If you homeschool you've probably heard of workboxes. It's all over the place, ad nauseam. Never one to jump on the band wagon I stayed far, far away from them. Until one day I caved and thought I'd at least figure out what the brouhaha was all about. After reading for a while I could tell that it did not fit well with the Charlotte Mason approach to homeschooling. It was mostly worksheets or busy work (or so I thought). So I ignored it.
Several months later, and with everyone still talking about it, I did some more research. This time I saw how a few people were using it in a more CM-friendly way. I sat down and made a list of things I thought would work and talked with my husband. We decided to take the plunge and started doing workboxes about 2 months ago. Thus far it is working very well.
My two older boys, ages 9, are learning to be more independent and to manage their time. My 5-yr-old is also learning how to work solo and to sit still for longer than 3 minutes. Even my 3-yr-old is in on the action with lots of fun and educational activities.
So, how did I reconcile my Charlotte Mason beliefs with workboxes? I'm glad you asked. First, there are many things I wanted to get to in our day, but it just didn't happen. Workboxes were a great way to add those things in. Second, I saw that a lot of their schoolwork could be put in the workboxes and done on their time thus freeing me up to do other things.
Right now each boy has 6 boxes. We chose to use the larger plastic drawer style because we don't have a lot of room for shelves full of shoe boxes and frankly I think that looks messy. And my 3-yr-old loves to dump things out. I also bought several digital timers from the Dollar Store which are kept in a small box on top of their workboxes. We're at a point where we need more boxes though. More on that in a minute.
To make it easier on myself I've created index cards with the name of each potential activity on them. For example, one card might say, "build something with Lincoln Logs for 15 minutes", another might say, "play with Creativity Express on the computer for 15 minutes" or "use the Wedgits to create something" or "play Swamp Sum with your brother" or whatever. We all have (or at least I do) closets full of awesome things we've bought over the years, but can't find the time for the kids to use. By writing everything on cards I can easily see what I have and make sure I'm rotating through them.
So, in those 6 boxes the boys might find the following:
1. Scripture verses to read - always. The first box every day contains a small card with the verses they should read that day. They also keep a copy of their scriptures there so they don't have to hunt for them every day.
2. Copywork. I put their copywork folder in a drawer with a sticky telling them how many pieces of paper they need to draw from the copywork jars. They do this 2 or 3 times a week. Occasionally I'll have them do copywork from something we read in history or science or poetry.
3. Math drill worksheets. I'm not a fan of worksheets, but math is the one area that they need them. I photocopied the drill sheets from the back my RightStart book and they do those 2 or 3 times a week. The other days they play some of the games either by themselves or with each other. To make things extra fun I throw in logic games once in a while like Rush Hour or Mighty Mind or something from the Critical Thinking Skills books.
4. Narrations - I will include a blank piece of paper with instructions as to what they should 'narrate' such as 'draw how food is digested' or 'draw a picture of Plimouth Plantation'. Sometimes I'll include a notebooking page where they illustrate on top and write a few sentences on the bottom.
5. Piano practice. There's a card that tells them to go practice the piano for 15 minutes. This is done daily.
6. Exercise. I vary this - some days it tells them to ride their bikes or to play the Wii Fit or to go for a walk with their brother and dog.
7. Handicrafts - I either include some craft materials in their workbox and tell them to go create or I have a card in there which tells them to make something. Sometimes it's up to them - "create something" other times I'll say "using glue, pipe cleaners and pom-poms to create something".
8. Explode the Code and Growing with Grammar. Some might argue that these are not CM resources but I find them very helpful in learning to read and understanding the language. Two or three times a week I'll stick in a page or two from one or both of these books.
9. Various games, puzzles and building toys. I use the index cards as mentioned above to fill any additional boxes.
10. The last box usually has a piece of candy and a reward such as "go for a bike ride" or "play the Wii for 20 minutes" or "read a comic book from mom's secret stash". Yes, I keep a secret stash of comic books with which to bribe my kids.
As you can see there are a bazillion things I could put in their workboxes so it never gets boring for them. Scriptures, exercise and piano are daily. The other ones get rotated through. And now we need more boxes!!!
Instead of getting more big ones (at $30 a pop) we were talking about getting the tiny little drawers that could be used for holding the index cards only. They cost about $5. The cards could go in those drawers and things like their copywork notebooks and math worksheets could go in the larger drawers. We'll see....
The 5-yr-old is in kindergarten. His workboxes contain the following:
1. Scriptures - but he reads these with me.
2. Handwriting practice - I give him a whiteboard and an index card with various letters or numbers or words to practice.
3. A phonics or Explode the Code worksheet.
4. Some sort of skills worksheet like "circle the item that doesn't belong" or "mark the tallest". I know, I know, I said I hate worksheets, but they do have a place for new learners and he sure loves them. Sometimes it's an actual skill like cutting paper or gluing or lacing or threading.
5. Hands-on games and activities.
7. Piano practice
8. I use the index cards for him too and he often builds with K'nex or Lincoln Logs or magnets.
The 3-yr-old has mostly fun educational games that I've made. I'll have to do a separate post on those. His boxes are downstairs where we do most of our reading and he is learning to pull out an activity and sit quietly working on it while we work on school.
From what I've read the woman who came up with the idea of workboxes does not fully approve of people modifying her system. We further modify (golly I feel bad) it by not even using the workbox labels! The boys know you start at the top and work your way down. Most people have the child take the velcroed number off the workbox and place it on a strip showing the work was done. My kids don't really seem to care about that. They do it, they enjoy it, they get done and move on with their day.
I feel like we're getting more done in each day now and the boys are feeling more confident in their education. I think it's a great way to help them work towards more educational independence. Workboxes also help keep the kids productive when I'm doing dishes or teaching a brother independently or whatever it is I do during the day.
Overall I'm very pleased with the way the workboxes have improved our school days. I think they most definitely can be used in a Charlotte Mason way!