You shall teach them diligently to your children, and shall talk of them when you sit in your house, and when you walk by the way, and when you lie down, and when you rise. -Deuteronomy 6:7

Saturday, July 20, 2013


When homeschooling, it doesn't take long to figure out that if we're not organized, our home school feels like a sinking ship!  I had done some research on Sue Patrick’s Workbox system (See her website at via some other home schooling blogs and thought they would be just the thing for us.
So far they are working great!  It’s a little more challenging for me than some of the other moms because I use so many Montessori materials rather than worksheets and text books alone.  So I tweaked the system to work for us.
It takes some up front planning, but it will be well worth it.
Here’s a snapshot of how we are using the system so far.
I chose to buy some scrapbooking drawers when they were 50% off at Michaels Craft stores. One set for each child.  I believe these can also be found at JoAnne’s Fabrics and possibly at Sam’s Club.

I made some numbers for each box and added them with velcro dots so they can be removed as work is completed.
I plan out the content of each drawer based on my goals for the week which I map out on a spreadsheet.  I’m still tweaking the spreadsheet as I see how it works.
The subjects on the spreadsheet for the workboxes include:
-          Geometry, math, language and grammar assignments. reading and associated assignments, history, botany, zoology, science (Jan and May are our science months), geography, phonics (for my 2nd grader), spelling, Rosetta Stone Chinese, handwriting, Bible and Commands of Christ.
Art, PE and Music are covered in home school co-op classes.
Of course, not every subject is covered every day.  And I do allow my kids to continue work on a topic as long as they are concentrating.  So if History and timelines take all morning, so be it.  I’d rather have them dive deep into the material than to watch the clock and stop them just for the sake of getting to the next topic.
Once I have the work planned on my spreadsheet, I break it down into days and fill up the workboxes with instructions for the children.  They can open a workbox and see exactly what they need to do.
If they have a card in the workbox that says “WORK WITH MOM”, they know they need to get a “presentation” from me, or work with me to complete the entire assignment.  I try to stagger the “work with mom” boxes so that both children don’t need me at the same time.
Some subjects are done with all of us together, such as science and history.  For those, I plan them to fall at the same time (usually at the beginning of workbox time, or right after lunch.)
The top of the boxes holds a basket of each child's personal belongings.  Booklets for geometry (they write their own geometry textbooks), VFL - their "verses for life" from the Bible, Art sketches, Botany book with their own documentation, etc.

In this box, my daughter already knows she needs to mark the nouns, verbs and adjectives because she’s had several presentations on how to do it.  So this is follow-up work and does not require my assistance.  In the box, I provided the sheet she needs to complete as well as the appropriate color of pencils to complete the work.  (In Montessori, nouns, verbs, adjectives, etc., are all symbolized with different shapes of different colors.  These are established by now for any child who has been in Montessori from an early age.)

In this box, my son has pulled out his maps and he then goes to get appropriate materials rather than my putting them in the box.  He knows he can use any maps we have around the room, or the atlas books we have, to complete the labeling work.

In this box, Kailyn has several math problems – addition and multiplication.  (Subtraction isn’t taught until addition and multiplication are nearly mastered.)  She knows that she will need to get appropriate Montessori materials to complete the problems she can’t do in her head.  She might choose the “Stamp Game” for the addition and the “Checkerboard” for the multiplication. 

The beauty of Montessori materials is that once I’ve given a complete “presentation” of how to do the work, I can then assign follow-up work that the child can work on alone for the rest of the week or even as long as a month, depending on the level of difficulty and the various follow-up assignments available.  This makes it easy to fill in the workboxes with follow-up work.
The challenge with Montessori materials is just learning all of the best ways to use them and the proper order.  Since I’m not using a set textbook or curriculum that tells me what to do next with a worksheet for everything, it takes a lot more planning and time to educate myself.  But once I get over the hurdle of proper use, it’s a thing of beauty to fill up the boxes and then watch my children enjoy their work (most of the time), challenge themselves, and problem solve without mom having to tell them every time make a mistake.  They typically figure out errors on their own since the materials are self-correcting in most cases. 
The workboxes also eliminate any wondering how much more they need to do.  The kids are able to quickly see their progress as they take the number off the workbox and put it inside when they have completed that work. 
Another benefit is that they seem to find it fun to open the next box and see what is in there.  It might be a fun follow-up work or something they haven’t done before, or maybe their favorite subject.  I’m working on adding some fun craft items in the middle of the day to break things up a bit, too.  I’m not naturally “crafty”, so this will take some work!
I’m also considering letting them work in any order they want, rather than in the order the drawers are numbered.  That would be the Montessori thing to do.  But I’m not sure how that would go just yet.  I’ll do some trial runs to see if we can make that work.  Working in the order they choose might be a great way to keep motivation higher.  Then they could choose a fun craft, or favorite work, once they have completed their workboxes. 
We’ll see how this next week goes as I focus on staying flexible and upbeat.  No matter how good the system, I know if I am not excited about the home school day, my children definitely won’t be!  And if I do not keep a pleasant demeanor, my children will certainly not.
Colossians 3:20-21 ESV Children, obey your parents in everything, for this pleases the Lord.  Fathers, do not provoke your children, lest they become discouraged.
Lord, help me to train up these children in your Word and teach them about all of your wonderful creation.  It is only by your Grace that I will be able to do it.  Amen.

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