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Monday, October 26, 2009

Sue Patrick's Workbox System Review

If I had to pick the ONE thing that has had the greatest impact on our homeschooling since we began, it would be THIS system. And ironically, I stumbled across it a few months before the TOS Crew was asked to review Sue Patrick's book.
As most bloggers and blog readers have probably experienced, at times you can read one person's blog and then follow a link to another blog and then another link to another blog, and then POOF! there you are gleaning wonderful knowledge from a total stranger. That was how I was introduced to Workboxes. I was reading someone's blog who posted about something and had a link that I followed, and suddenly I found someone talking about how workboxes had changed their LIFE and their homeschool. So of course, I followed that link too, and just from what I read on that blog (I can' t even remember now whose blog it was) I knew this might be just the thing I was looking for. Less than a week later, a close friend posted a question to our homeschool group looking to glean information about workboxes, and at the same time, I got a peek at the TOS Crew vendors for this year, and Sue Patrick's Workbox System was there. It was like a COLOSSAL sign from GOD. Especially when that aforementioned friend bought the e-book, implemented workboxes, and started loving it too.
So, by now you might be thinking, "what exactly is this system that has so taken the homeschool world by storm?". The complete system that Sue developed is called "Specialized and Structured Teaching Workbox System" and it is a program she developed after devoting herself to trying to best help her autistic son.Because of the success Sue had with her child, others asked her for her help, and the business grew from there. She now has the Workbox System User's Guide, which is what the Crew was asked to review. It is that Guide that my friend has purchased, and I took a sneak peek over the summer because I was so certain that Workboxes would work for us that I wanted to start our new school year out with them and not wait until the Crew's assignment in September. Did I mention this has revolutionized our homeschooling? It's just great.
The genius of workboxes is its simplicity. And that very simplicity has caused some people out there to share this system with everyone they know free of charge and without crediting Sue Patrick. That's unfortunate because there is much to be gleaned from her book that you don't get when you try to do it on the fly. And she has poured hours and hours and probably years of her life into this system, so it would, I'm sure, be nice to get credit, both financially and intellectually. Because of all the "copycat" stuff out there though, I'm going to give you a general run down and encourage you to go to her site to view the rest of her materials for greater information.
Workboxes involve taking your child(ren)'s schoolwork for each day and placing each subject/topic in a separate box (she suggests a plastic shoe container) along with all the materials they need to complete the task. You then give them a schedule for the day as to what things to do in what order, and you allow them to be responsible for completing their work. They are allowed to ask you for help of course, and there will be some subjects, especially with younger children, that require teacher assistance, but the system allows for that.
Above are my daughter's workboxes. I fill them each day, she works through them in the order I tell her, and when she is done, she's DONE with school for the day. You can see our system looks very similar to the one in the Workbox System logo above, and that's because after a ton of thinking about how to make it best work for us, it turns out that Sue's system is the cheapest (go figure!) and worked with the space allocation we have.

Here's my happy daughter with one of her Workbox assignments, and TJ with his below. (Those $3.50 display boards were the BEST investment I've ever made toward peace in our homeschool!)

The Pros for the Workbox System: (This might be a long list, because I was in desperate need of somethign to help us get all the stuff done that I wanted to get done every day!)
1) Students know exactly what is expected of them, schoolwork-wise, everyday.
2) They know, at a glance thanks to the workboxes, how much more they have to do until they are "done"
3) They know that when the workboxes are empty, the school day for them is OVER. It's a huge incentive to sit down and get to work.
4) It fosters independence in work that previous to this year NEVER seemed to happen.
5) It allows me to "schedule" the opportunity to work with each of them separately while making sure everyone in actually doing something and not just waiting on me. Our math is teacher lead, so I MUST do math with each of my kids EVERY day. With the workboxes, I stagger who is working on what so that they each get to their "math" box at a different time and I no longer have everyone needing me simultaneously.
6) I'm not really organized, but even I can get my brain around this.
7) No more, "I need a..." I put it all in each box so they have everything they need when they sit down. I even give them a pencil for each assignment (can you tell broken pencil tips are a BIG issue in this house?).
8) Workboxes allow me to get housework done WHILE they are doing school-it's novel, but I can now start a load of wash or fold a load of wash and not have my kids waiting on me to do school-they already know what to do and can do it.
9) Workboxes mean I can even LEAVE the house to get my 4 year old from "school" (she goes to a local Pre-K) and know that the older three know what to do in my absence and EXPECT that they will do it.
10) And this might be one of the biggest for me, we are finally getting to all the wonderful curriculum and resources I've owned but never gotten to. I just pull them off the shelves, dust them off (most have been sitting there just waiting for me to use them), and make them one of the kids' boxes for the day. For example, we reviewed some Critical Thinking books last year, and I LOVE them, but I seldom remember to include them. Now, I can just put the book in the box, tell them the page to work on, and that is one of those things they do as their schoolwork. Same for handwriting, science experiments, craft name it, I'm finally getting around to doing it, and that makes the system priceless because it means we are actually using the resources I've already spent money on.

The cons: Are you ready? Because there are two big ones...or at least there could be. The first is the expense. It's NOT expensive, as things go, but there is a very real cost to setting up the system. The plastic boxes are about $1 a piece, and Sue recommends 12 per student. Times four students (in my case) that's already $48. Then there are the racks the boxes go on. I got them for a good price at Target, but they were $15 with my four, that's $60 more. And then there are the numbers for the boxes, the velcro dots to hold the numbers, the dots for the schedule strips, the dots for the special cards (I need help or work with mom, etc.). Oh, and the laminating of everything that you don't want to replace every week. The initial set up is NOT cheap. But in comparison to the price of saving my sanity, it's been worth every penny (and if you know me, you know we don't have any spare pennies right now). The other con is that Sue Patrick's tone can be a little harsh in her book. She is CERTAIN her system works AS IS. She has helped thousands of families with her system AS IS. And she really makes it quite clear she expects you to use it AS IS....every aspect of it without a single change. But see, that's just not how homeschoolers work. In fact, EVERY person I've encountered who LOVES workboxes has tweaked them in some way. Whether it is to use magazine holders or hanging file folders instead of shoe boxes (think 9 kids in a 1100 sq ft house) or it is to use fewer boxes per child or it is to not use centers or poster activities, everyone seems to have tweaked it because that's what works for them. I personally only have 8 boxes per child, and we don't use all of them every day. And I bought shelf liner for the wire racks the boxes sit on because my child on the autism spectrum likes to act out when he's angry, and I got tired of the boxes going flying (plastic glides a little too well on metal). I don't do centers OR posters (NO room/husband unwilling to have the dining room look even MORE like a schoolroom). And I break the cardinal rule and I DO take advantage of the fact that my kids are independently engaged in learning to actually get a little bit done around my house without feeling guilty. But even with all those variations, I can tell you this system has totally changed our homeschooling and every bit of it for the better. I'm saddened by Ms. Patrick's hard stance against making changes to her system, especially when you read her beautiful "History" on her web page, and see that she herself says:
After attending seminars, conferences, and certification programs for nearly every therapy based work for special needs children, I did not adopt any existing program or other therapies because I thought a meshing of the best of all programs, along with a Specialized Parent-Based approach was the only logical choice. I am thankful to God every day for giving me that discernment.
So it was tweaking existing programs that brought her to what worked best for HER and gave her a framework to help others. I'm thankful GOD has given ME discernment to know that I need to take the parts of the system that works for me, and for my children, and leave the rest. Here's what workboxes look like in our house:

Tj's boxes. He moved his up to the top 3 shelves because he likes them that way. Green is his color, so his numbers are backed in green. His "privacy wall" stores behind the boxes.

Mimi's boxes. I even use them as a gathering place after school is over for all their things that migrate out of their room and need to get put away, so sometimes the "first" box is stuff to go put away in their rooms-like that purple jacket that's in hers now
Scott's are a typical mess. Because of lack of space, I store their "need help" and "work with me" cards on the top shelf between boxes one and two. I also keep a pencil sharpener there for each one of them. And currently, the last box (8) has all their lapbook pages in it-the ones they've finished and we need to put in the lapbook, and the ones still to be done.

So what's the bottom line? Did I mention this has totally overhauled our homeschooling? Really. It has been that life changing for us. But it was life changing because I took the system and made it work for us, in our house, with my kids, and living our life. I don' t feel bad about that, even if the author would prefer I use it exactly as intended. The e-book is $19, and I think it's worth every penny-but take what works for you and leave the rest. To purchase the e-book, go HERE. Free sample pages are also available for viewing on her site. And, you once you purchase the book, you receive access to free download-ables like the numbers/scheduling strip templates as well as some potential work box activities, and an area to share ideas between workbox users. Go check it out! It will change your life!
To read what other members of the TOS Crew thought, so HERE.

Legal disclaimer:
As a member of the TOS crew,I received the Sue Patrick's Workbox System e- book free of charge in exchange for my honest review. That free product is the only "payment" I received for my opinion.
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Kris said...

Great review, Amy. I can't see how I could institute this system currently but I'm definitely fascinated. As AG gets more independent, I'm really going to consider this option.

Deana said...

Amy, I just want to say I have been using this system for about 1 month now and WE LOVE IT!!! (Thank You to Tiffany for telling me about was a blessing from God) We have gone from a family of fighting and crying (the crying was mostly me & the fighting was from my 9 yr old DS :)to a family who is enjoying school a whole lot more. Not only are we getting school done easier, but earlier. (My son actually told his father he wished that we had more than the 12 boxes!!)We are now usually done by lunch and that is both kids and I am getting in extra's and reviews that I didn't have time to do before. I am so glad you have put this review out for more people to hear about this system. I HIGHLY recommend this system to anyone and would be more than happy to talk to, or help anyone who is interested it starting. (I feel like an infomerical...)

crispy said...

This is one of the reviews I was looking forward to you doing. Thanks for your insight.

amy w. said...

We use this system too and love it. i do have a school room and was able to get real school desks for $2 each and chairs too so all thier supplies are in their desks. It allows me time to do SWR and RS math which are both teacher intensive. A great system!!

Robin @ HeartofWisdom said...

I love it too. I've tweaked it for our family. I love looking at all the different systems and popping around getting ideas.

That is why I created a Workbox Directory. I added you to it.

DebiH. said...

You know I love it! I think you covered all of the great things about it! If you are homeschooling older children AND have preschoolers, toddlers, or babies in the house, this system has another benefit. My younger children are finally getting undivided attention from me during school times! I can do fun preschool activities that I don't want to miss out on with my younger children and not lose schooling time for my big girls. I would be lost now trying to school without the boxes!