Shoebox and Folder Games

Friday has turned into Make It/Take It day at preschool, which I was instantly excited about. That morning, parents can come in and take advantage of the class’s vast stores of creative goodness to make activities, picture schedules, and whatever else under the direction of our resident experts – our really cool teachers. We make them and take them home. Free stuff! However, nothing I’ve described would cost more in materials than the change you probably could find in your car.

I’m definitely going to do something on Friday that I’ve been meaning to do for a while now. For lack of knowing what the technical term is, I’ll call them shoebox and folder games. This is as dirt cheap as it gets for home learning activities, but it’s just as effective – if not more so – than most of the stuff out there you pay beaucoups of money for.

Not surprisingly, their names come from the primary materials involved in making each: shoeboxes and manila folders.

If you haven’t been saving up your shoeboxes, you better start! As a matter of fact, go steal all of your families’ shoeboxes and then go to the shoe store and see if they have any to give away.

Here’s an example of one we borrowed from the classroom.


The shapes aren’t really the point here. It’s the colors. You could use cheap poker chips or anything that’s a solid color. This is just a shoebox with its lid and two slots cut into it, one for each color. The container on the left is an old margarine tub glued into the box. It’s a simple sorting activity for learning colors. The whole thing could be made with stuff around the house, though you may have to hunt around for solid-color pieces to sort with.

Remember – you should have several of each color, and each set of pieces should be identical to each other (in this example, all the yellows are yellow hexagons and all the reds are trapezoids); the idea is to sort colors not get them hung up on yellow squares vs. yellow hexagons.

The folder games involve manila folders exactly like the ones you buy in a box of 100 for a few dollars at an office store. 100 folders = 100 possible games.

Here are a couple of examples courtesy of Do2Learn. Open their page, switch back to here, and keep reading.

The first example is simple matching in a ‘field of 6′, though obviously you can make it whatever you want. I think J-Man is in a place where a field of 4 is about right, and we’d probably do colors (one of the major things we’re working on these days). For that we’d create four pairs of construction paper squares, where each color is one pair. We’d paste one of each into the folder, put a velcro dot in the middle of each, put the matching end of the velcro dot on the backs of the other squares, and there you have it. A matching game for four colors. When you’re done, it folds up flat. You can make a whole stack of these for practically no cost per game, and they take up almost no room.

Your kid can match, say, red with red and stick the red square on the red square in the folder and continue matching the other colors from there. Again, all the colors should have the same shape so your kid isn’t getting distracted by shapes when matching colors. Make them all squares or all circles or whatever as long as they’re the same. Like a lot of things, keep differences down to one variable to make learning clearer. You can introduce more variables later as they progress.

Tip: It helps to laminate the pieces; they’ll last much longer. You can get a cheap laminator from some place like Target for about $25. Believe me, you will get plenty of use out of it.

As your child advances, the second example on Do2Learn’s page will help them with matching and learning letters and numbers. These use little envelopes (like library card pockets), which the child slides the correct, matching card into. This pushes their matching skills a bit more and gets a little fine motor work in there too.

And those are your handy, do-it-yourself, learning activities for today! Have fun!


  1. says

    Nice links, Bee! We’ve been freeloading off our teachers’ Boardmaker by having them print stuff for us to use at home (or duplicate the boards they use at school). Boardmaker is awesome, but it’s so astronomically and outrageously expensive that no one without a corporate or government budget can afford it. Boo on them.

    Anyway, so we either ask our teachers to help us make schedules and picture boards or we try to find places like Do2Learn and the links you mentioned so we can afford to make these ourselves.

    For a long time, I’ve wanted to go get some venture capital, build a better and cheaper Boardmaker, and run them out of business. Nothing personal, but charging $350 for software that frankly isn’t all that technologically complicated is pretty obscene in my opinion. Assistive technology companies are making out like bandits in most cases. Boo on them too.

    Anyway, I think I’ll add compiling a list of these sites to my to-do list. You’ve got me started!

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