Home Improvement with Kids!

by Brenda and Chuck Hyde

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We bought a handyman's special as our first house for less than $60,000. It's been a great experience, and actually has not been the "money pit" some old houses turn into. When we moved into our house we had two boys under the age of three. They are now 7 and 8 and have a sister, who is a toddler. When we tackle home improvement projects around our house it's a family affair! Everyone wants to help and we've learned some tricks for avoiding total chaos during our projects.

The Toddler "Helper"

Toddlers love to help mom and dad. They imitate everything we do and it's the perfect age for teaching them good habits. However, unless you want your painting project to look like modern art, they can't help a whole lot. When you are buying your project supplies pick up a smaller plastic paint bucket and some cheap brushes so your toddler can "paint" with you. We thought the foam brushes that you buy in an assortment would work but they don't look like the brushes mom and dad use and it was not a big hit. Give your helper some water in their paint bucket and a place to "paint" that is away from the actual project, but where they can see you. Encourage them! "What is my little helper doing? Wow, what a good job!". Obviously this does not last forever, but it goes a long way towards occupying your helper.

Older Children

Our boys are now 7 and 8, which is a great age for tasks that don't need a lot of detail. They helped paint the porch with primer and the window and porch boxes. You will have to judge the maturity and coordination of each child as to what they will be able to do. Removing nails from items we were repairing and placing them in a container was a good task too. There were spots that needed wood putty added before painting and this was also a job they handled fairly well. Fence painting, washing down walls, sweeping the porch and clean up duties were things they were a big help with. Remember to keep it simple and keep it focused. Don't give them a list of things to help with, but instead just take it one task at a time. Obviously preteens and teens can take on much more responsibility and work along side you throughout the project.

More Tips

Before you even begin your home improvement project put aside clothing for everyone, including your toddler, that can be considered "disposable". Shirts, pants or shorts, shoes and rags for wiping up messes. You may think you are keeping your toddler away from the paint or varnish but the minute you turn your back they somehow find the only wet spot in the work area. At the end of the day you can throw everyone's clothes in the washer with extra soap and put them aside for the next work day.

Latex paint generally washes off fairly well, but primer is a tough one. We scrubbed and scrubbed but my 8 year old had white primer on his leg for 2 weeks until it wore off! We also had to cut a small section of hair that was a clump of primer because his brother had "accidentally" lost control of his paint brush. Bath time immediately after painting is important before the paint sets.

Keep the meals simple while your working on projects. Either order pizza or cook something simple in the crockpot that will be ready when you are. Also, be sure to have plenty of quick snacks and drinks that you can give to the kids when they take breaks. This also makes your project seem "fun" and you may hear less of "I'm hungry! What can I eat?"

Lessons for the entire family

From the time we bought the house we found that letting the boys watch us work, and then help when they could, made it "family time". Not to say that there hasn't been times when everyone gets frustrated, but mostly, it's been great for all of us. We've rewarded them with trips for ice cream, and pizza dinners plus we give them extra money to spend while we were on vacation. To be honest though, I think our praise and their satisfaction at finishing a task was more effective than the money. During home improvement projects when your children are young, it's a learning experience for you as parents, as well as a character building lesson for them. Don't be afraid to tackle those projects you've been putting off and let the whole family help out!

Brenda and Chuck live in Michigan where they are always in the midst of one home improvement project or another. Chuck is a Registered Nurse and the family handyman.

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