DIY with an Under Three Year Old


For as long as I can remember I have been a DIYer. When I was little, I wasn’t satisfied with Barbie’s included outfits, so I taught myself how to sew, creating a custom wardrobe for my favorite doll. In high school, I took up metal smithing and crafted silver jewelry for myself, family and friends. As a Communications Design major in college, I built scale models–a la an Architect– of museum exhibits I had designed for my portfolio rather than just sketching them out. Needless to say, DIY is in my blood.

Fast forward to me as an adult, and I focus my DIY efforts on creating a home for myself and family; we just moved into a new home, and while immaculate, it needs some serious updating. Recently, I was asked how the new house was and after listing out all the projects I have going on concurrently, was met with the response, “how do you find the time to do all that, with a 3 year old?” It never really hit me, until that moment, that perhaps my husband and I were over achievers when it comes to DIY– and we left people puzzled as to how we could do so much with a small child.

I pondered this thought for a moment, reflecting on the time before I had my daughter, when I could paint, hammer, sand whenever I wanted, with no interruption from a little one. That is certainly not the reality now, nor would I want my life to be as my daughter is the best thing that happened to me. With a little one running around, my priorities have shifted. First and foremost, I want to ensure she has childhood memories other than me (or my husband) constantly working on some project.

That being said, regardless of if you are a DIY pro or just doing some minor work around the house, here are some tips of how to get the project done with a little one:

1. Explain it to them
When starting a project, I always make a point to explain to my daughter what is going on. People think I’m crazy because I speak to my daughter like an adult; but she (like any child) is an intelligent human being and will be more receptive if she was given the courtesy of an explanation. For example, yesterday, we began repairing an old playhouse located on our property, and I took the time to explain that we would be taking some of the pieces off before it would be safe to play on. Then, when Daddy cuts the new pieces to repair the playhouse, we will have to stay away from the saw as it is dangerous.


#DemoDay on the old playhouse

2. Get Them Involved.
That same aforementioned playhouse/swingset also needs a new coat of paint. Since it will be Evie’s new hangout spot, I asked her what color she wanted. She is a 3 year old girl, so, you guessed it, the answer was pink. I’m not sure my neighbors would appreciate looking out their back window and seeing a hot pink playhouse, so it will be painted gray with white trim. But, I did order pink swings online and plan on putting a window box on it with pink flowers. Not only is it fun to talk through their ideas, but I’m sure some child expert somewhere would say it’s good for them to feel a sense of pride and ownership over the final product.

3. Schedule your Projects Accordingly
Our new home has slew of projects that need to be completed. Everything from a simple coat of paint, to gutting a kitchen is on our list. Be realistic about how long a task takes and schedule it for a time where it can realistically be completed.

I often tackle small projects on Saturday mornings before we get ready for the rest of our day. A couple of weeks ago I painted the inside of the garage (I know, crazy). I got her a cardboard box, a set of watercolors and sat her down on the driveway just outside the garage so I could keep an eye on her, and asked her to help me paint. She painted a masterpiece on that box…and her nails. She was a mess by the end of it, but it was nothing we couldn’t wash off. Most importantly, she had a ball and I got the garage painted.

More complex projects are saved for nap time (Is it bad for me to admit I will be VERY sad when that goes away?). Every Saturday and Sunday my husband and I know we have 2 hours of time that we can utilize to tackle less child friendly tasks.

Finally, save the really crazy DIY projects (like, say, demo-ing a kitchen) for a time when you can have a large block of dedicated time to spend on it. WARNING: A vacation day from work may have to turn into #demoday instead of a trip to the spa.

4. Get Outside
It’s Cleveland, and we only get so many nice months a year; who wouldn’t want to be outside when it’s actually sunny? Plus, you can hand your little something messy like play-doh or paint; something that is normally a nightmare inside is suddenly your best friend outside because it keeps them occupied. Also, they can play little Picasso while you work side by side in the fresh air. Which leads me to my next point about working outside- it keeps the toxic smells that often come with DIY out of your home.

5. Remember to Play
Again, I’m sure some child expert somewhere will say that seeing their take care of a home teaches them the value of hark work and that things aren’t just handed to you. But, your child is only little once. So, remember to step away from the paintbrush every now and again- and spend time doing something less results-driven. A trip to the zoo, a walk in the park, running around the backyard with superhero capes on. Whatever the “play” is, it is important for your family’s connection to each other. And, a nice family outing complete with a trip to the ice cream shop is the perfect way to re-energize for your next DIY project.

What tips do you have for completing DIY projects with little ones?

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Rachel Gehrs

Mom. Wife. Designer. Want-to-be-foodie. Classic rock listener. Neat-freak. Black coffee addict with a wardrobe to match.

2 CommentsLeave a comment

  • Great read. We bought our kids their own tool set with a tape measure, flashlight, shovel, red packing tape, etc. They love measuring and making shapes with tape on the concrete. I also have them take pics with their tablet of what’s going on. They appreciate being involved and I think it’s important for them to see us roll up our sleeves and get ‘er done!

  • “Some child expert” in Michigan loves the idea of painting the cardboard box while you paint the garage. And nice compromise on giving her some say on the color without having a pink playhouse in the backyard! Can’t wait to see the results!

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