Using boxes to encourage independence.


My dream is to get to a point where the boys can learn independently. Being able to get on with your own learning, planning when to do it, finding the resources you need: these are the skills that will enable them to be lifelong learners. Eventually, I want the boys to be able to decide what they want to learn, find a way to learn it, and get on with it.
But, for our entire home educating journey so far, we’ve been stuck on step one.
I’ve been working out what interests them, choosing what to learn, finding the resources, then telling them when to get on with it.
This hasn’t been very satisfying for me, as, far from moving towards independent learning, the boys seemed to be getting more and more dependant. They needed to be told which page to turn to. They needed to be handed pencils. They needed me to remind them to look words up in a dictionary. Often, they would claim to be unable to find words in said dictionary.
Nor were the boys satisfied with things. They each have three pieces of work each day. Each piece of work requires about fifteen minutes effort. Yet, they were arguing, sulking, fussing over these pieces of work and frequently taking entire days to complete them.
Nobody was happy.
So, I thought about the problem.
I remembered The Hat System, which solved our problems of choosing activities and teams by writing things on bits of paper and pulling them out of a hat.
I thought about the timetables we use.
The boys like things that are written down. They would far rather do something that I wrote on a list than something that I ask them to do our loud.
So, I decided to replace my verbal reminders with post it notes, and my fetching of school supplies with a box.
We bought special boxes, in an attempt to create a little excitement about the new system. We explained my idea to the boys, and sweetened the deal with talk of all the fun things they would have time for, if they chose to finish ‘school work’ earlier in the day.
Here’s the new plan:
Every night, after the boys are in bed, I put the next day’s workbooks in the boxes. I include pencils, rulers, dictionaries, and anything else they will need. (In the box shown, there’s a bag of pennies for the maths game.)


Then, just like Christmas stockings, I sneak the boxes into the boys’ rooms.
They wake up, open the exciting boxes and – if they choose – they get on with their work.
We’ve just finished week two of the system and, amazingly, fantastically, it works. If they get stuck, they do what they can, and ask us for help over breakfast.
Every day, the boys complete their workbooks before ten in the morning. It’s a glorious start to the day!
We have reached step two of independent learning: provided with equipment, the boys do their work alone.
We have more time and more energy for playing together (I don’t think a day has passed this fortnight without at least one board game). I don’t feel guilty about going out for the day, or taking them out for lunch. We’ve been doing crafts together, science experiments together, and the boys have had more time than ever before to play their computer games.
Even Baby has a box, and I put different activities in it each day:


The children have always loved playing with boxes. And I am starting to see their point. Boxes are fabulous!


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