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Tackling a DIY project with kids usually goes one of two ways: Either everyone has fun and learns something new, or somebody loses interest halfway through and has to be dragged kicking and screaming through the final stages. The secret to avoiding the latter scenario is to choose the right project to do with your kids.
When it comes to picking a project, resist the urge to check stuff off of your own to-do list. (Kids are smart—they can tell when grownups are trying to get them to do something boring by acting like it’s cool and fun.) Instead, choose activities that are both age-appropriate and actually relate to your kid’s interests. They’ll be way more likely to stick with it if the outcome makes their lives more fun. Here are 7 ideas to get you started.
Build a soccer rebounder
Kicking a ball against a wall is an excellent way to hone your touch, and it’s also just fun. If you have a serious soccer player in the family, they’d probably love to have their very own backboard or rebounder—and you can easily build one yourself.
The most basic design is simple, but you can (and should) go bigger if you want. Larger backboards give you space to add design elements that make using it more fun, like targets of varying sizes. Paint them on or, for bonus points, cut holes in strategic places and add netting over the back.
Build furniture for pets
Any animal lover will be stoked to make something their furry friends will enjoy, and there are tons of easy projects out there for kids of all ages. Turning an excess of cardboard into cat furniture is probably the easiest and cheapest way to get started, but you can also design cat- or dog-sized furniture, like a little four-poster bed or even a couch. If your kid likes birds, try building a bird feeder and installing within view of their favorite hangout spot in the house.
Let them draw on the walls
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Painting a room together might seem like a kid-friendly project, but no matter how psyched they are at first, kids quickly figure out that solid-color interior painting is boring. Instead of dragging your kid to the hardware store to look at swatches and putting them through the agony of a multi-step priming process, give them a blank (primed) wall and their artistic medium of choice and set them loose. Whether your kid is in the “indecipherable scribbles” phase or a genuine budding artist, letting them paint and draw on a wall to their heart’s content is way more fun than using a roller—and when they decide they don’t like it a few years down the line, it’s easy enough to paint over.
Tackle a sewing project
Not every kid has the patience, fine motor skills, and inclination for sewing, but those that do, really do. As the project manager and financier, though, you should know that sewing is both time-intensive and surprisingly expensive. Start with a small, simple project like new curtains for their room, a cute throw pillow for the couch, a stuffed animal, or even a tutu for ballet class; it will help them figure out how much they like this sewing thing and if they want to keep at it without running up an enormous bill.
Make something out of wood
Much like sewing, woodworking takes a ton of patience and can be a little too fiddly for some kids. But there’s something undeniably cool about holding something you made in your hands, and if your kid has the bug, you should encourage it. A simple peg rack like the one in the video above is a great starter project, but there are YouTube tutorials for just about any project you can dream up; find something you’re both interested in and go from there. (You don’t need an entire woodworking shop’s worth of tools, either—lots of maker channels publish hand tool-only projects.)
Help them plant their own garden
Kids that love digging around in the dirt are gardeners waiting to happen. If that describes a child you know, you should try planting a garden with them this spring. It’s a great way to get out their dirt goblin energy while also nurturing their green thumb and setting them up for a happy, healthy life.
Start by asking them what they’d like to grow: Maybe it’s a favorite vegetable, a flower, catnip for the cats, or something that will attract butterflies or other animals to the yard. If their first choice won’t grow in your climate, keep brainstorming until you find something that gets both of you excited.
Take something apart and put it back together
For a certain type of kid, the urge to take stuff apart and see what’s going on in there can be almost overwhelming. (The primal urge to tinker, if you will.) If both you and your kid are natural tinkerers, taking on basic mechanical repairs together can be a great way to bond and keep household appliances working smoothly.
As with all projects, the secret to having fun is to choose something your kid actually cares about. If they love cars, learning how to replace headlights, spark plugs, or change the oil will be interesting and undeniably useful down the line. If they’re really into baking and you own a KitchenAid mixer, set aside a weekend to take that sucker apart, clean the gears, and replace the grease. If they just like dismantling stuff, go hunting in the basement, attic, or Goodwill donation pile for old items nobody will miss—then destroy it methodically enough to see how it works. Even if you don’t end up fixing anything, you’ll have a ton of fun.