Friday, October 23, 2009

Sue Patrick Workbox System

Last Spring I started to hear about this new organizational system that was transforming homeschools across the country -- Sue Patrick's Workbox System.  I kept bumping into discussions about how great it was, all over the internet.   Steve and I talked about it and decided that it might help solve some of the dawdling and procrastination problems we were facing with our children in our homeschool.  We were at the end of that school year, so we agreed to try it in the Fall.

Over the summer, I found out that it was going to be one of the vendors for the TOS Homeschool Crew, and I was excited!  I hoped to be one of the families chosen to receive it for review purposes, and I was grateful when I was selected.  If you haven't heard of workboxes yet, then Sue's video will help you understand what I'm talking about.  The video provides a visual and some explanation of the benefits of Sue Patrick's Workbox System.  (There is no sound, so don't worry ... your computer isn't broken.)

What is Sue Patrick's Workbox System?
Sue Patrick has written a book that describes her method of organizing her homeschool classroom and lessons.  Her goal is to help students (especially special needs students) work more independently.  The difference in this system is that it is a visual organizational tool that doesn't require reading skills.

As seen in the video I linked above, Sue Patrick recommends you have a metal cart/shelf for each child.  On that shelf, there are 12 shoe boxes.  You place their school work in the shoe boxes, broken up into manageable chunks.  She also recommends that you place fun things in some of the boxes to encourage your children to work until they get to that item.  The children can easily see what they'll be doing that day, what order to work in, and how much further they have to go until they are done.

How did we implement Sue's system?
I knew enough about the system that I suspected I could not use it as Sue prescribes, because we didn't have room for 5 shelves.  I still was glad to read the User Guide e-book to understand the reasoning behind her methods, and to make a final decision about whether or not to modify the system.  Steve and I were trying to decide whether to implement the cart and boxes with a few children, line the hallway with them for all the children, or just use a modified system for everyone.  In the end, we decided that having the carts in the hallway wouldn't help the children very much.  It'd be a hassle to have to go to their cart, and they couldn't see it while they were working.  In addition, we knew the 3 year old and 1 year old would empty the shoe boxes repeatedly.

We chose to use milk crates for each of our children, with hanging file folders numbered 1 - 12.  We also modified the schedule strips, by leaving them as a grid.  One grid with their schedule pieces went into the first folder, along with their first assignment.  There was a corresponding grid on the front of the milk crate, where they moved the numbers as they finished a folder.  This let them see which folders they were still working on, which ones they had to skip to wait for Mom, and which ones they still needed to do.  Everyone could see at a glance, how far along each student was in their school day.  Since the milk crates reside on a built-in buffet in the dining/school room, I could see how each child was doing, as well.  The youngest two took their milk crates to the table, but the older three just left them on the shelf.

Our milk crates lined up on the buffet, before I had added the schedule grids to the outside.

Inside one of our "work crates".

Most schoolbooks fit nicely in a folder, although some heavy textbooks or large 3 ring binders were placed between hanging folders instead.

Our modified system worked well for us, although it wasn't as easy for the children to see what was ahead of them.  The folders aren't clear, but they are easily peeked into from above.  Each morning our kids woke up and looked into their folders to see what I had assigned, and what surprises were included.  The grid on the outside helped them see how close to being finished they were.  Completed work went right back into the folders, so it was all in one place for me to check after school.  In order to help me when I had "workbox block", I created a list of activities to put in the workboxes for older children and younger children.

That's a basic overview of Sue Patrick's Workbox System and how we modified it for our family.  As you read on, you will find:

  1. pros and cons to the system

  2. additional purchases required

  3. thoughts on why you should buy the book

  4. our family's review after using the system for several weeks

  5. price and purchase details

Pros of the Sue Patrick Workbox System:

  • Children can see what they need to do for the day, even those who can not read

  • Children are encouraged as they see their own progress through the boxes

  • Children can be inspired to work quickly to get to the more fun items

  • Mom is handling the child's work each day, helps stop the grading procrastination

  • Moms are digging through all those educational items they rarely use ... and using them!

  • Moms are getting out of a rut, and using more hands-on methods and games

  • Moms are more involved than just "do the next page in your workbook"

  • Provides structure for families that are struggling

  • Can be modified to fit different situations

Cons of the Sue Patrick Workbox System:

  • Takes a lot of room to do it as prescribed

  • Can be expensive to set up initially

  • Does not solve all problems, but can give parents a place to start

  • Requires daily preparation time, as well as weekend planning time

  • Some families do not desire such a structured environment for their learning

Purchases needed in addition to Sue Patrick's $19 User Guide e-book:

  • card stock

  • laminating (or you can use clear packing tape laid carefully in overlapping strips, as I did)

  • adhesive velcro dots, or velcro tape that you cut in small strips

  • a metal shelf/cart for each child  (or a container of some sort)

  • 12 shoe boxes for each child  (or smaller containers to go in a larger container)

  • a metal ring to hold the schedule strips

So, why should I buy the book?
If you've heard about Sue Patrick's Workbox System, then you are likely aware that there is a LOT of discussion and explanation of the system all over the internet.   Some people are gleaning from that information and running with it.   But they are missing out on the philosophy and heart behind Sue Patrick's system.  She designed it to help her autistic child succeed in school, to help him become more independent in his lessons.  When you read her User Guide, you understand the logic and purpose behind the steps she lays out in her Workbox System.  If you are considering implementing her system, then you really should read what she has to say about it.

Did I agree with everything in her book?  No.   Sue Patrick is coming from a different situation and background.  We have a different family size, different school space, different educational needs in our students, and use different methods of education.  Her educational philosophy is different from mine.  I found it interesting that some people see the book as bringing a classroom-setting into the home, yet others see it as encouraging more hands-on, fun learning in their traditional textbook methods.  It will totally depend on the direction you're coming from.  I know an unschooler who is loving Sue Patrick's workbox system, as well as some more traditional homeschoolers ... because it is meeting a need in their family.

Although Sue Patrick believes that her method and system is best when used exactly as she describes it, it can be modified for other situations.   We do school around the dining room table, as well as spread out in the living room.  We do not have a desk for each child, so we can not set up a shelf on the left and a stack of empty boxes on the right.  In addition, as I stated earlier, we did not have room for 5 shelves in our house at all.  Don't let space or the inability to follow her system exactly turn you off.  With a little creativity, you can find a way to make the system work for you and your family.

Sue Patrick's User Guide is often dogmatic, making very strong statements about Sue's beliefs and preferences in her school.  I definitely recommend that you follow the advice I received in La Leche League -- "Take what you can use, and leave the rest."  There is much to learn about her Workbox System in her book, although it will be different for each family.   Each family will relate to and discard different sections of the book.

What did our family think?  Will we continue to use Sue Patrick's Workbox System?

My 5, 8, 10, and 12 year old children really enjoyed the workbox system.  They enjoyed it so much that they'd look at me expectantly and wait for me to fill the boxes in the morning if I hadn't yet done so.  One day, when my 1 year old had the flu, my 12 year old decided to fill the boxes for me.

However, after the initial excitement wore off, I no longer saw the benefits of the children moving through their work quickly.  They returned to their tendency to be distractible, to dawdle, and to procrastinate.  We even had the occasional magic disappearing child act.  The workbox system didn't solve that problem long term; it still requires ME keeping my children on track.   It is an organizational tool, not a magic pill. For some families, it will be the answer they've been looking for -- but for others, it's just another way to accomplish the same thing they're already doing.

Implementing the Sue Patrick Workbox System has shown me areas that are my problem, not just the children's problem.  It has helped me break out of the rut of just progressing through our curriculum one step at a time.  It has encouraged me to look at the supplemental resources I own, but haven't been using.  However, it didn't solve all our problems.  To really make this work, we would need to re-structure when I do chores and other work, not just re-structuring our school with the workboxes.   I'm not sure that I can do that at this time.  I'm still trying to decide if I will continue with the workbox system, or not.

We already had a plan that worked fairly well for assignments in our home.  I filled out a chart for each child on the weekend, listing what I expected them to cover in a week.  The older 3 would move through their chart each day, checking things off as they finished them.  If they skipped something one day, they added it into the next day.  The greatest benefit of the Workbox System seemed to be for my younger children who were not yet reading well. They could more easily move through their boxes than follow a chart.  In other words, my oldest 3 were already working independently, so the workbox system was not really necessary for them.

If you already have a system that's working for you, that's great!  You don't need to jump on the Sue Patrick Workbox bandwagon simply because others are loving it.  Sue is hoping to help others organize their school and reduce their planning time.  I know that it does just that for some people.  For me, it actually seemed to increase my work and planning time, because I already had a plan that worked for our family.

Price and Other Available Products:
Sue Patrick's website sells the e-book download for $19, the printed book for $19.95 plus shipping and handling, specialized consulting, supplies, learning centers, and starter kits.  When you buy the book in either download or printed format, you can register the book and receive access to helpful files on the website.  Book purchasers can download free templates, charts, and a typing curriculum.
I was given a copy of Sue Patrick's User Guide e-book in exchange for this honest review.  All other supplies were purchased by my husband and I, and we received no further compensation for this review.  Click the TOS Homeschool Crew banner at the top to read more reviews on this product by other Homeschool Crew members.

Trusting in Him,