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6 tips for building models with kids and new hobbyists

Sharing the fun of model building can be as fulfilling as building the model itself
Hello fine-scale modelers and enthusiasts! I’m going to cut right to it: Any time I hear someone say kids don’t want to do anything except surf the internet or play video games and it’s killing [insert hobby here], I challenge it, because it’s not true.

The truth is that kids — yes, teens too! — will spend time, even want (gasp!) to spend time, with parents or aunts and uncles or grandparents or mentors if given the opportunity. In many cases, all someone has to do is ask and make the experience entertaining.

One of the themes we are exploring at FineScale Modeler helping modelers share the experience of scale modeling with children and others interested in the hobby. In our Building Models with ShuShu series, we let viewers see how I build models with my daughter (the eponymous ShuShu).

We try to make clear with every episode what it is she likes about the model. My tastes aren’t important — hers are.

We tackle a pink bear robot, a purple cartoon frog-alien, and a couple of Hello Kitty-themed Gundam model kits. All of these would be beyond her ability to assemble on her own, but something about each one delighted ShuShu (“It has pink sparkle wings! I like the pants on Hello Kitty! Her ears move!”), and, with help, she’s able to assemble them, feel a sense of accomplishment, and then play with them.
Building Models with ShuShu - Episode 1: Bandai Petit'gguy Future Pink Bear
More importantly — at least from my perspective — while building models, ShuShu and I get to spend time together and bond.

I’m no psychologist, but I’ve learned six things while being a hobbyist and raising two kids:

1. Ask – You never know until you ask. And I’d be willing to bet you’ll be pleasantly surprised because the answer will be yes. Beware: The form the “yes” takes may be couched in teen-speak: “That’s cool, I guess.” Don’t be fooled by the mumbling staccato and feigned disaffection: Kiddo has said yes.

2. Pick a model your kid likes – Your preferences are not on show; your kid’s preferences are. Sure, don’t let them set themselves up for failure with an 8,917-part UberSuperior Grade Clockwork Mecha-Bot right out of the gate, but see what gets them to jump up and down with excitement. And then discuss and make a purchase you think the two of you can successfully assemble together. (Don't forget the tools you'll need! Here's your short list.) Remember, little fingers lack fine dexterity and strength, but that’s why you’re there! Which leads directly into my next point:

3. Interact – Talk about the building process and make sure your kid is always doing something. Tasks can be as simple as marking off the instructions and snipping parts. Obviously assembling parts is a must. Making sure that you’re the sidekick can be tough sometimes. I get it. But it becomes easier the more you do it. Ask your kid if they need help. Remind them that they can ask for help. Resist the urge to just do it for them. Remember, you are building models together, but your kid is the hero in this story.
Building Models with ShuShu - Episode 3: Bandai's Hello Kitty Haro Anniversary Model
4. Set aside your expectations and be positive – Your expectations are not important; your kid’s experience is tantamount. Parts will fly across the room; something won’t fit correctly; a sticker will get placed crooked. Who cares? The mistakes don’t matter. What does matter is how you help solve the challenges. Your actions during the building process and reaction to the finished model will form the basis for how your kid will or will not enjoy the hobby. You're making memories here, so make sure they’re good ones.

5. Let everyone off the hook – Be patient not only with your kid, but yourself, too. Even fun experiences can challenge you in ways that you cannot anticipate. And mentoring, even for enjoyment, is work. When something doesn’t go right, don’t let it get to you. It’s a hobby, not brain surgery. You’re going to be fine. Really. 

6. Consistency – As I say in one video, I’m happy to get 60-90 minutes of modeling with ShuShu. You know your kid best, but their attention span (particularly young kids) might not be as long as yours. If their attention begins to wander or they look bored, don’t be afraid to call it. No one says you have to finish a model in one sitting, even if the box says you can. But immediately schedule your next session: “Hey! Wanna work on this again tomorrow after you finish your homework?” And then uphold your end of the deal. Few things are as disappointing to a kid as having someone break a date, especially when they’re looking forward to it.
Building Models with ShuShu - Episode 2: Bandai's Lt. Garuru winged figure
We want to hear your stories about building with your kids, grandkids, or anyone new to the hobby. What are you doing to share scale modeling and help the hobby grow?
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