When not moonlighting as the writer of a parenting column, I spend my days as a construction supervisor at Habitat for Humanity of Suffolk. As you may know, Habitat builds homes in partnership with lower income families, providing an opportunity for homeownership that they would not be able to achieve on their own. While Habitat hires electricians and plumbers, almost everything else, from framing to sheet rocking to windows, roofing, siding and interiors, is done by volunteers as young as 16. In fact, high school groups account for a large percentage of the total volunteer hours that go into building a Habitat house.
You might be thinking that 16 is awfully young to be out on an active construction site, but I assure you that with proper training and supervision, even children much younger than that can have a fun and rewarding experience using tools to build or repair things. And while “giving back” by working at a Habitat site or getting involved in a neighbors-helping-neighbors project with a scout troop or youth group is not uncommon among teenagers and younger kids, actually helping with a building or repair project at their own homes might be. This winter, why not involve your children in an activity that will provide both a bonding experience and a lasting, tangible reward for their hard work?
Here are a few simple guidelines designed to help you choose an appropriate project to tackle with your children, based on their ages and skill levels. Remember, the process is at least as important as the product, so do your best to make this a stress-free, fun experience for everyone involved.
First, pick a project. Does a bedroom need painting? Would new bookcases or toy selves in the playroom help reduce clutter? Perhaps you have a bigger job in mind, such as replacing that old vanity in the bathroom or putting up a few ceiling fans. When deciding on a project, consider how involved your child can be. While an older teen might be ready to learn the finer points of sink repair, a younger child could easily get bored if his or her only duty is to hand you tools as you lay on your back with your head under the sink.
Before you begin, clearly explain the sequence of tasks to be completed, including prep and clean up. Assess your child’s interest and attention span, keeping in mind that if your assistant loses interest half-way through, you will be stuck completing the work yourself. If you think this could become an issue, it might be a good idea to choose something you can leave and come back to another day, perhaps building a birdhouse from a kit rather than painting a bedroom.
Safety is of paramount importance when working on a DIY project with kids. Be sure to instruct them on the proper use of tools and insist that they wear eye protection, ear plugs, gloves or even a hard hat if the task at hand involves any overhead work. Using safety equipment actually makes the project more fun for kids, so getting them to comply shouldn’t be an issue. Be sure to set a good example by protecting yourself, too!
By Chris McNamee