Sunday, April 18, 2010

Workboxes: One Year Later

So, it's been just over a year since the Workbox craze began all over the homeschooling corner of the internet and in our home. I thought it would be a great idea to share how things are going one year later.

Last year, after being introduced to the concept on the FIAR forums, I jumped in with both feet. I was even asked to write an article about them for Heart of the Matter online Magazine. As a side note, I've seen the original picture from that article pop up on other blogs and websites over the last year and it cracks me up- to see our playroom/school room with its paneling splashed across the blogging world. Surprisingly, there is still a low level fervor about them and people are still blogging about "What's in the Workboxes for the Week".

In the article mentioned above I touted the usefulness of the boxes to help the kids have a living checklist and that it's great because everything is laid out ahead of time. I also said we could pull things off the shelf we don't use all the time and kept me in line.

So, what I have I observed about the amazing workbox? Well, several things actually.

  • It's hard to keep up with them! Loading up anywhere from 6 to 12 boxes for 4 kids is a lot of prep work to be done daily/nightly.
  • You have to be vigilant to keep them clean/have the kids keep them clean. Look below to see "the Messy".
  • It's WAY too easy to put busy work in the boxes. I had to really evaluate here. Am I putting this in the box because it is valuable for this time right now? Or am I putting it in the box because this activity fills a box. Or in other words, if I wasn't "filling boxes" is this an activity I would have my kids do?
  • We do a lot of our school day together. This fact does not exactly match Sue Patrick's Workbox Philosophy. Workboxes are designed to have kids move throughout their day independently. My kids CAN work independently and do some of their work that way, but we work together on discovery quite a lot. I'll be doing a post on that soon. So, more later on that one.
  • The schedule cards are a NIGHTMARE. They do not mesh with my homeschooling philosophy whatsoever. If you are a long time reader, then you can probably imagine this to be true. We do not move through out day in a methodical fashion with each child checking off whatever piece of busy work I put in the box.

The Messy- though I give E11 credit for keeping his workbox world together (see left)

The Messier- this shows the woes of little mama maintenance

After the clean up! Every so often we need to spiff up.

R9's boxes- one box is missing. It's her sewing box which I will share with you soon.

The littler boy boxes- I rotate things in and out for J4.
Now you might be thinking that I don't use the workboxes any more. We do use them. They provide a function for us that is very useful and I'm glad we have them. However, we have modified their use for our particular brand of homeschooling. Please note that Sue Patrick is pretty stringent on how the system should be used. She designed the system to meet a need in her homeschool that may or may not be a need in yours. Keep that in mind as you consider workboxes and think about your own.

So then, how DO I use them?
  • We store the core subjects we do in one box each- so the older kids have a FIAR box, a math box, geography box, timeline box, writing box, nature study box, a Story of the World box which is used here and there. That covers half the boxes there.
  • Each child has a box that pertains to their passion pursuits- drawings, sewing, Magic Treehouse passport badges, buttons for play, paper folding book, their own creative writing, etc.
  • I will put an activity in there they haven't done in a while- could be a craft project for the kids, a reminder of a play set to be used that day, book, game, etc.
  • I do not use the schedule cards- I have a pattern we use to move through out day and the boxes are set up in that order. So, the kids can walk over there to get materials and bring them to the table for that time. Then when the lesson/activity is complete, they return the materials to the boxes. Herein lies the messy factor. I do not police the putting back of materials and things do get out of control from time to time.
It's been an interesting study for me to reflect on our use of this system. I wanted to use the boxes to make sure I was delivering on all kinds of instruction. I came to realize that the workboxes are school at home. I knew that when I first read about them, but I thought I could use them close to how they were designed and NOT have that effect in our home. I was wrong. Filling the boxes with independent activities for each child- not so much independent from ME but independent from one another, is not congruent with our unit study/work together philosophy. Actually, Sue mentions that in her book. The system, she says, is not really designed for the unit study except for maybe short ones. She's definitely not a unit study person.

The workboxes are not without value at our house, but over the last year I have come to realize how they best fit into our school.

How are things going at your house? Tell us how you manage to fill them every day. Do you have a secret?


Tracey said...

Once upon a time, I had planned on trying out the workboxes since it was all the rave but it just did not seem like it would work for us. As you know, we also do most of our work together so this system would not have worked for us but I did like the idea of it. So, we also modified our own version of workboxes, and we are living happily ever after. This will be a helpful article for many who are struggling with the workbox system.

Sarah said...

I appreciate your honesty here! With all the rage about workboxes last year, it took heroic effort on my part (to my mind anyway-lol) to resist the urge to dive in. I was worried about a few of the things you mention in this post-- and I appreciate your thoughts on how workboxes have worked/not worked in your home. It's very helpful to the rest of us as we try to decide whether or not to bring in this kind of method to our learning.

As an aside-- I very much enjoy your posts on how MOTL is working in your home. :) I plan to order it for next year.

Happy weekend!

Michelle said...

Heather, excellent post! I can so relate to all that you wrote & the messy pics! We are now official workbox dropouts. I tried it for all the great reasons I heard about, but it didn't work for all the reasons you mentioned and I just got tired of maintaining them.

Thanks for your honesty!

Debbie said...

I was very excited about workboxes when I first heard of them and jumped right in (though with a much more expensive set-up than I wanted--I couldn't find those particular kind of shoe racks in England--I love what I ended up with though). I STILL love this system (we've used them since Sept), though I have modified it somewhat for our family and style. We actually like the schedule strips--they work for us. My 3rd-grader has all his boxes filled with main subjects (some subjects are divided between 2 boxes, so it's not as if he has 12 subjects), and my kindergartner has 10 of her boxes with regular subjects--the last 2 are busywork but only if we have time and she's interested. I did find that they're not as independent as I thought they'd be, but they are more so than before workboxes. The help cards and work with mom cards became a nuisance--we don't bother with them anymore. And yes, the boxes can be a lot of work to fill every night. However, I like that I don't have to hunt everything up during the school day and that everything is ready, so for me it's worth the hard work. I do a better job of teaching, and my children stick to their work better, if things are organized. I also have found that the activity cards (learning centers, posters, etc) don't work well for us. It makes the day too long. I won't be giving them a "break" to do those things after every 3-4 boxes anymore. It sounded like a nice motivation tool, but it didn't work for us. So the kids and I still love workboxes and use them daily--I wouldn't go back because they've been a huge help to us. However, like everyone else I read about who uses workboxes, you do have to modify it to fit your family and your style. I appreciate Sue Patrick for coming up with this marvelous idea, and she might not approve of how we all use it, but everyone is different, so that's okay! I'm happy with the way we do workboxes, even if it's not by the book.

Valerie said...

Modifiers here too! Actually, we scratched the schedule cards right from the start, since I could tell they were a tad too structured for me. But therein lies the beauty of the work boxes - they do provide some structure where we would otherwise have none because of my personality. My kids do better when they can see what's up for the day. I've fallen into the temptation to load them with busy work a couple times and now we just have fewer boxes, but they have meaningful stuff in them.

Probably the most helpful thing I did was to make hanging files with each day of the week and plan ahead what I'm going to put in the boxes for the whole week. I do that on the weekend. I stick post-it notes in if it's an activity that won't fit in the file. Then, when it's time to fill the boxes, I grab the file. It eliminates all that decision making late at night or (worse) early in the morning before they get up. I hope that makes sense!

Lori said...

We are still working at the workboxes here. They have been a success for our homeschool. But, like you mentioned, they can become very "school at home", and for a family who does much of their work together, they need some tweaking. I don't know a homeschool mom who does not "tweak" most things she does at any rate! We are all a bit rebellious in that way. :)

I had thought about doing the schedule cards and such, but I never did go there- I can see how in might have just frustrated things.

One of the main things that the boxes have done for me is to give me a method of being prepared. Instead of just having ideas on a planner, I put all the work and materials needed on our boxes- I used to spend too much time chasing materials or dropping the ball on something I meant to get to.

Thanks for the update! You were, in large part, my inspiration for really investing in the boxes when we first started. It is interesting to see where you are with it a year later.

Elinette said...

I really appreciate this post. Thank you for taking the time to write it and being honest about what works for you and not.

I have not been succesful at putting the system in place because we do mostly all of our learning together.

I like the idea of keeping one box per subject and follow the same order.

Heather said...

Thanks for all your comments. It's nice to see what others are doing.

I agree they give me a way of being prepared and it gives the kids a well defined space to have their work and to have ongoing projects. I love them for that.

As I said, I'm not disappointed in my investment. We do not lose things nearly as often and it is a great "school central" place.

I can also send the kids to the workbox when it's time for them to work on their own.

The workboxes give us a bit of structure. They work for us though...not the other way around. ; )


Jimmie said...

I never felt any pull whatsoever towards workboxes. Exactly as you said -- School at Home. Reminds me of the centers approach in elementary school.

A great review, Heather! I really value reviews MORE when someone has used something for months and months. It's a far better picture than the honeymoon phase.

Anonymous said...

We have them, but for now I mostly use them to keep Tornado Boy busy while I prep something for us to work on together. They are helpful, because otherwise he'd be tearing things apart rather than getting something done. :) I don't change them out as ofter as I should, and we don't use the schedule either.

Rachel said...

I really, really appreciate this review. I plan to go back and reread it later when it's not nearly 1 a.m.

I had a hard time saying no to workboxes when we first heard of them on the boards. But I just had to. I couldn't see myself loading them up daily for 3 children.

I still wonder at times if I should go for it. I need something because I find kids asking me over and over, "what do I do now?" I don't have lots of good routine and it's hard when there is so much going on.
Still when I really think about it, I realize that they probably wouldn't work well for me... unfortunately.

Happy Healthy Home said...

Wow, has it been a year already since the hysteria on the FIAR boards about workboxes?

Nice to hear how they really worked for people. I never tried because I knew I'd never keep up nor did I have the space! :-)

Andrea said...

I love seeing how others modify things to fit their needs. We use a modified workbox as well- I have stacking drawers for my 2 younger boys. Each boy has 9 drawers- 12 was too much for us. For ME- the beauty is that most of the drawers stay the same each day- with our 3 R's, and FIAR filling up 6 of the drawers, the other 3 are left for fun games and such.

MoziEsmé said...

Thanks for an honest post! I've been debating workboxes and they seem like such a great idea, but I don't think we're organized enough for the whole package.

I like the idea of cycling through them, however, to make sure we cover all the different subjects I'd like to cover. Maybe have a dozen boxes, but our goal would be to cycle through them all at least once a week - and when we're done, just starting at the beginning again. We'll see...

Angela said...

We use them and love them! but we modified the system. I think they work well for us with our modified version. The thing about it is that it was originally designed for autistic and special needs children. This IS the perfect way to get these type children through a school day. Wich is why it works well for us. i too found it messy so we changed to drawers and at times we use folders. I also had to come to grips with the busy work. We only use 9 boxes and if I don't have anything worth while we just do use that box. I don't think this is the perfect system for everyone.

Mama Pickles said...

Angela beat me to it. :) Workboxes are great for kids with special needs who need a highly structured environment. I originally learned about workboxes 10 years ago from the TEACCH program in North Carolina. They worked great in my classroom, but I think in a homeschool environment where it is more relaxed and often focused on group learning it may not be so successful.

Samantha said...

We just use a rolling cart with 6 shallow drawers. We put worksheets and handwriting books for the day in there. Sometimes I put a post it note on with page numbers needed to find in a workbook. I also just read a post over at Pioneer Woman about using green and red file post its for stop and go in books. We used this idea and it worked great this week!
I don't think the workbox system could ever really work for us. Too much work!

Confessions Of A Homeschooler said...

Hi, we do our group time all together first. So that includes Bible time, Pledge of Allegiance, History/ Science Reading. Then the kids move to their individual boxes. I use those for core subjects plus 1 fun thing usually.

I don't use the schedule strips either, my kids do move numbers from their boxes onto a wall chart once they're done with each box.

I fill out a workbox chart for each child, and keep a printed copy by their desk. Then when schools over and they're playing, I spend about 15 min filling boxes (3 kids worth, sometimes 4 when I switch out the teeny tot's boxes!)

Here's how we do it:

Heather said...

Thanks for commenting with how you all use the boxes. I appreciate the ideas.

I will have to check out the Pioneer Woman's stop and go method. Seems like a fun idea for reading.

Mama Pickles- exactly. My homeschooling is MUCH more relaxed than my classroom teaching was.

Confessions- thanks for stopping by! I will check out your post. I have admired the felt food on your site. : )