Child's Play

By Cindy Cafferty

January 2, 2009 5 min read


Your kids can help in projects around the house

Cindy Cafferty

Creators News Service

Think do-it-yourself projects mean doing it all by yourself? Think again.

With a few tips, some simple strategy and a little creativity, those projects you've been postponing can instantly be transformed into a family affair. It can be a way to get things done, get the kids off the couch and turn an ordinary house into a true home.

"These days nobody takes time to sit down and have a family meal or work on projects," said Eric Stromer, carpenter and host of HGTV's "Over Your Head." "Kids communicate by doing a project or task ... it's about getting back to honoring your home, saving some money and honoring your family as well."

Stromer, who also authored "Do-it-Yourself Family: Fun and Useful Home Projects the Whole Family Can Make Together" ($20, Bantam), explained that including kids in home improvement projects not only lends helpful hands to a host of projects, but provides a good dose of self-esteem, structure and creativity to the kids as well. It also gives parents tools in bringing their family closer together while making their home more beautiful and the household more efficient.

"The most common end result of do-it-yourself family projects is destination and storage," said Stromer.

Before you get started, consider how you have dealt with you kids in the past. "Are the kids part of the process, or are they just told to go away?" he asked.

So what does Stromer, who happens to have three kids of his own, suggest to get your children involved?

First, according to Stromer and, is assessing safety levels and age-appropriate tasks when planning a project, and having a plan before the work begins.

"When you're working with tools and children, they need to be taught with adult supervision and the proper attire and attitude," he said. "Wear safety glasses, honor objects with sharp blades and furniture with sharp corners. Knowing how something works demystifies tools and teaches kids to respect them."

Once safety training has been met, parents can then assign tasks.

Stromer and suggests the following guidelines for assigning age-appropriate tasks:

* Children six and under can be assigned as parent's helpers. Picking up screws and nails dropped by the parents during a project is a great way to keep the younger ones close by and make them feel productive.

* Children six and above can be trusted, with adult supervision, with cordless tools and simple woodworking projects.

* Children eight and above can be handed a hammer and can safely get involved in minor demolition projects.

"Kids love demolition," Stromer said. "It's fun and the point is to break things."

So now you know what kids can work with, the trick now is getting them to do it and be successful in the process.

Step one is to get kids involved. Assigning tasks helps. The real trick is choosing the project, preparing for the project and keeping the kids on board.

"Give kids suggestions," he said. "Suggestions with an ability to choose a project usually works well."

The suggestions could incorporate anything from updating d├ęcor to meeting storage solutions; making a headboard for a bed, creating under bed storage and building a bunk bed or a family office center are all great ideas.

Be sure to be prepared. Know what tools and materials are needed before work begins and allot about 30 percent more time than you think a project might take.

Choose small projects that can be done over a weekend or two and build on that: A bunk bed one weekend, a family work space another, etc.

Keeping the kids on board, advised Stromer, means keeping their sugar levels on an even keel. Have lots of snacks on hand and be sure to take meal breaks.

As for sibling rivalry and jealousy, there are plenty of solutions to keep the problems at bay.

"Let the youngest kid pick a task first as soon as an older kid picks something [to work on] -- that will be the coveted task," Stromer said. Also, "allow kids a little space or a personal item to try their hand at."

For instance, smaller children can be allowed to paint on a confined wall space that can easily be worked over by a parent or on a project like a stepstool that is all their own, allowing the little ones some creative input and reducing sibling rivalry as well.

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