Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Review: Sue Patrick Workboxes

I have to be honest.  When I first found out I'd be reviewing workboxes, I groaned.  I had so hoped not to be chosen for this particular review.  But I was, because God has a sense of humor, and he knows what I need even when I'm sticking my fingers in my ears and insisting something is NOT for me.

Workboxes.  If you read any homeschooling blogs (besides mine!), forums, or yahoo groups, you have heard of them.  Even I knew about workboxes, and I actively avoided threads about them on the SL forum, or deleted posts with workboxes in the title.  Basically, for each kid, you buy a dozen clear plastic shoeboxes and a rack to put them on.  You fill them up with their assignments for the day.  The child goes through the boxes in order, emptying them as he completes his work.  And at night, you go through the completed work, and refill the workboxes for the next day.

Multiplied by five kids, that sounded like WAY more work than I was used to doing.  Sixty boxes?  At 20 minutes per kid, that's over 8 hours a week of time, not teaching, but sorting stuff into containers.  And even if I had time for the work, no way no how could I afford all those containers.  And even if the containers fell from the sky, I truly have nowhere to store more than one of those racks.  Maybe the bathtub could hold a couple, but that doesn't sound convenient.

But then I received the ebook.  And when I committed to the Review Crew, I took that to mean that I would seriously try whatever was sent my way unless there was some extreme reason why I just couldn't.  So, I read the ebook, took a deep breath, and in spite of Sue Patrick's admonishment to not mess with her "perfected" system, I tweaked it to fit in my household.

Okay, so back up a bit.  Sue Patrick designed this system as a way to organize schooling for her autistic child.  She saw the benefits, other people saw the benefits, she played with different ways of doing it, until she found a system that has done wonders for lots and lots of people.  She sells a book (I received the ebook version) for $19-$20, and you can also purchase packages that include consulting time with her, or some of the "stuff" to make it easier to set up workboxing for one or two kids.

What we ended up with was a folder system.  I already owned hanging file folders, milk crates, and a portable file box.  Here's what Sue has to say about this, though:
Changing from the Workboxes to file folders is not the answer.  It is far too easy for a file folder to be moved from one place to another and never be opened.  The child never opens it to do their work and the parent never opens it to check and see if the work has been done.  Business file folders always seem like a more mature way to use the Workbox System theory, but it is at least 60% less effective.  There really is no good reason to give up on the Workboxes.  (pages 93-94)
Okay, so she definitely does not endorse what I'm doing, but I can live with that.  And she doesn't tell me anything about where that 60% less effective figure comes from.  I'd love to see the research.  Meanwhile, I have to "do workboxes" in a way that works in my home, so file folders it is...

I'm going to describe how this works for Connor specifically.  Mostly because I was convinced he would hate it.  I set up his box with 12 folders.  The last one is red, and that is his Scout folder.  He decides what that means... but it is his opportunity during school time to work on merit badges, or librarian duties, or planning his next campout, or whatever.  (I tell him that's not my job.  All I get out of him earning a merit badge is another patch to sew on... If he wants to earn 'em, he needs to figure out how to do it.  I've got enough to do.  But yes, I do help if asked!)

I filled the other 11 folders, explained the system to him, and... HE LOVES IT!  As he finishes the work in a folder, he moves the entire thing to the back of the box.  During his individual school time, that red folder inches towards the front, giving him the visual cues as to what he has left to do.  I pull work out of the folder either during the day or in the evening, just what I actually need to correct.  90% of his material is the same from day to day, and most of it does not require me to do anything.  He knows when he gets to his Latin book to go online and either attend class (okay, he does that when it is scheduled, regardless of the position of the folder) or to look up the assignment for the day.  He knows when he gets to his Apologia folder when the module test is scheduled, and it is his job to figure out how much work to do so he is prepared for it.  When he gets a new literature book, I put it and the study guide (with daily assignments) into the box, and I don't have to update it until he moves on to the next title.

It takes me about 2 minutes to "reboot" him for the next day.  I spend maybe 5 minutes each for William and Thomas, so that is under 15 minutes per night.  I have not yet started workboxes for Richard... I need to.  But I need to purchase something for him, and that doesn't work right now.

So, my opinions on the workbox concept have done a complete 180.  My kids are more motivated, and the best part is that we are not losing our schoolbooks now.  And my boys are actually getting to the scout projects (they all have a red scout folder as #12) they want to do.

So, is the ebook a worthwhile investment?  Or can you just do it by reading the plethora of workboxing information available in the blogosphere?

Well, there are a couple of reasons I do recommend getting the ebook.  First, I strongly believe in supporting financially the people who bring value to my life.  Sue Patrick is the one who introduced the workboxing concept to the homeschooling community, and I think there is a lot of value in reading the "why" behind her design of the system.  Reading the ebook did make a difference, I'm convinced, in how effective my system is.  Just from reading the blogs and forums (which I did after I found my name on the Sue Patrick Workbox list for the Crew) I wouldn't have had that little extra something that made this work for us.  And learning a bit more about autism was an added bonus.

But (there had to be a but) I don't particularly like the tone.  She repeatedly tells you that her system, if you do it exactly as she lays it out, will work for all kids and all parents.  That it will drastically reduce discipline issues in your family.  That it will be a magic cure for all your organization challenges and all the bad attitudes.  And did I mention that it will work for everyone?

And, in my opinion, she dishes out too much advice on things that have nothing to do with the workbox system.  Like the "fact" that you have to teach your child 2000 sight words before you start a phonics program.  Or that you have to put homeschooling first in your life, or that homeschoolers talk too much and don't give enough tests.

It boils down to:  while I totally respect Sue Patrick, and found her a wonderful speaker at an online convention this summer, many portions of the book really irritated me.  For my family, striving to instill a love for Jesus in my children is what we try to do first.  I'm not sure homeschooling is even what we do second.  Homeschooling is part of life.  And phonics?  Um, I don't believe a child needs to memorize the shapes of 2000 words before I teach them that M says mmmmm.  And I'm not sure what difference it makes if I discuss The Iliad with my 12 year old while we are making pancakes, or whether we do it in some hypothetical dedicated classroom space. (I'd have to move the beds onto the front lawn in order for us to have room for five desks... and a place to sleep is way more important to me than each child having their own desk.)  We probably do talk too much and test too little (Connor, with all his practice SATs, would disagree) but what exactly does that have to do with workboxing?

The sections that do stick to workboxes and how to implement them are really insightful though, and I am glad to own this ebook.  I really appreciated some of her samples about how to tweak your curriculum to make it more visually appealing.  And she had some great suggestions on ways to incorporate review in a more hands-on way.

Again, you can check out all kinds of great resources on Sue's website, including a video, testimonials, and information about packages you can purchase, and her other products.

And you can check out what my fellow crewmates have to say about Sue Patrick Workboxes at:

Any questions? I'd love to know what you would want to know in deciding whether or not this is something you want to purchase.

Disclaimer:  As part of the TOS Homeschool Review Crew, I did receive a free ebook, and temporary access to the website from Sue Patrick Workboxes.  The fact that I received a complimentary product does not guarantee a favorable review.  It does guarantee a review. A fair review. But I am not going to praise something unless I think it deserves the praise.  If I don't like it, you'll hear that.  And hopefully with enough detail as to why so you can decide for yourself if what I hate about it makes it perfect for your family.  For more about my take on reviews, visit my blog post here.


Tess said...

Thanks Debra,
I'm glad to read that there is "more" to the system than what I've been reading on other blogs but I'm deeply concerned about any product claiming it is the end all to be all so thank you for including that so I can make an informed decision. I'm intrigued by the benefits you've listed but I'm hesitant. Thanks for sharing the quote about the file folders *and* thank you for sharing how you were able to make it work for your family.

Cristi said...

Interesting quote about how she thinks using the file folders isn't the answer. I was thinking about using magazine holders to organize Brennan's work, but I can't find any that'll fit in our available space. When you are using the file folders, do most of your books fit in there?

Now that I've read your review, I'm going to give some more thought to the way I have our materials organized. I know that Brennan could benefit from something as organized as the workboxes; I'm just wondering how to make it work for us. If I can get a general idea in my head for how it would look in our house, I might buy her e-book in order to better understand and implement her system.

Thank you for such a detailed review and for being open to trying something new.

Lori Watson said...

You did a great job explaining how it worked for you and what you liked and didn't like. Helpful review. :-D