My Modified WorkBox System

I've never been a "chart" person. For as long as I can remember, I've never been good at writing lists and checking off items. In college all my planners (despite my best efforts to use them) only became "extra stuff" in my back pack and a good place to loose things. In school, in business, in home organization...I've just never been one to utilize charts and checks.

I realize that I'm more of a big picture person rather than a detail person. But I've tried to use charts with my kids over the years because I know that young children thrive on routine. It always works against me because they remember the chart...I forget the chart...then the chart becomes meaningless and eventually gets tossed out. Ugh....

So when I came across the Sue Patrick WorkBox system, I thought it was cool but I was reluctant to use it because of the rigidness of the routine and the obvious use of charts and schedules. However, with a few twists of my own, I thought that the work box system would be just what our home school needed to give it new life and direction. I only ordered the e-book for $18 and that was plenty for me to go on. I really didn't want all the consulting and all the pre-made materials because I realized that I would be giving it my own flavor anyway.

The basic concept in this system is that the day is broken up into bite size pieces of clearly presented work that the child can do on their own. Occasionally a work box will require mom's assistance and is clearly marked to that effect. AS the child completes work, the boxes are removed from the shelf so the child can see how they are progressing and how much is left to do before school is over.

I decided to give this a try for one main reason: it seemed like a great way to get my kids to use our various montessori-themed materials in the room that I know they'd benefit from, but never really seem motivated to pick up. That was it. That was my motivation.

See, our school room reflects HOURS of my time and effort, not to mention some investment in supplies and materials. And while I like my kids to be free to roam and choose as they will, I was often frustrated when they didn't choose the materials that seemed especially pertinent to their current studies and development. Sometimes they wanted to do nothing at ALL and then we began to disagree on things, which never bodes well.

So when I saw this I thought, "PEFRECT!" I can put the works in the boxes and that way they just "have" to do the work in order to get through the day. Then I wondered if it would be too much structure and I would be defeating the entire "follow the child" philosophy. However, the materials I present do generally follow my children's interests. So I reasoned that by providing a "required" list of their chosen interests each day, I would be able to find some nice middle ground and perhaps get much more accomplished.

I reserve the right to modify the boxes as our day goes along. Already i can see that sometimes I put too little or too much in the boxes. For me it's not really about getting all the boxes done. It's more about making better use of our time and using a wider variety of materials and resources in our day. If we don't finish all the boxes, I just save them for the next day. This still allows the kids to work at their own pace with out feeling rushed or compelled. Or if my daughter groans when she sees the contents of the box, I don't mind tweaking it a bit to make it more interesting for her. Stuff that HAS to get done is put in the first few boxes and is interspersed with lighter, funner activities like puzzles and games.

Today was our fourth day using my revised work box system. I didn't follow all of sue's suggestions, or use all of her forms. So far, what I've set up is working quite well for us and my daughter even said to me yesterday, "Mom...this feels so different. It feels like I'm back in my Montessori school." can imagine how happy that made me. So as long as they are enjoying it, we are making progress, and we're not arguing, I call that success and we'll keep on.

Here are some pics of how I put the work box system together at our house:

I did not use the shoe racks as Sue suggested. I remodeled the top half of our entertainment hutch to include more shelving and stuck plastic wash tubs ($1.88 each) on each shelf.

Here's my very easy method for adding shelving to the hutch:

This would be easy to take a part should we decide to do that.

The pink boxes are for my 6yo. I gave her 9 boxes (rather than 12) and that seemed to be plenty for her. There were enough boxes to get the more "academic" stuff as well as the fun stuff. My 3yo has the 6 green boxes. She may or may not get to all of them. As long as she works diligently through out our school day I'm ok with what ever she gets done.

Once they finish a box, the work goes back on the class room shelf (not the work box shelf) and the boxes are stacked in the bottom of our shoe closet:

I chose these wash bins because the clear shoe boxes that Sue recommends, while slightly cheaper, were also very much smaller and would not hold many of the works we have in our class room. So I went with the bigger boxes even though they were not clear. I can even fit all the pieces of the broad stair in there. I also like them because we often do work on the floor that requires some writing. After emptying out the work box, you can flip it over and it makes a nice little writing surface so that we're not having to get up and down from table to floor all the time.

The girls also enjoy using the schedules that guide them through their work boxes, and checking in and out of class each day.
I have these stored on the side of the hutch when they are not in use.

Here's where they check in and out:

Moving around the room to use the schedule, get boxes, going to the floor, returning work to shelves, putting away boxes etc helps them to keep their energy levels up.
So far, I give this system (with my own tweaks) 5 stars because we are getting much more work done, we're using a much wider variety of materials, we're getting quality work done too and we're having fun with almost NO FUSS from the girls.

I am glad to have found a system that allows me to use an eclectic approach in our school room. This is a great combo of high structure and organization mixed with the montessori style works and philosophy, sprinkled with our required work from the state sponsored WAVA program.

What's even better about this is that I finally have a concrete way of including my little guy who is not even two yet. I have 2-3 boxes for him at the bottom of the hutch and here he is using the magnet work which he chose to do himself and voluntarily cleaned up when he was done:

My only that it's the last week of school! I wish I had discovered this 10 months ago! Oh well. Live and learn. It's going to be a great summer.


  1. thanks for this and the pics, we are montessori home preschoolers and i use washtubs to organize myself, tomorrow i am going to get some for the kids. thanks so much for sharing how you modified this. i appreciate it.


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