Improving Your Home With Your Family
When you visit our house for the first time, my teenage son will take you to his room to show you his prized possessions. First he points to his bunk beds. "My dad and I built those together when I was 11," he says. Then he points to a white shelving unit in the corner that matches nothing else in the room. "My grandpa and I built that when I was 5." When those projects began, the idea was to provide my son with additional storage space for his sports gear and an extra bed for friends spending the night. What he got were lifelong memories (and some cool bedroom furniture).
Traditionally, do-it-yourself (DIY) projects are a one-man (or one-woman) operation, either because the person doing the work is particular and insists the work be done a certain way or because it is quicker to do it alone. "We're rushed for time," says Bruce Johnson, professional refinisher, DIY personality and author of 50 Simple Ways to Save Your House (Random House, 1995). "We take the attitude that it is faster if we do it ourselves, but we forget our kids need to be involved."
Why involve the whole family in DIY projects? The No.1 reason is because the whole family lives in the house! In the same way kids are given chores to keep the house clean, they should be expected to be involved in projects that improve the home. "Getting kids involved in home projects teaches independence," says Eric Stromer from The Learning Channel's Clean Sweep and author of Do-It-Yourself Family: Fun and Useful Home Projects the Whole Family Can Make Together (Bantam Dell, 2006). "It's also a lot of fun. It develops a sense of accomplishment, giving kids a personal stake in the final product."
It's also a chance to develop a bond with your children. Stromer first discovered the lure of power tools and time bonding with his family when he would help his dad with projects around the house. The skills he learned from his dad were turned into a successful career. Now Stromer involves his two sons in home projects (and probably has a pink tool belt waiting for his new daughter).
What to Do
Stromer suggests coming up with a project that allows the child to make mistakes and give tasks that are age appropriate. "Do it in baby steps," he says. "Let them build self-esteem. In a few years, they'll be doing more on their own. It's like real life. They have to learn by making some mistakes."
Johnson agrees. "You don't want to discourage them," he says. "Pick areas for small failures, but projects that will continue to keep the kids interested."
As a former teacher and father of two teenage sons, Johnson is a firm believer in hands-on learning. When he wanted his sons to learn how to use a hammer and pound nails, he taught them by building bird houses. If they bent nails, it didn't matter.
"Unfinished furniture is a great way to get kids involved with a home project," he says. It is inexpensive and easily replaced if ruined. More importantly, it teaches kids how to pick out colors, how to varnish and apply stains and even how to assemble.
Another good DIY project for families is painting, and one of the best ways to get kids involved with painting projects is let them be in charge of their own space. "Painting is a great way to constantly change and update the look of your home," says Debbie Zimmer, color and decorating expert for The Rohm and Haas Paint Quality Institute. "What's especially nice is that it is truly something the whole family can do together."
When your daughter announces she has outgrown her pink princess bedroom and wants something a little funkier, let her take the lead while you take the role of advisor, and perhaps the rest of the family can be the crew. From the project, she'll learn that painting is more than picking a color and brushing paint on the wall. It is emptying and cleaning a room to prepare it, removing the border along the ceiling and taping along the windows and doors.
Lou Manfredini, Ace Hardware's "Helpful Hardware Man," says as kids get older, they can help with carpentry jobs, like building a deck. "The important issue is that parents need to use common sense as to what they allow their child to do," he says. "Power tools should not be used until a child is at least 13, and then it all depends on their maturity level."
A Little Dose of Realtiy
Considering the child's maturity level is important on all levels of DIY projects. Don't be surprised if a younger child gets bored after 15 minutes and the novelty wears off. Also remember that not every member of the family will have the same level of enthusiasm or perseverance as the person initiating the project. Let family members take breaks or ask for help in small time increments, but make it clear that they are expected to help finish the project. No one should be able to quit until all the work is done.
Finally, remember that not every DIY project needs to be for home improvement. Sometimes it is fun to join together to create a project that is for pure enjoyment. For Eric Stromer, one of those fun projects involved building a small stage. "For young children, anything above 3 inches off the ground becomes a stage," he says. "Build one with the kids, and then let them plan their play while you and the other adults enjoy an extra glass of wine." After all, the memories and bonding these DIY projects provide are as important as the skills they teach.