Saturday, September 11, 2010

How Workboxes Work in our House

We are a couple of weeks into our second year of homeschool at our house. One thing that we have found works well for us is the Workboxes system. I must admit I never read "the book", Sue Patrick's Workbox System. I read a lot of blogs, looked at a lot of photos and came up with our own version of the system.
For the first time this year the boys are enrolled in the California Virtual Academy (CAVA) which uses the K12 curriculum. I find it is easy to use the Workboxes with this curriculum. (EDIT: We left CAVA/K12 after 6 weeks)
I have one child who is easy to homeschool. He is organized, and will sit quietly and do "seatwork". If I were just working with him I wouldn't need any kind of "system".
My other child is not that way. He has been diagnosed with ADHD and OCD. I know some people don't like labels for their kids. For me, it helps to remind me that I didn't do, or not do anything to cause the way he goes through life. I can't change him, but I can help to try and give him tools to make it easier to get through life. With this child, I needed a "system'!
While I try and make the kids assignments not to "schooly" and avoid worksheets and generally boring busy work, there still needs to be a way to get through the curriculum. The Workboxes help with this. I find that it does several things that are particularly helpful for a child with ADHD:
  • It helps with organization.
  • It is visual and tactile. He can see how much work (how many boxes) need to get done. He physically moves the tag off the box and onto the chart when he is finished with it.
  • It is self rewarding in that he can see the number of tags increase on his chart and feel a sense of accomplishment.
  • It is not so overwhelming to have one task in a box. It doles things out in small enough chunks for him.
  • It takes away me being the one telling him to do each assignment. Instead he just takes a box off the shelf. I find this leads to fewer power struggles.
  • It gives him a sense of control. I allow him to choose which box to do next, he doesn't need to do them in any specific order.
  • It helps me to insert more fun stuff and games. When I put the game in the box the night before I'm not overwhelmed and ready to quit for the day! Before, by the time I got through math, writing, science, etc. I was too tired to say "Let's play Scrabble!" But when it is on one of the boxes it is different.
  • It promotes independence. He chooses a box and starts working on it on his own (unless it is a "MOM" box, then he brings it to me for us to do together).
With my first child, I just had to tell him how the system works, once. With my second child it took a bit more work. The first week with the workboxes there were boxes and tags and supplies EVERYWHERE! It took some time, and lots of one on one to teach him to take down one box, finish it, move the tag, put it away, then take the next box. I think just learning a routine like that is valuable in itself.

This is what it looks like:
I was able to use some shelves that we already had for the workboxes. Each child has 12 boxes, and I usually "fill" 9-12 boxes each day. At first I thought, how will I ever fill 12 boxes, that is WAY too much! When I started doing it I quickly realized that it wasn't too much, because many of the boxes have short activities. Plus, I needed lots of boxes so that I could add lots of "fun" stuff. My kids love the Active Activity Cards. I downloaded those and made more of my own.

I was amazed at first to find that if I put it into a Workbox, they just did it. It was that easy.

When they finish a box, they pull off the tag and and place it on their chart.

I have one child who always carefully places each tag on his chart in numerical order. My other child is a bit less orderly with how he gets his number tags onto his chart. I'll leave you to figure out who does it which way.

This system also keeps ME organized and on track. 
I'm much less likely to get too tired at some point and just put something off until the next day (and the next). I keep things on hand to add to the boxes to keep things interesting and "hands on". In addition to my shelves full of supplies I have this little cart with little games, math manipulatives, hands on science equipment and other supplies. I find that if it is within reach I'm much more likely to take advantage of it.

It is a lot of organization up front, but not too difficult to maintain!

Added January, 2013

More resources:
Workbox Tags
More Workbox Tags

More on using workboxes with a child with ADHD/Aspergers, or similar challenges:
Get Creative!
Fun Workboxes
Workboxes and Power Struggles

Visit my Workboxes Pinterest board


  1. WOW! I wish we had the money and space and cool storage stuff when my boys were younger! They have their list of "official DXes" and "researched labels to help me find out how to help them" (labels are only good for research of how to handle things- but sometimes needed to find the info- so we do what we need to do)

    Ki, (SID, Autism-Spectrum, ADHD, OCD, plus more) had to make his own charts in his own order with his own rules. which was a lot of prep work, b/c he had to decide that morning how he wanted to do things that day.


  2. Wow OK so will come to my house and help me;) LOL

    I might have to try this, it would work better than the piles system I have going on right now;) thanks for sharing!

  3. Hi, I just found your blog via the CA homeschool support group. I purchased my work boxes months ago but they're just there staring me in the face! For some reason I'm stuck and feeling overwhelmed with what to fill in them. My 8 yr old (ADHD Aspergers)has a strong aversion to anything that remotely resembles a book or worksheet!I've been "winging" it for a couple years now, pulling last minute exciting hands on cirriculum from out of my sleeve but I need to be more organized now. LOL But my question is about the Active Activity Cards. I really like the idea of using those but the link isn't working any longer. I can just see a sample showing 6 cards. Any chance you can share a copy of yours for me to download?
    Tons of great ideas here! Thank you so much for all the hard work you've put into your blog!

    1. Here is the web address for the cards:
      You can also download them here (scroll down to "activity Cards")
      I also have a son who has a very strong worksheet aversion (yes, that would be my ADHD/Aspergers son, go figure!)

  4. Very helpful article. Thank you.