Visit Goldfish Kids Site

Learning Skills Through Projects

Dad's Corner by Fred Goodall

Men in my family have built things for generations.


My grandfather was a master of collecting items from a junkyard and turning them into useable products. I have an uncle who is a master carpenter and his work is stunning. My father has been a construction worker for over 40 years and can build anything from scratch.


I’ll admit that my building skills are nowhere near theirs, but I can appreciate the value of building things with your own hands. It is a value that I’ve worked to instill in my own kids.


When my son was five years old, I asked him to help my friend and I install a play system in the backyard. He gladly accepted the challenge. While he didn’t have the coordination, strength or technical skills to handle many of the tasks, I was glad to have him by my side as we worked. He handed us tools, carried materials, and fetched us water when we grew thirsty. I even let him tighten a few of the bolts. After we finished constructing the play set, my son’s face beamed with pride because he had contributed to the effort.


“Can I play on it now?” he asked.


“Of course you can,” I replied. “After all of your hard work, you deserve it.”


Since then, we have built Rain Gutter Regatta boats, Pinewood Derby Cars, and massive Lego sets. Each time, I give him more and more responsibility.


Our latest project was a cigar box guitar. He was excited because I let him use the drill and cut a few pieces of wood with the saw. Although I handled the more dangerous tasks, I allowed my son to do the majority of the building. Whenever anyone visits our home, my son is eager to show them the guitar he built. It is definitely one of his most treasured possessions because he poured so much of himself into it. 


This summer we plan to build a model train layout. We’re excited about this project because we inherited the trains from my wife’s uncle after he died. He was an avid model-railroad builder and my son and I are eager to keep up the tradition.


We’ve spent several months scouring model trains books, magazines and videos. We even visited a model-train enthusiast club to get some advice and ideas. My son has already developed some layout ideas and is constantly sharing his thoughts about how our model city should look. It’s great to see him so excited about something. We plan to document the whole progress via photography and video so we can have a record of our progress at the end of the summer. The table that will hold our project is built and waiting for our creative vision to come to fruition. I can’t wait until the final product is complete.


All of these projects have helped us to grow closer together and open the door to communication. During our working sessions, we have deep conversations about what’s going on in his life. It also gives me an opportunity to share stories about my youth and give advice in a non-threatening way. 


I’d definitely encourage all families to choose a project to work on during the summer. Not only will you get the satisfaction of seeing your labor turn into a finished product, but you will also get the benefit of creating lasting memories with your family.




For more musings from Frederick, visit