Wednesday, September 25, 2013

Organizing Spontaneity

I feel like I'm always talking about organizing, but if I haven't said this before, it's not because I'm actually good at organizing.. it's because I'm terrible at it that I keep trying to get better at it.  That's why I write about this subject, not because I have it figured out, but because I'm trying to figure it out.  For those of you that are great at organizing and need to lighten up perhaps this will help you too?  I have no idea if it will help you, but you never know.  I'm trying to organize just enough so our days aren't just totally out there, so this post will probably help people more like me who want more structure, but are those "odd" homeschooling mother's that do NOT like to schedule their school.  I've seen so many blog posts where Mom's are totally into the scheduling side of things and planning the school and all that and I think that is GREAT.. it's just definitely not me.

Right, so, there was a post in the past where I think I said how I'd taken pictures of most of our school stuff (manipulatives or art things or puzzles and games, etc.) well, the little album worked well to show to the girls when they didn't know what to do, but recently I bought a book all about "workboxes" about how to organize homeschooling.  It's really quite a good book, but as all advice is -- it's not a one size fits all.  It might fit YOUR schooling perfectly!  Which would be great, but what with my style of almost unschooling with the "learn all the time whenever you want" thing, it was a little too ridged... combine that with the artistic (very involved) teacher doing group times, the independence of the system wasn't a perfect fit, BUT I really wanted just a little order in part of our school.  Lets walk through the pictures because I need pictures to explain anything.

I took sticky notes to the album that I already made to mark all the stuff we already have that I COULD put in work boxes for independent work.  Basically, our house is too little for me to have a room with everything visible for them to pick and choose at their own convenience-- enter the album.. yet they still don't necessarily "feel" like doing the things in there.. and being the thrifty Mom that I am, I really don't want to buy more stuff when we have stuff already!  So, how do we start using what we already have.  I realized we have a LOT of stuff to use for our school right now.  That doesn't even count all the free pinterest ideas that I've already pinned.  So, filling workboxes isn't a problem.  We needed a way to plug in what we already had in a manageable way.

I know she says that the best plan is to use shoe box size clear containers on a shoe rack.  And yes that's a great idea if you have the space. It really is better because you don't have to worry about the books or whatever fitting into a drawer like I have to deal with, but what with how I already have a space for each girl for their own art work and projects following the ideas of "fostering the independent learner"I really couldn't (truly) find room for an entire shelf with 12 shoe box size boxes all filled with only one thing each... for even just my older two.  The lady that wrote the book on Workboxes is pretty adamant  about how important the boxes are and seeing them LEAVE the shelf.  Which totally makes sense if you are exclusively using it.  (Note: I have the book to borrow if anyone is interested.)  But I'm not exclusively doing her system, so I had to figure out what would help us and what wouldn't.  The picture above is what I came up with to use drawers that show when they are finished.  Instead of taking the drawer out, I had the girls stick on the colored strips of paper (they all already had velcro dots on them) and it sort of looks like a stop sign with green at the bottom for "go play."  But doing all 12 drawers in one day didn't work for us.

This was our trial day this Monday, and I quickly realized that while I COULD have them do the system just like the book described -- emphasizing independence and being quiet and serious during school time-- I really don't want that as our motto.   I changed the "quiet" tabs on their school folders to "Listen, Laugh, Learn" the next day because that's what I want our school to be!  I don't want perfect silence and totally independence.  I want them to come to me when they need help instead of doing something wrong and getting frustrated.  It was great to work through though because it helped me pin down what I really wanted our school to be and what I didn't want it to be.

The 5 year old was the most excited about the new school.  Motivations of finishing things and getting to that carrot work REALLY well for this one.  My oldest is more interested in the process though instead of "getting it done" and wasn't quite as excited about doing things this way (Though, interestingly, the oldest actually likes to have a schedule more than the middle one because she wants to know what is next and what to do.)

The first day with the 2 year old trying to do this system.  It worked okay for her, though it was really too many boxes for her (or me) to handle.  I'm not sure how anyone plans that far in advance and keeps their sanity.  You know.. the little one can be really "into" something for a long time, but depending on her mood she can switch from one activity to another much too quickly for me to keep up trying to use a set plan.  I needed a way to use this plan WITH flexibility because I need the workboxes for independence while I read to or help the older ones... which I guess is turning them more into "busy boxes" but- whatever.. I'm going with what works.

Enter the second day we tested this new plan out.  I decided instead of doing 12 drawers a day we'd do 12 a week.  So, only three a day four days a week.  Honestly this will work much better for us because I have a bunch of books to read to all of them each day (as a group) language arts is going to be with the older two together, and a few other things that I need to do WITH them together apart from the workboxes.  BUT I do like the workboxes for review pages and practicing their penmenship and for some math manipulatives or puzzles and so on that we have, but forget to use.

This is how the 5 year old's desk area looks after her school is done for the day.

This is where she hangs her schedule and keeps track of things. 

This schedule is just like the book showed and I got the printable from her website.  Each box (or drawer in our case) gets a number.

Each number on the schedule matches the number on the drawer and a Velcro dot is already stuck to the numbers.

So, she takes the first number off her schedule strip and velcros it to the corresponding numbered drawer.  Then she takes the drawer out of the shelf and takes everything out of it and DOES everything that is in it.  *note, you are supposed to have all the supplies they need for that, so pencils or rulers or whatever need to be all in there.  I quickly realized I didn't have enough pencils to have a pencil for every time they needed one.  Sort of overheated my pencil sharpener, but it's all good.

After they do everything in the "workbox" the original system has them put everything back in the box and put the box to the side (so that the shelves look emptier and emptier as the child works = great motivation to finish!) I needed a way to "block out" the drawer so it felt done.  I didn't want to take it out and leave it on the floor as she indicated though partly because I'm trying to teach them to put stuff AWAY when they are done with them.  SO, they get to put a strip of paper over the front of the drawer (that was in the drawer with the rest of the stuff) to indicate that they are now *done* with that drawer.  It's a good way to remind me as well.  I thought of using just black or something to "block it out" but this works for now.

And again, the next thing she does is look at her schedule strip and go to the next number and match it up like before and do everything in the drawer and put it all back and cover it with the paper.

I forgot to put the paper over drawer two when I took this picture, but you get the idea.. the number 3 box has a picture of me with her to show her that this is a drawer that she does with me instead of all by herself.  We are only doing three a day and each day both girls will have something to do with me.  Sometimes it's a work book type thing like this "early learner" book in my 5 year old's drawer, or it could be doing origami or even a brownie mix to do together!  Really, it can be super fun and feel "spontaneous" even though it's organized.

End of one day it looks like this, plus I forgot to say how I deal with things that don't fit in the drawers.  You don't have this issue if you use the boxes and shoe rack like the original system uses.  I used dry erase paper stuck to the box on top of the stack of drawers to hold things that don't fit in the drawers and wrote the number of the box.  This time there was just something for drawer #2.  Easy to pull one thing out to use with that drawer and put it all back when you are done.  Not a problem.

You can also put things on their schedule that isn't a number for their "workboxes" the book has some great ideas, but I wanted to add my own as well.  I already got some leapster explorer games (that are fun and education - especial for the right brain dominant learners) but noticed that the girls had stopped playing them since they weren't "new" anymore... enter the Leapster card onto the schedule strip.  I don't have a time limit for them to use it, you might want to do that if you think they spend too much time on it.

Right, so where do you put the card that doesn't go on the box?  This wasn't really talked about in the book, so I made up my own thing of where to put it and put it on their school desk folders.

This wasn't talked about really in the book either.. where to put the schedule when they aren't holding it?  I got hooks from the dollar store to attache to their school folders.  This is what it looks like when she's done for this day.  Notice that the next day up has three drawers again and then she gets to do Wii fit!  I wanted to encourage more of that.

The "check in" and "check out" pocket thing was from the original book and I printed them out from her website.  Here's how Renna would "check out" of school for the day.

My biggest problem that first day was not being able to re-fill the workboxes easily because our school stuff was upstairs in their room or here or there and I needed a better place to house their stuff.  Also, I didn't have a place to keep puzzles out as we work on them (it's nice to have something for my very active 7 year old to do when I'm reading outloud to everyone.  So, that's why I moved this folding table out of the dinning room.

And these built in shelves with the useless space under them is now super useful!  I'm still planning on hanging some fabric in front of this because I don't want the 2 year old to  get in there and pick whatever she feels like.  Sometimes I'm okay with her picking play dough or  a messy rice box, but at other times I really don't have time to clean up after a mess like that and having it hidden so that I pick out what she can do is probably a better idea.

She now has 6 workboxes instead of 12.  I also put a dry erase paper square on each one under the velcro dot so that I can fill the boxes and then when the time comes to use them I can easily write whatever number I want and set out 3 or 4 at a time for her to go through in order.  More then that was just too much for her or me to handle at one time.  I have things in there like color sorter ideas (with all different things, like poof balls or buttons) and other education toys or games or just fun stuff.
This was another printable from the website ( So that you can write what is in the workboxes.  I can't seem to decide BEFORE I put stuff in what is in there, but I wanted to keep a record of what I'd done, so after I fill the drawers I write them all down in this list.  It's nice to know what we've done and also nice to have ideas for future reference.  Notice my planning is looking more professional though I'm still using crayons for their names.  It's now not ALL in crayon.  ;]  I'm actually to a point where I might even write out other things that we are going to do... or at least write it out AFTER we do it.  :]

My seven year old got to do Wii fit as her fourth thing for today which is really GREAT for her because she's enjoying it and learning to balance and use up her energy in a great way.  This particular one that she's doing she has to time her movements just right which is something she's needed to learn (as all kids do) and balance and rhythm is important in the Waldorf philosophy, though I'm sure they weren't think of Wii fit, but hey... we are using what we have in the culture we live in.  My husband couldn't do without video games of some kind, so it's nice to have some that are useful.

This is my 7 year old's school folder.  The "check in" pocket is on the left and the "check out" pocket is on the right.  I found some pictures just doing a search on line for the alphabet and the number chart and the multiplication chart.  She has a little calender above the hundreds chart.  Above her schedule strip she has some "help me" cards velcroed to her folder so that she can ask for help when she needs to with her workboxes.  The original system was trying to keep the kids from asking for help too much, but I want to encourage them to ask for help when they need it.

And this is how the drawers look when the 7 year old is done with her workboxes for the day (Note; this is a small part of their school as I'll be doing at least three other group things with them separately from this.)

Half of our dinning room now looks like this.  School and projects are totally taking over.

When I started this blog post they were all playing play dough.  As I'm finishing the blog post they are watching a "Wild Krats" show about kangaroos.  While ideally I'd rather send them outside to play in the dirt or something I've got to work with what I have and they can't play much outside without me and I need a break on occasion, and so I'm going to go with shows like this that teach them something in a great right-brain dominant way. 
 Confession-  first day we tried this system as a test day was REALLY stressful for me!  The book makes it sound pretty easy and quick to set up, but it took several late nights to get all the parts put together, the numbers here, the velcro there, the plan of what to put in them and so on..... it just took some time and I was really really tired from doing it.  It wasn't "hard" necessarily and would probably be much easier for someone who is already doing a basic school schedule each day, but as we weren't doing a schedule at all it was forcing me to really look at what I wanted to do and how to do it.  Which was good, but that first day felt a little like trial by fire for me.  The girls didn't notice how tired I was, but my husband did when he got home.  By the time he came home though I'd pulled out practically all of our school stuff and had it spread out all over our house as I worked on figuring out where in the world to put it all to make this system work better.

As we do more school I might find that I want to add more work into their drawers or even do more drawers a week, but right now I wanted to make sure that I didn't get bogged down with this bit of it (which for us is more "extra" than the main part of school.)  My husband is excited about this as well since it adds a bit more structure to our extra stuff (so we don't forget to use them.)  He likes to come home and ask "what did you do in school today?" which always frustrated the kids and me because our "school" is going on all the time and often they couldn't distinguish  their living and learning.   Sure, I could tell him what they learned and what we did, but a better question is "what did you do today" and then they'd talk all about going to the zoo and seeing the elephants who like apples as a special treat or building a 750 piece puzzle or whatever.

I feel a little silly to be the one that needs this organizing system more than the kids.  I'm a right-brain-dominant visual person that is scared of lists and schedules.  I was so stressed out as I was trying to set all this up and it didn't quite make sense about why I was so stressed about it, but I just have issues with pinning things down.  I like to be spontaneous when we learn because when the girls actually ask about something it means they are ready to learn about it.  They are listening and it's an opportunity that can be missed if I'm too caught up in teaching something else when they aren't ready to learn it.  But on the other hand it's stressful to have three kids all wanting to learn all at the same time.  I'm pulled in too many directions to keep my sanity at times.

In conclusion:  My thoughts on the workbox system are favorable.  For us (with some tweaking) they are a great place to start adding more organization.  It's forcing me to plan out some of their school each week and keeping up with some basic review of skills.  While I don't want to do textbooks and tons of book work with them I do see the value in a few pages of penmenship practice and so on each week along with our read alouds and games and so on.  I can't seem to organize by writing out what we should do and then doing it, but I can come at it from the other way of planning all the physical stuff (in this great way by putting it into their workboxes) and then writing down what is there.  It's nice to have it planned out farther than in just the moment of doing school (which is what I'd been doing) because now I can make it more balanced by just opening each drawer and looking at what they have next up.  Is there a good balance going on?  Is there something else they might want to learn about that I can print out and have for next time?

It's helping with all of that and that's great!  I'm official an "eclectic homeschooler" by now for sure. 

No comments: