Monday, March 16, 2009

Workboxes: a new school system

Now that we can all breathe again from our live-in rodents, let's keep those toes crossed they are really gone, I can think straight and make school plans. No, I'm still not braving my big comfy red chair, which means I spent the evening working in the schoolroom and sitting hunched over a desk in the worlds most uncomfortable swivel chair known to man. However, I didn't see a mouse, or any other rodent or unwanted bit of nature, which makes me a happy camper, despite the aching back.

There's been much talk on one of the homeschool boards I frequent about a system called "The Workbox System". Now, to be honest, I was so wrapped up in dealing with mice and children whilst my husband lounged around in the sun.. er cold, that I didn't pay much attention to it. Plus, I'm so not a "jump on the current bandwagon" kind of person.

However, as the topic became more discussed I opted to check it out and simply see what all the fuss and rumble was about. To say I was intrigued might be mild. In fact, I was sitting on my bed, buried deep under the covers praying that God would spare me the fear of a mouse in my bedroom, and that since my dog was no good at keeping watch that perhaps his snores would frighten anything away. All joking aside, this looked like a great way to keep us on track, and more importantly finally use some of the many resources we have laying around.

In short, the idea was designed by a women named Sue Patrick. Her idea is that you fill anywhere from 6-15 shoebox sized clear boxes with items your child needs to accomplish during their school time. The boxes are numbered so they know which order to work in. There's an ebook which you can purchase to gain more information (if wanted), which you can get directly from Sue Patrick's webiste, or (for a bit more) can be purchased over at Currclick (an awesome website!) If you purchase the book you can register over on Sue's webpage and get some free downloads to help you label your boxes and other such fun things.

The book is a quick read, despite it's 122 pages. Now, because I want to be totally fair, the book can be strong in it's opinions. Do I agree with them all? No. I feel the author is a school at home person, not a home schooler. Trust me, there is a difference. I found a couple of her opinions offense, but, with that said, she has some great ideas, and I like them and plan to use them for my family. However, when reading the book keep in mind that she has a child with special needs, and those special needs require some very rigid planning. For us, I want to use the system, or idea, to help us accomplish more in our day.

The boys have been watching me prepare for the upcoming week and fill up these boxes. They are very excited to use them and find out what I'm up to. I've only told them, at this point, that they will be using them for school. They've also seen me dig out some fun games and resources we've not used in a while and they are super excited to dig them out. I've had to fight them off bravely a few times all ready!

I originally planned to start my boys with six boxes each, but have ended up filling 12 for each of them. My biggest goal in using the system is to take all my planning off the paper and put it into action in our typical school day. It's to pull all the resources we have purchased with high intentions off the shelf and turn the kids loose with them.

I’m great at planning, in fact while cleaning up my computer this past week (Yes, while hiding from mice, do you really have to keep bringing that up?!) I moved no less then 6 planners onto a disc. I have serious planning issues, can you tell?

I also think, that for us, this will encourage my eldest to keep moving. I’ve placed things he may struggle with (certain skip counting sequences) before fun games. While he’ll be eager to move onto the game, he’ll have to accomplish the harder task first.

So, with all this said, here’s what we have in our boxes for tomorrow:

Morgan (8, 2nd grade):

  • Herein Is Love: Exodus
  • Date Book (he writes the date in this each day) lesson paper(s) & skip counting
  • money game (I need to make an Aussie version too)
  • 20 minutes on the Leapster (my choice, he'll be playing Madgascar Mango Madness which is an addition game)
  • Sing Spell Read & Write (SSRW) blending song
  • SSRW phonics game (duck pond)
  • SSRW lesson paper(s)
  • 20 minutes computer time (my choice, phonics game)
  • Owl Moon (FIAR book of the week)
  • lapbook components for Owl Moon
  • owl craft
  • piano lesson book which directly follows

Morgan's Boxes

Jayden (5 Kindy):

  • Weather Stamps & Nature Journal (he records the weather this way each day, he stamps, colors the stamp if he wishes, and traces the date which I write for him)
  • Calendar bits (homemade Thomas calendar See picture below) and date book (he can write the date again if he wishes)
  • Bible & craft (we're doing Daniel this week)
  • Homemade pattern game (he sees a pattern strip and must repeat it with the shapes he has)
  • SSRW song
  • SSRW lesson papers
  • SSRW letter tracing paper (I laminated it for longer life)
  • SSRW bing-o game
  • Leapster letterpillar for 20 minutes
  • Owl Moon (he actually has lapbook components since the book is in Morgan's box)
  • Owl craft (and all the supplies he'll need, it's different then Morgan's craft)
  • Piano Book for lesson

Jayden's Boxes

calendar part 1

calendar part 2
(ignore the fact the wrong dates have birthday's for this month..)

Yes, you refill the boxes each day. If my boxes aren't filled before bathtime, than I'll most likely fill them at that point. Our super large, let's go swimming, size bathtub is directly across the hall from the room we use for all our school stuff. Thus I can make sure the kids aren't pouring all the water on the floor (because they love to do this) and fill boxes at the same time.

There's also a planning page which you can download if you buy the ebook and register, which will make filling the boxes even quicker. A quick tip here.. If you purchase the book directly from Sue Patrick's site you will have to wait for someone on the other end to approve the purchase order and then send you the book. If you purchase the book from CurrClick it's, as normal, an instant download. You will then simply need your CurrClick order number to access the "freebies" over at Sue Patrick's site.

Here's a quick list of some of the things the boys will find in their boxes:


  • craft that matches current unit study
  • What's Gnu?
  • S'math
  • banana grams (we use it differently)
  • science experiments
  • homemade games
  • paint
  • piano practice supplies
  • outside games
  • nature study stuff (binoculars, notebook, magnifying glass, etc)
  • audio books for car rides, especially field trip days
  • computer games (my choice and predetermined amount of time)
  • coloring page that would tie in with studies
  • puzzles
  • aquadoodle (it has letter tracers on it)
  • video (specifically if it lines up with our studies
  • artist study supplies
  • scientist study supplies
  • president study supplies
  • famous Australian study supplies
  • etc.


  • extra science fun (he's been requesting it)
  • games: S'math, Alphabug Soup, Rack-o, homemade games, dominos, banana grams, etc.
  • other lapbooks he may be working on
  • passions (zebras, cooking, science, art, etc.)
  • cooking
  • crafts
  • art (painting, drawing, etc.. We have a new art curriculum coming within the next couple of weeks and we'll be using it weekly)
  • play-dough, especially after making it himself
  • emailing relatives
  • piano/guitar lessons
  • soccer/swim (pe)
  • audio book, especially field trip days
  • nature walk supplies
  • extra computer/leapster time (again I pick game and predetermined time)
  • famous people studies
  • new magazines (we get a few animal ones he really enjoys
  • Think! challenges
  • Video related to what we're studying
  • etc.

A little more information for you. We aren't using the system exactly as she laid it out. I feel that would be too rigid. I won't ask my kids to "clock in and out" for school. We won't have the "no fail" rule. Life happens, and learning to move with it and work through that is important, but becoming slaves to our schedules is also a very dangerous game to play.

The boxes and shelves seem to be in short demand in America. Mostly likely because the news spread like wildlife and all the ladies over on the homeschool message boards have scooped them up! (You gotta be quick, what can I say?!) I hear tell you can get the boxes at the Dollar Tree in some locations, as well as Walmart, Target, and Kmart. The shelves can be found in the same locations, minus the Dollar Tree.

In Australia, specifically Tasmania, I purchased my boxes at ChickenFeed. I have access to 3 that are within a 5 minute drive for me. (Pathetic I know, but hey that's ChickenFeed!) I found the boxes in the kitchen area and only one of them had what I wanted. I picked up the 5l boxes with lids. I won't be using the lids for these boxes, but I wasn't going to pay 2 dollars a box and not get my lids! I purchased my shelves from Kmart, the boxes are a pinch too big, but we made it work.

Because some of the things I'll have my boys do require a time limit I made time cards up to stick on their boxes. This way they won't have to ask me how much time they can play for if I'm busy with one or the other. You can access the pdf, here if you want. I made 20, 15, 10, and 5 minute cards. While I doubt I'll use the 5 minute ones very often, you just never know.

I also made up a couple of other cards for when I won't need to put something in the box. For instance, field trip days, swimming, soccer, or when we do a unit study or a FIAR book. I often only have one copy of the book on hand (not always, but usually), so I simply put the card on the other child's box so he knows what's happening next. If you're interested in using those cards you can find them here.

A fellow homeschooler and workbox user also made up some extra cards which she has posted for people to print and use if they wish to. They can be found over at homeschool share, which, for the record, is loaded with FREE unit studies and gobs of other great things. We frequent the site often.

There are many homeschoolers out there who are using the system and have posted pictures, methods and ideas. Each family has tailored it to fit their specific needs, not everyone uses boxes, not everyone uses the same amount, and hardly anyone has the same things in their boxes. Check them out:

Non Box Users:

Jessica uses file folders for 8 children.
Lynn, Jen, & Holly use magazine holders.
Ginger uses drawers.

A Few Box Users:

Leslie uses boxes with 6 children, some of which are highschoolers.
Ami is using them with two (one preschooler)
Heather is using boxes with four (one preschooler)

That's probably an overload of information. I'll be honest. I avoided reading anything about it for a while. Of course the mouse issue played into that too. Once I did read information, I took a week to make plans and decisions before jumping right in. That would be more of the neurotic planning streak I had. I wanted to plan things out in advanced so I was ready to roll. The kids went to bed woo-hooing that they'd finally get the scoop on the boxes in the morning. Oddly enough most of their chores are done too!

1 comment:

Queen to my 3 Boys said...

This is such a helpful post. When I first started hearing about Workboxes, I just didn't get all the fuss. I'm starting to understand how they could be very useful. Thanks!