Working with Workboxes

March 25, 2018

One of the things I've been focusing on with our homeschool is getting things to move smoothly without my direct involvement. Part of this is because as a student midwife, there's a possibility that I could get called to a birth and need school to keep rolling without me. And part of it is that things need to keep rolling with a big family. If everyone has to wait on Mama, we end up getting very little done.

How we've done that looks different with different age groups. With Galen, Honor, Corwin, and Sadie, I've been using Sue Patrick's workbox system and find it works very, very well for us.

It helps them to move relatively independently through their school morning and is flexible enough to accommodate everything that I want to have them do.

In Sue's ebook (definitely read if you want to try workboxes) she recommends that you use a wire shoe rack with plastic shoe boxes as the workboxes. I decided to use a different storage box system because I like the way the boxes have hinge lids and a handle, so they can pull the entire box out and carry it to their workspace. Galen, Honor, and Corwin each have one of these with six drawers each. Here are Corwin and Honor's units:

Honor and Corwins Workboxes

Click here for this exact unit (affiliate link)

Sadie only has three drawers because she doesn't really need many (much of her morning is still playtimes with siblings) and I was able to repurpose a little drawer unit we've had floating around forever (and being repurposed over and over again!)

Sadie's Workbox

The oldest three kids have similar units, but theirs are not colored boxes and they're slightly bigger. They don't use the workbox system in the same way, so I'll write about them in another post.

Each drawer holds and assignment or an activity. The child also has a “schedule strip” which has velcro dots that indicates their schedule.

Galen Schedule Strip

The workbox/schedule strip combination is what really helps this system work pretty independently of me.

As you can see in the pic below, each box has a numbered square on it. A corresponding numbered square on the schedule strip lets the child know when to do the activity in that box.

Galen Workbox

The “Dad” dot on the workbox tells the child (Galen in this example) that he needs to go to Daddy for help with this box. We have “Mom” dots and also sibling dots that have a sibling name written on them (for example, a “Brennan” dot). The child goes to that person for help with that box (sometimes with reading instructions, sometimes more help).

Dad Dot

Once the child finishes that box, they take the number off their schedule strip, put it on the box, then put the box into a bin we have for this purpose:

Workbox Bin

This means as they go through the morning, they empty their workbox unit:

Corwin working

Sue suggested this in her book as motivating to the kids, and I agree that it does seem to motivate them.

She also recommended alternating tougher assignments with “fun” assignments and I have found that helps too. If they're doing seatwork (like a worksheet), I try and alternate that with something fun or more active.

As you can see on the schedule strips, it's not just numbered tasks in a row – there's time with me (usually for a read-aloud), playtime with siblings, our “together school,” etc.

Honor Schedule Strip

We also have some educational apps (Phonics Museum from Veritas Press and the DragonBox math apps) that Galen, Honor, and Corwin use – it's highly motivating for them to have those as their last box of the day – they work through the other boxes to get to that 20-25 minutes of app time!

Overall I'm really pleased with how well workboxes have worked out, and how (most of the time) our school mornings run really smoothly because of them!

Another thing that has helped is having a small table that's separate for the younger kids to work on their schoolwork (you can see it past Galen in this picture – I'm not sure if Honor was sleeping or just bent intently over her work… you can see Sadie bending over too).

Working on school

In the next post I will show you how I plan out their workboxes & schedule strips. I'll also talk about what differs between the kids based on their levels – Honor and Corwin as beginning readers, Galen at a more demanding academic level, and Sadie at a preschool level.


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Fabiola Cruz

Wow! I found your blog looking for boxes to implement this system and I loved it. Are they durable? I’m afraid that from opening and closing the clasps will break …


    So far they seem to be standing up well. We’ve used them a lot, too!

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