Monday, July 1, 2013

Workboxes Evolution

I first attempted a form of workboxes way back in the spring of 2009 and it was a quick crash and burn. It was a single bin with file folders and it kept falling over and didn't motivate my then K'er at all.

I attempted it differently, and more fully, in the summer of the following year, and I am glad to say that while parts of the system I detailed in that post have gone by the wayside (like the whole workfolder system), the heart of that system is still in use now 3 years later.

In this post a year later, summer of 2011, I detailed the slight changes that happened to our system over the first year of use.

Today I'll give you the run down of how our workboxes have functioned day in and day out for most days over the last two years.

First, I am no longer doing workboxes, workfolders, or any thing of that sort with my teens. I simply email them a pdf schedule with 5 days worth of assignments in every subject and they work off of that. They do use a large bin (like the ones pictured below, but deeper) with file folders in it to store finished work. Books they are using either go on the school book shelf or on their own book shelf in their room (or, more honestly, on the floor next to their beds). My elementary students, 5th, 3rd, and 1st grades as of today, are the ones still using workboxes.

Here is what our school bins (as we refer to them at home) look like. They are 6.2 quart flat stacking bins with locking lids measuring 15" long by 11" wide by 3.25" high or, more simply put, big enough so that even the largest workbook lies flat. Sadly it seems the only ones available currently are no longer colorless but are all over aqua. Ugh. Sterilite now has a slightly different clip box that would serve the same purpose that you can get at Target for the same price as the visually shocking agua ones. Google "workboxes" to see the million different types of containers other people use.

Since my husband put in built-in cabinets and shelves for me last summer, our school bins have lived in a cupboard, out of sight when we aren't actively doing school. I used colored duct tape to "label" both handles of each bin with the student's color so everyone can tell at a glance whose bin is whose.

At the beginning of a school day, the bins are removed from the cupboard and moved across the room or under the table or wherever the kid wants their stack to be for the day, except not in major walkways or strewn over 10 linear feet of floor space (because sometimes I just have to be a mean mommy, sigh). Then they work through their school a bin at a time, putting each bin back in the cupboard as that subject is completed. They are free to choose the order of their bins for the most part, although I occasionally intervene and require them to do a troubling subject earlier in the day. When all the bins are back in the cupboard they are done with school. We tried, briefly, to do the whole take-a-number-off-and-put-it-on-a-grid thing but it seemed purposeless when moving the entire bin from the stack to the cupboard was a much more climatic visual of finished work.

I do not put "fun" things in our workboxes. I tried it at the very beginning of our workboxes adventures, but it was a pain for both me and the kids. I keep an almost obscene amount of art and craft supplies, educational toys, games, DVDs, science projects, lapbooking stuff, historical projects, nature study objects, and more on hand and I freely encourage the kids to use them as they want (with permission, mostly so they aren't pulling stuff out before putting other stuff away). With all that fun stuff of their choosing, what was fun about something mom chose? Day after day there were asking, "Do I have to do this?" Um, no that painting project I spent 10 minutes putting together yesterday afternoon so that you would have something "fun" in your workboxes isn't really "school", and if you aren't going to have fun doing it why bother. Yeah, I gave up on choosing fun things for them pretty quick and just went back to encouraging them to pick whatever fun stuff they wanted. That works better for all of us.

I will add that I did fill a couple bins with fun but quiet and independent activities for my preschooler, when I still had a preschooler. It gave her something to do and kept her busy and (mostly) quiet for a while as I did school with her brothers. I did things like ready-made tea parties, games like Mighty Mind and Activities in a Bag, play dough (homemade, of course), sand letter cards, Tot Tray ideas, and many other things. Surprisingly, I didn't have to switch out the things in her bins daily in order to keep her entertained. Even though she had the shortest attention span of any of my kids (and still does, but that's a whole other blog post, sigh), she still would play with the same couple bins for up to a week before growing bored of them.

For a while I put shared subjects, like Sonlight Read Alouds and Science, in one child's bin and when he got to it he knew we had to all do it together. However, for the last year or more I have had kept shared subjects on the school shelf and we just know that we have to do them as well. Since we do the shared subjects all at once, either first thing when we start school (9:00 ish) or first thing after lunch, it's just easier for them not to be in the bins.

I do not set up our workboxes every day. I just don't. Many subjects, like Math and Handwriting, are workbook based and we simply do the next thing each day. Post-It Note Flags, in each child's color of course, are ideal for keeping our place in each workbook. It would be more work, more mess, and more likely to cause lost papers if I cut the workbooks apart to put in just one day's work. Of course, some subjects are done on loose papers, like Sonlight's Language Arts Activity Sheets and copywork work assignments, but I put blank lined paper and Activity Sheets in that bin for up to a month at a time. I rarely need to mess with more than one or two workbox contents each week, let alone messing with every workbox for every child every day. A system that required that just wouldn't last two days in my house.

I see our workbox system continuing pretty much as-is for years yet. They provide a visual list of what needs to be done each day so that both the student and I can see at a glance what is left. They also provide school storage and organization along with portability. Workboxes are a huge and very successful part of our homeschool.

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