Archive for the ‘Homeschooling’ Category

Workbox Love


Ever since our homeschool journey began, the kids and I have been in a constant state of organizational evolution. My three bigs are not the most organized or diligent, so I’m always trying to improve our system to make learning more accessible to them.  We’ve tried 3-ring binders, folders, and online programs among other things.  And then…sweet serendipity stuck. A conversation with one of my nearest and dearest fellow homeschoolers revealed that she uses workboxes.

Workboxes? Hmmm…

So, naturally, I spend hours scoring the web for information about this little gem of information. I was rewarded immeasurably for my efforts.

This system allows the kids to see what they have to do for the day, manage their time, learn independently, and watch with pride as they make their way through their assignments. I modified the system to fit our needs.

Without further ado, here are our workboxes…


our workbox shelves

There are boxes for three kiddos on this shelf. It is an Ikea BESTÅ shelf, about 4′ wide. The boxes were purchased at Walmart; the small shoebox size were $1 each, and the larger blue ones were about $3. I printed the numbers and time cards on heavy cardstock (150 lb. I think? purchased at Office Depot) I haven’t had great experience with cutting velcro strips (it gums up my scissors), so I bought the little circles to save myself the trouble.

Each kiddo has an inexpensive kitchen timer (Target, $6). On each numbered box is a tag with a generous amount of time during which they work on each assignment. Their goal is to practice focus and diligence in order to get the assignment finished. If they do, they earn the number of points equal to the number on the time card. If not, the assignment goes back onto the shelf to be worked on the next day. Second day completion is rewarded with half points. If their focus continues to be poor, the point value drops down to 5 and stays there. For the record, they are given ample time and assignments that they are fully capable of completing. Their success is based on their own choices and time management.

Once the assignment is completed, they place their work into a bin on my desk. The empty box is placed on a separate shelf next to the workbox area so that they have a clear visual representation of their diligence. It’s amazing how such a simple thing keeps them motivated. We never achieved anything even similar to that with any other system.

our reward box...points redeemed here

Here’s the purpose of the points: My kiddos are very much instant-gratification junkies. If they have to plan more than about a week ahead, they completely lose interest, and their goal no longer motivates them. They earn points for being diligent with their chores and schoolwork. I have a reward box containing all sorts of little things they love (candies, silly bands, erasers, pencils) and activity cards for things they love to do (computer time, video game time, etc.). They can save up their points for “big ticket” items or spend them on little things.

keeping things in order

Now, each kid has a chart to help them keep track of their accomplishments and activities for the day. The tags are stored in the “bank” at the bottom and moved up to the top as they are completed or used. Here’s how this breaks down…

They have three chore tags each (morning, afternoon, and evening). Splitting up their daily responsibilities really helps them to not feel overwhelmed. They also have three “break” tags that total once hour, divided into 10, 20, and 30 minute segments. It is entirely up to the kids how they use them, the only rule being that they must be in between assignments. There are also three “help” tags. Their goal is to try to figure things out on their own as much as possible rather than giving up quickly and asking for help right away. Again, they are never given any assignments that are outside of their individual abilities. They also have a snack tag and a lunch tag. For some reason, my kiddos are obsessed about when lunchtime is every day, so they like to move up a tag after they’ve eaten. It’s the little things, I guess. If we are going to be enjoying a planned activity such as a park day, I put a “playground” tag on the chart. If we have no planned activity, I put the “go outside” tag up to make sure they get out for some fresh air at some point during the day.

Each day, their core subjects and electives tags are placed on the chart, as well. Our core subjects are English and Math. The kiddos get to choose their own topic in each of five other subjects: science, reading, history, arts, and life skills. For example, one of them is currently studying the human brain, Bridge to Terabithia, North America, bird watching, and wilderness survival.

I hope these ideas help you! Please feel free to ask if you have any questions. 🙂


Read Full Post »

♥ Derrick ♥


Just when I had almost forgotten how hard it was to be a kid sometimes, Derrick recently gave Adam and I a snapshot into his mind…and an affirmation of why I feel homeschooling can be so important for those who are able to take advantage of it.

Adam drives Derrick to and from school each day. It’s part of their one-on-one time that we feel is so important for Derrick. So, a few weeks ago, Adam noticed that Derrick’s mood quickly changed when he jumped out of the truck and started walking to his class in a portable near the back of the school. His shoulders drooped, he stared at the ground, and his pace dragged gloomily.

After watching him for a few days to try to figure out what the problem might be, Adam asked Derrick why he was acting so down in the dumps. To which he responded in a truly 8-year-old way, “I dunno. It’s just boring walking by myself I guess.”

Adam suggested that he try smiling at people he passes by or even saying “hi”, to which Derrick responded in an equally 8-year-old way, “Um…what? You’re crazy, Daddy.”

Every day after that, Adam would ask him if he’d smiled or spoken to anyone on the way to class. The answer was no, of course. So we were left puzzled by this bizarre situation. This kid, for his entire educational career, has gotten in trouble almost daily for socializing too much in class. This kid, who can’t keep his mouth shut for more than 30 seconds at a time and never stops moving, smiling, singing, whistling, dancing ever suddenly is stymied by the most basic elements of socialization – the smile?

Seriously? This kid can't smile?

Then, two nights ago after a family meeting, Adam and I both asked him if he’d managed to crack a grin yet during his solitary walk to class, and he melted into a pool of sobbing child before our eyes. His button nose crinkled as he howled miserably. We looked at each other in surprise, realizing we’d need to dig a little deeper to figure out what the real problem was. It went something like this:

“Derrick, what’s really wrong here? I can’t imagine you’d be crying because you think it’s boring to walk to class by yourself. What’s up, kiddo?”

“(bawling) People will think I’m weird because I’m walking by myself. (wailing) And if I smile, then they’ll really think I’m weird. And it’s so lonely.”

I was shocked at first, but then I remembered what the pressure to fit in felt like at that age. I remembered how important it felt that nobody thought I was weird or different. I bristled with the understanding of how tragically damaging this “schoolyard socialization” is to a child’s developing sense of self. I remembered how I felt at his age when my friend and I were picked on mercilessly by the other kids who thought we were weird.

I was downright livid.

How is this “socialization” supposed to help him in the real world? Why should he feel burdened by a need to fit in? That is most decidedly not the value structure we want for our kids. They have the right to be the person their heart tells them to!

“Derrick, first of all, there’s nothing wrong with walking to your class by yourself. It’s just walking to class – trust me, dude, there’s no deep meaning to it all. And it only takes you two minutes to get there. How lonely can one kid possibly get in two minutes?”  He cracked a smile.

“Why do you think anybody would think you’re weird if you smile at someone? Is it weird to be friendly?” Adam added. Derrick shrugged his shoulders and rubbed his fists into his eyes, still in tears. “What if someone smiled at you first? Would you think they were weird?”

“No. I’d think they were nice. (sniffle)”

“So what kind of person would think it was weird to smile at each other?”

“I dunno. (sob) Nobody, I guess.”

“Exactly. You’re a friendly kid. There’s no reason why anybody would think it’s weird for someone to be friendly.”

Our conversation continued, meandering through different pathways of helping him to wrap his brain around the situation (interrupted occasionally by a whiny Caroline, who was easily placated with a juice box). There’s no reason why this awesome kid, so full of sunshine, couldn’t share some of his happy with the people he passed by on his hundred yard walk every morning. He needed to know that. He needed to know that anyone who would think he’s weird for being friendly isn’t a person whose opinion he needed to value in the first place.

Is that person his friend? Nope.

Damn, I forgot how hard that lesson is to learn.

“I just want to be homeschooled,” he wailed. We are planning on having him join his sisters at home for the next school year already, but still, we wanted to know his thoughts.


“Because I just want to be me.”

Amen, little man. Amen.

I love my smiley, happy boy.

Read Full Post »

We’ve been talking to the kids about scouting for ages.  Adam was a devoted Boy Scout through high school.  I enjoyed a brief stint as a Girl Scout.  But we have no interest in Derrick being a part of a program that openly spreads bigotry, and I think Girl Scouts are…well…boring.

So, what are we to do?

Invent our own scouting program, of course!

Adam still has all of his scouting books, and there are hundreds of companies that stock spiffy patches that can double as merit badges.  We presented our idea to the kids, and they are psyched!

Step one, forming the “laws” and “pledge” of our troop of pint-size viking warriors. That’s in the works…coming soon!

Read Full Post »