Alternative Workbox Ideas

I started using work boxes in 2009, when I noticed a bunch of home school blogs were raving about them. Nathan was in second grade and he needed a schedule. Nathan was very ambitious, intelligent, obsessed with time management; he needed a visual outline of his schedule. I couldn’t keep up with Nathan’s type A personality and demands as I also needed to teach Ellie her 1st grade materials.

My brain was in overdrive as I tried to make this work for my family as frugally as possible. I couldn’t afford to buy 20 bins to hold their schoolbooks in. I couldn’t afford to buy Sue Patrick’s workbox ebook. I gathered information from various blogs about how they applied the workboxes to fit their family.

magazine holders

Magazine holders from IKEA make great workboxes!

Fortunately, IKEA opened a store within 45 minutes of my home. As I walked through the showrooms, I saw these magazine file holders and I was elated as I did the mental math to discover that I could easily create a workbox system for two children for $20 total!

Nathan lives and breathes baseball so I used baseball as his theme and Ellie was into “Fancy Nancy”. (She outgrew it too quickly…) She loved anything that glittered, sparkled, and “diamonds”. I found fake strips of gemstones that I used for her name and used glittery stickers to create a border.

Personalized workboxes

Joann fabrics had scrapbook cardstock paper (12×12) on sale for a quarter apiece. I picked up a bright sparkling ruby paper for Ellie and a black one for Nathan. Since I had a coupon to use 50% off of any regular price item, I saw the little sparkling flowers – so I used them to accentuate the number pieces along with shiny silver number stickers. I found a clipart of a baseball so I resized it in Word and typed out the numbers 1-12 in a red font to match the stitches on the baseball. After getting the cardstock laminated, I attached Velcro dots to the cardstock. I used my personal laminator to laminate the number cards for Nathan and Ellie.

I accomplished so many things by utilizing workboxes in our homeschool. It allowed Nathan to chill out and continue his work without waiting for me to tell him what to do. Nathan enjoyed the visual count down until he was finished with school. It motivated him to work continuously until he was finished so he could play for the rest of the afternoon. Ellie thrived on this system as well because she liked to look at her sparkling chart and it would “remind” her to get back to her task at hand. Also, she didn’t like looking at Nathan’s chart almost depleted of numbers so she would be determined to get caught up.

I loved this system because I gave them their independent schedule:

  1. Pull out box 1 and whatever subject was in the box.
  2. Look on their schedule… find the page they need to work in… finish…
  3. Put the book on my desk for correction
  4. Take the number off the magazine box and put it up on the chart
  5. Count how many boxes to go
  6. Pull out box number 2…

Magazine holders/ work boxes on shelves

I love being able to step out of the room, and do a load of laundry or finish up the dishes. By doing the workbox system, it allowed Nathan and Ellie to become independent workers without needing me to sit at the table guiding them onto the next subject. They had their schedule for the week so they could work ahead if they desired. However, they HAD to have all their scheduled work done by Friday. Since the magazine boxes take up a lot of space, I decided to double up the subjects in each box so that I will need to use two shelves for two kids instead of the four shelves as shown in this picture. I had to move my boxes from the original shelves to fit in this shelf as shown in this picture.

Mobile carts work great too!

Elijah’s desk was on the other side of the room. I didn’t want to add magazine boxes so I elected to go with a chrome mobile cart that has wheels on it. I love that because it allowed me to wheel his school work over to the table and work with him for the things that he needed my help with. Elijah has an independent streak in him with a desire to do more of his work at his desk. I love the flexibility of wheeling to the table and to his desk. I used a zebra striped cardstock for his number chart and then I used a picture of a zebra for his numbers. :)

I love being able to customize the workboxes to the interest of the child. 

Do you use work boxes (or some  variation of them) in your homeschool?  If so, I’d love to hear your thoughts and ideas!

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  1. says

    I love the IDEA of workboxes. It makes the kids more independent, more accountable, more organized. It makes ME more accountable, more organized, and able to see what we can accomplish in a day.

    But, I have a hard time keeping up with it. I start things that are terrific, and then fizzle out. How can I stay encouraged to continue every day instead of just fading out??

    Thanks for sharing the great ideas!

    • Joy says

      Hi Lisa Marie!

      Thanks for your comment! Workboxes definitely has changed the pace for our homeschooling. My oldest son, Nathan, is currently phasing out of doing workboxes as he is now in 5th grade and goes to work with my husband twice a week. My daughter thrives on workboxes as it keeps her focused and not sidetracked with different things going on.

      If you think of all the rewards of how it makes you more accountable, organized, and your hair is still intact… it will become a habit. After the kids put their books on my desk, I would correct their work and then immediately put it back in their workboxes. It takes me about 20 minutes for each child but it allows our homeschool to run smoothly if they already have their work in their boxes for the next day. Sometimes I like to surprise them with a strip of paper telling them to go outside for an hour in the middle of their schoolwork, usually after math… :) My kids do peek through all their boxes to see the order of things. If they see something like that, it helps them to stay focused and trudge on through fractions or pre-algebra. :)

  2. says

    I have to set up workboxes for my homeschooler with autism. She is ready for them. The thought intimidates me, finding “just right” material for her independent work because her ability to work independently varies from day to day. Thank you for the insight, especially about how you adjusted to fit needs. Your post helps me think through what I need to do to begin.

    • Joy says

      Hi Penny!

      I will pray that the Lord will reveal to you how to make this work for your daughter. I hope it works out and let me know what you ended up doing. I love hearing what people do to make things work for them!

  3. says

    We have been using workboxes for 2 years and I can honestly say it saved our homeschool. I was about driving myself nuts. I loved the concept and God really sent it to me when I was about ready to give up. I have used 3 different ways. I started out using the tote in the rack however my books was bending and im kinda ocd about stuff like that so I changed to a crate with hanging folders numbered in the crate. This actually worked really well and was cheap however it was hard for the kids to use simply because the crates wasn’t easily to access. So then we just saved and found a good sale at ACMoore on the rolling carts and I ended up scoring 3 for about 125.00. So thats what we have been using for a good little while and they are my favorite. Yes most expensive however worth every dime!!

    Workboxes helped me more than they could of ever helped the kids!! I’ve heard people say then why do you not just send them to school if they are doing it by them selves??? First off the person is stupid, Second off thats totally just untrue misconception with workboxes… We don’t leave them to do there work inside their workboxes alone to never bother us mothers. We do it to help them have order within their day and help them organize thoughts better. I do it personally for me!! LOL – It helps me stay accountable for what I am providing the next school day for my kids to complete. Helps me stay prepared as well.

  4. says

    I have heard of workboxes and was interested in learning more about them. But then I had to pay for an ebook or something like that. Thank you for showing me the different ways to implement this. I think it would be great for my son. maybe my daughter too when shes older. Just have to figure out which to use and to make room. And to get me motivated to do this.

  5. says

    Hi! I love that when I googled “alternative to workbox system”, this blog post came up! I’m new to your blog, but this post was SO helpful. I need organization for my k5’er and the 2 yr old, but couldn’t afford the system or the space it would take up in our room. That said, I’m very impressed with your system of the magazine holder and ‘maybe’ the cart for the youngest. I do have a question… Could you explain the number system on the boxes and charts. How does that work? I have a simple idea of it, but your response would help me understand it a little more.


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