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Hands-on skills get short shrift in schools in this hi-tech world, where computer classes seem to take precedence over crafts.

Most of us would like to see our kids taking pleasure from DIY and getting tools into young hands early and often is the key to building skills. Encouraging an interest, and hopefully grooming a workshop assistant, is easy when you know how.

Here are our tips for training children in the art of DIY.

The safety rules

1. Make a habit of wearing safety glasses and gloves

2. Tie up long hair

3. Wear closed-toe shoes

4. Clean up the work area after each project

5. When using a saw, clamp the timber or secure it in a vice. Have the child hold the saw with both hands or put one hand behind their back to prevent accidents.

Don’t do it for them

The biggest challenges for experienced DIYers are time and patience. It’s very easy for an adult to take over but you have to let kids take their time.

Kids are easily frustrated so be careful not to go too fast. Introduce tools one or two at a time. Let them handle each one, see how it works and feel a sense of accomplishment with it before moving on to another.

Hammer nails the easy way

Start a stack 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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Hammering nails in to a tree stump is great practice for kids

Screw into plasterboard

Start some screws in a scrap of plasterboard and let the kids screw them in with a screwdriver or a kid-sized cordless screwdriver. Plasterboard is a lot easier to screw into than timber.

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Plasterboard is easier to screw into than timber

Build a bolt board

Shifting spanners are great for beginner tool users. Sink different-sized bolts into boards then let children use the spanners to attach colour coordinated nuts.

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Turn learning to use a spanner in to a game of colour coordination

Learn to cut with foam

Clamp a piece of foamboard to a workbench and let kids saw it into strips. Foam core is easier to saw through than timber, 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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Foam is a great substitute for wood when teaching kids how to cut with a saw

Disassemble old appliances

Taking apart a broken gadget like a fan or toaster is great for young minds and fingers. Kids get to have fun, unscrew things and learn how an appliance is put together, just cut off the cord for safety.

If you don’t happen to have anything broken lying around, buy small appliances cheaply at garage sales or op-shops. Look for older models as newer appliances are mostly snap-together plastic.

Avoid 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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Disassembling an appliance with kids teaches them how things work

Hammer bubblewrap

To a kid who’s not quite ready to drive nails, nothing feels better than the whack, crackle and pop of hitting bubble wrap. Supply a kid-sized hammer or a rubber mallet and hearing protection, as it can get loud!
kids diy, handyman magazine, kid hammering bubble wrapTurn popping bubble wrap in to a DIY learning exercise

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 but they tend to be expensive. It’s cheaper to cut down an existing workbench or you can easily make one yourself.

The workbench top should be at least 600 x 1200mm and stand 600mm high for preschoolers and 700mm high for school-age kids.

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Make DIY easy for kids by organising a suitable workbench

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