3 kinds of family fun home improvement projects

Iris Price | Improvement Center Columnist | April 13, 2016

Father and daughter working with lumberWith spring here and the summer just a few months away, school will be out sooner than later. For families, that means finding ways to keep the kiddos occupied with what parents like to think of as "wholesome" activities, even if your offspring gag with laughter at that word. Ignore their smirks. The proof will be whether they -- and you -- have fun.

As you plan your spring and summer home improvements, consider choosing kid-friendly DIY projects, something that involves the entire family working together to get it done. If DIY is not your thing, these suggestions for family fun home improvements can involve a contractor, too.

1. Outdoor kid-friendly DIY projects: vegetable gardens

If your kids are always getting dirty, go straight to the source and put them to work in some actual dirt. Starting plants at this time of year indoors in washed, repurposed yogurt cups encourages kids of all ages to recycle and provides ample opportunity to get their hands into the soil. Younger kids love to watch seeds germinate and turn into tiny plants ready to put in the ground when the danger of a spring freeze has passed.

With some soil and treated wood or paver stones you can create raised beds. Get the whole family involved in clearing an area for your vegetable garden. If you've never done this before, attend one or more local extension courses in gardening and landscaping or watch some instructional videos online. Then get busy growing. You can plant delicious tomatoes and herbs like basil in an area as small as 3'-by-5'. With additional space, build several raised beds to grow peppers, zucchini, onions, lettuce and whatever veggies or berries your climate supports.

Begin composting. Teach your children how to care for the plants. Gardening gives people of all ages and abilities the opportunity to enjoy the outdoors, appreciate the cycle of life, and harvest the tasty rewards. This project can also encourage budding young chefs and their parents by providing them with the freshest of ingredients.

Outdoor backyard fun: surf and turf

While installing tennis courts can have a high price tag, smaller "sports courts" may be an affordable alternative. Sonja Leonard, of Dickson Realty in Reno, Nev. observes, "Families are installing multi-purpose sports courts for basketball, tetherball, pickleball, or badminton." These courts provide space for entire families to play a variety of games in the backyard. Your contractor may need to clear shrubbery or trees on your property and level the ground. How much preparation and grading required to create an appropriate space typically determines the cost of this project.

If sweating it out on the courts is not your thing and you have lots of hot days each year, Leonard also mentions that more homeowners are installing saltwater pools or spas for exercise or relaxation. Options for aquatic fun range from simple, above-ground pools and hot tubs to elegant in-ground pools. Of course, don't forget child-safety around water; take proper precautions such as fencing off your pool or spa from access by small children -- yours or the neighbors'.

If your budget leans toward a less costly gathering spot for backyard entertaining, check out online instructions for building a DIY concrete fire pit to take the chill out of cool evenings.

Indoor creative space: a crafty place for kids

Sometimes the kitchen table is not the most convenient place for kids to get creative. You grown ups may have your craft room, garage, or basement workshop, but if you don't want your kids' arts and craft supplies to live where you eat, set up a place where they can get "crafty" without encroaching on areas needed for other activities. This is definitely one project even very young children can help with once you've mapped out a designated place for their creative and DIY endeavors, such as a small corner of one of these rooms:

  • family room or den
  • your own craft or workroom
  • finished basement
  • never-used dining area
  • sunroom/solarium
  • laundry room
  • screened porch

DIY some freestanding, modular cubes and shelving, or have a contractor build storage cubbies and cabinets. Put in easy-to-clean flooring like linoleum tile or stylish but waterproof plank vinyl so no one needs to stress if something spills. Cover part of a wall with chalkboard paint. Set up an easel and height-appropriate table or workbench for smaller children, plenty of no-splinter plastic or cloth baskets for sorting and storing the tools of their favorite medium: crayons, chalk, colored pencils, paint brushes, paints, craft paper, and all the other instruments of their creativity. This is the point at which the younger kids can really help. Give them some simple direction but also some leeway to decide what goes where. Let them know that wherever they choose to put those things is where they will live from now on when they finish making their creations.

As with family vacations, sometimes the journey is more memorable than the destination, but if DIY is not your thing, don't worry. Remember that your kids may, like you, have no interest in building a play space from scratch -- or, for that matter, doing any of the activities you love. If you want to score bonus points with kid-friendly home improvements, take time to observe your kids and choose a few projects that foster their own interests. You can learn some fun things from them, too.

About the Author

Iris Price is a single Baby Boomer whose antidote to a lack of retirement funds was to launch a long-delayed career as a writer. While others her age concoct bucket lists and travel the world, she bought a new-construction home and obsessively creates lists of must-have home improvements and personal realization goals. She specializes in writing about home services and self-motivation.