For weeks my 10 year old daughter has been asking me to help her build a bird house for the backyard, and for weeks I have been putting it off. One day, at the library, she checked out a book titled “How to Build a Birdhouse” which included pictures and building instructions. That’s when I knew it was time to make good on my promise. In the next few minutes you will not learn how to build a bird house so to speak, but instead you will learn about the wonderful teaching opportunities that come with building a bird house with your kid. It’s about bonding with your child and accomplishing something together. It’s about how to complete a project without tantrums, loss of patience or loss of temper. With each step of the building a bird house comes an opportunity to teach your child basic skills in woodworking, measuring and a little math too.

Step 1 – Select a bird house plan

We used the book that she picked up from the library on how to build a bird house but you can also find bird house plans on the internet. We sat down together and selected a few birdhouses that we liked. From there I selected the one with the simplest design. A plan I knew I could accomplish with my limited woodworking skills and tools. It was also a bird house that would be a perfect home for the mourning doves that have been frequenting our backyard.

Step 2 – Gather the materials

The instructions included a detailed list of materials needed for the bird house. Have your children read the list with you, hunt down any of those items that you may already have at home and gather them together in one spot. Whatever is left over on the materials list are the things you need to buy at your local lumber or hardware store. Go to the store together and take advantage of the opportunity to look at different types of woods with your child. Let them be involved in the selection process and if a particular type of wood piece won’t work, take a moment to explain why. If you’re on a budget, check the scrap pile. Most big box hardware stores will sell inexpensive scraps pieces of wood.  

Step 3 – Cutting the pieces

Here’s a great opportunity to teach your child how to measure twice and cut once. They will also learn basic measuring skills and how to cut wood and use a saw safely. Make sure you take every precaution to be safe such as wearing safety goggles. Measure out each piece to be cut using the bird house plans as a guide. Let your child do the measuring while you supervise and correct any mistakes your child makes. At this point in the project it is important to be patient and give your child words of encouragement and constructive corrections. It’s going to take longer for your 7 or 8 year old to measure out 5 3/8” than it would for you to do it. But, that’s why you’re doing this project, to teach.

When it’s time to cut, it’s time to teach your child how to safely use a saw. If you’re using a handsaw, be ready to give your child plenty of assistance. It helps if you start the cut and then gently hold the saw while your child is doing the cutting. During the cutting give them tips to help keep the saw straight, cut on the line, use smooth easy strokes and give plenty of encouragement. Be patient and allow your child to cut as long as they like and if they get tire, you can jump in and finish the job.

Using a power saw such as a band saw or a jigsaw will depend on the age and maturity of your child. But, it is a great opportunity to introduce power tools and how to use them. Safety is of the utmost importance. Before you allow your child to touch any power equipment, go over a set of safety rules and explain to them the consequences of breaking those rules, such has losing a finger. Never let your child operate power tools without your strict supervision and never turn your back while your child is operating power tools. Teach your child safety tips like, where to put your hands to hold the wood, where to stand so you can make a good cut without slipping. Be there to provide assistance when your kid needs it.  Don’t expect perfection with the cuts whether you’re using a hand saw or power saw. Your bird house is not going to be perfect and your pieces are not going to be cut to precision. That’s ok. Make sure your child knows that’s ok by giving them praise and encouragement.

Step 4 – Put it all together

Now that you have all your pieces cut, now’s the time to teach your child how to hammer a few nails. Be sure to use the type of nails recommended in the instructions. If hammering the nails seems to be too difficult, or the nails keep bending and it’s becoming frustrating, you can drill pilot holes for the nails. This is another opportunity to teach your kid some skills in using a power drill. Again, use every safety precaution and closely supervise the use of the power drill. Teach your child how to install the proper drill bit, how to hold the drill and how to keep it straight. When installing the nails, teach your child how to hold the hammer, how to start the nail without smashing your thumb and how to make sure the nail goes in straight. You are certain to have a few nails bend on you giving you the perfect opportunity to teach your kid how to remove a nail using the claw end of the hammer. Follow the assembly instructions and watch the bird house magically come together. Watch how your child starts to get more excited as the bird house starts to take shape.

Once you have your bird house all put together, give it a couple fresh coats of paint. Now stand back with your child and be proud of what you’ve built together. Even if the roof is a little off center, or one side is longer than the other. The important part is, you spend time with your child teaching some good life skills and accomplishing something together.