Tuesday, January 7, 2014

Pre-Vocational Work Boxes

Well, I had planned on today's blog post being the return of Tasty Tuesday after winter break, but as we have yet another snow day today, that's going to have to wait another week. Instead, I'm going to share some of the pre-vocational work boxes we use in my classroom. I had brought a few home over break to replace missing pieces, re-do signs/instructions, etc., and some are new. (Yes, this is a long post...but it's mostly pictures, I promise!)

My students are pre-teens and teens, so I am always looking for new independent work activities that are age-appropriate while still at their level. I retired my old work tasks that feature those colored counting bears, pop beads, Disney puzzles, etc. several years ago. These tasks work on many of the same skills but "look" more "vocational," for lack of a better term. Many also look like TEACCH tasks, and would work well with that setup, though I do not explicitly use that system.

The Dollar Tree is my favorite place to look for ideas! Sometimes I just wander up and down the aisles there looking for things I could make into work box tasks. (Um, wandering around The Dollar Tree is dangerous!) I always look for items that come in multi-packs (more for your buck!) and of course, containers to go with them.
I always use the Dollar Tree "box A" (shoe box size) containers to store the work tasks. That way they are all uniform and stack well. Just a caution - the lids on these bins come off very easily, so no carrying by the top like you are able to do with more expensive bins! Small price to pay...

Each bin has an outside label - velcroed to the bin so I can change them out if needed - and a visual instruction card inside. Since these are designed so most of my students can complete the tasks independently (or with only physical assistance for some, due to motor impairments) the instructions are picture-based. My students can look at the instruction card and hopefully be able to complete the task with little to no staff verbal instruction.

My students know the first thing they do when they receive a task is to take everything out of the shoebox container and spread it out so they "know what they have to work with." (They are usually either working at their individual desks or only 2-3 students at a larger table at a time, so we have the luxury of taking the space to do this.) Then, they look at the instruction card and get to work. We've found digging around in the bins mid-task just causes extra confusion and losing track of what they're supposed to be doing.

Here are some of the tasks:

School supplies packaging - there are four pencil pouches, and they must put a scissors, a marker, and two pencils in each pouch. Also some fine motor for those who are able with unzipping and zipping the pouches.

Sock rolling - both a matching and a motor task. I just grabbed a bunch of multi-packs of Dollar Tree socks in different patterns, colors and sizes. Super easy setup!

Toiletries packaging - same concept as the school supplies packaging one. If I'm remembering correctly, these cute polkadot toiletries bags actually came in a 4-pack at TDT, so there are 4 packages to make. Again, fine motor with the zipper, too.

Flashlight assembly - this is a really difficult task that I only give my highest functioning kiddos. Not only do they have to unscrew the flashlight, insert batteries, and screw the top back on, they need to make sure they put the batteries in the right way. It's hard to see in the photo, but the instruction card gives step by step photo directions on proper placement.

Simple color sorting with pom poms. These cute little containers came in a package of 10 for $1! I simply labeled the tops with Boardmaker color icons. If I want to make this task a bit more difficult I can change it up and have them put one of each color in each container (there are 6 pom poms of each of 6 colors, and 6 containers - so either way works out well).

Pill box filling - A very functional and relatable task for my kids, as most of them will be taking medicine all their lives! Of course, they are not filling the pill box with real meds - the "pills" are decorative jewels. **My students know never to take or even handle medication without knowing what it is, that it's theirs, that they're taking it at the right time and right amount, a doctor/nurse/parent has given it to them, etc. If your students do not understand this caution, I would not suggest work tasks that have to do with meds, no matter how unrealistic the "medication" looks!

Curler assembly - putting together two different colors/sizes of curlers. Fine motor and matching.

Silverware sorting - pack of plastic silverware from the Dollar Tree and three skinny "drawer organizers" for the baskets. Have to make it fit into my shoebox container (aka, a traditional silverware tray would not work)! These little baskets are also nice because I could twist-tie an example of the silverware to the bottom of each. I can also make it less concrete by using pictures or words.

Bottle cap name spelling. I have a set of bottlecap letters and a name strip for each of my students' names, and they spell the names with the cap letters, with the name strip as a guide if needed. The way this task is set up now, each name has its own baggie in the task so they can do just one name at a time. For my higher functioning kids, I combine a few of the bags so they first have to sort out the letters for the name they're working on.

Toothbrush holders - Ready made task! I found these toothbrush holders packaged already with 6 toothbrushes! This is a little more than 1:1 correspondence, since each holder has more than 6 slots for toothbrushes. Students have to make sure they have 6/an equal amount in each.

Occupation tool sort - I found Dollar Tree plastic play sets of pots and pans (chef), hairdresser tools, and doctor tools. And I'm sure everyone recognizes those Dollar Tree yellow bins! Love those.

Cleaning supplies packaging - obviously, the same concept as the school supplies and toiletries packaging tasks. In each little bag goes a dish scrubber, a sponge, two gloves, and a cloth.

Obviously a Halloween one, but many of my kids like "creepy crawlies" so much we keep it in the rotation all year. I found the Halloween cups in a pack of 4 for $1, and the little party favor things as well. Again a "packaging" type task.

Wrapping presents! This would have been fun to have in December, but I just put it together over break - definitely can be a year-round task, though, as there is nothing explicitly Christmas about it. I found a package of different shaped little gift boxes and a package of mini bows at TDT, and the "presents" are little toys from the party favor section. This is a more involved/tricky task - students must first find a box bottom, choose a toy that fits, find the matching box top, and then choose a bow. I velcroed the bows to the box tops so they can be re-used over and over. It's a task that could require some trial and error, too, because some of the toys will fit in some boxes but not others!

Many of these are not my own ideas. Here are some of the many places I get ideas for pre-voc work boxes (other than wandering the aisles of the Dollar Tree!):
-Awesomeness and Autism (1)
-Awesomeness and Autism (2)
-Awesomeness and Autism (3)
-Teaching Learners with Multiple Special Needs (1)
-Teaching Learners with Multiple Special Needs (2)
-Shoe Box Tasks
-Considerate Classroom
-more on my pre-voc/life skills Pinterest board

These two books are fantastic resources, as well:


  1. I love how you have made so many of your boxes functional. I made a ton over the summer but need to go revamp some now that I have learned more about my students. Thanks for sharing all of your ideas!

    1. Thanks, Brie! I've found making work boxes is kind of addicting, haha :)


  2. I love these ideas! Thanks so much for sharing. I may have to venture out to the Dollar Tree tomorrow. I am going to have to make some for my kiddos.
    Fun in ECSE

    1. Have fun at the Dollar Tree, Kate! I'm sure your kiddos will love the boxes you create - mine like feeling that they're doing "real work." :)


  3. I'm actually headed to Dollar Tree on Thursday with our autism teachers so this was great for ideas! Thanks!

    1. What a fantastic trip, Susan! I would love to go with coworkers. Have fun! Glad this post gave you some ideas :)


  4. Great post full of awesome ideas! Thanks for sharing!! Hailey from Autism Tank

    1. Thanks, Hailey! Making work boxes turns out to be pretty addicting :)


  5. I enjoyed seeing your "direction" cards. I have been wondering if I should do a step by step or just ap icture for my kids. Finding age appropriate tasks if a real challenge.

    1. Susan, I think the type of directions you give depends on your kids...When I have a student who has never done work boxes before, it does take quite a bit of staff instruction along with the visual card. I always have a staff member demonstrate the task when it is first introduced. And some of the harder or more involved tasks do have step by steps (the flashlights and present wrapping, for example). I think it just depends on the kids' needs and the difficulty of the task...It is a hard balance to strike between giving them enough direction to be successful and giving them too much!

  6. Excellent vocational work boxes. Good details about work boxes. This is better design in boxes.

    Packaging Specialties

  7. Kara, these are fabulous ideas. Thanks so much for sharing! How did you make the instruction cards? Would you mind sharing yours?
    Thanks again!

  8. Love these ideas Kara! The wrapping presents one and pill sorting would be great for my kids!


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