Tuesday, October 27, 2009

TOS Review: Sue Patrick's Workboxes

Unless you've been living under a homeschooling rock for the past year or so, you've heard of Workboxes. Of course you have! The whole concept came seemingly out of nowhere overnight, revolutionized the way many folks do school, and is now as ubiquitous as Saxon math and A Beka Language Arts.

Of course, Workboxes didn't actually come out of nowhere. They sprang from Sue Patrick's desire to find a way to home educate her autistic son, who was struggling. By tailoring a process to the specific needs of her attention-challenged child, Sue hit on an approach to homeschool organization that has pulled many homeschooling mothers from the bring of chaos in the structuring of their school days.

Prior to being selected to review this program, I knew only what I'd read on forums and blogs--and trust me, there was plenty out there. Everyone, it seemed, was trying out their own version of the Workbox structure. Some were using Sue Patrick's book and approach. Others were copycatting based on what they could cull from others. And still others were just set on fire with the concept of pulling together a cohesive system, period. They didn't care whether it was called Workboxes or Workhorses or plain old This is Where I Put Your Work.

At the heart of the Workbox program are--appropriately--boxes. Filled with assignments, activities, and hands-on educational tools, these boxes are organized by mom and utilized by the student. The idea is that mom fills the boxes, the kids systematically go through the boxes, and in the end, everyone is satisfied that all of the (ahem) boxes have been checked.

Had I not received a free copy of Sue's ebook (available for $19 on her website) to review, I would have thought that the above encapsulated the entire Workbox philosophy. It seems simple enough, after all.

But the truth is: the boxes themselves are only a small part of what makes Workboxes truly Workboxes. Sue Patrick has outlined an entire educational approach based around this mode of organization. On first blush, it seems like an offshoot of the traditional school-at-home take, but after a few days of implementing the entire program, I can honestly say that Workboxes are something completely unique. Using the Workbox approach fully is clearly a method in and of itself.

First, I must admit that our time sticking religiously to the Workbox routine as specifically outlined in Sue's book was fairly short. By day four of the "grab your box, work through it, grab another box, work through it, et. al." assembly line, my guinea pigs were chafing. Logan was the spokesperson for the group: "It's just me and these boxes!" The truth is, mothers can disconnect almost entirely when using this method, if they so choose. Please note that I'm not indicating that this is advocated or intended by Sue Patrick in any way. In fact, I think she wants parents to do the exact opposite; her book (and therefore, the approach that springs from it) assumes that students need a certain level of observation to stay on task. Parents of children who really can oversee math worksheets while reading a picture book to younger sibling might find themselves completely tuning the older kids out, however. I did this on more than one occasion. Since all of my prep work for the older kids was completely out of the way, and I knew that they'd be slogging quietly through their boxes until they hit one which required my input, I was free to throw myself completely into fantastic games with just Oliver, Manolin, and the Little People Airplane.

Which is a good thing. Except, well ... it's not how we homeschool.

(This is where I should note that Atticus, my box-checking, "just hand me an assignment and let me finish it" kid, was enthralled with the Workboxes. He completed his work in record time, as a matter of fact, and spent hours each day memorizing the Apologia Astronomy book I had tossed into one of his bins as a time-killer. He has asked repeatedly if he can be the sole Workbox adherent, even if no one else wants to do it.)

Also decidedly different for us was an odd recommendation that the kids only ask for help so many times, and only when using a little popsicle-stick sign to get your attention. I found that concept so bizarre that I admit I never even mentioned it to my brood. I did, however, give a trial run on a concept I'd read of being used in public schools recently: using sign language to ask to go to the bathroom, etc. instead of interrupting the speaker verbally. Since we're knee-deep in signing with Oliver, anyhow, that seemed to make more sense. It was true to the spirit of the book without what I saw as the subtle distancing effect that using a sign would introduce.

The kids liked it fine. And yes, it did cut down on the number of times I had to hit the brakes on The Phantom Tollbooth.

Aside from setting up the boxes (which is outlined in detail in the book), there are numerous other subtle changes that adopting the complete Workbox method will bring to your school. For many families, I can see this as being an attractive, successful approach to homeschooling. Especially large families, families with many young siblings and only a handful of school-aged kids, families with children who need the added support and accountability of the directed-handholding that working box by box can provide ... all of them will no doubt benefit by investing in this ebook and carefully applying Sue Patrick's recommendations to their schooling. Mothers who are especially prone to disorganization will also find something to inspire them here; maybe just walking toward routine is enough to justify buying the book!

For us, though, Workboxes as an overall philosophy were too restrictive. I find myself still using bits of the overall set-up (the investment in bins was well over $30 for three children ... I might as well use them!) if not the concept as a whole. And in that regard, our free review period was a success. I'm no doubt a more organized homeschooler because of the habits I had to establish in order to try this method. You can't say that's a bad thing!


Hall Family said...

~~~Which is a good thing. Except, well ... it's not how we homeschool.~~~

That is exactly the sentence I have been saying in my head a lot here lately!
I have not done the workboxes, and do not know if I ever will, but I am glad to finally find someone who can admit exactly what I have been thinking....

Different things work for EVERYONE, and even if something seems to work, it does not mean it really works for our family.

Thanks for being honest and saying how you really feel!

Karla @ Ramblin' Roads said...

I'm glad you got to review this system. (I didn't.) That was pretty much my take on it, just from reviews I've read so far. I was glad I wasn't chosen for this one, because I think it just would have been over-kill for the relaxed way I homeschool. I can see it working very well in some situations, though.