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Entries in workboxes (3)


Revisiting method—workboxes

Back in August I mentioned that we were going to give a modified workbox method a try, and we've been doing just that rather happily since then. We dont' use the boxes as a guide for our days, though, we use our days as a guide for the boxes.

We have a stack of six craft-box drawers that started out in our play room but have since migrated to our kitchen, and we keep them filled with things that are on the top of Calvin's interest list at the moment. We ended up labeling the boxes with seven different basic subjects for organizing purposes. Right now there's mammoths and kingdom classification (BFSU) in the science drawer, map mystery worksheets in the geography drawer, subtraction from Math-U-See in the math drawer, some Dover coloring books and his piano books in the art and music drawer, and his journal is in the language drawer.

We have no rules about how or when things get done, or about what can or can't go in the boxes, we use them instead as suggestions in moments of mid-day ennui ("what do we do now?" "I don't know, why don't we take a look in the boxes?"), and we tend to visit at least one box every day, some days all six. They give Calvin a place to keep projects that are in the works, and they are great for keeping our minds focused, so that we don't forget projects that are in the works or questions that we haven't been able to fully answer just yet. And as I find interesting books, print-outs, etc., I put them in the appropriate drawer for the boy to find on a rainy day.

As a means of organization the boxes have been great, and using them this way they fit right into my dreams and aspirations for an unschooling environment.


Watching ice melt

We watched ice melt today, our own versions of icebergs and glaciers. The first was an iceberg, one we'd made by almost freezing a cup of red dyed water, that we plopped into a bowl of luke warm tap water. We watched it spin and turn, rather than just calmly float; we watched bubbles escaping from the ice and listened to the sounds they made; we watched the red dyed water seep out into the clear tap water in waves, ultimately blending and leaving all the water red. I think the latter was my favorite observation of that experiment.

The second ice we watched melt today was one of our hand made glacier-like things, only having done the experiment I now think its only redeeming value was the hilarity of wathcing it fall apart. Either the directions in the book of experiments was wrong, or else they weren't well described, because the resulting "glacier simulation" was really nothing of the sort. Yesterday we filled plastic cups with an inch of pebbles and sand, then added water up to two inches and froze the whole concoction. Today we fastened the "glacier" to an inclined plane to watch the melt runoff. Only everything we've read is about how glaciers move down towards the sea, rocks and all, not about how glaciers melt and allow their drippy, rock and sand laden water rivulets run into the ocean. And not that the latter doesn't happen, but I think some of the basic glaciery things that make glaciers glaciers were lost here. Still, watching ice melt sure beats watching paint dry.

Then, because the heat was coming back at the end of the day along with the storms, we met Jon at Hudson Mills metropark for some play time (the two of them playing along the river, me getting a chance to run the trails) before a picnic lunch.

The mushrooms are almost as plentiful as the mosquitos, and a quite a bit more enjoyable.

The workboxes are continuing to serve us well. They feel like a compromise to me, and I guess I can live with that. The rest of our day was a blur of biking, trains, piano, David Attenborough, some math, some art (an Antarctica felt set has been requested), quiet reading time, and ice cream after dinner with Oma and Opa, and it ended with beautiful storms lighting up the night and bringing the cooler air back. That's a good day.


A bicycle built for two

In the wake of my sudden fear induced paralysis of the planning mind (too much guidance? Too little?) I've decided to try a modified workbox system. To be fair, I'm fully aware that some person has produced a how-to book on workboxing and that she is the definitive voice on the subject, so when I say "we're trying the workbox system" I can't really mean it because I've never read said book. The idea is simple enough, though—one box or drawer each for a variety of subjects or projects so that the child has a choice of what to work on at any given moment, and also has a space to keep work that was begun but is not yet finished. We already do this to some extent by keeping our current thematic study materials in a Wonder File so that we can easily tote them to the library when we go, but the workbox system will allow us to have multiple projects going at once, and will allow me to give suggestions of things to do or to plan certain activities in advance.

For this week I filled the boxes with a multitude of choices in each subject, many of them being variations on something to do with Antarctica, his most recent love, others being completely off that topic. Some of the choices are worksheets, others are books to read, still others are notecards suggesting that we play a game or go outside. This morning Calvin pulled out the science box, selected a book of experiments with the page of glacier experiments already marked, and beat me to the kitchen even before I had finished my crossword and coffee. So today we melted ice, we refroze the water, did some all around discussing of the states of matter, and there are two miniature glaciers hanging out in the freezer right now that will be a lot of fun if it doesn't rain tomorrow.

As projects are completed they are taken out of the drawers and placed in a folder on top of the unit. So far I think the system is working, but this being only day two I'll reserve judgement just yet. We didn't do science or Antarctica for all of the day, though. He did some math sheets at one point, and practiced the piano, and he read his book out loud to me while we were in the car running an errand.

And that special errand was another big part of our day. Calvin loves to ride his bike. He rides it to the mailbox, to the park, around the cul de sac. It's such a healthy activity, and lately I'd been wondering about getting back into our habit of biking into town for the library or other events (like ice cream!) instead of driving, or of hitting the paved paths in nearby parks, only he's too big for the trailer and too little to ride his own bike the whole way. I did a little research and found some great options for turning a standard adult bike into a tandem with child, only they were expensive, so I put a request out on Freecycle just on the off-chance...

I know I've mentioned how much I love our local Freecycle chapter, but this really takes the cake. Within a couple of days of submitting a "wanted" post asking if a family happened to have one of these bike attachments that maybe their children had outgrown and they had no use for anymore, I was driving the half hour to a nearby city to pick one up. And tonight we tried it out with a child who was nervous and apprehensive until the second time around the block, and by the third was impossible to pry off it.