Our Workbox System

I’ve decided to try workboxes again.  We haven’t been homeschooling long, still in our first year, but I keep thinking there has to be a better way to get organized.  I feel like I’m all over the place, looking for the math book and Firefly’s handwriting workbook every day, and even if he puts them back where they belong, nothing seems to be located in the same place.  This will be our third major re-organization, but each time it gets better and makes things easier.   As always, the first requirement is that our new system must be toddler-proof.  Here’s what I’ve come up with.  We’ll see how it goes for a while and I’ll update my blog and let you all know how it’s going in the future.

In Target stores, this is the R.E. (Room Essentials) Organize brand Large ShowOffs Box by Sterlite. Holds letter-size hanging files.

We have a new, hanging file type of workbox system in portable file  boxes.  The file boxes fit easily on our already existing shelves (Expedit from Ikea), they have handles on top so the kids can easily carry them to wherever they are working, and if Love Bug just can’t keep his cute, pudgy hands off of them, I can easily move them to a secret, undisclosed location.

It also enables me to easily carry them to my desk in another room where I fill them prior to the next school day.

Here is our former, short-lived workbox system.

Old workbox system. A bargain, the rack and boxes were purchased at a yardsale for $10. Unfortunately, they didn't work out as workboxes but are great toy bins for small cars, action figures, and apparently, rocks, as I discovered the other day.

The problem with this workbox rack and boxes were that (a) we had angled boxes, which did not fit some of our books, abacus, etc. and (b) Love Bug kept dumping them so we had to keep them behind the gate that was at the bottom of our stairs. Not terribly convenient. And I was carrying the whole heavy rack back and forth every night from my home office to refill the boxes, and then back to it’s place behind the baby gate. Yeah, that got old kinda fast.

So anyway, back to the NEW system (click on the images to make them larger).

Next to the workboxes, there are activities containers, which hold educational toys and games for each child.  This is their go-to place when I am working one on one with a sibling.  They can also choose to pull things out of their workboxes and make a go of it independently or use the computer for educational sites during these times.

If you’re reading about workboxes, you’re probably familiar with how they started.  Sue Patrick is the creator of the original Workbox system and author of the book by the same name.  If you ever get an opportunity to attend one of her workshops, I recommend it, because Sue has a lot of really great ideas not only about workboxes, but lots of other creative educational ways to make learning activities for kids.  And she has a great deal on Velcro dots on her website (and, no, I am not getting anything for saying that).

If you do a search on workboxes, you’ll find as many variations of workbox systems as there are homeschool blogs out there. Here’s how the rest of our system works. We’ve actually been using these task discs for some time now and they’ve worked well.

My master sheet of discs. Easy to find, so I don't have to sort through a pile. These attach to the front of each file folder. Tasks that don't involve paperwork, books or supplies are attached directly to the front of the workbox. Discs made with Microsoft clip art, then laminated, and cut with a 1.5 inch circle punch from the scrapbooking section at a craft store (Another addictive tool. I've worn out one and am on my second. Oh, the many uses of the circle punch.).

Coordinating supplies boxes hold pencils, scissors, glue stick, crayons, etc. They fit inside the front of the workbox when not in use. Available in Target stores.

I went ahead and made a workbox, an activity bin and a supplies case for my two year old, too because (a) I wanted all the workboxes to match and even though he isn’t doing school stuff yet, it would bother me if, a couple years down the road, Target stopped selling these boxes or changed the design or color. I’m OCD like that; and (b) When Love Bug starts digging through one his siblings’ stuff, I direct him to his own boxes, etc.

Supplies box, file folder and lid to workbox all fit with plenty of space for more. Larger books and other items go on the shelf next to the workbox.

Each child has their own colored name labels, which coordinate their workbox and supplies box and whatever else I can stick a laminated piece of cardstock with velcro dots to. (Have I mentioned that I am kinda crazy about my laminator and my velcro dots?)

I was inspired to re-organize and try the workboxes again by a couple of other blogs I’ve read lately. Check them out, they have some great information.

Peace Creek on the Prairie I got the idea for the “Look What I Did Today!” page and also putting some discs on the outside of the workbox here.  Thank you, Peace Creek Mom!

Heather at Blog, She Wrote.   Heather’s blog has a great update on how workboxes have worked for their family after using them for some time.  The comments that readers are left are interesting as well.  One thing that is mentioned here and other places over and over again is that workboxes can often be used to fill with busy work and seem to be more of a “school at home” approach rather than a flexible, meet-the-learning-needs-of-your-particular-child approach.

I can see how it would be easy to fill workboxes with busy work.  But who says you have to fill all the boxes/folders every day?  I only put the number of folders in the box that need to be done that day. If we are doing reading, math, science, handwriting and art on Monday, that’s what goes in the workbox.  On Tuesday, if we are only doing reading, math and Five in a Row, there’s only 3 folders that day.

So there you have it.  Workboxes, take two.  I’ll keep you posted.

***An update on our workboxes can be found here.  This includes a video of how our workbox system is organized.

This entry was posted in Home Organization, homeschooling, keeping toddlers busy so you can actually educate your older children, workboxes. Bookmark the permalink.

23 Responses to Our Workbox System

  1. Natalie says:

    Nice! Thank you for sharing your approach. I have been giving the workbox system a lot of thought. I have two major concerns, both of which you addressed: (1) The Toddler and (2) forcing us into a more school like/task driven schedule.

    I think you did a nice job resolving my first issue – I definitely think that box would work for our purposes.

    On the second issue, since I only have one in official home learning, we can still really progress in total non-schoolish child driven way . . . and I’m just not sure I am ready to abandon that for more structure. And yet part of me feels like running out to Target and getting those boxes right now! 🙂

    • Thanks for your comments, Natalie. I should probably add that, for my oldest, he thrives on the structure. Without it, we have tons of whining and refusal and if left to his own devices, he’d probably just play video games all day. He requests that I write a daily schedule on the white board and review it with him each morning. I routinely forget and he routinely reminds me. So far, he loves the workboxes and the task discs, loves knowing how much school work he has left to do for the day and loves the sense of accomplishment when he is done.
      My daughter, on the other hand, sometimes gets to her workbox and sometimes not, and that is okay because firstly, she’s in preschool so her main job is to play. Secondly, she often chooses to spend her time learning how to write or count. For example, she spent many hours last week teaching herself to count and write the numbers to 100. She asked for help when she needed it. She wrote a lot of reversed numbers. But she was driven. Her workbox sat mostly untouched. Not a problem. The kiddo was actively engaged in learning. Who am I to disturb her? The stuff I put in her workbox will be there when she is ready for it.
      Same system. Different kids. Flexible approach. I’m hoping that will work for us. If not, we’ll change it as needed. 🙂

  2. Natalie says:

    Thought I might add, that type of a box (mine was from Staples, but the same basic box) is what I use to store my child’s work samples for the year – including lapbook. Perfect. Kiddo can haul it around and show Gma and others, easy in and out, and yet, I can file by Grade (1 per year), and stick on a shelf. 🙂

  3. Natalie says:

    *lapbooks* plural. sorry.

  4. Natalie says:

    I like your approach. My daughter sounds like your daughter – she comes up with much more difficult challenges for herself than I would ever think of tasking her with. 🙂 My toddler is a boy, so I have the other side of that coin coming down the pike in a few years. 🙂

  5. Anna-Marie says:

    I like the organization. I just revamped our system. I put in each folder a week or month worth of activities depending on the subject in order to cut down on the filling up the folders in the evenings. It is working so much better for us. Every once in a while I throw in a surprise activity to make it fun.

    • I like this idea, Anna-Marie. It has been in my head, ever since I read your comment and I think this could work for some of our subjects, so I am trying it with math this week. I put all of my first grader’s math assignments in his math folder in the workbox. He can do one or two assignments a day or do them all in one day or however he wants. He often works ahead in his handwriting book, so maybe putting weekly assignments in some of the workbox folders will give him the freedom to do that. And that’s one less subject I have to load into his workbox every night for the coming day. Thanks!

  6. Deb says:

    Those look great. I love your whole shelving system! *jealous*

  7. QueenBee says:

    Very cool! I love the What I Did Today discs… I’ve thought about doing that every year and never have. I don’t really know why I haven’t. It’s a great way to visually see what has been accomplished. Thanks for providing me with some food for thought! 🙂

  8. I really like this idea! I’ve been doing some research lately on the workbox system~I think it’s going to work well for our family. I definitely like the pros/cons you’ve pointed out! Thanks for sharing your ideas!

  9. Wow (gulp), you are really organizied! We do workboxes, but they are simply…the work in a box 🙂 Yours are much prettier! Nice to find your site. God Bless~

  10. We’ve done the same thing for the same reasons!!!! (Mainly too many toddlers dumping and older ones keeping non school stuff in their other workboxes.) See my post here: http://amypayson.wordpress.com/2011/03/04/the-learning-room-working-the-workboxes/

    Great moms must think alike!!! LOL

  11. P.S. Just added you to my blogroll since I just keep coming back here!

  12. Thanks for sharing what is & isn’t working for you. We are not using workboxes, but I still love the idea, and I’m still trying to figure out if some modified version of this might work for us. I do know that we need to re-vamp what we’re doing right now, because there is too much not getting done each day, and I end up having to remind the kids over & over that they still have work to do. And that’s not fun. But since my kids are older, I have to figure out a way to make this not seem “kiddie” or they’ll totally balk at the idea. If I ever figure it out, I will certainly blog about it! 🙂

  13. Kat says:

    Thanks for sharing! I love you’re “what I learned” today board.

  14. dmamma says:

    Oh, would you please come over and organize me? hahahaha. Thanks for taking the time to share what you do.

  15. Jessica says:

    I have used the workbox system and liked the concept, but it was too “bulky”. To skinny it down a bit, I have used sturdy folders this year – the kind that you can open up and they have a flap on each side to slip activities into. I only use 3 folders per child, but that makes for 6 flaps to include activities. I have included a thankful journal, penmanship copywork, math drills/workpages, Expode the Code work book – activities that are low maintenance for me, as well as other activities so that at least one or two activities are different each day. The work folders are simply a time of day where the girls can work independently while I clean up breakfast dishes. 🙂 The rest of the morning we learn together as a family and in the afternoon we do our language/reading and math lessons one-on-one while little ones nap. This has worked for me with 4 kids 7 and under.

  16. Laura says:

    I really like this idea a lot. We have an ikea expedit unit for our tv and toys in the basement. I think we may get another expedit bookshelf unit for school supplies and workboxes. Your idea is great! Thank you. How is it working out for you now? Do you feel like this helps you to be more organized or just adds more work for you? We have 4 kids under 5 (oldest will be 5 next month) and so we will only have one in elementary school this fall. I am trying to be organized but not put too much on myself that isn’t necessary.

    Oh, and I just wanted to mention…You seem to be very careful about not showing your children’s faces and names (which I think is very smart). I enlarged the pic of your old system to see what the green tag was and noticed it had a name on it… Just thought I’d mention that. :o)

    • Hi Laura,
      I like the workboxes a lot, although sometimes it is a chore to fill them at night. With several subjects, I fill them for the week, such as math and reading (our everyday subjects). Since we don’t start school work until 9:30 in the morning, I usually have time to fill them in the a.m. if I didn’t get to them the night before. Most importantly, my 1st grader loves this system. He is the kind of kid who needs to know what his schedule is for the day. So this system really works well for him.
      Thanks for catching my security breech. I fixed it.
      Thanks again for stopping by my blog and for your comments.

  17. We really need to do this in my house! I only have one (5) and we both need structure. This will provide it. I am using this year (since in NY we don’t have to report until she is 6) to get our system in order. I hate feeling like a scatterbrain.

  18. eexpeditions says:

    Your workboxes are so simple and organized! I really love the whole workbox concept… it gives kids some freedom while still maintaining enough structure that things actually get done. 🙂

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