Wednesday, August 7, 2013

How to make a workcard system for organizing preschool activities

You might have heard of the Workbox System. I've read the book and took some ideas from that, and a mis-mash of ideas from people on the interwebs, and I came up with something that will hopefully work for my little preschoolers.

As you can see from my goals and curriculum choices for the semester, I want this time to be fun and no-pressure. I also want to make the most of the ridiculous amounts of educational games, toys and manipulatives that I've acquired (some through used sales, some were gifts, some I bought with Amazon gift cards and some I bought new).

Right now, those items live in a large closet so the pieces don't wander off, never to be seen again. But it's also easy to just plain forget they're in there.

Finally, I would like some structure to our school time. Not a rigorous schedule mind you, but more like "here's what we can do today; let's dig in and enjoy ourselves."

So now, I present these workcards. 

 I went through Amazon to quickly find high-quality photographs of the educational materials I want to use. Why not just take pictures myself? Because the marketing photos are much higher-quality, have better white space, and it was much faster to just grab those photos and save them to a word doc and print, than pull everything out of their boxes, arrange it in a visually appealing way, take the photo and edit it.

- I resized the photos to fit on a 3x5 index card (just eyeballed it on my screen, and had two columns on each 8.5x11 printer page so roughly 8 images per page), printed the pages, cut out the images and used a glue stick to adhere them to an index card.

- I sorted them by general theme and numbered them, but looking back I wish I numbered them on the back side of the card instead. Whatever.

- Next up, laminating. This was my first time laminating anything, and wow I now see why so many homeschoolers love that device.

- Then came the velcro. I bought some from 3M that came in squares, but they were sort of hard for me to remove from the backing. They're working so far, but if I had to do it again I'd try to find another brand for this task.

I used the soft velcro part on the index card and the rough velcro on their individual work card holder thing.

I have a few "box 1," and "box 2" cards so I can put whatever I want in an empty shoebox. Maybe a craft, book, or game that I don't have an individual card for, or who knows.

How I made their work card holder:

- I used black cardstock, since that's what I had and it was sturdier than construction paper. I put their names on them with stickers and also added sticker numbers to show the order I wanted them to proceed with their cards. There's a front and back to it -- on the back are spaces for #5-8.

- I glued a plain index card (x8) on the card stock to help me line up where the workcards belong. I also put a little reward sticker on each index card.

- Laminated the large cardstock, and then added the rough velcro to the middle of each index card. The lamination didn't adhere perfectly around the index cards. Must have been too think, but I think it will be ok. I should have used 3x5 printer paper instead so it would be thinner, but that would have taken longer to cut to size.

To me, all that sounds labor-intensive and fussy. Normally I'm not up for such tasks. But it was fun and it went smoothly. Hopefully these things will last awhile.

Using the cards in a school day:

On Sunday night, I put some cards on each of my kids' pages. We're still in pilot mode, so I didn't want to overthink my selections too much. I wanted to add some variety, fun, and activities that wouldn't take too long so they wouldn't be overwhelmed.

I used 8 cards for Johnny on Monday:

Three workbooks, but I only had him do a page or two in each. I started with the maze book since he already knew how to do mazes and they were fast. He did 4 pages and then I stopped him. He then took the card from his page and put it in an empty plastic shoebox to show that he was done with it. He thought that was pretty fun.

Next up, one page in Developing the Early Learner. Rip and done.

Last, two pages that involved coloring in Adventures with Books. When I previewed the first pages for this one and saw it involved coloring, I wanted to make this one the last workbook of the day. That way, he'd have two cards accomplished already and he could spend as much time as he wanted coloring. It was a good move for us.

Switching gears, we did the lace & trace activity from MFW-preschool. Vivie joined us for this and we laced some shapes, and then we did a little memory game (I put out three shapes, had them look at it and then close their eyes, took one away and asked if they could remember).

Next was a card that said "read with mom." We read through a few library books.

At this point, it felt like a good time to take a break. Reading books on the couch together feels like a break, and's not! :)

He had some free play after that, and we picked up our remaining activities:

For Vivie, I chose:

Four cards shown plus "read with Mom."

She thought her activities were fun and she liked having tasks to do. I was glad we could include her on the things she wanted to be involved in, rather than dealing with a toddler tantrum.

The first day was a big hit and I do think the cards helped us have a little rhythm going, and it made me feel like we accomplished something schooly.

That night, I asked Johnny how many cards he wanted for Tuesday. He thought 3 would be a good number, so that's what I did:

A page in the Counting with Numbers workbook, introducing the Cuisenaire Rods and alphabet book, and our SmartMax magnet blocks for building.

I had Vivie play with tangrams and geoboards with rubber bands, and the farm animal counter game thing.

Johnny didn't care so much about aligning the rods with the diagrams in the book. He just wanted to free-form and that was fine with me. But Vivie surprised me, since she came and joined us with this and she liked matching up rods with the diagrams.

She then blew my mind when she made a house figure in the book, saw that it needed a triangle of a certain size for the roof, and went and grabbed a triangle tangram that pretty much fit. Uh, your brain cells are firing well, little lady!

I was glad to have a lighter day anyway, since we had a doctor's appointment and some grocery shopping to do. And I really don't want to do too much too fast.

Now it's Wednesday and I didn't prepare any cards for them today. I wanted to see if they asked about it, and if not I might just prepare some for tomorrow.

Keeping track of cards we used

I am now going to make a spreadsheet to help me log the cards we've completed and when. I'd rather log ones we actually did, then ones I intend to do. Because we know how intentions and plans can go.

I hope this log will help me keep fresh activities in rotation, and space things out in a reasonable manner.

I retrieved each activity for them when it was time for the next thing, rather than have it all out at once. I know that's the point of using an official workbox station, to have everything already laid out -- but for space reasons and for the fact that they're preschoolers (didn't want them jumping ahead), I like this for now.


  1. I have never heard of this organizational system . . . But now I'm totally intrigued! Thanks for sharing! Being that cannon just turned three I've given myself grace not plan any preschool for the fall, but I'm saving this idea for next year!

  2. I love this idea! The idea to use the Amazon stock photos is brilliant. I've been pondering ways to utilize some aspects of the workbox system, but more practically. Not interested in refiling all the books each day and using that much space for things! I actually came up with a similar system to what you have here, but text only (which works for Hans, but not Gretchen). So I love this! I might end up implementing it, but I'll try what I have for now. Definitely will keep it in mind!


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