Independent Work List Ideas for Homeschool K-5

I started dabbling preschool homeschool when our oldest was 3 years old. (I was eager… what can I say?)

I also wanted to see if it would “work.”

By the time she would have started kindergarten, we had 4 kids under 6. We decided to homeschool kindergarten and see what happened!

(Spoiler alert, we loved it!!)

But in the early years, I was very worried that we weren’t doing enough to “keep up,” and “not fall behind.” (That’s a whole ‘nother topic for another day…)

So I tried many different independent workbox systems in order to have her be able to keep up with schoolwork while I supervised a 4 year old, potty trained a 2 year old, and nursed a newborn.

I’m tired just thinking about that era.

I have done things so differently with each subsequent kindergartener. (God bless those firstborn guinea pig kiddos…)

One thing that HAS remained the same for all my kids at all grade levels is that each usually has some sort of independent work list.

The setup and requirements have varied over the years with different ages, stages, & seasons. We’ve done lots of different things and I thought I’d share several that worked pretty well for us.

Independent Work for a Non-Reader

That firstborn cutie pie 3 year old is now 11.

After all those years doing preschool & kindergarten homeschool 4 times now, I can say with 100% confidence: YOU DO NOT NEED INDEPENDENT WORK FOR PRESCHOOL OR KINDERGARTEN.

If your kid has zero interest or you have zero capacity, read them a bunch of books every day, live life together, and let them play. (This is also another post topic for another day…)

That IS enough. I promise. (If you need to verify that, ask any homeschool mom who has been homeschooling longer than 5 years.)

They can learn to work on schoolwork independently when they are 5… or 6… or 7…. or 8.

However… if you want to set up independent work and your little preschooler is excited about doing it, go for it!

A lot of parents are eager or the kids are begging to “do school” because it looks fun, or because their older siblings have work to do.

Or maybe you just want to set up some activities that are fun & simple for when your child chooses to work on them.

My best suggestion for a non reader is some sort of paper sized open top bin.

Those bins come in a 6 pack on Amazon.

I had something like this drawer cart with removeable bins. You can designate the whole cart for one child and put a different activity in each box (that sounds like too much work to me, personally… haha!)

Or you can give each kid a drawer and put a few things in that bin for them, which is what I did when I had a toddler, preschooler, and kindergartener.

Mine was boring black, but they come in all kinds of cute colors!!

You could do play based activities such as play dough, wooden blocks, etc. I usually did a mix of activities… some toys or fine motor activities and some “school-ish” activities, so the littler ones could feel like they were doing schoolwork alongside the big kids.

(I never required this stuff for pre-readers… it was truly just to occupy them when they want to be right next to me and the older kids and we’re trying to concentrate on a lesson or something. If they want to go off and play elsewhere that’s fine too!)

Some examples of activities I’d put in a bin like this for a non-reader are:

  • Dry erase tracing pages for letters, numbers, the child’s name, etc.
  • Other counting or sorting activities – sorting coins, pattern blocks, uno cards, whatever!
  • Math cubes with number cards – have them stack the cubes to reflect the number on the card
  • Memory match
  • Playing cards – put all the ones together, the twos, threes, etc. OR sort by suit.
  • The top left worksheets pictured below are from my phonograms games & teaching kit.
  • For the mancala stones picture, I just printed the entire alphabet in large print bubble letters from Canva and let him trace inside the letters or fill them in with little objects. (We use glass stones as counters and game pieces all the time!)
  • This pattern block set is kind of fun because they have tons of picture cards the kids can try to make.

Workbox Bin for New Reader

The kindergartener who was a new reader had a bin like this.

Everything in it was something she already knew how to do and was just practicing... blob mapping continents, reviewing a pile of phonogram flashcards, making patterns with pattern blocks, maybe some hand writing if they don’t need supervision. You could use a torn out workbook pages from Explode the Code or a dot-to-dot workbook.

At this point, she could read a little bit, so the checklist was simple and she could put a smelly sticker on each square as she finished.

This system was personality based because she was always begging for more schoolwork! My 3rd kiddo hated lists when he was in kindergarten. He also hated stickers 😂

Truly, at this age, you’re probably still getting the most bang for your buck with 10 or 15 minute focused lessons/ direct instruction with phonogram-based reading and hands-on math. Plus lots of reading and hours and hours of play. That’s the recipe for a good kindergarten foundation.

Daily Independent Work Lists & Baskets

Once our kids were able to read a list pretty easily, I switched to spiral notebooks.

I just wrote a list like this each evening for the next day’s work. At the bottom, it says the things we’d work on together. I have a couple chore things on there too because it was simple to just have it all in one spot. The kids could get things done in any order they wanted and take breaks if the list was super long for some reason.

Some items on the list would change throughout the year to reflect what the child was working on at any given time.

Everything needed for their schoolwork was in a basket like this. So they could just pull out what they needed for that day and pop it right back in.

Switching to Printable, Reusable Lists

Once I got tired of writing 3 school aged kids’ lists in spiral notebooks every single day, I switched to typed templates.

This is basically what we still do! The kids like this because every quarter, we change up the list and I let them pick a new background.

I use Canva for this & created a template to share with all of my different versions! It’s at the bottom of this post. (You might need to swap out some of the graphics for free ones.)

You can use either a restaurant menu or a dry erase pocket to make these lists dry erase friendly!! I just let my kids choose. The younger ones seem to prefer daily and the older, weekly lists. If you put a blank white page in either of these, that can function as a dry erase board for scratch paper too.

The menu above has one blank white page for dry erase “scratch pad” and the back of the volleyball one is also plain white for dry erase scratch pad as needed.

These are my favorite dry erase markers that last a long time, erase easily, don’t get too inky, and are easy for kids to use.

Weekly Work Lists

Eventually, the older kids seemed to prefer a weekly list.

One child chose a bullet journal like mine and one chose a printed chart, which we also made in Canva.

If you use this template, just make it your own!! It’s filled in with the items that were 100% tailored to my kids’ learning at the time. I always encourage parents to just keep going on the next thing with wherever your kid is at.

I printed off a bunch of these and then filled in the blank boxes in pencil with that week’s work assignments on Sunday night. It was pretty simple… often just the next page in the book or whatever. The bottom box was for what the child and I would do together which was the extent of my “lesson planning.”

Or maybe you just want something super minimalist!! This one could work! (Click the image below to download this file, or use the button at the bottom of the post to download and/or customize the original file in Canva.)

Thinking Outside the Box of School

My schooling approach and philosophy has evolved a lot as our kids have grown. I’ve found more confidence and enjoyment in living & learning together at HOME.

These workboxes and lists are extremely helpful for giving kids the tools & freedom to work consistently a little bit each day towards building necessary skills.

BUT – they do not by any means make up the bulk of our learning at home life these days.

Each of my kids always has math, music practice, and some sort of copywork on their school lists.

Anything else varies with age, season, what they need to be practicing, etc. Extra things might include map work, typing practice, a foreign language, reading something specific, writing work, a grammar workbook… we mix things up throughout the year rather than doing all the things all the time.

I highly recommend adding variety to the lists throughout the week or month. Change things up every quarter. Find different ways of working on a skill they’re practicing and vary the approach throughout the year.

Everything I put on an independent work list is extremely intentional and directed towards a specific skill or goal. I also meet with kids as we’re making the lists & get their input!

Personally, I keep what we think of as “traditional schoolwork…” (pen and paper, bookwork, etc.) simple so that the kids spend much of their time each day on things that lead to actual learning.

Things like: play, reading, writing, creating, working, projects, exploring, field trips, gathering with friends, singing, serving, and so much more real life stuff.

So, use the lists!! But don’t let them be the only thing. Give your kids lots of time to learn & play & discover & read of their own accord too.

Hopefully this post gives you lots of ideas about how to make the independent work list work for your kids & your family in your current season of life.

How to Use Canva

You can make a free Canva account. Then click the button below and copy my template. Change it however you want to suit your family!! You might have to switch out some of the graphics with a free account. (My paid account comes with more graphics, backgrounds, etc.)

Happy Homeschooling!