Sunday, March 7, 2010

How We Workbox

Recently, Alyssa asked about how we use and organize workboxes in our homeschool. I did write a post a couple of months ago detailing some of the modifications we've made to the system, but I've recently tweaked it even further. I've been planning to write more on that topic, but I never seem to get around to it. Thanks, Alyssa, for giving me the push I needed!

As I looked back through my records, I realized that we have been using Sue Patrick's Workbox System for almost an entire year! How did that go so fast? I was introduced to the concept back when I was expecting Baby P--a time when I needed a little more organization and a little less daily preparation in my homeschool life. From all I read about it, workboxing definitely promised to help me realize those goals.

If you're not familiar with Sue Patrick's system, it's basically a method of physically and visually organizing a child's learning materials. Although Ms. Patrick recommends a very specific setup which she feels to be optimal, I have been fascinated by the infinite number of adaptations others have developed to fit their own needs and styles. (This is what the agile homeschooling philosophy is all about!) If you're interested, do a quick search on Google Images with the term "workboxes" to see a wide variety of these personalized systems. Read here about how we originally did things, as well as some changes we made at the beginning of this year to make the system fit our style.

As I mentioned in my earlier post, we use these craft carts by Sterilite with lidded, removable drawers, which I absolutely LOVE. I started out with one 7-drawer cart each for N, K, and B. I recently purchased another cart, which I took apart in order to add more drawers to each child's "tower", as well as two sets of open 3-drawer units (no lids) to add on top. These are wonderfully modular in construction, meaning that they can be easily disassembled and snapped back together in different configurations. (Seriously agile!)

Here's the way our setup looks at the moment:

N's boxes are on the left, K's in the middle, and B's on the right. As you can see, we use a couple of stand-alone bins to contain bulky items. I've also taken possession of a couple of drawers at the top of each tower for my own prep materials:

This is much better than the helter-skelter stacks of books and papers I was working with before!

Another recent addition is an attached card on the right-hand side labeling the subject focus of each box:

This saves on pulling out two or three drawers before finding the one we're after.

Here's what one of the drawers/boxes looks like out of the cart:

The attached lids make them very portable, and they are a perfect size for fitting almost all of the materials I ever want to put in them.

For example, here's what you'll find in N's math box at the moment: his textbook and workbook, a weekly schedule card (laminated for use with wet-erase markers so as to be reusable), a calculator for checking answers, wet-erase markers, and two of what we call "erasable sheets". (I've also seen them called "worksheet extenders", but I made these myself by sticking together two sheets of clear contact paper and cutting them into book-sized pieces. The point is to be able to reuse the workbook with each child.)

The most important thing to me about this system is that it makes it possible for our homeschool to be extremely agile. Workboxes have seriously been a lifesaver to me, making it possible to maintain a fairly consistent routine through a very challenging period. There are many more details about how we implement workboxes throughout our day, but I'm afraid this post is already HUGE! If you have any specific questions, leave a comment and I'll get back to you. I may also write another post soon on how the "working with workboxes" actually looks at our house.


April Mitchell said...

Very impressive system, I am glad you have found something that works so well for your family. I love those craft cart boxes WOW!

Alyssa said...

Thank you! I am wanting to incorporate a little more structure into our days. How much time does it take you to prepare it for the day/week? How often do you rotate the things inside it? I am assuming that subjects like math stay in there all the time, but other activities come and go according to interest and what you want them to cover.

Do you have your kids do an activity from every box each day? How do you insure that they get everything done? I know my kid would save his least favorite subject(s) for the end of the day and manage to "run out of time."

WHile I'm making blog requests :) could you do a post about how you incorporate gospel study into your daily routine? Both personal and with your kids. I noticed there was a workbox for it; what do you do?

If you have already done a post about it, you can direct me there; I haven't had the chance to go through any of your old posts yet.


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

Thanks, April! I'm really glad it's working out so well, too. Yes, I am in love with the craft carts, if you couldn't tell. :)

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

Wow, Alyssa--lots of questions! I'll see what I can answer here, though it might end up being as long as a blog post! We are currently trying out a four-day school week, with Friday as a catch-up/clean-up/prep day. Our subjects are divided into core (daily) and rotating (one per day, done as a group activity).

The prep for the core subjects is actually very minimal, in large part because I have gravitated toward materials that are low-prep! I can usually get everything ready for the following week as we finish each box on Thursday.

The rotating/group subjects (music, art, science, and PE) take a little more time to prepare in general, though it varies from week to week. My goal is to get all these ready on Friday for the following week, but lately I have been preparing these lessons the night before (maybe an average of 30 minutes each? I'm not really that great at estimating time, though!)

As far as getting the boxes done each day, I have found it works great to have my kids finish their "try it on your own" boxes before lunch (while I'm doing "Tot School" with the youngers), then they take turns with me on the "work with Mom" boxes after lunch. Our group activity (which they really look forward to) is last, so this helps with motivation to finish, as well. We do have days when the rotating subject doesn't get done, but we just do it the next day and go from there. (We're agile like that. :))

As far as the gospel study goes, we have done different things over the years. Right now, we just approach it like all the other subjects with its own workbox. (We also do family scripture study in the evenings with my husband, unconnected with workboxes. Yes, there is a part of our life that's "out of the box"!)

N is currently doing one of the "Discover the Scriptures" courses and reading the Book of Mormon on his own (his personal goal). K finished her "Discover the Scriptures" book recently, and, instead of starting a different one, I felt impressed to read aloud and discuss stories from The Friend together with her. (That has been fantastic! It brings the Spirit in so strongly, and I feel like we have grown much closer over these few weeks.)

For my own personal study, my focus right now is on preparing lessons for the Gospel Doctrine class I teach. :) When things are going well, I get up early, exercise, shower, and then study. When things are not going quite as well, I just fit it in where I can. ;)

I hope that answered most of your questions! If you want more details or clarification on anything, just let me know. Thanks for taking the time to comment and for all your questions. Explaining things to someone else really helps me to clarify everything in my own mind, too.

joelle said...

Love your system!

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

Thanks, Joelle!

Alyssa said...

Thanks so much for your insights!