As anyone who has done a small amount of DIY with an equally small kiddie tagging along – it seems like combining young children and architecture is like combining oil and water. I grew up living on several building sites (it must have had some impact on me!) and remember climbing through the framing walls to get across the house because it was quicker than using the doors. There was always some project on the go, and the familiar smell of sawdust, the sound of saws, hammers and concrete mixers are embedded in my childhood memories.
We had two littlies ‘helping’ and living through our own alteration and new build. Yes it DOES make for a rather interesting time for Mum and Dad; however there are ways to mitigate the effects! A multitasking mum on the alert for hazards will know when it’s the right time to start joining in the diy with her kids in tow (it’s highly likely that it will not be during demolition or installing the framework with nail guns and circular saws….) and also what sort of kids she has. Ours were pretty respectful of the safety ground rules we set out however if you have the daredevil who thinks climbing up to the second floor framing out of your reach is great fun – then maybe rethink things a little and book in a babysitter!
The photos below are from a playhouse construction to keep little ones occupied, the tips are for how to survive when you decide to do your ‘big’ build!
1. Show and tell
Establish a photo progress board or scrap book so they can see things moving and also they can take the book to school or kindy for news day when it’s done. It’s actually a pretty cool time for them to see something emerge from nothing – life size lego!
2. Bits and bobs
If the kids are old enough they will like to scout around in the weekend (supervised) for bits and pieces left behind by the builders. You can make some amazing sculptures from the left over timber, nails and cool items lying around. For this to work safely, at the end and beginning of a day, your job is to check and tidy up the site properly – put sharp off-cuts in the skip, always remove protruding nails out of timber, and put away tools neatly so you know that there are no new hazards lying around. Make sure they always have sturdy shoes on (some may like a hard hat to be part of the action) and set the ground rules on where they can or cannot go.
3. Gibboard and strandboard canvases
What a great canvas pre-plastering or wallpapering – off cuts are particularly good for drawing great works of art on as you won’t have to plaster over the pencil dents to get that level 5 finish! Consider low toxic materials – Low VOC paints, low formaldehyde boards, natural timbers and oils to protect your little ones both during and after construction – especially if you are living in the middle of a renovation and are exposed to it daily.
We found that while one of us could work at full capacity, the other could manage about half to a quarter capacity when the kids were on the site even during a safe stage of the build (constant issues to address that were incredibly important to them –‘he’s got my strawberry shortcake doll!’ – I didn’t like to ask why…) Allow for this in your scheduling – it WILL take longer than you think. Take a break, find a playground, and give them a run around in a park – there’s only so much they are going to tolerate ‘helping’ or ‘staying out of trouble’ depending on their age and personality. Some are certainly better than others! You have a plan for the work you need to do that day – have a PLAN (and a couple of back up plans) for their day as well.
5. The nest
Set up an area that is safe and provide snacks, sticker books, toys, bob the builder DVDs (and a few surprise ones reserved in a bag for when they bore of those and you are only half way through the painting or invoices). You can work in the same space to keep an eye on them. Use a playpens/baby gates for crawlers or toddlers. Use common sense – Never bring them into or near an area where tradesmen are working or power equipment is being used, and never let them play around or climb on or underneath scaffolding or ladders – it’s just not safe.
6. The picnic
Sometimes there are stages in a build when you just can’t have the kids around the site while you are working, you can’t supervise them fully or you really need to achieve a deadline – if you are lucky enough to have someone to look after them for a day or two get them to pop in with a picnic and the kids at lunchtime so you can both catch up together and they can see why mummy and daddy have been so busy….!
Yes while they are asleep (tucked up in a little safe corner, or at granny’s place) a great deal can be done then – although I have to say from experience – painting at night really doesn’t get the best results (you wake in the morning to find the drips and missed patches that weren’t evident at 1am in the morning!)
Lastly – sometimes it really is worth getting in some extra help. With a young family money can be tight – but so is time and energy. It is possible to get to the point where the time expended is totally disproportionate to the money saved, the level of stress it can create, and the quality you are capable of achieving – in which case its worth thinking about gathering up some friends for a working bee, or bringing in the pro’s.
Of course it goes without saying (but you know I must say it!) safety is always paramount and you need to be EXTREEMELY vigilant. Toxins, falls, unstable scaffolding planks, sharp things, falling objects- a building site or a house undergoing renovations is rife with them –do your research on safety practices applicable to your job! If you have any other tips about how you worked around kids while renovating or building, I’d love to hear them!