Tuesday, March 16, 2010

Our Workbox System

Catherine's post reminded me that I had promised a post on our workbox system. For a full description you should really read Sue Patrick's book and her website. Unless you buy the book, you will not be able to get the printables she describes. She is the one who came up with the idea in the first place, and I do not want to plagiarize her work. She does do workshops at homeschool conferences as well. There are also plenty of blog posts about variations of the workbox system, which Catherine reference many of on her post.

Everyone has their own little variations on Sue Patrick's idea, our school is no exception. We live in a very small ranch house that is already crammed full of too much stuff and not enough empty space. Therefore, I was not about to have 3 carts with 12 shoebox size container on them - Where would I even put them??? After googling "workbox system blog," I gleaned a lot from others. Then, I came up with my own.

Instead of a shoebox size container, I use See & Store Book Pouches from Lakeshore Learning. It has a built in pocket in which I can put the "box" number, work with mom card, etc. On the outside of the packet I put a piece of Velcro for the number which will be taken off after complication, and put on her schedule strip.

Really, I mainly put my children's My Father's World curriculum in them, so I not adding many hands on additions outside of MFW's books- thus a book pouch works much better than a shoebox because I am mostly just putting books in them. If something is too big, which is rare, I either put in on the child's schedule strip or put a note in the pouch. Then I put all of the pouches into a crate, each child having their own crate. The crate can also hold their pencil box, counting jar, etc. I keep all their crates on my server in the dining room, which is where we do school. The crates are great because they can be carried to the living room (where I teach the boys) or outside during nice weather. It is completely portable.

The problem I had before the workbox system was that curriculum was piled in the dining room at the end of the day. By using the crates, I can prep whenever I want and easily store the crates on my server in the dining room. Eventually, I may buy pretty file boxes from IKEA or the Container Store to camouflage them, but I love the crates for practicality.

Here is a picture and description of each child's crate:

Ms. G (3rd grade)

Currently I use about 10 workboxes because we do some items during circle time. Occasionally I have put 2 things in one workbox, just so I did not have to rearrange all the workboxes. She also uses a schedule strip with blocks of additional work such as Irish dance practice, math game on computer, piano practice, reading, etc. Since her crate is so full, I keep her timer, strip and pencil box with other school items I use everyday, which is stored in a large wooden tabletop teacher organizer(clearance item, pretty $$ new). Also, this allows one of G's pouches is filled with what MFW calls the book basket, where she explores selected titles that correlate with our themes in Social Studies and Science only during school time for 15 minutes. This way I do not have a basket of books needing to be stored, it works great as a workbox.

Mr. Z (Kindergarten)

His crate contains his counting jar and tens box, as well as his pencil box and Trunkie, the stuffed elephant - who joined us this week when we were learning about elephants. Besides his pouches, I also store his co-op folder, a workbook for his brother, alphabet puzzle and other regularly used items.

His pouches are not numbered yet, but I am going to start him on a strip soon because he requested one like his sisters. His pouches can number from 4 to 8 roughly, depending on what he needs to do for MFW that day. There are lots of great ideas on how to fill a Kindergartner's boxes, but we do not use many of them for Mr. Z. I feel like for him it would be just busy work that he would not enjoy, I would burn him out and he would hate learning. You have to adjust things for each child's personality. He is very good at playing, and so I do not need to fill his time to keep him out of trouble while schooling Ms. G. Now, my oldest would have loved 12 workboxes to do when she was in Kindergarten.

Mr. JP (3 year old Preschooler)

Since JP really only uses Sponge curriculum at the moment (meaning he only learns whatever he happens to sponge off his siblings lessons), his crate contains educational toys to keep him busy and to make him feel that he too is important and belongs. Here is a list: Lauri Toddler kit, Lauri Preschool kit, Mellisa and Doug 4 in 1 wooden puzzle box, Teddy the Teaching Bear, magnetic letters and numbers, and Lauri pegs. Usually he only plays with his crate at school time, so it is fresh and fun. JP also loves to join in Z's schooling and to scribble on workbook pages with a pencil, so he can be just like his brother.

I must say that we no longer have much whining about doing school work because they know how much is expected from them and the boxes help them feel the progress they are making. School runs much more efficiently and smoothly because everything is right there at our finger tips. There is no running around looking for a book, that was done the afternoon before when I filled the boxes! I can plan independent workboxes for Ms. G while I know I will be schooling her brother. It really fosters independence. It definitely goes down as a tool that has greatly helped our homeschool. I honestly cannot think of anything negative about the way we use them.


  1. Great post! I'm always interested in the "how to" of homeschooling/organization, etc. :) Making lots of mental notes for the future.

  2. I use MFW and really want to do this as well, but I don't want 3 carts with 12 boxes. I like your idea of using pouches. I have a preschooler, 3rd grader, and 6th grader. My oldest and youngest have disorders: autism and sensory issues. My middle child is the one always asking "what now mom?" So it gets really frustrating. Is this very expensive to set up? I saw those crates at Target for like $3 and I already own 2. Do you put it on a bookshelf or something else? Really, really want to do this!

  3. I bought the pouches in stages and on sale. They are not expensive, but I need a lot of them. SO that adds up. The crates are kept in our dinning room on the bottom shelf of our server. I have thought of getting nicer boxes from IKEA, but I love the strength of the crates.

  4. Do you still use this system? Can you give an update on how it turned out?

  5. Do you still use the system? Can you give an update on how it turned out after five years?

  6. As my children are much older now, I no longer use this system. I think in general, systems have their day and then new systems are needed. Now I use plain spiral notebooks. On each page I write that days work with check off boxes. Each task is written either in green ink for independent work or in red ink for work they need to do with me. Works wonderful for us.