My single-parent mum couldn’t afford to hire a handyman to fix the house, so we did it all ourselves. Together we fixed windows, installed faucets, and rewired appliances. Even though we did it all out of necessity, I enjoyed doing projects with my mum. A child psychologist might say that learning to fix stuff at a young age helped me develop decision-making and problem-solving skills that I could apply to life’s challenges rather than reacting with spontaneous emotion. But for me and Mum, it was all about saving cash — and having fun doing it. (I should add that I later became a professional carpenter, which I did for more than a decade.)
Now I’m teaching my own daughters, ages four and six, how to fix and make stuff because I want to raise them to not only be self-reliant around tools and DIY but also feel confident tackling difficult tasks, whatever those might be. (And I don’t want them tossing stuff into a landfill just because it’s not working properly.) Best of all, I’ve discovered some of our most memorable and meaningful experiences together have involved doing DIY. Want some of that? Here are some things to know.
You don’t have to be handy yourself
Just find something around the house that needs fixing, like an old AC unit that isn’t blowing cold. Not an AC technician? Just head to YouTube and search for a decent tutorial, but include your kid in the process (for my girls, this means bonus screen time!).
There’s a good chance that user BobCat738 has an explainer on how to open the unit, replace the filter, and clean the coils. Learning to use a screwdriver is a great place to start. Have your kid get into the unit’s guts by removing the cover’s fasteners and sorting it into neat piles. You might need to loosen the screws a bit first, but the real lesson here is using the right type and size of screwdriver for the job while also developing an intuition for how screw threads work.
Time to get dirty: Take out the filter and clean it — yuck! — and vacuum out all the dust from the coils. Now reassemble everything, clean up, and put all the tools away. It’s critical to follow a project through to the very end, whether successful or not. And if you fixed it, congratulations. You guys are now family legends.
Tools are cool
They’re fun to use and hilarious to say (cat’s paw! bastard file! needle-nose pliers!). There are no real age restrictions on using tools — only you can judge whether your kid’s ready to handle them safely and effectively. Just be sure to give them something they can physically handle with ease. Hammers, for example, come in all sizes — jeweller’s hammers are the smallest.
Most kids can use glue, sandpaper, wrenches, and screwdrivers without too much supervision, and some can even wield a power drill-driver (my four-year-old is fine with a four-volt mini-driver). And if Junior can use scissors, they can use pliers for everything from twisting wires to removing hardware. Saws look dangerous, but a hacksaw is virtually foolproof and can teach a valuable lesson in keeping little hands on the safe side of a blade.
And though you’ll do all you can to keep your kid from getting hurt, like always, always wearing eye protection and tying back long hair, your kid will get hurt. That’s fine. When it happens, don’t freak out and scare them away. Just keep some Band-Aids handy and get back to work.
Keep up the enthusiasm
So you’ve fixed the AC. What’s next? The best way to keep your kid engaged is to fix something they care about, like a broken toy. Start by simply replacing some batteries, ensuring they observe the correct polarities. Then head to the hardware store and gather a toy-repair kit.
Essentials include nuts and bolts, washers, screws, glue, elastic bands, string, wire, and zip ties. Now use that stuff to reattach a doll’s appendage (time to bust out those needle-noses). It’ll look quirky, but that’s ok. Embrace the wabi-sabi philosophy that there’s beauty and history behind imperfection.
My mum reattached my GI Joe’s head with electrical wire and it looked badass — kind of Terminator meets Inspector Gadget. These projects can be fiddly and frustrating and sometimes disastrous, so avoid tantrums by setting realistic expectations for your kid — and yourself. Don’t tackle anything that’ll take all day (my daughters lose interest in anything that takes longer than 20 minutes).
Back off a little, too. Your kid’s solution might work just fine. So let them use that Krazy Glue in spades — those fat, gloopy glue lines will forever remind you both of what a great job they did.