


Monday, September 15, 2014

A Home School Day with Just One Child

This year, as I mentioned in my last post, My Ideal Plan for Elementary Home Education, I am only home schooling one child, my nine year old daughter Melody, who is in third grade. While home schooling and juggling my other responsibilities is still quite a challenge, I have to say it is so much less complicated with only one to teach.

We usually start school around 9 AM with math flash cards. I have found this is the ideal way to get her brain turned on for the day. She thinks it's fun, and it is a fairly easy review of what she already knows: addition and subtraction facts up to 20. We each take half of the deck of cards and take turns answering the problems. Then we switch piles. When she gets to the problems in her math workbook, she's got the facts fresh on her mind. If we start in straight with the workbook, she is likely to moan that she can't do it. So the math flash cards are a great way to start the day. 

Unfortunately, I found when I opened my flash card box that our subtraction facts cards only had the easiest facts. So I got out stack of index cards and a marker and completed the set, just like I made the addition set many years ago for a different child.  I keep the sets of math fact cards in a zip lock bag.

She knocked out her math workbook - part of a test and one lesson - pretty quickly. We would normally move right on to Daily Grams, Wordly Wise and other language arts skills after that, but she asked if we could read next. I like to be somewhat flexible with our schedule to keep her interested.

So we gathered up a stack of history and science books from the shelf on her desk, and headed into the living room. We started school a month ago with unit studies on explorers and the oceans (they went together splendidly!), and now we are working on the Early Colonial Era and weather. We have a lot of books on our own shelves, and we find even more at the library. 

We read several books about subjects like Pocahontas, colonial homes, and hurricanes that morning. We usually take turns reading, usually by page. I often remind her to read the words just as they are written, since sometimes she's in a hurry and leaves out or changed them. We don't just read for our unit studies. The hands on activity in our weather unit this day was learning about the water cycle by boiling ice cubes until they turned into water vapor. I also have some colonial and weather activity books that we will be using this week.

I took a few quick breaks to do laundry and other small tasks while she got out her Asus tablet, which was a birthday present from her siblings and me. She has games and educational apps on it, and it's great for all the times we're in the car running errands or picking up the other kids from after school activities.

Lake Lily
Melody asked if we could go somewhere. I've been planning to get a family membership at the Orlando Science Center and went on the web to check that out. I decided to wait on that a bit longer.  She suggested going to Lake Lily, and that sounded good to me since there are not only water birds to feed, but a lovely Victorian era home tour at the Waterhouse Residence Museum. 

Instead of taking a picnic, we decided to eat lunch at home. A day or so before, I had fixed several containers of ready-to-eat salad with chunks of chicken, bacon bits, and hard-boiled egg. That was easy enough to grab.

We also had a few errands to run - the bank, library, Redbox to return a DVD. I like to make the best use of teachable moments, so I asked her what route we should take based on all of our stops. We also talked about why people use the library book drop, how the book drop works (there is a cart inside that they can roll out), why they were building an overpass, what the big crane was doing, and all sorts of other ideas.

We finally arrived at Lake Lily and decided to feed the birds first in case it started raining. The egrets were much more aggressive than the ducks at lunging for the bread bits we brought.

Then we went to the museum and found that the tour started around 1:45. 

We had a wait a little bit on the porch and she took the time to read the informational placard.

I was delighted to see that many of the items in the home were similar to ones we had seen in our colonial homes book. Since both eras were pre-electricity, butter churns and other tools were pretty much the same. She paid attention during the tour and asked a lot of questions, which was fine since there were only two other people. We also went over to the adjacent carpentry shop before we left.

Kitchen with butter churn

Sewing and darning basket
By the time we finished up, I knew we weren't going to get any more school work done at home. I did have her try to recall some of the things she had seen. Maybe we'll write about them this week.

All in all it was a great day of school! I liked the mix of skill drill, seat work, unit study reading, and activity.

You might also like to read: How to Plan a Unit Study

I took a lot more pictures at the museum that you can see here: The Waterhouse Residence Museum at Lake Lily.

Virginia Knowles

Thursday, May 29, 2014

My Ideal Plan for Elementary Home Education (With a Lot of Links!)

My Ideal Plan for Elementary Home Education
(With a Lot of Links!)

Honestly, when I started teaching part-time at a private school last year and my kids transitioned into more traditional classroom education, I thought my 20+ home schooling years were pretty much over. However, since I was not rehired and my youngest daughter has asked to come home from public school, I am now planning to home school her for two or three years before I transition into full-time employment.  Our last year of co-op was rather frustrating and disappointing, so this is also a chance to redeem my home schooling memories and end on a happy note. I most look forward to spending time with just her. She's gotten a little lost in the shuffle the last few years.

We both quickly decided we want to do what I did with her oldest five sisters (now adults) when they were in the upper elementary grades.  My favorite approach for 3rd-5th grades is a good mix of unit study and Charlotte Mason style, along with a little “traditional” school and free-spirited fun.  I am taking a few things into account as I customize her education.  
  • She is extremely curious and creative, so I don’t want to quench the spark in her. On the other hand, we both have attention deficit issues, so we’ve got some work to do with basic habits, organization, and following directions.  I held her back a year already (August birthday), so we really need to nail these skills.  She is not a huge fan of workbooks or formal text books, and neither am I; hence the Charlotte Mason approach of lots of real reading and real writing, the arts, history, and nature studies.
  • She will be my only student at home this year, so I can focus on just her, without trying to coordinate group and individual assignments. That will give us a bit more flexibility and spontaneity. I am looking forward to that! Teaching a bunch of kids who all need attention at the same time can really scatter the brain.  
  • She will eventually return to public school. Elementary students in our area get very little history and science instruction because they are pushing basic skills for the standardized tests. The middle school and high school classes certainly do not promote a Christian perspective, so she's going to have to get that at home from me. She never got a substantial history education in our old co-op, and she was too young for our group history lessons the one year we stayed home. Therefore, one of my big priorities will be giving her comprehensive, in-depth, faith-based history and science instruction. 

With those factors in mind, here is what we plan to use and do this year:

Basic Skills:
  • Horizons math workbook 3rd grade
  • math manipulatives
  • on-line math games
  • A Reason for Handwriting
  • The Reading Teacher’s Book of Lists (spelling and vocabulary)
  • Building Thinking Skills books
  • several grammar resources
  • chapter books that she chooses and I approve
  • writing assignments based on whatever she is studying, along with whatever zany stories she makes up 

American History:

We have dozens of non-fiction books, picture books, fiction chapter books, project books, and videos on our shelves. The year we were not in co-op, I compiled a list of them on my computer, sequenced by time periods, with page numbers, brief synopses, and reading levels. I will also use our weekly history assignment pages from that year.  See Favorite Books for Teaching American History.

  • science units on botany, zoology, and earth science using the books and videos we have on hand, as well as the Internet
  • nature walks around the neighborhood and in local parks
  • visit the Orlando Science Center once a month (I am about to get an annual family membership for $135 next week so I can take all of the kids to the IMAX movies over the summer, too.)

Other Subjects  
  • Bible - real version, picture books, and videos
  • P.E. at the co-op while I teach, as well as soccer at a local church  
  • arts and crafts on her own at the desk I just set up with art supplies in the dining room - we have a lot of drawing and craft books!
  • home skills - learn basic household skills, keep her room clean, cook together, visit her four small nephews (my grandchildren)  
  • music - sing favorite songs and American patriotic and folk songs 
  • Christmas - Advent unit study with stories, songs, poems, and crafts

(Note that I'm trying to keep it simple with this last section. I don't want to bite off more than I can chew.) 

So, there you have it! That’s what we’re doing for school for 2014-2015!

As I thought through this article, I realized that I have a lot of blog posts about the foundations of elementary education.  Here are some of my favorites:

Home Schooling Approaches


Basic Skills

American History

Bible & Christian Holidays


What do you like to do for the elementary years?  Leave a comment!

Virginia Knowles

"Colorful House" by Melody, 2012 

"Rainbow" by Melody, 2012

Sunday, April 13, 2014

Saving Money and Adding Variety with Used Curriculum

Saving Money and Adding Variety with Used Curriculum

Home schooling in the elementary years doesn’t have to break the bank!  I’m not for being “cheap” and skimping on quality when it comes to education, but you can build or enhance a terrific home library by acquiring some of your collection in the form of used books.  We have hundreds of children’s books and curriculum items in our home, and only a fraction of them were purchased new.

As I started planning out what my youngest daughter will do for home school next year, I realized I only need to buy a math workbook and a grammar workbook for her.  After over 20 years of home schooling 10 kids, we already have everything else right on our own shelves, and a lot of it was used when we got it.

Our favorite sources? 

Chairs in the Brightlight 
children's section
painted by Amy Huber
Used bookstores: We have a wonderful one a mile from our house with an amazing children’s literature section.  You can also order from their web site, Brightlight.  That store is my first stop when I’m looking for a great novel or biography for my kids – and these are the core of our history and literature program since we use the Charlotte Mason approach.  Our public library also has a used bookstore in it, again with a lovely children’s collection.  All of the kids’ books are a dollar or less there.

CFHE used curriculum sale
Annual used curriculum sales:  Here in the Orlando area, there are several annual used curriculum sales hosted by home school support groups.  In some cases, two or more groups will collaborate to pull off a huge, well-organized sale with thousands of books arranged by subject and grade.  Here is the web site for the Central Florida Home Educators Used Curriculum Sale. This sale is where we look for text books and work books, as well as more reading selections.

Family: Many of our books were given to us by family and friends.  I have a substantial vintage collection and many more contemporary titles from my parents and my in-laws.  Some of them were my childhood favorites that I wanted my own kids to enjoy.  In that spirit, I also pass along books to my own adult daughters for their children, too. My sister gave me a few huge boxes of books that her children had outgrown. 

Friends:  We've gotten a lot of great stuff from friends who were cleaning off their shelves and wanted to share with others. At times, I have put out a request on Facebook asking if someone has a particular title to loan and pass along for free.  That has been a huge blessing.  At our old home school co-op, moms would bring in boxes of books they weren’t using any more and leave them in the entry hallway for others to comb through.  Of course, I give away a lot of books to friends, too!

On-line:  Amazon and eBay are the two places I most commonly order used books on-line.  I also visit home school used curriculum sites such as Home School Classifieds and The Swap.  There are a ton of other sites that you can Google, but those are just the ones I have used.

Yard sales:  Looking for a really inexpensive way to supplement your curriculum? I’ve found children’s fiction, biographies, hands-on manipulatives, work books, and so much more at yard sales.  Yesterday, I picked up a a write-on/wipe-off math facts practice board for my youngest daughter, a lady bug paper model kit for my youngest son, and phonics flip book, a quiz deck, a construction vehicles puzzle, and some fun picture books for my oldest grandson.  I also saw a lot of educational software, good quality children’s dictionaries, and workbooks. Sure, yard sale finds aren’t the core of my curriculum.  I like to be a little more intentional than that.  But yard sale finds sure can spice up the mix for just pennies! 

My own shelves:  What?  Yeah, sometimes what I need is already right there.  I bought it for an older child, and forgot I had it.  Why not take a peek at what you have and see how you can used it in the future?

Public library:  I’m not talking about buying, but borrowing. I know you are raising your eyebrows.  Of course the books have been used – over and over again by hundreds of patrons!  And you don’t have to allocate long term storage on your own shelves.  All the variety, none of the hassle, and available in your own community. Perfect.

Where do you get your used books?  We want to know!  Leave a comment!

Virginia Knowles

Tuesday, April 23, 2013

Duck and Friends: Dinosaur Bones by Donna McFarland (Early Reader Review)

"I originally ordered this book for my youngest daughter, an emerging reader. However, I laughed all the way through it myself, so I decided to bring it into my classroom and read it aloud to my 5th and 6th grade students. They all agreed that is is hilarious, and they profusely thanked me for sharing it with them. I agree with the other reviewer: this is not your typical dull early reader book. The content is fresh and imaginative, and adds spark and sparkle to a child's life. As a mom and as a teacher, that's just what I want to see in a book. We also loved Ms. McFarland's book for slightly older readers, The Purple Elephant."

That was my review on Amazon.  Here is a little more for my blog readers...

Truly, though this book is written at the 1st-2nd grade reading level, is not your typical basal primer reader with "See Dick run!  Puff, come down from the tree!"  Instead, you have the quirky duck pleading with the cows (who have been frightened by his T-Rex skeleton) to come down from the walnut tree.  He promised them cookies, "To go with your milk."  Then you have the chickens who, while attempting to paint Duck's new dinosaur museum, fall into paint cans, get sprayed clean with fire hoses so hard that their feathers fall off, and then wear sweaters knitted by the kindly alpacas who live on Duck's farm.

I loved this book, and I'm even more delighted because it was written by my childhood friend Donna (Gielow) McFarland, who is also the author of the just-as-delightful Purple Elephant.  You can read that review and interview here: The Purple Elephant and an Interview with Donna McFarland


Virginia Knowles

Tuesday, January 29, 2013

Home School Day in the Life (2nd, 6th, 8th & 10th Grades)


My name is Virginia Knowles, and welcome to my Home School Day in the Life!   I'm linking up to Simple Home School's blog party on Friday. That's my big family in the picture above, including sons-in-law and grandsons, but I'm only home schooling four kids this year.

While you're here, take a peek at my free e-books on home schooling: The Real Life Home School Mom: It's a Life in ReVision <and> Common Sense Excellence: Faith-Filled Home Education for Preschool to 5th Grade (newly updated).  I also have five other blogs,,, (middle school), (high school and beyond) and  If you would like to subscribe to my monthly-ish e-magazine, you can send any e-mail to

This year, we are home schooling sons in 10th and 8th grades and daughters in 6th and 2nd grades.  We also have a 4th grade son in public school, a 12th grade daughter who is dual enrolling in a two year college as well as taking Florida Virtual School courses on-line, two other adult daughters who are university students but living at home, and two adult daughters who are married.  One of them has two young sons, and we're glad they live nearby.  We have been home schooling for over 20 years.  I say "we" instead of "I" because my husband has been an integral part of the educational process, especially in the upper grades and with paper work.  That paternal participation will have to be adjusted starting next week as he starts a full-time office job across town after working from home for over 10 years.

Our typical schedule varies by day of the week.  

On Mondays, we are in co-op classes from 9 AM until 3:45 PM.  The students have 90 minute classes in math, history, science, and English.  I assist in a 4th-6th grade history class and teach 5th-6th grade English.  I have to set aside several hours a week for lesson planning for the English class, where I cover grammar, literature, creative writing, and vocabulary/spelling.  While I use a variety of materials, our core resource this year is The Book of Virtues, which is a virtual virtuous treasury of stories and poems. I try to integrate many of the literature lessons with the time period and geographical region they are studying in The Mystery of History Volume 2 (Creation to Middle Ages) text they are using in history.   After our regular classes, we stay for Yearbook (10th grade) and Drama Club (6th grade), up to an extra 45 minutes.  We have been in this co-op with about 25 other families since 2006, with one year off.   

On Tuesdays - Fridays, our morning schedule for the five younger school age kids and I looks like this:

Around 7:30, I get up, eat breakfast, take a shower, and putter around, usually either reading or writing blogs. Our son who attends public school leaves before 8 and eats breakfast at school.  Sometimes I am up earlier if I can't sleep.

At 8:30, the other kids get up, eat breakfast, and get dressed while I continue to putter.

At 9:00, I spend an hour with my 2nd grader doing her co-op assignments (which are not that time-consuming) and reading good books to her.  Right now we are working our way through the Paddington Bear series.  She's great for a cuddle on the couch.

At 10:00, I spend an hour with my 6th grader doing history and literature.  It goes faster if we read it out loud and discuss it.  She writes out summaries of the history lessons every day, but we do the literature questions orally.  She does the writing assignments, language arts workbooks, science (Apologia Flying Creatures), and math on her own time with minimal help from me.  She's pretty spunky, and always a delight.

At 11:00, I spend more than an hour with my 10th grader doing history (Notgrass World History) and literature (just finished The Hobbit and now starting poetry).  He usually reads the chapters aloud to me, we discuss them, and he answers the comprehension questions orally or on the computer.  I have learned so much world history and classic literature this year!  I am so thankful for the opportunity to study along this way with my son, and I know he appreciates it, too.  My husband is in charge of his Algebra 2 and Apologia Chemistry assignments.

You may notice that I didn't schedule an hour for my 8th grade son.  He is a reliable independent learner and doesn't often need my help, though he asks for it when he does.  He's also really creative, so even most of his free time is spent learning, whether it is special effects video editing or nature study or whatever. My husband helps him with Pre-Algebra and Apologia Biology.

Around noon or so we eat lunch.  Usually everyone fixes their own, but my 12 year old daughter will sometimes fix something like macaroni and cheese for all of us.

Our afternoon/evening schedule is a bit more loose.  Yes, we work on academic school assignments until around 3 or so.  They also spend a lot of time on our computers and some watching TV. However, we are trying to get into a routine of going to the YMCA on Tuesday and Friday right after lunch, especially since they have home school PE on Tuesday.  We have to be home by the time my 4th grader gets back from school. I try to schedule all appointments for Thursday afternoons.  

Somewhere along the way the laundry and dishes get done (or not!) by some combination of adults and kids. Each of the five younger kids does an afternoon dish load during the week, and there is always a second or even third load in the evening.  Though we have basic organization for each room, we do tend to leave it a bit cluttered, especially with school books and papers.  Then, too, our big family has this funny little habit of eating lots of food, so it seems I'm at the grocery store two or three times a week refueling milk and such.

Speaking of food, I now interrupt this blog post because my 8th grade son just brought me a big bowl of fresh fruit salad with vanilla yogurt.  Yum.

Dinner is usually around 6:30, and after that we have free time, clean up, or more school work if not enough of that got finished earlier.  (I often help kids with school work in the evening and on weekends.)   The kids go to bed sometime between 9 PM and midnight, depending on their age and if something exciting is happening or not. 

So that's how we supposedly spend our days.  It rarely works out just like that, but you get the gist of it anyway.

You might also like a related post I wrote this morning: 

Who is the Proverbs 31 Woman? Not Me Yet!

What is your home school day like?

Virginia Knowles

P.S. This post will be linked at these other blog parties:

P.P.S. In case you missed my e-book, e-magazine and blog links at the top of this post, here's the rehash...



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

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