Monday, October 26, 2009

Product Review: Sue Patrick Workbox System

I try to write my product reviews as if I were sitting in my living room with a few of my closest homeschooling-mom friends, sipping coffee (or in my case chai tea) while discussing our latest curricular discoveries. Recently, I was given the Sue Patrick's Workbox System User's Guide ebook to review. The workbox system is currently all the rage in homeschool circles, so I imagine I have a friend or two who is curious about how this system works. If you want to know more, come on in to my cyber living room and pull up a chair. I will do my best to answer all your questions.

What is the Sue Patrick Workbox System?

Sue Patrick has devised a way to organize assignments and school materials so that students have everything they need to complete their lessons at their fingertips throughout the day. The system also helps the teacher create a schedule that students manage themselves. Using items like laminated cards, plastic shoe boxes, and Velcro strips, students have visual aids that move them from one task to the next with little to no help from Mom. As they complete one task, they consult their schedule strips and move to the next activities on their lists. Everything they need for each lesson is contained within a shoe box, and upon completion, everything is left in the same container, ready for Mom to grade.

Is the ebook helpful?

Sue Patrick is a very organized, thorough person, and so is her book. It provides everything you need to know to set up a successful workbox system, plus some. The book includes information on the benefits of homeschooling, adapting your curriculum to fit the workbox system, creating learning centers and folder games, modifying student assignments to make them more appealing to and usable by children, discipline, teaching life skills (such as typing and sequencing), and much more. She includes several color photographs of the components of the workbox system, including pictures of the system at various stages during the day. There are samples of all the forms needed to set up your daily schedule and the workbox system itself. After purchasing a book, it can be registered at Sue Patrick's website and all the necessary forms can be downloaded for free.

How involved is "workboxing" and what will it cost to set up a system in my homeschool?

The Sue Patrick Workbox System incorporates two components: the physical structure and an educational philosophy. The physical structure involves the actual set up which requires a number of materials and a good amount of printing, laminating, cutting, and attaching Velcro. I spent about $75 buying the materials needed for two sets of workboxes (one for each of my boys) and I worked for about 3 hours on the initial set up. The system is bulky, too. I had to get creative to find an area in my small house for two three-shelf racks (the book calls for 4-shelves). These things all bothered me at first, but as I used the system and had good results (I will write more about this in a minute), I decided it was worth the expense, time, and floor space.

The educational philosophy centers around developing a strong work ethic and initiative in children. The book is very specific about how and where the system is to be set up and how it is to be implemented. Sue Patrick strongly suggests that the system be followed exactly as she developed it. I have to be honest and say I did not do this. My educational philosophy, as well as my attitudes on student behavior, do not line up with hers 100 %. I also do not have an area in my house that would allow me to set the system up exactly as described. That's not to say that her advice should not be considered. She offers a lot of wisdom in her book; however, I had to make the system my own and refashion it to meet our needs.

With that said, virtually any curriculum can be used with the workbox system, and it has the potential to help families from one end of the philosophical spectrum to the other. The educational philosophy speaks more to student-ownership of learning than to a particular homeschool ideology. The workbox system could be used with most approaches, from classical to delight directed and anything in between.

However, because the Sue Patrick Workbox system stresses the science of teaching over the art, I imagine most homeschoolers not loving some of the ideas within the ebook or finding them applicable. I do recommend the ebook and that you give the science behind the workbox system some consideration. Then be an artful teacher and tweak it to suit your needs, style, and goals.

How did you use the workbox system?

We have used the workbox system for one month. During that time, I have started each day with a two-hour block for direct instruction, group work, and discussions. Lessons needing the most support from me or that require the boys and I work together, like our devotion time, catechism practice, new skills instruction, and read alouds, fit into this "meeting time". Then I organize all other school work, instrument practice, and chores into the workbox system and schedule strips. Each boy follows his own schedule strip and moves at his pace.

I allow my boys to decide the order in which they complete their workboxes and I allow them to help each other, collaborate, and ask me for assistance as often as needed. The prescribed component of the workbox system with which I took issue was behavior management, particularly her take on talking during the school day. She suggests that the school area be very quiet to allow for better concentration and that the teacher use non-verbal cues, specifically picture cards provided at her website, to manage the amount of talking that occurs. She also suggests that the amount of help each student may receive from Mom be limited and managed with picture cards.

Now, the Olive Plant house is far from perfect; however, I am comfortable with the amount of chatter going on around here and with the amount of time I spend helping my children during the school day. This aspect of her system brought to mind the old adage "if it ain't broke, don't fix it." Therefore, I did not use these components of the workbox system.

Did the workbox system help you and your children?

Yes, it helped us in three ways.

First, both Orville and Wilbur salivated as they watched me assemble our system. Many components of the physical set-up are visually appealing which has been as motivating as the ebook promises it will be. Some of the work I place in the boxes are fun items, like crafting, lapbooking, puzzles, manipulatives, and games. The less "fun" stuff, like worksheets, has seemed more fun to the boys. Workboxes have had a "Tom-Sawyer effect" on my crew. Because their work is in a special box with color-coded tags, what they once considered a chore, they now consider a privilege.

Secondly, my type-B, stop-to-smell-the-roses-every-two-seconds child is completing his work in a timely manner. Previous to workboxes, my schedule had both boys working on the same subjects at the same time throughout the day. This kept me from having to rearrange the schedule everyday to accommodate group work or direct instruction. However, it also presented many situations in which my type-A jack rabbit would zip through his work and be finished before Mr. Type B had even begun.

I constantly had to pop into the classroom and remind Type B boy to move along with his work so that he would be ready for the upcoming group lesson, discussion time, or project. About a zillion times each day I had to ask, "Are you done yet?" or "How far along are you?". I had to constantly remind him to use his time wisely and frequently would stress out because we had <-----------------this many--------------------> things to do but <---this much---> time left to do them.

I now know what the problem was. I had the schedule in front of me and I understood the need for pacing our work so we could be done at a reasonable hour; however, Mr. Type B had no idea how much needed to be done and was blissfully content with taking all the time needed for the task at hand.

The workbox system has taught HIM how to manage HIS day. Because of the visual nature of the system, he can see exactly how much work remains. He can also see how much he has accomplished. I think he feels less bogged down because each time he gets to remove a tag from his schedule strip, he sees a little more of the light at the end of the tunnel. He also realizes that he does not have time to dawdle because he can see exactly what he must accomplish by 3 o'clock.

The third way workboxes have helped us is that it has made travelling with schoolwork really easy. My mother is disabled, and from time-to-time, she needs my help. When I need to spend the day at her house, I have been able to stack the workboxes one on top of the other inside a large Rubbermaid storage container. This allows me to head to her house at a moment's notice without scrambling to find and pack everything the boys need for school. All of the boys' boxes fit inside this container neatly. When we get to my mom's, I just unpack and set the boxes on her dining room table. The boys are able to complete their school day independently while I serve my dear mother.

Are there any cons to the workbox system?

Everything must be in place before your school day begins. On the one hand, this is great. There is no searching for scissors when you're trying to get a craft going. No jumping up in the middle of a lesson to go copy a worksheet. No more chickens in the drier. If you read my Plan-It School series, you know what I mean. On the other hand, it takes a good amount of time to refill the boxes for the next day, and I cannot refill them until every box has been completed. For me this was after everyone was in bed each night, a time that I want to unwind, not think about everything that has to be done tomorrow.

Most days, I was able to push past that mentality and remind myself that the evening work would make the next day run more smoothly. However, on those days that there's just one thing after another (and those days happen even for the most organized of us), finding time to get the workboxes prepared can be tough, if not impossible. If it doesn't get done, then school is a train wreck the next day, or I have to take the time to do it all before school begins which means we get a later start which mean everything is completely off all day. Once again, I had to modify the system to streamline the preparation.

I can imagine those with larger families would find preparing workboxes for each child, each and every day taxing. Don't let that discourage you though. I recommend you be innovative and find a way to make workboxing work for you. I'll write more about some of my modifications in a later post and suggest a few other blogs to visit where creative moms have made this system meet a variety of needs.

Will I continue to use the Workbox System now that my review is complete?

I will continue to use the workbox system with the modifications that work for us. I am thankful for the organization it has added to our homeschool and most especially for how it has helped and motivated Mr. Type B. Workboxes have made a world of difference for him, and I see him becoming more independent and confident as a result. For that, I give the Sue Patrick Workbox System two thumbs up.

You can buy the ebook that will set you on the path to organization at the Sue Patrick website for $19. I recommend you watch this video, too.

I enjoyed our little visit. I hope I answered all your questions, but if I over-looked something, feel free to ask your question as a comment.

Disclosure: I was given a copy of the Sue Patrick Workbox System ebook for free for the purpose of writing this review. I have received no other compensation. The opinions expressed in this review are based on my experience with the product and are mine solely. I have provided an honest critique of this product. For a second opinion (or as many as 124 more), please visit the TOS Homeschool Crew blog by clicking the icon below.


argsmommy said...

I've been mulling over the whole workbox thing for several weeks, so this review is very timely. Your are the 3rd from my blogroll to write about this in the last week, and it's interesting to see everyone's different observations and how you all tweak the system to meet your particular needs.

Christy said...

Loved the review! Can't wait to see more posts on how you made it fit your family. :)