Friday, May 28, 2010

Janine's Booklegger Graduation!

On Thursday, May 27th, I took my official Booklegger Oath as the culmination of 8, 3-hour training sessions plus the preparation and presentation of my first program to 6 second-grade classes at Parkmont Elementary. All of the training and rehearsing was worth every minute when the kids in the classes would light up after my program and tell me which books they were planning on checking out! I love being a booklegger!

Booklegger Oath
"On my honor as a Booklegger I promise never to reveal an ending and never to booktalk a book I have not read. As a Booklegger I will endeavor to invest those books with all of the interest and excitement which is inherent in them.

Furthermore, I promise to approach each class with enthusiasm, to read voraciously to enable myself to present fresh programs and to unfailingly carry the word of good books to the classrooms of the Fremont Unified School District.

I solemnly undertake this pledge in the firm expectation that children will lead happier, more interesting lives as a result of my efforts as a Booklegger."

The Alameda County Library Booklegger's Class of Spring 2010, "Reading Roundup Posse," Cindy, Tracy, Cora and I (Madeline really wanted to come up, too).
Gail Orwig and Dominique Hutches demonstrate ceremonial oath-taking.
Here are the girls and I with the officiating Book Fairy.
The beautiful book fairy, Gina!
Hmmmm...I might just have to borrow that outfit for Halloween...

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Tuesday, May 18, 2010

Finally...Robotic Beings Rule the World

Although we won't be taking the summer off of learning, here are the kiddos on Friday, May 14th, their last official day of "school" for the Connecting Waters Charter School year. We celebrated with many other CWCS families from the East Bay area at Val Vista Community Park in Pleasanton...the kids got so wet and had a blast navigating the sprinklers and streams together!
I just love Max's graphic-novel-style journal entries! "Finally, robotic beings rule the world." For a child who is just learning to master the fine-motor skills required for writing, his cartoons and speech bubbles that take so much effort for him to create, are so meaningful to me.
Without any prompting from me, Natalie documented our earthworm science experience complete with diagrams and her very own signature made out of earthworms. Natalie often uses her journal to create her own poems and songs accompanied by illustrations. It's delightful to see my kids excited about learning and communicating their newfound knowledge with others!
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Monday, May 17, 2010

Parent Panel Spotlight: Janine Weston On Homeschooling

In preparation for Thursday's (5/20/10) open-to-the-public Connecting Water's Charter School Information Session from 3-6pm at the Fremont Main Library, I've taken the time to answer questions that will be asked of the parent panel. For me, the process was enjoyable and self-reflective--I thought you might find the content informative if you've ever considered homeschooling your own children, or wonder how I have survived thus far. :) I'm looking forward to hearing responses from the other parents as well!

How many children do you have?
I have three children. Natalie is 8, Max is 6, and Madeline is 4.

How many children are you homeschooling and what grades are they in?
I homeschool all three of my children. In the fall of 2010, Natalie will be in third grade, Max in first grade, and Madeline is currently unschooling until she is legally old enough to begin Kindergarten (fall 2011). However, the content we are learning does not necessarily correspond to the grade my children are in--they work above the grade level designated for their age in most subjects.

What is your homeschooling style?
I am an eclectic homeschooler--I like to take the best of resources that match our needs and personalities and incorporate them into a style that suits my family. Core philosophies I draw from include Maria Montessori, Charlotte Mason, John Taylor Gatto (Dumbing Us Down: The Hidden Curriculum of Compulsory Schooling), Howard Gardner (Multiple Intelligences), Jim Trelease (The Read-Aloud Handbook), Richard Louv (Nature Deficit Disorder), Malcolm Gladwell (Outliers), Unschooling (John Holt's Growing Without Schooling and Teach Your Own), Leadership Education (Van DeMille's Thomas Jefferson Education and The Phases of Learning), and Classical Education (Susan Wise Bauer's The Well-Trained Mind).

How long you have been with CWCS?
As a parent of CWCS students, 3 years; as an Educational Specialist, the 2010-2011 school year is my first--hurray!

What does a typical day of homeschooling look like in your home?
We try to start each weekday at 8am with 30-60 minutes of reading: scriptures, language lesson, read-aloud; followed by Math, handwriting, and journal. To the basic morning routine, on Mondays we add music, art, and gymnastics. Tuesdays we add science and/or fieldtrip. Wednesdays we add Spanish, swimming and library. Thursdays we add history and/or fieldtrip. Fridays we add gymnastics, fieldtrips, computer/test-taking skills and park days. Afternoons are usually free-play or special projects. Most evenings we have family/game night at home, sometimes 4-H meetings, and my husband also does math activities with the kids around the table after dinner. Then, we read again for 30-60 minutes before the kids go to bed. People often ask how we fit it all in...our secret? We don't watch TV. We do rent or check out videos from the library and probably watch 1 per weekend, only 2 hours per week of TV time, that's it!

How do you balance the state/high school requirements and still find time for the fun things like arts/crafts/fieldtrips?
Honestly, the baseline state content standards do not drive what we choose to learn as a homeschooling family. Our learning records show that we make tremendous progress, often levels beyond what is being covered in standards-based curriculums. For my family, the standards are a basic guideline that lets us know what our children are expected to know in their current grade level. I make sure my children are well-prepared for STAR testing in the spring by integrating consistent weekly practice throughout the year using a computer program called Study Island, an online standards-based learning tool. For high schoolers, Study Island can also be used to prepare for the California High School Exit Exam (CAHSEE = "CAY-see").

What do you do to get ready for the meeting with your ES?
I prepare for our meeting with the ES continually throughout each month so that I don't have to try to recall learning experiences we had weeks prior to our scheduled meeting. I use one Google Docs spreadsheet for both my kids, as much of our learning such as history, science, and physical education is done together. I record the pages, lessons, and topics we have completed to show progress in each our learning categories. The online format can be easily printed out or e-mailed to my ES and because it is stored online. Another advantage is that I can share editing privileges with my husband and I can also edit the document from an alternate location (i.e. while we're traveling). I also photograph, collect, and sort each child's work by subject so that I will have samples to give my ES for their portfolios. Additionally, I track all of the books that we read together or individually in our GoodReads account and I categorize each book according to who read it and its format and/or subject matter.

How/why did you decide to homeschool your child/children?
When my oldest child was about 2 years old, I attended an information session about homeschooling that really sparked my interest and dispelled many of the myths that tend to circulate about homeschooling. Then, I went to my local public library and read as many books as I could get my hands on about homeschooling. I talked to local homeschoolers, and attended Tri-City Homeschoolers, a local support network so that I could ask more questions and get answers from those in the trenches! For me, homeschooling seemed a natural fit. In college, I was trained as a credentialed teacher, but never felt that traditional public school was an ideal environment for learning. Upon realizing that our family could provide individualized education that would promote life-long learning for our children, we've never looked back--we are enjoying the homeschooling adventure tremendously!

What types of resources do you utilize to educate your child/ren?
First and foremost, we use the public library for much of our "input." We visit the library regularly on Wednesdays and load our bags with plenty of reading, listening, and watching material. Each of my children as well as my husband and I have a library card. It is not unusual for us to max-out the number of items we can check out...even with 5 library cards. We are heavy library users. In addition to the library, we use some curriculum, our local 4-H club, approved CWCS vendors, and the regional parks and museums of the San Francisco Bay Area.

Why did you choose CWCS over other charter school programs and/or filing a private school affidavit?
After looking into several options, we selected CWCS for our family because:
1. We are allotted instructional funds to spend on an individualized education for each student in our family AND
2. We have the freedom to homeschool our children using styles and materials of our choosing, while receiving as much or as little support and guidance from the charter school as we need and/or want.

How much freedom do you have in selecting learning services/tools for your child/children's education(s)?
We have as much freedom as we like...until we run out of instructional funds! :)

What has been one of your child/ren's top educational products/services from the CWCS vendor list?
We have enjoyed taking classes through Country Kids (Environmental Awareness), American Swim School (swim lessons), Teach Me Art (multi-media art classes), and PowerSpeak12 (Spanish Language). We have bought curriculum and learning tools through Rainbow Resource. In the near future, we are looking forward to utilizing the following services and suppliers: East Bay Homeschool Choir, Sienna Ranch, Let's Play in Spanish, and Resource Area for Teaching (RAFT).

Other interesting info:
What sort of training have you had to become an Education Specialist for CWCS?
I hold a Bachelor of Arts degree in Liberal Studies and elementary & secondary education credentials from Cal Poly, San Luis Obispo. In May of 2009, I completed my Master's Degree in Library and Information Science and Teacher Librarian Credential at San Jose State University. In addition to formal education, I have spent many years as a mother, homeschooler, professional photographer, and library volunteer. My educational background and years of hands-on experience with information literacy and students of all ages makes me a highly-qualified consultant for parents, grandparents, teachers, schools, librarians, and children.

Where do you live and what do you do for fun?
I currently reside in Fremont, with my husband, three children, Labrador Retriever, and Jack Russell Terrier. Besides reading great books aloud to my children, my hobbies include hiking, 4-H, gardening, art & design, photography, yoga, teaching, and cooking.

Saturday, May 15, 2010

Passionate About Trader Joe's

In April, due to my enthusiasm for the venue, I had the honor of preparing several recipes and a brief presentation on Trader Joe's for my church's monthly "Test Kitchen." In fact, it is possible to do ALL of your grocery shopping exclusively at Trader Joe's...I've done it! If you've always wondered what, exactly, Trader Joe's has to offer and whether or not it is a grocery store that is worth your while, read on! However, nothing can prepare you better for your first trip to TJ's than this video by Carl's Fine Films, If I Made a Commercial for Trader Joe's.

What Trader Joe's IS:
  • Basic: Trader Joe's has all the basics and much more while keeping that small, "local" grocery store feel even though they move more products per square foot than stores like Home Depot!

  • Gourmet: Trader Joe's carries both basic products as well as many varieties of gourmet oils, breads, wines, cheeses, meats, etc.

  • Affordable: Trader Joe's purchases items in bulk from suppliers worldwide and then re-labels or packages the item with the Trader Joe's logo. Without having to pay for brand name labels, Trader Joe's is able to offer excellent price, with some of the lowest around on items like yogurt, cereal, frozen fruit, eggs, nuts, etc.). Don't forget their fresh cut flowers and potted herbs and plants at AMAZING prices!

  • Quality: Trader Joe's carries quality items that sell. If an item does not "move" off the floor, it is discontinued. If a customer tries an item and does not like it, or the item shows signs of spoilage, the item can be returned for a full refund.

  • Delicious: Trader Joe's products are delicious! If you don't believe me, stop by the booth in the back for a free-sample.

  • Unique: Trader Joe's offers many unique gourmet foods as well as a colorful assortment of ethnic foods (i.e. Thai, Italian, Indian, Greek, Middle Eastern, Hispanic, etc.).

  • Preservative-free: Trader Joes' products are preservative-free, giving you greater peace of mind while shopping. I save lots of time when I don't have to check every label as I'm tossing items into my cart.

  • Non-GMO: Trader Joe's items come from suppliers that do not use genetically modified ingredients.

  • Green: Trader Joe's promotes and sells vegan, vegetarian, cage-free, hormone-free, dolphin-safe, and sustainable products. They also carry Kosher and gluten-free products.

  • Friendly: Trader Joe's employees are friendly and helpful in answering questions or locating items for their customers. They will also schedule fieldtrips for school children! :)

  • Fast: Small store, lots of great items to choose from equals a potential one-stop grocery store to meet your needs. They've also got a fresh deli and frozen food section with many ready-made foods for busy lifestyles.

  • Informative: If you're looking for more information, take a look at the TJs Guides on the Trader Joe's website!

Trader Joe's is NOT:

  • Costco: You won't find bulk/wholesale/warehouse style at Trader Joe's. However, I find that if I buy bulk, I my family eats bulk, so we prefer the smaller packages to large ones.

  • Consistent: Due to their high-quality standards, each product must "stand on its own" to pay its way to stay on Trader Joe's shelves, resulting on the discontinuation of approximately 10-15 products per week. However, they do introduce 10-15 new products each week...gotta check that NEW products shelf or read the Fearless Flier to find out what they are!

For more about Trader Joe's as a highly-successful business, read The Trader Joe's Adventure: Turning a Unique Approach to Business into a Retail and Cultural Phenomenon by Len Lewis.

Cookbooks: I've tried recipes from both of these cookbooks. I highly recommend them.


Janine's Chili Cornbread Casserole

  • 1 box Trader Joes cornbread mix

  • 2 cans chili (regular or vegetarian)

  • 1 can black beans (drained)

  • 1 bag Fritos corn chips (optional)

  • 2 cups grated cheese (optional)

  • 1 4oz can sliced olives


  1. Start with 1 box Trader Joes cornbread mix.

  2. Mix according to directions on the box, pour in a lightly greased 9x13 casserole dish and bake at 350 for 15-20 minutes.

  3. While the cornbread is baking, stir together:
    2 cans chili
    1 can black beans (drained)

  4. Pour above mixture over cornbread and bake for another 15 minutes

  5. Finally, sprinkle the following on top and heat for 5 minutes:
    1 Fritos corn chips
    2 cups grated cheese
    1 4oz can sliced olives

  6. Let sit for 5 minutes and serve w/ guacamole!

Peanutty Sesame Noodles (Cooking with All Things Trader Joe's p.55)

  • 8oz spaghetti noodles (for gluten-free, use the brown rice spagetti noodles)

  • Easy Peanutty Sauce (recipe below)

  • 1 C shredded carrot

  • 1/2 C peeled and sliced cucumber

  • 2 green onions chopped

  • 1/4 C roasted peanuts, crushed


  1. Cook noodles according to package directions. Drain.

  2. Pour Easy Peanutty Sauce over noodles and toss until noodles are evenly coated. Add carrots and cucumber. Toss gently.

  3. Top with green onions and crushed peanuts.

Easy Peanutty Sauce

  • 1/4 C Trader Ming's Soyaki or Veri Veri Teriyaki

  • 1/4 C Creamy Salted Peanut Butter

  • 2 tsp Toasted Sesame Oil

  • 1/4 C water
  1. Whisk Soyaki, peanut butter, and sesame oil until blended.

  2. Add water and mix well.

Prep time: 10 minutes
Hands-off cooking time: 10 minutes
Serves: 4-6

Tortellini and Chicken Sausage Soup (Cooking with All Things Trader Joe's p.64)

  • 1 C dry Tortellini with Pesto or Mixed Cheese Filling

  • 2 pre-cooked Mushroom Asiago Gourmet Chicken Sausages, cut into 1/2-inch slices (or other variety)

  • 1 14.5oz can Organic Fire Roasted Whole Tomatoes, including juices, or regular canned tomatoes

  • 1 28oz can Rich Onion Soup (or vegetable stock)

  • 2 C water

  • 2 C frozen Greens with Envy, or other greens such as frozen spinach or green beans

  • Grated or shredded Parmesan cheese


  1. Cut tomatoes into bite-size pieces. Mix tomatoes (including juices), onion soup, and water in a large pot. Bring to a boil.

  2. Add tortellini, sausage, and greens. When mixture comes to a boil again, cover, reduce heat to low, and simmer for 17 minutes.

  3. Sprinkle generously with Parmesan cheese and serve immediately.

Prep time: 5 minutes
Hands-off cooking time: 20 minutes
Serves: 6

Wednesday, May 12, 2010

Nature's Gardeners: Earthworms

"Today, we went on an earthworm hunt. We used trowels and containers to collect the earthworms. We went into the garden to dig for them. We didn't need to dig very deep before we found some. I found 5 and Natalie found 6 or 7."

"Next, we brought them into the house and dumped them onto a wet paper towel so that they wouldn't dry out and then we used magnifiers to look at their body parts."

"We learned that earthworms are invertebrates and that adult earthworms have a clitellum so that they can reproduce and lay eggs that hatch into tiny worms. An earthworm's body is divided into lots of segments. The bristles on the segments help them to move in the dirt; earthworms can move both backwards and forwards."

"Earthworms eat decaying plant matter and turn it into rich soil with their waste, called castings."

"Then, we made a worm farm. To make the farm, we layered dirt, sand, oatmeal, and water inside a tall plastic bottle. We named it The Worms of Ordinary Farm."

"Last, we covered the bottle with black paper so that the earthworms would think they are under the ground. In a few days we will take off the paper to see if the worms pushed the soil around."

We got the idea and materials for this activity from Delta Education's Science-In-a-Nutshell Living Things Cluster that we ordered with our Connecting Waters Charter School educational funds.

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