Can you bring the family together over a busted furnace? You bet!Written by Katie White
Working together as a family is something of a lost art. For most of human history, parents and children have worked side by side to make ends meet, because parents simply couldn’t do without the help; and while modern conveniences have largely eliminated the need for kids to help out around the house, it’s still a great way to bond with your children and teach important life skills. Here are a few ideas to involve your kids in home projects.
Select projects with a loose timetable
If you want kids to learn skills and the enjoyment of hard work, it’s important to start with plenty of time for teaching and recovering mistakes. Just like anyone starting a new job, kids need a training period where they’re free to make mistakes and learn new skills; but you’ll be surprised at how capable kids can be, given time. No matter what age you start at, you’ll need to make room for mistakes—so don’t let yourself procrastinate. The earlier your kids make those mistakes, the more time they’ll have to build skills and become real contributors.
Find an age-appropriate role for your child
This study from the University of Minnesota shows big boosts to later success in life for kids who start helping out around the house from the age of 3 or 4. Kids are willing and able to help, and it does them a great deal of good; all you have to do is fit the task to your child’s maturity. The youngest children can water plants, dig with a trowel, pick up loose screws, or even help paint the undercoat of a wall.
Starting out, assign simple, repetitive tasks
Most kids genuinely enjoy helping out, but they don’t have the attention span to sit quietly waiting for orders. If you can keep your child continually busy with little errands, they’ll feel useful and involved. This makes jobs like painting or gardening ideal for kids—there’s plenty to do, and most tasks are simple to master. Kids can also be assigned to cleanup detail, sweeping, raking, or bagging up debris.
Give them the fun jobs—even if it takes a little longer
Smashing through walls, pulling out nails, and breaking apart pallets is fun, and if you have older kids, it’s a great way to make working together a treat. Obviously, you should make sure your child is mature and able to follow instructions first, but it’s a great way to have fun together while you get important things done.
Think about your child’s individual character and preferences—organized kids might enjoy cleanup and sorting, while kinetic kids will flock to the demolition jobs. I always loved “quality control”—it made me feel important to check my parents’ work with a bubble level and give it my approval. It shouldn’t be hard to figure out what’s exciting to your kids, with a little attention.
Notice the development of skills, and “promote” your kids when they’re ready
While your children’s contribution might not be very helpful at age four, you’ll be surprised how quickly they can become a real help. As your kids become more competent and skilled, make sure they know that you’ve noticed, and entrust them with more sophisticated tasks appropriate to their age and skill level. Move up gradually, from driving nails and using a level, to basic assembly of bookshelves, entertainment centers, etc. It might be nerve-wracking to have your child using power tools, but it’s an important time to teach safety and good practices.
I remember how it felt the first time I was trusted to use the power drill (I think I was eight or nine)—I stripped a screw and accidentally chewed into the side of the bookcase we were assembling, but everyone has to start somewhere. Learning from those mistakes, and being allowed to grow into bigger responsibilities, is how I acquired the passion and skill for home improvement that sticks with me to this day.
About the author
Katie White is a writer and handywoman from DIY Mother who is passionate about self-reliance and conservation. She takes pride in making her home a more sustainable and comfortable place for her husband and two kids. She lives in Dallas.