Tuesday, August 14, 2012

Workboxes - 3 Years Later

My son's workboxes
"Do you still use workboxes?"  That's a common--and excellent question to ask.  I've read a lot of blogs on workboxing over the three plus years that we have used them--I always like to see pictures and read descriptions of how people are using their systems!  The people who stick with it found a way to mesh the system with their way of home schooling.  It seems like a common reason for giving up is because someone tries to completely change the way they home school to fit the system.  If you are thinking about starting a workbox system for your kids, I suggest using what works for you first, and gradually trying some new ideas, rather than a quick and sudden overhaul that leaves you exhausted and giving up a month later.
Do older students like workboxes?  Mine are 15 and 13, and they still like the system.  Here's a link to my original post on workboxes.  I thought I'd share some of the ways I've tweaked the system to work for us. 

My daughter's workboxes
One thing I realized early on...my kids didn't want "fun" things added to their day.  They didn't think the things were fun, they thought they just made their day longer, so that didn't work as an incentive.  They also didn't like to be surprised or to have boxes out of order, so I actually label our drawers.  (I also let them have input on the order).

I no longer use a separate box for them to turn in their work.  I found that we were all better organized if they simply returned everything to the drawer before putting up their sticker.  (Last year I updated the stickers, got rid of the old ones with pictures, and changed to a round style--my son saw a friend who had round stickers, and he thought they looked more professional!)

This has greatly simplified the system for me.  No trying to think up what to put in boxes, no loading them each night (things that burn some people out on workboxes)--the drawers are ready to go as is, and if I get sick, no one has to guess what the system is or look for some kind of master list--the kids can get up and get to work on most things without me.  I think if I had started with younger kids, I would have enjoyed mixing things up with fun crafts and so on, but my older kids want to get to business and choose their own "fun" activities.  

Each night (or sometimes in the morning before school), I check their work and record what they did in my teacher binder.

I also added another row to their progress charts so that I can include their weekly "Family Service."  I made a sticker for each of these chores and put them on top of the workboxes.  They add these to their progress chart whenever they do them, and leave them up for the week.  I let them manage their time, so long as all of the chores are done each week.

My daughter, always the crafty one, needs her scissors handy, and you can also see a magnifying glass sticking out under her progress chart.  She's the resident detective.

I added a top drawer for a few supplies, and to have a place for daily stickers that don't need or wouldn't fit in a drawer--practicing their instruments, making their beds, exercising, and taking out the garbage or recycling.

My daughter's #1 drawer (which still needs a label!) is a "Time with Mom" drawer, where I put any of the previous day's work that we need to go over.  After we do that, she simply puts those books back in their respective drawers, and starts her day.  She keeps her Bible in the top "supply" drawer, but doesn't put a sticker up for that.

My son prefers not to have a separate drawer for "Time with Mom" any more, and just comes to me with the work he knows we'll need to discuss.  When he started high school last year, I found that our time was getting longer and felt it was more fair to him to schedule things like longer history discussions into his actual history time.  We spent enough time on history last year for 1.5-2 credits!  So I make sure longer discussions no longer derail the day but count as part of his work.  This helps me not to be such an over-achieving home school mom, trying to squeeze in one more thing!

The boxes help my kids know what to expect each day, and help them efficiently use their time.  They keep their items well-organized, and we seldom have missing books due to our rule that they can't put the sticker up (marking a subject as "done") without returning all of the supplies.  It's simple, yet effective.  Having a very visual organizational system is helpful for anyone who might struggle with losing things, and yet I find this flexible enough to be creative in our schooling.  My kids can work on a project or experiment, read outside, and manage their own time--this just helps us keep on track, not forget to do things, and not lose things!  If I want to schedule only a half day, I only put some stickers up.  If they want to write in their science journal for Language Arts time, I can make that switch.  The system hasn't changed us so much as it has made us more efficient and effective in what we do.

I also like that it allows me to clearly see how to organize my day--both kids can't use the computer at the same time, or work with me at the same time, so I make sure to lay out their boxes in an order that accommodates those needs.  My son reads history while I work with my daughter, and so on.

One last thing we have changed since I started:  location.  We no longer school in our kitchen.  The only remaining school items in there are a wall map and a cupboard with art supplies.  Their boxes are now in our livingroom with all of our home school books.  My kids are growing up!  sniff...

Next time I'll post about what's in each box.  How do you use workboxes?

Need a template for number circles?  Here's the one I made.


  1. Wow...thanks so much for this great post! I am just beginning my homeschooling journey with my first born who is beginning Grade 2...I know he will love the workbox idea! Looking forward to reading your next post...


  2. How fun, I hope you have a great year Gayle!

  3. hi there, love this idea! how would it work for sonlight core 100? would i have to take the binder apart, break it down by subject, and put in daily sheets???? any input you may have is appreciated?

  4. I did Sonlight 100 last year. I put 4 weeks of the Student IG in a working binder for my son to follow along, but he didn't end up using it. Instead we discussed the history notes together. Lit. went in its own drawer. We didn't use the SL LA, but you could put those assignments into their own binder or a folder I suppose. Or keep everything in one binder to refer to, but the actual books and assignments/papers could be organized in the workboxes.

  5. What a great system! I am hoping when my son is in HS that will work best for him. He still likes to have me guide him and give him instruction. We are starting to work ourselves into independence this year with a 'work on my own' worklist for Geography.

  6. Hi Adoption--you can use workboxes even when you have a lot of time together. Your child gets his materials out of his box, you get anything you need, and you work together. When I started, my kids were not doing much independently--this system was a good tool to help us work towards that though.

  7. Great post! I was wondering where did you get your drawers and did they come with those nifty dividers on top?

    God Bless,

  8. Hi Leslie, I bought them at Staples, and yes, the dividers came on top. I did notice that last year Staples changed the design of their drawers and I'm not sure if the new design is as sturdy. The older design definitely has held up over time. Worth checking out though. Merry :-)

  9. I LOVE this idea! We have a very small home with an open plan lounge / kitchen & no dedicated school space. We've got one bookshelf that holds all our school books (had to put most of my own 'library' into storage when we moved here (temporarily)). I had a problem having to keep our "active books" for the week in a stack on top of the desk in the lounge since we were running out of space continually. (The kids have to sit at same desk for meals). So I got one plastic container and put our active books into that. I took out 2 weeks schedule from the IG and put that into a thinner file. Science sheets in a seperate file & so for LA. This box is shoved in underneath the desk when not used.
    I'm so glad to see I'm thinking in the right direction.
    We don't have space for what you've got but hopefully we'll find a more spacious home soon & we can implement this.
    (We're doing Core B with LA K & MUS primer but might be delaying carrying on for a while since DD who is 6 is struggling a bit).
    Love & hugz
    Johannesburg, South Africa

  10. Riette, if you google you can find examples of people using a milk crate or file box for workboxes--that might work for you in your smaller space right now. Basically they use hanging files for the "boxes." Since your dd is only 6, you can definitely slow down Core B if needed--we did some of those early cores over 2 years to make time for field trips and other interests, it was fun to go at a relaxed pace! If she's struggling with LA K, you might take a look at All About Reading, to see if that approach would be a better fit for her. Have fun! Merry :-)

  11. Hi Merry, We are longtime homeschoolers and actually tried workboxing when it first got popular...I like your system for using it, especially for older children. I think a workbox system might work well for my seventh-grader this coming year; she had actually mentioned it as something she enjoyed when we used it before!

    I like your drawers, too, but I still have the dozen plastic magazine holders (with Velcro dots still attached) that I bought four years ago, and they fit well on our cupboard shelves, so they will have to do for now.

  12. Very nice! It was interesting to read about how your workboxes are working for your older children! I never considered that, as children get older, their work will take up the whole box! That's why I love gleaning wisdom from other Moms. :)