Sue Patrick's Workbox System Interview

Valorie Delp
Including fun things like games is central to workboxing.

This month, LTK was able to interview Sue Patrick, creator of Sue Patrick's Workbox System. Sue Patrick's Workbox System has taken the homeschooling world by storm, helping moms everywhere organize their school day.

In a nutshell, you put your child's work that you want him/her to do for the day, into twelve clear plastic shoeboxes. The shoeboxes are held on a shoe rack next to the child's school desk. We're thankful Sue was generous with her time in answering our questions!

Sue Patrick: Necessity is the Mother of Invention

LTK: Thank you for taking the time to interview with us. Can you tell us a little about yourself and how you ended up with what is now known as the workbox system? You must be an organizational guru.

Sue: We have two children, ages fourteen and twelve -- both of whom I have always homeschooled. However, let me assure you that there was no one who went into motherhood with less of a thought of homeschooling that I did. I've never been a teacher -- my degree is in forestry and environmental resources.

However, my son was diagnosed with autism, and it was a crushing blow. Doctors and professionals told us that our son was so severely affected with autism that he should be put in a facility. However, I knew that my son was intelligent and capable and worth the effort and I was determined to find a way to help him. I started homeschooling him at 18 months. I had him, and a younger baby at the time, and I simply didn't deal well with mayhem. I had to find a way to make our days more organized. To make a long story short, I had developed the system pretty much as it is now, by the time he was four years old.

LTK: So how did the Workbox System movement grow so big?

Sue: Well, it grew gradually but steadily over the years. Once I had my own children learning and effectively using the system, I then took my system to church and developed a special needs Sunday school class. This allowed some parents of special needs children to attend church together for the first time. Parents of special needs children simply can't attend church together because there must always be someone to stay with the child. This system worked beautifully and the volunteers did not need much training to make it work.

I soon realized how beneficial my system would be for all families who home school, especially very large families. So I began giving workshops in my home, other people's homes, churches, support groups, co-ops and more. This has all been over the last twelve years and it continues to grow.

The Workbox System in a Nutshell

This is the system correctly set up.

LTK: How would you describe the workbox system?

Sue: My system simply makes homeschooling easier by creating physical and chronological structure. It makes it easier to organize curriculum and to present it in a way that is easier for the child to learn. This system allows home school families to get more schooling done in far less time, and it is especially helpful in creating kids who can work independently. So many homeschooled children can become addicted to Mom sitting there with them even when they don't need the help. My system is very visual and the children know at all times what is expected of them - whether they are readers or not. You would be surprised at how independent very small children and developmentally delayed children can be.

The workbox system also encourages parents to present work in smaller, easier chunks which will help keep behavioral problems and learning struggles at a minimum. My system for integrating a lot of review and more fun, hands-on materials will also help with attention spans, behavioral issues and learning retention.

Biggest Problems and Biggest Gains

LTK: You also do consulting to help parents implement your workbox system. What would you say is the biggest problem you see with homeschoolers trying to organize their workload or homeschool?

Sue: Well… just that. So many people want not only to be organized, but to be organized before they get started. If everyone waits to get started until they are organized, they will never start. Sometimes we just need to start, regardless.

One more important issue is the fact that parents must realize that this is a real and serious job. Homeschooling is not something to do when we aren't doing laundry, or cleaning or vacationing or running the kids to lessons. This is something we should be doing first. When home schooling is not placed as a top priority, it also doesn't get the organizational and planning respect it deserves.

LTK: What, in your observations, have been the major benefits of workboxing to the families that have wholeheartedly embraced your system?

Sue: I receive e-mail after e-mail with almost the same comments every time:

  • Their children have never wanted to do school and now love it.
  • They get twice as much done in far less time.
  • This is so simple, yet so life changing.
  • They finally feel qualified to teach their own children.

When I speak in public, just seeing me demonstrate how to homeschool with my system, women will come up to me with tears in their eyes telling me they know they can now home school effectively. This may all seem overboard, but I have had these comments consistently for over ten years.

Other Workbox Essentials

LTK: In your book, you talk about the importance of running. Why running? Why not yoga, or just any outdoor activity?

Sue: There are many reasons, not the least of which are benefits I have seen in my own family. When I first started my son running at age five, he could not put two words together when speaking. When he got off the treadmill, he could put words together for the next 30 minutes. My children have been running three miles a day (at least), five days a week for nine years. They are fit and healthy (my 14 year old son has only been sick a matter of five days in his entire life), have never had an injury, and we have enjoyed this healthy habit as a family. We now travel and enter races together.

Tweaking the System (or I Don't Have Room for All Those Shoeboxes)

This is a variation of a workbox system using magazine holders.

LTK: What do you say to those who insist that they just don't have space for shoe boxes, or that this part or that part of the system won't work for them. Do you feel like "tweakers" are missing out on the benefits of following the ideology behind the workbox system or are you of the opinion that you take the good and leave the rest?

Sue: Everyone's home school is their own and I agree that my system can and will look different in each home. However, because I have "fine tuned" this system over so many years, I know what works and what doesn't. I also know what is easiest to implement and use. There is such universal revolt of using the boxes by those who "hear" of my system by word of mouth. But those who read my book or hear my talk understand the whys and they understand why I feel the workboxes are important. Most alternatives that I've heard of or seen simply make it more difficult for the moms to set it up and for the children to enjoy the inherent benefits of the system. I have consulted with so many families over the years, that I know the alterations are not as beneficial as using the actual workboxes. I never hear of anyone who uses the workboxes who wanted to find another way after experiencing the benefits. It's always those who haven't actually tried the workboxes and want a different option from the beginning.

The Right Curriculum for Shoeboxes

LTK: Is there any type of curriculum or philosophy that you feel just won't work with the workbox system?

Sue: I couldn't possibly say that I know of all curriculums and philosophies out there, but I have yet to know of a single example it cannot work with. It is not a curriculum or a philosophy (not that I don't have a strong one) as it is a structuring enhancement. I do feel that when so many home school moms are feeling they are not organized, all they really need is structure. The Workbox System is that.

Thank You Sue Patrick

LTK is grateful to Sue Patrick for answering questions about the workbox system. For more information on the system or to order her book you can visit Sue Patrick online.

Sue Patrick's Workbox System Interview