Workboxes Become Work Pockets for Small Spaces

If you’re a homeschooler, you may have heard of Sue Patrick’s Workboxes – the phrase seems to be all over the place lately. If you’re not a homeschooler, you may not get much out of this post but feel free to read on anyway.

After hearing glowing things about Sue Patrick’s Workboxes over the last month, I decided to take advantage of hearing her speak at a session during the North Carolina Home Educator’s Conference that we went to over Memorial Day Weekend. I won’t go into a lot of detail, but I wasn’t at all pleased with what I heard. She presented the system as very rigid and, in my opinion, stifling to the child. (I’ve since found out that she first designed the workbox system for her autistic son, and children with autism apparently thrive on rigid structure.)

When I came home and was still hearing people rave about workboxes, I had to ask, “What is so great about Sue Patrick’s workboxes?” My friends from the TOS Crew, especially Sheri and Candace, gave me lots of reasons why workboxes are fantastic. I won’t try to tell you why – you can read their blog posts about the system yourself if you’re interested. Even though the idea itself has sounded great to me, I couldn’t figure out how to make 24 boxes fit in our house. We barely fit the furniture we must have. Why do the kids think they need beds anyway? (Just kidding!)

I looked at various boxes at the dollar store Monday but couldn’t find anything that seemed like it would work for us. As I was lying in bed yesterday morning before getting up, I had a flash of brilliance and thought of “posters with work pockets” to replace the workboxes. It will probably be easiest to just show you what I came up with.

Workboxes Work Pockets for Small Spaces

No Room for Work Boxes Work Pockets for Small Spaces

As you can see, I made two posters – one for Nick and one for James. The posters themselves are actually four sheets of construction paper ‘laminated’ with clear contact paper. I had to trim the construction paper by about 3/4″ in order to make the contact paper fit over it in one solid sheet. I wrote each boy’s name at the top of their posters and then drew lines to divide the rest of the poster into 12 roughly equal squares.

I cut 24 pieces of construction paper to approximately 5″ wide by 4″ tall to make the pockets. I wrote a number on each one and then laminated them with the contact paper. I then used the contact paper to attach the pockets to the poster. I’m not 100% pleased with how that turned out – they look a little funky and some of the adhesive keeps coming loose, but it’s okay. I don’t really have any ideas about how to attach them more successfully.

Obviously, I can’t put the boys’ books into these pockets the way people using actual boxes can. We already have a clear plastic tote for each boy where we keep all their books, notebooks, and any other needed items. We keep those boxes in the coat closet in the living room, which keeps them out of sight when we’re not having school. If I keep on them, the boys will actually put their books away into the boxes – haha!

I decided to improvise again by writing what I want them to do on a paper and placing it in the pocket. They can then go get any books and paper that they need.

I made cards for tasks/assignments that we’ll repeat often – for example Bible time, math, read to Mom, etc. I laminated those too and made a “drop box” for each boy. I’ll keep the cards that we’re not using that day in the drop box, and I told the boys that after they remove a card to see what task they need to do, they can drop it in their drop box.

I haven’t yet made cards for everything, of course – partly because I couldn’t think of everything at once.

Part of the appeal of the workbox system is that the kids can easily see how much work they have left to do and how much they have already completely. It’s a wonderful motivator for them to keep plugging along. My improvised method is this:

I made 24 small cards with a smiley face on each. With sticky tacky, I attached a smiley card to each pocket that has a task in it. (We’re using just nine pockets on each poster today.) Each poster has a blank space about an inch high at the bottom. I told the boys that after they complete a pocket, they can take the smiley off of it and place it in the row at the bottom. This will help them see how much they’ve done and how much is left to do.

We’re on pocket #3 now today, and so far things are going pretty good. I don’t know how the system will continue to work for us since I tend to be…uh…a quitter…but so many people are saying that this method keeps Mom motivated and on track as well as the kids that I’m hoping it will do the same for me.

© 2009, Cindy. All rights reserved.


  1. Thanks Cindy for linking in my blog. I really like your idea-which is great for those with limited space-they can just remove cards which list the activity…now I am wondering if there are any of those shoe holders you can hang in closets or what have ya-the ones with the clear plastic slots that would work (may be more durable) They should be wide enough. If you know anyone who is crafty in the sewing department-they sell clear vinyl material that you could sew onto a print fabric to create pockets for the info cards. Create some sort of hole or ribbon for hanging and there you go. I think if you search pocket holders, or shoe holders you may glean some ideas. Man I love how creative moms can be! And Hey, is that a bag of M&Ms I see there? Mmm.

    <abbr>Sheri H’s last blog post..We've taken a wee bit of a hiatus</abbr>

  2. Christy M says:

    I just read on the blog, What's in the Box?, about these hanging library pockets that have 12 – 12"X12" clear pockets with small pockets on the front of each just right for the number cards. They are about $30 plus s&h, but I spent almost $29 on the rack/shoeboxes. They would be worth investing in if you stick with the workboxes and they would be more durable.

  3. I just gave a talk about Work Boxes to my homeschool group last week, and everyone went crazy for it! Of course, I didn't talk about it in a rigid way though (although my oldest has high functioning Autism). One thing I did was to present them with lots of pictures of ways people had modified it to work for their family. In our homeschool group, we have one of the "small" families with just three kids. A good portion of the families have 5 – 7 kids, so they just don't have the space to do the system in the intended way. I really like the idea of tweaking it to make it your own.
    .-= Angie @ Many Little Blessings´s last blog ..What Happens When Desserts Get Jealous =-.

  4. I adore the valuable post you provide in your post. I will bookmark your website and have my kids check up here oftentimes. I am rather sure they will study lots of new stuff here than anybody else!

  5. Well, can you give us an update? Is the system still working?


  6. Im curious too, how is it working out? I think I need to look into this system also, and have it ready for next year :0)

  7. “Why do the kids think they need beds anyway?”
    LOL I know exactly what you mean! We’re in a tight space, too. I love your poster idea! After doing lots of research, I’m planning on using a plastic storage shelf unit, instead of shoe boxes. I just had to comment, because I attend the NCHE conference every year. Hi,fellow NC homeschool mom! *waves*

  8. This is a great idea! My daughter who will be in grade two this year (2011) will be taking sewing lessons…I'd like to take this idea one step further and have HER make her own "workbox blanket" out of fabric and decorations…I can't wait! Thanks again for posting such a great concept!

  9. I too am dealing with a small space! The first thing I thought of was… that would last longer if it was fabric–like durable duck canvas for the backpart and anything else you would choose for the front.

    If you can’t sew, you could probably buy the fabric and a huge bag of M& M’s or a coffee place gift card for a friend who does.

    Just make sure that the pocket fabric would not be something easily “outgrown” by your children.
    Jenny B, mama of 3´s last blog post ..An important blog

    • CindyHorton says:

      Using duck canvas is a great idea, Jenny. You're right that it would be much more durable – probably would last for years. Thanks for sharing!

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