Train up a child in the way he should go, and when he is old he will not depart from it.
Proverbs 22:6

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

We Love Workboxes!

As soon as I heard about Sue Patrick's Workbox System A User's Guide, I knew I had to give it a try. When we first started homeschooling for Kindergarten this summer, I had a tough time keeping myself and my son on track with our daily schoolwork and activities. I had a daily schedule, but I never seemed to be prepared enough for each day. The workbox system is such a simple solution that many other homeschooling moms are probably thinking, "Why didn't I think of that?" But don't let its simplicity fool you, it is a highly effective way to plan and organize your homeschooling day.
Our method of using workboxes is a little different than how Sue Patrick suggests, so I would recommend reading the book first and then deciding the best way for your family to implement the system. In our variation, each child has a stand with 12 shoebox-sized clear containers. The boxes have laminated numbers attached with double stick velcro circles. The general idea is to divide up your homeschooling day by filling each box with a lesson or activity that needs to be completed. The child can see all the boxes from the start and knows what he gets to do that day. When the child finishes one box, he removes the velcroed number and places it in a clear baggie I have taped to the side of the stand. All of his completed work is to be placed in a "Done Box" sitting on the floor next to the stand. This allows the child to see what he has accomplished at any point in the day and how much he has left to do. Here are some pictures for a visual.

Joshua's workbox stand is ready for the day and his "Done Box" is on the floor next to it. I taped a clear ziploc baggie to the right side of the stand for him to put the velcroed numbers in when he completes a box.

Ella is 3 so she only gets 6 boxes for now of fun learning activities. Some of her boxes she does independently, which is a great way to keep her occupied when I need to spend one-on-one time with Joshua. Others we do together. Her "Done Box" is also on the floor next to her stand.

This is how the workbox stands are set up in our school room (dining room). They really take up less space than I expected.
Ok, down to logistics. I've heard many questions about the workbox system, some of which I'll try to do my best to answer.

What's in the boxes?
For Joshua, I separate his Sonlight lessons into most of the boxes and the others are for other fun learning activities or breaks. Each box contains all the materials needed for that particular lesson.
Here is the breakdown of his workboxes today:

Box 1 - Bible Lesson, Scripture memory verse of the week
Box 2 - Saxon Math Lesson
Box 3 - Sonlight Reader - short story he reads to me
Box 4 - Sports Activity-20 minutes (He likes to go outside and play sports.)
Box 5 - Sonlight Language Arts Lesson and Activity
Box 6 - Handwriting Without Tears
Box 7 - Sonlight Read Alouds - Nursery Rhymes, Poetry
Box 8 - Free time - 20 minutes
Box 9 - Sonlight History/Geography
Box 10 - Sonlight Science
Box 11 - Hooked on Phonics reading game
Box 12 - Computer Time - 20 minutes

Now this seems like alot, but most of the activities take only 10-15 minutes. I try to schedule the longer activities earlier so he has more energy. I also schedule the lessons that I really want him to complete earlier just in case we don't get to the later ones. Sometimes we might get busy and miss a few days of History and Science, so I put them in the earlier boxes later in the week to make sure they get done. The only box that never changes is #1 - Bible Lesson. I want my kids to know that no matter what, God's Word is the first and most important thing for us to learn. Everything else can come after.

Here is the breakdown for Ella's boxes (3 year old):

Box 1 - Preschool Bible Devotional
Box 2 - Educational coloring sheet - letters, shapes, numbers, etc
Box 3 - Teach Your Child to Read in 100 Easy Lessons
Box 4 - Different colored foam shapes to string onto pipe cleaners to practice patterns and make pretty bracelets
Box 5 - Puzzle
Box 6 - Book for Mommy to read to her

Ella loves to do "school" like Joshua and I love that I can now plan specific activities for her to do with me or independently.

What if I have a large family?
The stands don't take up too much room for 1 or 2 children, but when your family keeps growing, it could seem like the workboxes are taking over your house. I've seen some great variations for larger families on other homeschool blogs, which I will most likely implement when my children are older and hopefully our family is bigger. One I like in particular is using the vertical plastic drawer storage stands that stand alone or can stack on top of each other. Each child would get a stand and each drawer is numbered and contains a lesson for that day. Another reason many people like the drawer stands is that the books and papers lay flat instead of diagonal as they do in the plastic boxes.

Where can I get ideas for what to put in each box?
Sue Patrick gives great ideas in her book and you can find a ton more on other homeschool blogs by doing a search for "workbox activities" or any variation of that phrase. I also received alot of information from the Yahoo workbox groups online. I'll also try to post ideas for workbox activities as I do them and learn new ones.

Please comment if you have any questions and I'll do my best to answer or try to find the answers to them.

Sunday, September 20, 2009

Our Schoolroom

Our dining room is our central homeschool location. We purchased a large white board and bulletin board from and the shelving units are from various retailers. We have a nice big dining table where we work and can spread out our school materials.

We use the workbox system in our schooling, which has really kept us on track. This picture shows our workbox setup. Each child has a shelving unit (4-shelf wire shoe rack from Target) with 6-12 numbered workboxes (clear plastic boxes) for each activity or lesson they are to complete for the day. This allows them to see what they have to do for the day, shows them what they have accomplished so far, and keeps me in check by forcing me to prepare ahead of time for our school day. I will write another more detailed blog about how we use workboxes sometime in the near future.

This shelving stand holds our Sonlight Core K materials, puzzles, large bins of workbox activities, and school files and supplies leftover from when I was a first grade teacher.

When we first moved into our home, my mother-in-law came up with this great idea for kids' storage. We purchased 3 shelving units that fit into the niche of our bar area in our dining room to hold toys, books, diapers, etc. Yes, it looks cluttered, but my kids know where to put things away.

This is not what we have on our bulletin board at this time, but I wanted to show how I had it set up last year. This was our daily calendar where we covered many concepts, such as months of the year, days of the week, patterns, even and odd numbers, money, tally marks, place value, addition and subtraction. We would spend about 10-15 minutes each day going over each area of the calendar. After awhile, I could see it was beginning to get a little mundane for Joshua, so I decided to take a break from the calendar. For now our bulletin board shows off the kids' masterpieces.

Saturday, September 19, 2009

Why We Homeschool

My husband and I did not wake up one day and say, “Hey! Wouldn’t it be great to homeschool our kids?” Our decision to homeschool was the result of a long process that included discussions with other homeschoolers, prayer, online and book research, prayer, many family discussions, and did I mention prayer? There are many in this world (and the numbers are growing fast) who choose or have no choice but to homeschool and have their own reasons for doing it. I would like to share with you our personal reasons for homeschooling our children.

Our Values - We believe that the Bible is the infallible Word of God, and therefore take seriously the commands (not suggestions) given in it. Proverbs 22:6 says “Train up a child in the way he should go, and when he is old he will not depart from it.” This training is not limited to discipline or behavior, but refers to the whole child - mind, heart, and body. As parents of children God has so graciously given us to raise, we believe it is our responsibility to educate our children about the world they live in and the One who created it. No, we are not public or private school haters. We both attended great private schools, I taught for a year in a good public school, and many children do get excellent educations from them. However, during the many years children spend in educational institutions, countless individuals have a direct or indirect impact on the shaping of their minds and hearts. We as parents cannot guarantee that the values of those who are teaching our children, or those in charge of choosing the curriculum, are in line with the values we wish to pass on to them. Homeschooling gives us the opportunity to have a direct influence on what they are learning about life and the One who gives it.

Flexibility – We are a military family, which means we frequently travel for long trips to see extended family members. My husband will have long-term deployments, during which we will find comfort in spending time with out-of-town family and friends. If our children were registered in school, we would not easily be able to pick up and go anytime we wish for long periods. If we did take them out of school, it would be at the risk of them missing important lessons. As homeschoolers, school can come with us anywhere we go or it can take a break for weeks at a time and start right back up again with no lessons lost.

Every Child Learns Differently - We can judge where each of our children are in their learning development and customize an individualized curriculum just for them. My son began Kindergarten when he was 4 years old, not because I am a high-pressure mom trying to force early learning, but because he was learning so much on his own from his natural curiosity that I did not have a choice. If I were to enroll him in Kindergarten this year, he would be reviewing letter sounds when he is already a first/second grade reader. Imagine the behavior issues this could cause. This does not mean our daughters will also begin Kindergarten homeschool at the same age. We will watch how they learn about the world around them and judge from their own learning development when the right time will be for them.

Socialization – I do not know the specific statistical research on this point, but I have seen in my own personal experience that for the most part homeschooled children and teenagers are more comfortable when speaking to adults and tend to be more mature in their speaking manner. I believe this happens because homeschoolers, instead of spending most of the day with 30 similar-aged peers, have conversations with people of all ages, maturity, and speaking levels in their home and other outside activities. We believe that homeschooling and the opportunity it gives us for extracurricular activities will actually give our children better socialization skills than from any public or private school. We still enroll our kids in activities and sports and stay active in playgroups and church functions, giving our children plenty of supervised interaction with their peers. We would rather raise what the world thinks are “sheltered” children than children exposed to drugs, sex and violence before they are mature enough to make the right decision.

Homeschooling is Fun! – I cannot begin to think of all the experiences we would miss if our children were in school for most of the day five days a week. There is too much out in the world (not just in a schoolroom) to learn about and experience. Just as when we get to see their first steps and words, there is so much joy in seeing the excitement in a child’s eyes when he learns something new. Yes, it is work and an incredible learning process for us to plan a curriculum and bring it to fruition, but how wonderful it is to see the fruits of that labor. Sure, there will be twists, turns, and bumps along the way, but I feel so blessed that I get to go on this exciting homeschooling journey with all of my children.