Sue Patrick’s Workbox System – How It’s Used In Our Homeschool

I’d been homeschooling for around three years before I discovered Sue Patrick’s Workbox System.

An while at the time I wasn’t frustrated or disappointed by our progress, something about this method just clicked, it made so much sense I knew we had to implement it.

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Sue Patrick’s Workbox System is loosely based on the structured teaching approach from Division TEACCH, Treatment and Education of Autistic and related Communication-handicapped Children, A Division of the UNC Department of Psychiatry.

Sue’s child is autistic, however, after over a decade of implementing this workbox system with families across the United States, she’s found it truly works for everyone regardless of age or ability.

How Sue Patrick’s Workbox Works

The workbox is based on two components; the physical set up and the philosophy of the system.

The physical set up is simple. A desk and a chair set up next to a shelf with 6 to 15 shoeboxes. The shoeboxes each have numbers and the numbers are reflected on a schedule strip (which is included with the Workbox eBook).

A school day is made up of every task on a schedule strip. This can include actions such as chores, personal hygiene, physical activity and work boxes.

You choose what the schedule strip should contain based on your ideals of the child’s learning. This is done by completing a curriculum grid (again there’s more information on this in the ebook).

Each of the shoe boxes has a number on the front which corrisponds to the schedule strip number.

When the child gets to that number i.e. workbox #1 they should find everything in the corresponding box that they could need to complete the task independently (unless you choose to label one, work with mom).

That said, the child can use signal cards to alert you visually if they need assistance. You can then set up a system as to what to do when you see that card – additional details on this can be found in the ebook.

Once a workbox has been completed it’s placed on the right-hand side, in a tuff crate.

The visual representation of the boxes gives a clear and visual presentation of their curriculum and present expectations of the child in a logical way.

The idea that the workbox contains all the items a child could need to complete the task inside provides an expectation of greater independence.

While the ability to only call mom a select number of times a day using signal cards gives a firm foundation in discipline without the child feeling as though they are suffering in silence.

Because the expectations are so visual and so obvious, the discipline of sticking with their work through completion is easily achieved.

Benefits Of Sue Patrick’s Workbox

With a basic understanding of how Sue Patrick’s Workbox works you can begin to see the benefits of implementing the system.

It’s recommended that you start with the full system for a month and then tweak it as you see fit after that time.

At which point these benefits may change, hopefully in a way that better suits your requirements as a homeschooling family.

Optimizes Space

It’s incredibly easy for homeschooling to take over every corner of your home. From pens and pencils to posters and workbooks.

An while I understand you’re giving your home over as a place of education to your children, there’s certainly benefits in having the vast majority of the resources your child needs for homeschool education in one place.

Previously, we did homeschool at the dinner table, on the floor in our lounge or on the sofa.

This meant cleaning up multiple areas, storing the same stuff in different areas of our home and would often lead to damaging ‘household’ furniture.

With the workbox system, all the child’s work is done in one place, at a desk, on a chair both of which are specifically designed for education/school work.

While you’ll still need somewhere to store your resources such as notebooks, pens and pencils. Everything your child needs for a day of learning is going to be in one area that takes up little more than 3 meters square.

Reduces Time

As everything is pre-prepared and centred in one place you’ll find that moving between tasks and cleaning up at the end of the day is significantly quicker.

I remember we began implementing the workbox on the Monday and by the Friday I was in shock at how much and how quickly the children were completing their daily school tasks.

A day filled with work that would usually take us from 9.30am until 12.30pm and then from 1.30pm until 3.30pm was suddenly taking us from 8.30am until 12.30pm.

The entire afternoon was ‘free’.

It also reduced the amount of time I had to spend with the children giving them one-on-one support and the amount of cleaning up and organising I had to do before and after the school day.

Promotes Independence

What struck a cord with me most when I first read Sue’s book was how I was spending all my time teaching my children one on one, or one on two.

An while in many cases that’s ideal. It’s not a reflection of the real world and was restricting the amount of independence and responsibility my children had.

Sure I was teaching my children responsibility and independence in other ways, when grocery shopping, planning and chores, but not when learning.

In a classroom, a child is often one of 20+ and therefore one on one education is rare – this can often result in a child being homeschooled as an alternative however, what if the parent is a crutch and suddenly that crutch is being used too much so the child can no longer walk without it.

The balance between needing assistance and having constant assistance and support is really something this workbox does well and is now at the core of our home learning environment.

How To Track Your Childs Progress

Repetition is an essential feature in all education to ensure that a child is able to fully digest the information. Afterall, none of us do something once and then remember it for the rest of our lives.

That said, how do you know when your child is ready to move on or whether they need more assistance if you’re not one-on-one with them all the time.

The solution to this for Sue Patrick’s Workbox is testing.

When we think of tests we think of watching the seconds tick by on a clock while tapping our feet impatiently as we stress over what to write. However, this doesn’t have to be the case.

Testing can be done in a much less restricted way to ensure that you’re able to determine a child’s progress and where they need assistance – again, there’s more information about this in the eBook and online in general.

As I had taught my children one-on-one for the vast majority of the time up until introducing the workbox I had a clear understanding as to where each child was in the terms of progress.

However, taking a step back I realised I had to depend on the research Sue Patrick had done and on the number of families who follow her system.

Thankfully with some adjustments, I’ve been able to measure my children on a regular basis, we’ve been able to discuss their progress in our morning meetings and record their work in a log grid.

This has then allowed us to increase exactly what areas and how often areas are studied each week as part of the curriculum grid.

Sue Patrick’s Workbox Resources

To learn more about Sue Patrick’s Workbox and gain access to the accompanying forms and resources you’ll need to purchase the eBook online from Sue’s website.

To get started with the system you’ll need the following.
I’ve linked to the products we purchased when we started with this programme although you can also get most of this from your local Target, Walmart etc.

  • Legal Pad – Use one per child and jot down what you feel would be important for your child to learn over the next three months.
  • A rack or shelves – Again, one per child.
  • Clear shoe boxes – Between 6 and 15 per child
  • Velcro – For attaching the numbers to shoe boxes and the schedule strips
  • Laminator – For protecting all your printed forms
  • Printer – For printing the free resources that come with the e-Book.
  • Printer Paper
  • Tuff Crate – For storing the completed shoeboxes
  • Desk – One per child
  • Chair – One per child