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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.

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Whack on Bubble Wrap®

Whack on Bubble Wrap®

Family Handyman

To a kid who's not quite ready to drive nails, nothing feels better than whap, crackle and pop. Supply a kid-size hammer or a rubber mallet. (Hearing protection is a good idea here. This gets LOUD.)
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Screw into drywall first

Screw into drywall first

Family Handyman

Start some screws in a scrap of drywall and let the kids screw them in with a screwdriver or a kid-size cordless screwdriver. Drywall is a lot easier to screw into than wood.
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Build a bolt board

Build a bolt board

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Wrenches are great for beginning tool users. Sink different-size bolts into boards and then let children use wrenches to attach color-coordinated nuts.
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Cut up foam core

Cut up foam core

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Clamp some foam core to a workbench and let kids saw it into strips. Foam core is easier to saw through than wood, and a keyhole saw is perfect for small hands. You can buy foam core at craft, art and office supply stores.
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Introduce tools one or two at a time

Introduce tools one or two at a time

Family Handyman

Start a bunch of roofing nails in a stump and let your young DIYers go to town. The kids will keep hammering until every last nail is flush. With their big heads and short shanks (the roofing nails, not the kids), they're easy to hit and hard to bend. And the end grain of a stump is easy to penetrate.
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Books and programs

Books and programs

Family Handyman

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!

Programs

Shop class used to be where many kids were introduced to DIY, but no more. There are some great regional programs and courses, however.

Check out:

Image courtesy of Chris Monroe

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Don't do the work for them

Don't do the work for them

Photo: Halfpoint/Shutterstock

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.'
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Work at their height

Work at their height

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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

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Play by the safety rules

Play by the safety rules

Photo: Hal_P/Shutterstock

  1. Always wear safety glasses.
  2. Tie up long hair.
  3. Wear closed-toe shoes.
  4. Clean up after each work period.
  5. 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.
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Don't toss that trash

Don't toss that trash

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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.

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Tools for tykes

Tools for tykes

Family Handyman

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

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Cordless drivers

Cordless drivers

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Though made for adults, the Skil iXO and Black & Decker L13100 cordless drivers are perfect for little hands.
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Glue gun

Glue gun

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A low-temp hot-glue gun is safer than higher-temp versions. The mini size is often called a 'craft' glue gun and is perfect for smaller hands. Available at hobby shops, home centers and online retailers.
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Hand drill

Hand drill

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An eggbeater type of hand drill works easily without pinching little fingers. It works best when kids can drill into a piece of wood held in a vise. The Fiskars Craft Drill shown comes with four bits at amazon.com and forsmallhands.com.
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Saw

Saw

Family Handyman

A keyhole saw strengthens young kids' hands and is sized for better control. The Handy Saw shown is available at forsmallhands.com.