Get Kids Started in DIY
Getting tools into young hands early and often is the best way to develop DIY skills for kids. We asked pros who teach DIY to kids for their best advice for getting kids started with tools.
Whack on Bubble Wrap®
Screw into drywall first
Cut up foam core
Introduce tools one or two at a time
Books and programs
Monkey with a Tool Belt and the Noisy Problem by Chris Monroe.
Chico Bon Bon the monkey uses special tools from his handy-dandy tool belt to fix a very large problem in the pipes. We LOVE this book!
Shop class used to be where many kids were introduced to DIY, but no more. There are some great regional programs and courses, however.
- Construction Kids< in Brooklyn. constructionkids.com
- Eliot School in Boston. eliotschool.org
- Randall Museum in San Francisco: woodworking for kids. randallmuseum.org/YouthClasses.aspx
- Kids’ Carpentry in California and Minnesota. kidscarpentry.net
- Tinkering School in California and other locations. tinkeringschool.com
Image courtesy of Chris Monroe
Don’t do the work for them
The biggest challenges for experienced DIYers are time and patience. It’s very easy for an adult to take over and just do things for the child, but you have to let kids do everything they can do.
And don’t expect perfection. As one young DIYer put it, ‘But Dad, if you don’t let me do the hammering my way, nobody will know that a kid helped build it.’
Work at their height
You don’t like a work surface that’s too high, low or wobbly, and neither do kids. You can buy child-size workbenches from school supply catalogs, but they’re expensive. You can also cut down an existing workbench, or you can easily make one yourself.
The workbench top should be at least 2 x 4 ft. and stand 24 in. high for preschoolers and 27 in. high for elementary-age kids. An easy way to stabilize it is to add a lower shelf and pile on some bricks.
Image courtesy of builtbykids.com
Play by the safety rules
- Always wear safety glasses.
- Tie up long hair.
- Wear closed-toe shoes.
- Clean up after each work period.
- When using a saw, clamp the wood or secure it in a vise and have kids hold the saw with both hands or put one hand behind their back to prevent accidents.
Don’t toss that trash
Taking apart a broken gadget like a fan or toaster is great for young minds and fingers. Kids get to unscrew things, learn how something is put together and have fun (cut off the cord for safety). If you don’t happen to have anything broken lying around, you can buy small appliances cheaply at yard sales or thrift stores. Look for older versions. The newer appliances are mostly snap-together plastic.
Skip electronic devices, which might have potentially dangerous parts. Capacitors, for example, can hold voltage long after they’re disconnected from a power source.
Tools for tykes
Real tools teach real responsibility. You can buy reasonably priced kid-size tools at home centers and online retailers, including amazon.com, red-toolbox.com and forsmallhands.com. Buy at least medium-quality tools. Cheap tools bend or break. The ‘Grip’ nine-piece Children’s Tool Kit shown here is available at amazon.com.
‘There’s a lost generation of children who have no practical hands-on skills. They may know how to operate an iPad at five but wouldn’t know the first thing to do with pliers or a screwdriver.’
Timothy Dahl, founder of builtbykids.com