Adding Structure To Your Day With Homeschool Workboxes

Homeschool workboxes really were one of the best organisational changes that we made to our homeschool set up.

I’m a fairly unstructured person, my husband is the opposite. He was always telling me that I needed to be more organised with my homeschool and I would dutifully write up timetables and checklists but I never followed them and I never checked off my lists. If the day’s routine went askew then I lost my place and didn’t know where to pick up. My kids would just wait for me to take them through the lessons.

I would say, “Ok do this and then that”. But when I got distracted, as I often did, then the system would fail, the kids would run off and play and I’d have to coax them back to their work. They weren’t being naughty they just didn’t know what to do next and my homeschool days had no real system for keeping them going except me.

Whilst I knew I needed structure I felt incapable of doing it. That was until I read Sue Patrick’s ebook The Workbox System way back in 2009. Suddenly I saw a way I could organise my children’s work in a visual way that would work – independent of me. It was so simple and so obvious, I wondered why someone hadn’t told me about it before.

The benefits of using homeschool workboxes include:

  • Happy Children—children see their work disappear and can see what they have accomplished.
  • Happy Mother—the day runs a lot more smoothly and children get more work done.
  • Adaptable—this system works with most curriculums, learning styles and educational method.
  • Common Sense—boxes are filled with activities that make sense to the child. They can see what they have to do they don’t have to interpret a checklist and then find the resource.
  • It’s all there—no more rushing around looking for resources. It’s already collected.
  • Clear Goals—each student knows what they are to do and when they are finished.
  • Realistic Expectations—it encourages mother to set work that they know a child can achieve.
  • Fosters Independence—children understand what activities they are expected to do alone and what they can get help with. You can also set up boxes for days when you need others to supervise.
  • Do More—This system shows you how to use all those  educational resources you have but haven’t worked out how to put them into your day.

It has:

  • helped us get more organised
  • shown me a way to get their independent work completed
  • given us a concrete system for doing our work
  • been a great training ground for our routine
  • helped me with my record keeping and has
  • made my children more accountable to their day

As with most things that we incorporate into our family, we have stamped our style onto it.

Our Journey With Homeschool Workboxes – 2 Week Review

I love it!

Our day one homeschool schedule went really well. The kids were far more focused and we got through our workboxes quickly. I found that as I checked through their work I was able to set up the next day’s folders at the same time.

Homeschool Workboxes Review from Each Child

Miss 7 always wants something to do, so she was in her element working through the system. I did not fill her ‘boxes’ with busy work but lots of bite size work that she could do. She was able to work a lot more independently and knew when she was supposed to work with me and when she was to work on her own.

Master 9 who can be quite contrary said he didn’t like it much but I actually think he enjoyed the structure and will enjoy it more when he gets used to it.

Miss 11 liked having some tasks added to her workbox that she wanted to do but never seemed to get around to.

Master 13 is very unstructured and doesn’t pace himself well. Normally he would just work on his favourite topics until he is sick of it and exhaust himself for other subjects. We managed to get more out of his day.

My Workbox System Homeschool Review

I felt far more in touch with what the older ones were doing. I was able to have times table races with my son – I slaughtered him but he loves a challenge and will be trying to beat me tomorrow. I was also able to keep the computer under control better. They all had their computer activities to do but they were all spaced evenly and I made them wear the headphones so they wouldn’t distract each other.

The ‘boxes’ are set for tomorrow. This is what I put in them.

How I Filled Their Homeschool Workboxes

Workbox content – Miss 7
1. 5 mins piano practice
2. Primary Language Lessons lesson (work with Mum and brother)
3. One page of copywork
4. Read a chapter of assigned reader (work with Mum)
5. One exercise of Singapore Math
6. Play phonics racing on computer 20 mins
7. Read book provided.
8. Make a craft clock
9. Clock worksheet
10. Come and show work to Mum

Workbox content Master 9
1. Math copywork 2x and 3x
2. Primary language Lessons (work with Mum and sister)
3. Singapore Math 1 exercise
4. Downunder Copywork
5. Music Ace computer 1 lesson
6. Make a clock craft
7. Read 5 pages Wilbur and Orville Wright
8. Look through nature book all the bird types.
9. Work on bird book (his request)
10. Come and show Mum work

Workbox content Miss 11
1. Intermediate Language Lesson – one exercise
2. 15 mins piano practice
3. Life of Fred Fractions Bridge test
4. Read chapter of When Science Fails by John Hudson Tiner
5. Mathletics 20 mins
6. Go on blog for 15 mins
7. Have a snack
8. Rosetta Stone study guide review page
9. Work on water colour painting 30mins
10. Come and show Mum your Work

Workbox Content Master 13

1. 15mins Piano Practice
2. Wordsmith exercise
3. Rosetta Stone CD 20mins
4. Times table races. Work with Mum
5. Study guide questions Apologia Physical Science
6. Mark questions
7. Snack
8. Life of Fred Algebra – Your turn to play questions.
9. Adobe Flash 30mins
10. Come and show Mum work

* We also do read-alouds , devotion and one group activity each day.

workbox system homeschool

20 Ideas For Your Homeschool Workboxes

I brainstormed a list of homeschool workbox ideas to pool from.

  1. Logic – puzzles for the younger ones
  2. Keyboard typing lessons
  3. Cooking with mum – a yummy delight or even meal planning
  4. Home skills – maybe pop a quick cleaning chore – dust?
  5. Craft projects – we have a hundred little ity bitty things around that have never been done
  6. Books that I want them to read on topics related to their studies
  7. Science experiments – has to be easy though
  8. Jump on the trampoline or play a quick game
  9. A little hand sewing project
  10. Computer time – I’ll have no complaints here – educational of course!
  11. DVD from the library I want them to watch
  12. Music practice – piano
  13. Foreign language – the older kids have Rosetta Stone – we could also do some flash cards and do picture flash cards
  14. Write a letter to a friend – this will be enjoyable for one but I will need to put a time limit on this
  15. Call Nanny or Grandma – they’ll love that one
  16. Educational games: reading and math games
  17. Copywork/handwriting practice
  18. Sight word practice
  19. Memory work (poem, Bible verse, times tables)
  20. Count money. I change the amounts around easily so I have a few options.

Drawbacks of Homeschool Workboxes

I am finding less time for our read alouds but I am getting the children to do more reading on their own – something I have been wanting the older ones to do. Using this method I am allocating the reading to be done each session.

Less group time: before we did a large portion of our day together and I find that they are more confined to ‘their boxes’. This is something that I will be streamlining more as the weeks go by.

Less time to escape for me. This is a negative and a positive. To keep things moving we are all in the same room and I am working with the kids as needed. I’m finding it harder to get the washing on or do a few jobs around the house. But then I also have all the work finished much earlier so I can attend to those things after they have finished (hence today’s blog entry).

It has not been hard to fill the workboxes each day but it does require me to fill them. This is a discipline that I am working on and I am enjoying planning their day out and using things that I have but haven’t been using. I refill as I check their work for the day. I have slacked off a couple of times and been sorting at night or like today getting up early but it is worth it!

From June 2009

Charlotte Mason and Homeschool Workboxes

I have found that the Charlotte Mason Workbox is not an oxymoron even though some may think they are contradictory. Workboxes add structure, and you can still use many of Charlotte Mason’s teaching methods within that structure.

Workboxes can seem a little too schoolish for some. But for us I’ve found them a relaxed way of keeping all of our work together.


Here are a few tips for how I adapt some of my Charlotte Mason Ideas to fit in with workboxes.

Living Books In Your Workbox

Charlotte Mason wanted children to use living books and deal with books directly. Using workboxes has meant that I now have a good system for organising the reading schedule in a clear and concise way. We use bookmarks with expected page progress and dates written on each book mark.

Short Lessons Planning

Charlotte Mason encourages short lessons. As you prepare your workboxes you decide on the duration. I have found short lessons to be very effective in getting homeschooling done. The emphasis is on concentration on the topic and getting the work done well. A focused lesson of 10 to 20 minutes per subject for 5-9 year olds and slightly longer for the older ones is adequate.

“A Natural Reward.––What is the natural consequence of work well and quickly done? Is it not the enjoyment of ampler leisure? The boy is expected to do two right sums in twenty minutes: he does them in ten minutes; the remaining ten minutes are his own, fairly earned, in which he should be free for a scamper in the garden, or any delight he chooses. His writing task is to produce six perfect m’s: he writes six lines with only one good m in each line, the time for the writing lesson is over and he has none for himself; or, he is able to point out six good m’s in his first line, and he has the rest of the time to draw steamboats and railway trains. This possibility of letting the children occupy themselves variously in the few minutes they may gain at the end of each lesson, is compensation which the home schoolroom offers for the zest which the sympathy of numbers, and emulation, are supposed to give to schoolwork.” Charlotte Mason

Variety in Lessons

I order the lessons to encourage concentration and give variety. Giving children a variety of lessons helps them stay interested and focused.

The teacher should have some knowledge of the principles of education; should know what subjects are best fitted for the child considering his age, and how to make these subjects attractive; should know, too, how to vary the lessons, so that each power of the child’s mind should rest after effort, and some other power be called into play.” Charlotte Mason

Setting Up Good Habits

We have lost sight of the fact that habit is to life what rails are to transport cars. It follows that lines of habit must be laid down towards given ends and after careful survey, or the joltings and delays of life become insupportable.

Using workboxes establishes a good educational habit that teaches independence.

Using Workboxes For High School – 7 year review

I have been using workboxes for about seven years.  This year I gave up my workbaskets and moved to a workbox trolley.

The workbox principles have still remained the same:

  • encourage independent work
  • place everything they need to complete the task in the workbox when possible
  • work is divided into bite sized chunks
  • the day is scheduled in an easy to understand way
  • completion brings a sense of accomplishment

I decided to revamp my workboxes for high school and buy a 10 tray trolley to order my kid’s lessons. I’ve managed to get most things in except a few folders (they wont fit), their Book of Centuries and IEW Folders.

I’ve set the trolley up in the order I hope that they will complete them. We start our morning time with some read-alouds and they are not added to their trolley.

Show And Tell – Workboxes For High School

These pictures are taken from my daughter’s high school Year 8 workbox trolley.

My first box has all of their stationery and their portfolio (a work in progress)

stationery workbox

The second box has her Bible. She reads a passage by herself before we start our group study time in the morning.

workboxes for highschool -Bible

The third box has her math drill and her English lesson books (Winston Grammar 2 days – Dictation 2 days).

workboxes for highschool -English

We use Math Online as out main math curriculum. I include the calculator in the box so they don’t need to go looking for it.

workboxes for highschool math

Next I put a few readers in their box. I usually have:

  • one factual book (this is a living book math reader) – One concept per day
  • one classic fiction or historical fictional novel based on the period we are studying – 5-6 pages
  • one poetry book (after the psalms we will use a poetry anthology) – one poem per day.

workboxes for highschool readers

In her science box I place the textbook we are using plus her science notebook.

workboxes for highschool Science

I have two subjects in this box.

  1. Fine Art Pages. She reads about one famous painting each day.
  2. Latin Copywork Notebook.

workboxes for highschool -art

For her geography lesson she has to read one chapter of The World Around you by Gary Parker and complete the quiz each week. The silly dog exercise book was a present from a friend.

Workboxes for high school geography

Each week she has four narrations due from her history studies. Most of these are narrations typed up on the computer. I have an A4 exercise book with a list of narrations for her to complete and a place for her to make notes when preparing their written narrations. I do mix my narrations with some IEW ideas,  so I use some of their style guides as reminders for good writing. Her completed work is stored in a clear sleeved folder. I also include the books that the narrations are to be taken from. Sometimes I read these books to them, other times they read them themselves.

workboxes for high school

This workbox is full  music for her piano lessons.

workboxes for high school music

I find that having the workboxes labelled helps everything stay in order and organised.

How Much Time Does All This Take

It takes on average five hours, four days a week to complete her work, this includes a lunch break and morning group time. Each morning we start with a group activity that takes about an hour. On some days, when we don’t have as much time to do all our work, I might say she is only expected to do certain boxes. On some days the work drags on to more than six hours (we’ve been plagued by distractions). Once a fortnight we have a day when we have a writing class (IEW) and we also do the extra activities like our Book of Centuries. Once a fortnight we take the day off to visit a sick relative.

Using My Homeschool With Workboxes

Here is a ‘daggy’ demonstration of how you can use workboxes with your My Homeschool program . This is from our Year 3 Curriculum.

Free Homeschool Prospectus