Every time Susan Newman cuts flowers from her garden, she thinks of her grandmother. Newman, a social psychologist and author of Little Things Mean a Lot: Creating Happy Memories With Your Grandchildren (Crown), spent many joyful hours gardening with her grandmother as a child. “I learned to love working in the dirt from her,” she says. “I still have some of her tools, which are a constant reminder of what she taught me.”
Sharing time — and tasks around the house — with your grandchildren is a wonderful way to connect, impart valuable life skills, and build memories along the way. But for you, the grandparent, the key is remembering the adage: It’s not the destination but the journey that counts.
“You really have to let go of wanting a project to be perfect,” says Amy Devers, a host of the Do It Yourself Network, who recently helped construct a cabin in the Smoky Mountains for the show Blog Cabin. “Precise jobs, like wallpapering or refinishing floors, are what you don’t want to do with the grandchildren,” she says. “If paint drips are going to ruin everything, do something else. Kids are sensitive, and they know if you’re unhappy or disappointed.”
Picking a project that is age-appropriate, and offers a quick payoff, is key. “Give them direction, but don’t make things too complicated,” says Kathy Peterson, host of Town & Country Crafts on television’s Family Net, and grandmother of three. “Being able to complete the task, and feel pride in a job well done, is important. A long, drawn-out project won’t hold their interest.” One task she likes to do with her younger granddaughter is cleaning glass French doors. “She is on one side, I’m on the other, and we make a game out of tapping to point out missed spots. We see each other while we’re ‘working’ — it’s fun.”
Jack Dobbins, “Pop Pop Jack” to grandsons John and Ryan, has spent just about every other weekend with the boys since they were little. Dobbins has 20 rural acres in Williamstown, N.J., offering endless opportunities for outdoor activities and adventures. “I remember building a chicken coop together when John was probably about 6, and Ryan was just a little guy,” he says. “Everything we do together teaches them something.”
Raking leaves, collecting kindling to burn in a bonfire, working on cars — the trio has done it all. “Kids are naturally inquisitive. I find that if I’m doing something, they want to find out what it’s all about. The only downside is that I get physically tired. And the questions are endless.” One of the incentives Dobbins offers the boys is the chance to be ”king” — and pick out what’s for dinner that night. “I try to really make it fun for them. At this stage of my life, I’m not distracted by so many other things. I can focus on them, which is good for all of us.”
10 Tips to DIY With the Grandkids
Pick projects that are age-appropriate.
Focus on your grandchild’s interests.
Don’t expect perfection.
Build in the fun factor.
Take frequent breaks.
Have snacks along the way.
Give your grandchildren ownership of the project.
Take time out for storytelling.
Stay away from tedious projects.
Let lessons happen naturally.
Five Projects To Try
Work with wood — build a birdhouse, a planter box, or stain a child-size chair or footstool.
Plant a garden, letting the kids pick out flowers or herbs for “their” section.
Sweep out the garage, using chalk to divide it into quadrants; use the chalk later for hopscotch or other play.
Clean out a section of the attic, finding treasures, playing dress-up, and telling stories along the way.
Pick up kindling and small branches from the yard, using them for a bonfire and for roasting marshmallows when you've finished the job.
Do you have great ideas for doing home improvement projects with children? Do you have wonderful memories of these kinds of activities from your childhood? Share your thoughts in the comment section below.
How well do you get along with your grandchild and other family members? Want to know if your personalities mesh?Find out here.