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Using the Workbox System in Your Homeschool

Earlier this year, I wrote a post about how we use workboxes to organize our homeschool, but today I wanted to explain a bit about how we set up our system. If you’ve read about the workbox system, it can sound a little overwhelming. (At least it did for me.)

Some homeschoolers recommend using a different workbox for each subject. Since we have four kids (three that are currently schooling), I was looking at 24 workboxes or more. Unfortunately, we have neither the room nor the money for that kind of setup. So, I decided to go about using the workbox system in a much more affordable (read: cheap) way.

Here’s a look at the simple way we use the workbox system in our homeschool!

Using the Workbox System in Your Homeschool - The Homeschool Post

Use inexpensive items.

I use clear shoeboxes for our kids’ workboxes. They’re inexpensive, see-through, and easy to stack inside our bookcase. Generally, getting a look at what’s inside the boxes helps the kids get excited for what they’ll be doing that day.

I don’t separate our workboxes by subject. I just stick everything they’ll do in each box. Tigger has a box, Pooh has a box, and Roo has a box. Piglet, who is 22 months old, has her own box, but I don’t let her go through it on her own just yet. :)

To organize the assignments, I printed the free workbox activity cards from Homeschool Creations, laminated them, and then stuck them on the side of each box with Velcro sticky back coins. That way, the kids can see what subjects they’ll be using the workboxes for.

Start slowly.

When we first started with the workbox system, I knew it would take a little time for the kids to adjust. Prior to that, I had always assigned their work and they had come to rely on me giving explicit directions for each subject. Using workboxes, though, meant that they would be assuming some of the responsibility for their work. That’s a great thing, but it was very new for them.

To ease into the system, I started by giving them a few items or assignments a couple of days a week. For example, Tigger would have one worksheet for Language Arts, one worksheet for Math, and one worksheet for Reading. Over time, though, she adjusted to completing her work and I increased the amount of work I gave her. Now I have very little trouble giving her a lengthy assignment.

For Pooh and Roo, I started with one worksheet each. Pooh would get an early reading activity and Roo would get a coloring page. Now they each do several activities on their own that are adapted for their age and grade level.

Have you tried the workbox system? Did you like it? Let us know how you use workboxes in your homeschool!


Selena (3 Posts)

Selena is a homeschooling graduate, a former tax accountant, and a homeschooling mom to four super special kids. She and her husband, Jay, practice eclectic homeschooling to keep their ADHD learners engaged! You can keep up with Selena by following her blog Look! We're Learning! on Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, Instagram, and Google Plus.

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5 Tips for Homeschooling Through Chaos

Job loss. Moving. New babies. High risk pregnancy. Hospitalization. Injury. Chronic pain disability.

These are a few of the things that we, at the Non Stepford house, have dealt with during our almost (gasp!) eight years of homeschooling.

That’s one of the many things nobody warns you about when you embark on the homeschooling path. Life keeps happening. As a homeschooler, you’re not immune to the chaos that life throws at you. In fact, I sometimes wonder if homeschooling isn’t some sort of lightening rod for it, or if it’s like hanging a sign on your front door saying, “Murphy! Come visit!”

homeschooling through chaos

The old saying goes, “When the going gets tough, the tough get going.” Personally, the only place I tend to get going is to the fridge, to see if there’s any cheesecake hidden away.

I’ve been asked, many, many times, why I don’t just put the Minions in public school. I’ve given many thoughtful, profound answers over the years, but really, it boils down to three things: 1) Homeschooling is best for our family, 2) I don’t want to, and 3) I’m stubborn as all holy heck. To me, asking why I don’t put the kids in school is akin to asking, “Why don’t you quit parenting?” It’s a part of our life as a family now, and not something I’d ever willingly give up, at least during the elementary years. High school, I’m willing to negotiate on, depending on what the situation is. Heck, I’ve been known to BEG Diva, our almost 16-year-old, to try high school, but no dice.

See, I’m not someone who always planned to homeschool. We started as a direct result of Diva being horribly bullied…so we started out in chaos. And have been fumbling our way through ever since.

My tips for homeschooling through chaos:

  1. Scale back – Do what you can, as you can. If that means math and read alouds are the extent of your ability that day, that’s okay.

  2. Use media – Personally, I love me some National Geographic. There are loads of science shows geared for children, and I have no guilt at all in plugging them in to Magic School Bus, Kratts Creatures, or similar. The Middle Minions think Horrible Histories is fantastic. I also looked for free online ‘games’ for reading, spelling and math. They think they’re playing, but I know they’re learning. Win!

  3. Delegate – Daddy Wolf is probably the biggest resource I have. I can count on him to oversee math, to have the kids read to him, and to do read alouds when I’m not able. Diva, the teenager, does art with the Middle Minions, because since becoming one-armed (and left at that!) cutting, sewing, and painting are not in my abilities.

  4. Be patient – This is for you. Remember, when chaos hits, everyone is out of sync. Kids are more rambunctious, or at least the Minions are. If I’m stressed, or out of whack, so are they. I find that giving them some physical activities outside helps tremendously. Burn off that energy, so they can settle down and focus.

  5. Accept outside help – Granted, sometimes this isn’t even an option. We’ve been in a new city, without a support system, so I understand how that happens. But, if you have anyone you can turn to, that can help at all, LET THEM. Ask for help and support. You might be amazed at what folks will do when emergencies arise.

So. There you have it. Five tips for surviving chaos, and still homeschooling. My number six tip, is possibly the most important though: Remember, this too shall pass. And it will, and it does. Just keep swimming, swimming, swimming.

Melissa 'Imp' (4 Posts)

Wife to Wolf, Mom to 5 Minions at home, figuring out living, homeschooling, one handed in a 2 handed world.

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Homeschool History Hacks



Local History

Begin where you are! Have your kids learn a little local history about your city/town, your county, and your state. Visit your town hall. Research the deed to your house. Or just use Google. Over the course of a year our Homeschool History Club, which I’ll describe later, took us from our own house and town, from county-to-county and borough-to-borough clear across Long Island, New York.

Family History

I concur with Renée, the official grandparent interview (and written report!) is a MUST for every child. Ideally they will be able to do four of them but of course that’s not always possible. If a grandparent is recently deceased they can certainly be researched by other means. Interviewing another older relative, family friend, or neighbor works fine for this exercise too.

Talking to my grandfather (who turns 101 next month!) always felt like a vivid history lesson. He was a pilot in the Polish Air Force; he escaped Hitler and wound up in England where he met my grandmother. I had known the basics of his story for years….but it wasn’t until I was an adult that I came across an amazing book – that essentially told his personal story.

Our children’s grandparents and great-grandparents all have rich personal histories interwoven with the events of world history. Help your children discover their own personal connection to the past and in the process they will forge tighter bonds with loved ones.


We planned a family trip to Hawaii last year….and what did my wife do? She Googled “Hawaii Unit Study” and found all sorts of books for our kids to read on Hawaii before we got there. A little foreknowledge will not only make a trip more interesting, more educational, and more memorable….but it will also help you justify the ridiculous costs!

Our Hawaii trip got cancelled because we decided to move to London. When informed of this my son lamented, “Oh great, now Mom is going to make me read a bunch of books about London!”

And she did…

Audio-guides and Audio-tours

Museums can be hard on visiting families. Sometimes the kids are too young and bored out of their skulls….and they end up torturing the rest of the family who is trying to take it all in. But almost all the major museums today have interactive audio-guides, often for free and often even “child-friendly” versions of content. We’ve found that our children LOVE them. Audio-guides really ramp up their level of engagement and consequently decrease their level of parental torture.

In the same vein, I highly recommend narrated or audio-guided tours of cities. They are everywhere now, very affordable, and a great way to get the lay of the land when visiting an historic city (or Seattle!). We’ve done them now in Paris, Amsterdam (river cruise), Edinburgh, and just this week we enjoyed a terrific “hop-on, hop-off” bus tour in Liverpool. Definitely do them on the first day of your arrival.

History in Homeschool Groups

I already alluded to a History Club that we partook in for a couple of years. Each month had a theme (planned well in advance) and the children would spend the month preparing an oral presentation of their choosing. Some kids read written reports, others used PowerPoint, some dressed up, made illustrative artwork and handicrafts, brought in artifacts, etc. It was a terrific experience for many reasons including its low cost, relaxed nature, varied presentations, and, importantly, it introduced the kids to public speaking.

Another great idea is to do what one of my local New York groups did. Each month they invited a person, native to a foreign country, to come and speak to the kids about his or her homeland. These meetings were complete with food from the speaker’s country, story-telling, and props to make the experience come alive for the kids. The families all chipped in something nominal – like a $2 donation as an expression of gratitude.

Our homeschool groups on Long Island also put on a terrific “Historic Costume Ball” where the kids, obviously, dress up and try to play the part of famous figures from the past.

And in Manhattan we have loved our annual History Fair where the kids go on stage and offer clues as to who they are….while the other kids in the audience try to guess their identity. Here’s my son a couple years ago as….well you’re going to have to guess!

Historical Fiction

Parents are always asking me how I “teach history”. Of course I explain that I don’t teach it. Other than the hacks you are reading here, my wife and I mostly just throw books at the kids. History is primarily a “content” subject as opposed to something like math which is really a discipline. Ideally your children will accumulate a whole lot of historical facts and ultimately understand how they weave together and inform the present and future.

So we’ve thrown a small mountain of books at the kids over the years and really any book set in a distant time period falls into the category of Historical Fiction. My daughter is keenly interested in the Depression, slavery, and the Holocaust BECAUSE of the novels she’s read – not because she’s been assigned chapters in a dry history text.

Just research the book lists of Ambleside Online and The Well-Trained Mind. Have your kids read all the Newbery Award Winner books. Librarians can certainly give great book suggestions as well, of course.

It almost goes without saying that the older the book….the larger its inherent historical component. Project Gutenberg has a good deal of the old ones, for free. Are you using it yet?

World Travel

You might think this is out of reach….but you are wrong.

It was years ago that I first read about homeschooling families traveling to exotic locations all over the globe – spending winters in Florida, months in Italy, China, or driving across America in an RV. Back then it was seemingly impossible for us too.

But where there’s a will, ultimately there’s a way. In all likelihood, no matter what you do, there will arise a work opportunity or a missionary opportunity through which you can take your family abroad. It doesn’t take much time Googling to learn about families who’ve traveled extensively on shoestring budgets either. (Or send your kids away as foreign exchange students.)

Why should you travel?

Because it’s, by far, the best way to make a study of history truly come alive.

I can honestly say that I feel like, despite years of school, college, and reading small mountains of history books….that I truly didn’t know ANYTHING about Europe until I moved here 8 months ago. It’s one thing to read about history, but it’s quite another to experience it.

A couple days ago we were exploring Liverpool and I came across a statue of the Duke of Wellington. Wondering who he was I asked my 9-year old son and he said to me, like I was a blithering idiot, “Dad, he destroyed Napoleon at the Battle of Waterloo.”

And note this is hardly the first time I’ve been condescended on like that.

Clearly, the way my kids are learning history….is far superior to the way I learned it!


Dan (3 Posts)

Husband to Inez. Father of John and Christine. Homeschool Coach, Accelerated Math Teacher. Former derivatives trader and future scratch golfer! Follow our learning adventures at

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***3 FREE Complete Drawing Lessons from the SEE THE LIGHT 9 DVD/36 lesson ART CLASS curriculum that is used by many homeschooling families. Recommended for ages 6 + +***