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.

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