How to do Projects with a Toddler (DIY Workbench)
This is a question I get asked frequently: how do I have time for DIY projects with Jordan (our energetic 18 month old) around? My first response is usually, “naptime”, but, in all honesty, that is misleading. Naptime is just a tiny portion of the time I spend productively working on a project. More often, he is wide awake while I’m working, so the question remains: how am I able to do projects with a toddler? There are three key elements that I have found to be the most helpful.
Independent Outdoor time
If my project time isn’t naptime, then what does Jordan do while I’m working? Well, that is outdoor time. He loves being outside and I always want to facilitate and encourage that desire to be amongst nature. I think it is so important for kids to get out and away from screens to learn and discover what their world really is like when you step past the threshold of your home.
So, I haul all my tools and materials out to the backyard and usually set up some sort of game or toys for Jordan to play with while I work and watch him. For the most part, he is happy as can be picking flowers, running around, finding new things to climb, playing with our puppy, and hiding in the hostas.
A Fenced in Yard
During this “outdoor time” I let Jordan have his independence from me, another thing I feel is important for kids, and the only way that is possible is with our fenced in backyard (read more about our fence project planning guide and the process for building a perfectly straight fence). Our first major project for this home, the fence has been a wonderful thing! It allows me to watch Jordan from a distance without feeling I have to hover over him so he doesn’t run out to the road. Within those boundaries he is safe and I can work on DIY projects.
Another key element in getting DIY projects done while caring for a toddler is my workbench. What used to be an old table on 2x4 legs is now an elaborate work surface/tool storage/cart all in one.
The reason this is so key in getting things done with a toddler is the wheels. Where it used to sit in our garage, I could never work and let Jordan play because he wasn’t safe. With the garage door closed he could get into things he shouldn’t and with it open he would run into the street. I ended up not using the thing and just working on the ground in the backyard, but that wasn’t safe for me. Now, with these nice big caster wheels I can roll the entire thing, tools and all, out to a small patio area in our backyard where I can watch Jordan play safely and I can work, safely. Win, win!
I’m not going to give a full tutorial on the work bench, but I will give you an idea of the steps.
As I said, the table used to be an old door set on a 2x4 frame probably made by the previous owners of the house. I added another frame towards the bottom with supporting beams running across to hold a new plywood shelf. The shelf is perfect for storing the air compressor and all our other tools.
I then added these big caster wheels, which are probably overkill as I will never reach the 2000 something pounds they are supposed to hold, but I like not having to worry about it. For the four wheels I spent about $50 at Home Depot.
I added another, vertical piece of plywood to give an area for hanging tools. This gives some extra organization.
It's so easy to maneuver, even Jordan can push it. When I roll it to the patio outback this is my view and I can spot Jordan from anywhere in the backyard:
(That pallet bench tutorial is coming this Friday! Don't miss it!)
So, how do I get DIY projects done with a toddler? I dedicate my work time as his outdoor play time, I allow him to be independent while in the confines of our fenced in back yard, and I have an awesome workbench that I can wheel around to the back. He plays while I work and watch him. He isn’t getting neglected and is completely safe while I am building mail sorters, coffee tables, and nightstands.
If you love to look at DIY tutorials and dream of doing them, but don’t feel you can with your kid(s) running around, then I hope you have found this post to be useful. Obviously you have to do whatever works for you and not everyone has the opportunity to put in a fence, but maybe a rolling workbench will allow you to get your projects into the backyard where the threat of cars isn’t as much of an issue. I am able to do projects with a toddler, and so can you!