Thursday, January 7, 2010

Ringing in the New: Part 2

One thing I have been thinking about a lot is our schedule and daily routines, and how they can be adjusted to work more smoothly. I realize that this is something I will always be working on, since the needs and situation of each family member will always be changing. One way we have been adjusting is a new tweak to our workbox system.

Last April (a few weeks before the arrival of Baby P), we started using a variation on Sue Patrick's Workbox System to organize our daily school work. Instead of using a metal rack and open shoeboxes, though, I opted for these Sterilite 7-drawer carts. They have been perfect! We store them in the office, and, although we originally wheeled them out to the dining room each day for easier access, we found it actually worked better to just go retrieve each box as needed.

When we first started trying out the system, I put numbers on each box and painstakingly crafted a daily schedule in an attempt to balance independent work and one-on-one time working with me. My children removed laminated number- and activity-cards from a "schedule page" as they worked through each activity or assignment, so it was easy for them to see what was done and what was not yet done (one of the main goals of the system). This was a definite improvement over the way we were doing things before; it enabled us to get more organized and have easier access to our materials, as well as making it possible to overlap the work of each child more than we had done previously, consolidating our schoolwork into fewer hours of the day.

The problem, though, was that this wasn't quite agile enough for our needs. I spent a lot of time each evening trying to predict the flow of the following day, and I found that it wasn't ever very accurate. Life with a toddler and an infant proved just too unpredictable for this system as we initially conceived it, so we have been further tweaking it to fit our needs.

The most recent change has been to abandon the "schedule page" and the numbers on the boxes altogether. Instead, I (or my children) simply attach a card to each box to indicate whether it's one they can most likely do on their own or if they will need some assistance from me:

We also spent some time creating personal lists of things they can do during any "wait time", such as "Build a project from my electronics set", "Go outside and jump rope", "Play with the geoboard", or "Choose a file-folder activity from the bookshelf".

This has been working great so far! Once we start "workbox time", N and K can retrieve a box of their choosing based on whether I am available to work with them or not. If they have completed all the "Try it on Your Own!" boxes and I am unavailable at the moment, they simply choose an alternate activity from their list and work on it until I am available. This has especially cut down on their frustration level about not being able to proceed without me if I am tending to the needs of a younger sibling. It has also eliminated whiny requests for "media time" (which they know is reserved for after schoolwork and chores have been completed) or the dreaded "There's nothing to do!" rant. I'm sure we'll need to update their lists periodically, but they have been quite enthusiastic about them so far.

There are a few more changes that have been working great, but I'll save those for another post (or two!).


Simplymom said...

I'm lying here sick reading back through your blog. You are amazing and I love gleaning ideas from you, but this "list to do while waiting" idea was just the idea I needed. We do a version of workboxes, but especially this week while I've been sick, it's all ground to a halt. Which is fine, but I realized that without my help, they don't know things they can do on their own during school time. So there's been LOTS more TV than normal. And I can work on those lists while I lay here waiting to stop coughing and being sick. You are an amazing women! Thanks for letting me glimpse into your life a little more.

Tarasine (pronounced Tara-seena, in case you were wondering) said...

So glad this idea was helpful to you! Hope you get well VERY soon!