Sunday, September 12, 2010

(F)unschooling: Boxing up some learning fun!

I'm a firm believer that kids learn through play, and that this doesn't end after preschool. Maybe some day I will unschool. I think about unschooling a lot. I really like the philosophy, but I just haven't been able to fully embrace the concept. I find my kids (and myself) do better with a bit more structure. As a former classroom teacher I have a hard time letting go of a formal curriculum. We are using K12 this year which is a bit too structured and traditional-school-like for my taste, but I'm tweaking it to make it work. (EDIT: We left CAVA/K12 after 6 weeks)

I do however try to "funschool" as much as possible. While I often find myself in a rut, and only giving kids assignments that they "have to" do, I try hard to keep some fun in the mix. What is the point of homeschooling if you are just doing "school at home"? One of my main reasons for taking my kids out of school was because they were not having fun. It was really turning in to "learn this for the test". My kids love to learn and I'd like to keep it that way!

Switching over to using Workboxes really helped me to find time to "assign fun". It is easy to throw something fun into a box. I think when you have a box where you play with blocks, and another that tells you to go ride your bike, it can make that spelling box a little bit more bearable!

My kids are really creative and spend lots of time doing legos and playing outside. They don't really "need" me to "assign fun". However, it is great to include some of these things as part of the "school" day.

Here are some ways I put fun into our boxes and into our school day.

First, I'm most likely to put the fun stuff in if it is right there, ready to go. I have my little set of drawers where I keep a lot of supplies. I have drawers for math and language, science and games. Here is a peek into the drawers:

In this drawer you can see some letter cards and letter rubber stamps. Games like Scrabble Slam is fast paced, fun, and a great phonics practice or review. Lots of great homophones often come up in the game and it is a great time to ltalk about those. Bananagrams is both fun and educational. There are lots of ways you can play, and you can even make up your own games with the little letter tiles. (Bananagrams tiles also work great to practice spelling words).

Math: I have things like Math Dice, and cards to practice math facts by playing games. Very few kids just love to do page after page of math worksheets of multiplication facts. I know my kids don't! Instead we play games with cards and dice to practice those facts that they need to memorize.

Puzzles and Games: The kids really like puzzle type games. I think it is good to just get the brain to change gears and think in a different way.
These are easy to find, often pretty cheap, small enough to put into a Workbox and can often be played alone. A puzzle game that can be played with mom that we really enjoy is Blokus Duo. There is a frog hopper game with a deck of cards that gives different levels of challenges.

Activity cards, telling the kids certain physical activities to do are also great and help to break up the day. There are some you can download here, or you can make up your own.

Up on the shelf are some bigger items that I keep within reach.
They are in clear shoeboxes just like the Workboxes, so I stuck some velcro dots on the end and I can just put them right onto the child's shelf with a tag. I figure the more I can do ahead to make it easy for myself, the better! I have a collection of blocks and math manipulatives such as Cuisenaire Rods and Pattern Blocks.
The kids new favorite was handed down to us from a friend of mine: Wedgits. They love building with these blocks, and when I saw a pack of activity cards for them on clearance at a local toy store I got those to use in the Workboxes.

Here they are, both working hard with the Wedgits (even though only one of them had it as their Workbox). Everyone can join in on the fun!

Go through your closets and hit the yard sales and thrift stores. Before you know it you will have lots of supplies!

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

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