This blog is where we share our homeschooling journey. Our style is eclectic, employing strategies like notebooking, workboxing, and some relaxed unschooling I like to call organic or free-range learning.

Monday, August 5, 2013

Workboxes for Unschoolers: Organized Strewing

I'd describe our learning style as relaxed unschooling with occasional bursts of organizational insanity on my part, and I often find myself trying to brainstorm ways to bigger/badder/better whatever we're doing. This year, I am determined to be more aggressive about "strewing." For the uninitiated, strewing means leaving various items of interest lying around for a child to notice in hopes of sparking learning moments. But while I want to offer these opportunities more frequently, there's been a problem that has held me back: the issue of clutter.

We barely moved to a new place, and not only did we just get rid of a ton of excess junk I'm not eager to find replacements for, the new house is tidy and zen and I'd like to keep it that way as long as possible. We don't function well in a messy space, Bri included, so the thought of having "strew" lying out and piling up doesn't inspire me much. I wanted a way to offer a frequent variety of tidbits without the mess. 

That's when I remembered the rolling cart sitting empty and unloved in Bri's room.

For months I'd been wanting to re-purpose the cart, which we used for the workbox method we abandoned when we withdrew from the charter school. (Check out THIS POST if you're unfamiliar with workboxes.) Although I'd figured the workbox approach was history since we no longer did structured lessons, I liked the idea of it so much I kept the cart and labels in hopes of resurrecting it somehow. And that's exactly what I'm going to do...sort of.

The Unschooling Workbox

The typical method for workboxes involves filling each box (or drawer, in our case) with a worksheet, text, or activity to complete. The child goes through each box in order until they're empty for the day. What I'm going to do instead is stock the drawers with "strew" rather than required schoolwork. The cart currently sits in Bri's room beside her desk, and I'm going to leave it right there for now. She will not be required to look in the drawers or complete anything in them. I'll add new things and change the contents regularly to keep it intriguing.

 What kind of "strew" will go in the drawers? The same things that can go in regular workboxes: puzzles, card games, magazines, fun books, science activities, Play-Doh, mad libs, kid-friendly recipes, a magnifying glass, paper and paint/crayons, a bunch of different buttons, squishy balls, blocks, interesting newspaper clippings, jokes, fall leaves, pretty rocks, a new journal, a set of play money, a scavenger hunt list, a note offering a surprise trip to the library, museum, or other day trip...anything that can fit inside, really. And oh, workbooks. Yes, I said workbooks. If you read my post on When Workbooks are for Unschoolers, you'll understand why I believe they can be useful (for some kids) in an organic learning environment. Granted, Bri is FAR less enamored with them since the charter school, but after almost a year of deschooling I'm prepared to quietly reintroduce a few favored kinds to see where it leads. Maybe her earlier love for them will return. If not, like any other strew, she can choose to ignore them.

While the workbox plan might keep items contained, one of main ideas behind strew is that it is supposed to be, well, "strewn" about in the open where it can be encountered. Sticking stuff away in a drawer doesn't quite fit that bill. Won't it be an out of sight, out of mind thing? I'm hoping not. For one, Bri was very intrigued about her workboxes when they were introduced, and every day she would run to them wanting to see what new stuff would show up. I also have a drawer label called "Surprise!" that will pop up from time to time that will contain special things--for instance, the first in a series of clues leading her on a hunt for an item of interest, a new game, etc. Fun! Second, I will still be strewing the regular way, which at our house usually means interesting things appear on the dining room table at breakfast time--clay, crayons/paints, interesting articles, flyers for upcoming activities, books, cool rocks, etc. 

My other issue with strew is that it accumulates in the house. Over the years of homeschooling, our old apartment got pretty piled up with things she either liked and used, had liked at one time, or never showed interest in (but I kept them "just in case" she changed her mind. So I'm setting a new rule for strew: as contents are changed or added, decisions will be made immediately on items being cycled out. Rather than stockpiling a warehouse full of stuff on shelves and in closets, I vow to be as vigilant about letting go of old things as I plan to be in offering new ones.

By making the drawer items fun and changing them often, I have high hopes for the unschool workbox this year. I'm sure some refining will be involved. I'll post back with updates on whether it was a hit or a miss.


Forest Friends Homeschool Group said...

This is so helpful! I am trying to use a loose workbox approach to organize *myself* and offer explorations for my girls. How is this working out for you? Do you refer to them as workboxes with your kids or suggest checking them, or just leave them there to be stumbled upon? Thanks!

Allison said...

I love this! I'm new to homeschooling this year and am still trying to find what method resonates with our family. I just came across the idea of strewing today. I think this might be an answer to my struggle to create a more intentionally child-led environment.

Mama Gypsy said...

Great idea. I'm trying to do the same thing. I started with sensory boxes for my preschooler, but I wanted something my elementary, and middle school kids would like too.

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