December 8, 2018

Wonderful Workboxes

Back in 2009, I caught a comment in a homeschool forum about something called "workboxes." Being the organizational junkie that I am - my husband (appropriately) calls me "Rou-Tina" (!) - my interest was sparked, and before long, I jumped on the workbox bandwagon.

So, what exactly is this workbox thing?

Simply put, it's a brilliant organizational system developed by a woman named, Sue Patrick, a homeschooler who first came up with the idea as a way to manage her own children's learning. She started telling others about how well it worked and began to do some consulting with families she knew. Eventually, she put her ideas into book-form and started speaking to larger audiences. One thing apparently led to another back in 2009, when word of the system began to spread like wild-fire among homeschoolers.

At the end of March that year, I ordered the book. I wasn't completely sure the concept would work for us, since my children were quite young and seemed to need almost constant guidance from me with their bookwork. But I was willing to give serious consideration to anything claiming to increase learning while also fostering independence.

And the book - a quick-read which paints a much clearer vision of the system than anything on the website (or any Pinterest images that seemed for a time to multiply like rabbits) - convinced me to give it a whirl. So I ordered supplies from Sue and headed out in search of two reasonably-priced metal racks, two big storage bins, and 24 plastic shoe boxes. As a nice bonus, I found the bins and boxes in my girls' favorite colors.

Then I spent the next week setting everything up and briefing the girls on how things would work once we started. I was surprised at how intrigued they were; they kept saying, "Is today the day we start the boxes?"

I admit to some trepidation on my part the day we did begin; after all, I'd invested some money and considerable time and effort on the set-up and wondered what I'd do if the whole thing flopped. But I should not have feared! It really isn't hyperbole to say we very likely had our best academic week ever to that point - and I'm sure the girls (and even my husband, who saw the outcome when he came home from work every day) would concur.

Just as Sue Patrick says, my kids were actually excited to "check in" to start on academics each morning so they could investigate what each of their 12 workboxes held. As I arranged things, our first box each day typically consisted of our group work, usually history. From there, the girls simply proceeded through the other boxes, which I pre-filled each evening with a balance of "work with mom" and independent tasks (i.e., file folder games, penmanship practice, reading to or playing a game with the toddlers for whom I babysat, journal-writing, etc.). My job each day was to supervise all the activity, of course, while alternately sitting down with one girl and then the other on reading, math, or spelling.

Because different tasks required different amounts of time and the girls worked at different paces, it wasn't unusual for both girls to come to a "work with mom" box at the same time. At first, I'd wondered how I would handle that scenario: Would the girls whine and complain? Would one insist on doing nothing while she waited for me, thus delaying the "flow" that should accompany the boxes? But my fears were unfounded because I discovered that with just brief explanation, they happily did just what Sue said they should: While one girl started the work with me, the other simply skipped that box for the time being, grabbed the next independent box, and got back to work - as if being patient and productive were as natural to them as breathing!

During our first week, we started promptly at 8:45 each day (which was, in and of itself, a major accomplishment!). On Monday, things took a bit longer because it was our first day on the new system - so we didn't have lunch until 1:00 and even after that each girl still had one box to finish. However, we got more efficient as the week progressed. So by Friday they were done with all 12 boxes before 12:30! And that sort of efficiency became our norm.

Even more amazing was the fact that the girls never rushed just to get things done. Instead, they completed the activities in a quality manner - including some new and challenging tasks and a whole lot more independent work than they'd ever previously seen in a day. So finishing at 12:30 was finishing well - accomplishing at least twice as much in that timeframe as we ever had before and doing so in such a way that they really did learn and practice more age-appropriate content while also gaining a new sense of healthy pride in being appropriately independent.

And me? Well, I did more than ever - with both girls and with the toddlers - and I began to arrive at the end of each day amazingly, wonderfully (seriously!) refreshed! The girls made undeniable progress. For the first time in a long time on an academic day, they got to mix in "fun stuff" (a craft, puzzle, or coloring page) with the "real learning." And I could engage with the toddlers beyond diaper changes and snack breaks. So my stress level throughout each day was almost nil.

It worked so well that we continued the system for years, eventually commissioning a woodworker friend to build a cabinet to house the boxes.

In fact, though my daughters are now teens - and are, thus, almost entirely self-directed - the patterns we established by using the workbox system are still evident in our daily routine. I can see very clearly that the time and effort I took in 2009 has paid great dividends in our family. It's not at all too much to say that launching the workbox system was actually a key factor in bringing us long-term success and joy as a home-educating family.

NOTE: This endorsement is not written for affiliate purposes. I have no connection to Sue Patrick and am receiving no benefit or perk of any kind; I even purchased my own copy of her materials. I share simply because I believe the system is so helpful.

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