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Construction Basics for Clueless Parents

Being a parent is an amazing thing. You get the opportunity to nurture a little soul and shape a little brain into being an incredibly kind and intelligent being – one who will question everything deeply and yearn for knowledge while striving to be the best person they can possibly be.

At least that’s the hope, right?

Well, I can tell you that I have for sure gotten at least a portion of that goal accomplished. If you have a kid between the ages of 3-6, you can probably guess which portion it is – the questioning everything portion. Every.last.little.thing is a launch pad for my child to start an unending barrage of questioning that would make the lawyers on Law & Order SVU look like chumps. And nowhere does this line of question become more insistent, more demanding and more impossible for me to answer than when we pass a construction site.

Let’s be clear – I know my way around a few choice construction terms – like a Chevy dump truck. In fact, thanks to the Sisqo lyrical masterpiece of 1999 – the Thong Song –  I know that having “dumps like a truck, truck, truck” should be a gym goal of mine. I also know that when I’m having a bad day and come home fuming, according to Miley Cyrus (and my husband) I came in like a wrecking ball. I also know what a cement mixer is, thanks to my obsession with true crime stories, conspiracies, and Jimmy Hoffa. However, none of these examples are either A. appropriate or B. educational enough to offer an explanation to a five-year-old.

So, without any further delay, I offer all parents of future little foremen (and forewomen) a breakdown of common construction vehicles so that you may avoid the embarrassment bestowed upon me every time my child loudly asks me “Mama, but is that truck? And what does that truck do?” ad nauseum.


Dump Trucks

So this one really is pretty basic. If you see a truck with an open bed filled with a lot of junk (or sand, gravel, etc.) most likely it’s a dump truck. Dump trucks are used on construction sites for transporting loose material from point A to point B. What makes a dump truck so appealing to little kids? The fact that the open end can be tilted up so all of the contents held within come spilling out in a massive heap. In other words, a dump truck is basically the construction equivalent to what happens to your house after your kids have been in it for five minutes – stuff is just left heaped right in the middle of your clean house for no apparent reason.

There are about a dozen different types of dump trucks and some of them have the ability to carry just staggering amounts of material, but this is just a primer – feel free to hit up Wikipedia if you really want to get into the nitty-gritty of dump truck models with your overlord (aka your small child).



So a bulldozer is actually kind of badass. Basically, this crazy claw-like machine comes along and just well, bulldozes things out of its way. Riding on some pretty sweet tracks, the bulldozer’s main job is to push gravel, sand or any other material out of the way so that the other machines can down to work. It can also scoop up the materials and cart them away using its claw. If you want to blow your kid’s mind, explain to them that bulldozers that are mini-sized for jobs in compact, urban environments are called calfdozers. Get it? Bulldozer, calfdozer. Only it’s not a joke.  And when the mess in their room gets too out of control, threaten to call in the bulldozer.



Cranes are also pretty cool – and really interesting to watch when they are hoisting things up in the air. It’s no wonder kids are pretty fascinated with them. Cranes are commonly used to lift heavy objects from either Point A to Point B – with Point B sometimes being extremely high. A really interesting fact about cranes – and one that is completely appropriate to share with your children – is that cranes were first used by the ancient Greeks. Yup – those ancient smartypants were using wooden cranes to construct buildings way back over 2500 years ago. Pretty cool and very educational. Also, a crane is what a wrecking ball (and therefore Miley Cyrus) is attached to… not so educational.


Concrete Mixers

So these are pretty easily identifiable – they are basically big trucks with drums that churn water and sand or gravel and cement into concrete. While concrete mixers come in a variety of sizes (including extremely small DIY size for home projects), on a construction site they are usually very large and somewhat conspicuous. Basically, it should probably be fairly easy for you to be able to point one out to your little hard-hat aficionado. When you do, be sure to explain that there are sharp blades inside the drum continuously churning the concrete in order to stop the concrete from becoming solid. When it’s time for the concrete to be laid, the concrete mixer has a long chute that guides the mixture to the correct spot – and if the chute isn’t long enough to reach the area where the concrete needs to be poured, a series of pipes and pumps will be configured to get the mixture to the right spot. Pretty neat stuff!


Probably the coolest of all of the well-known construction vehicles (aka the ones you really care about identifying), an excavator is also called a digger – which is a perfect description of what it does. Basically, imagine a shovel attached to a long arm attached to a little cab. That’s pretty much an excavator. Used to dig or remove debris or earth from a construction site, excavators are very common on most construction sites, as well as anywhere mining is underway.

Fake It Til You Make It (or Admit Defeat and Google)

So there you go, you now have a little bit of construction vehicle knowledge to help you out the next time you’re faced with the inevitable (and unenviable) questions that will arise when you pass a construction site. Don’t be afraid to impress your kids with your new-found knowledge, although chances are they are still going to stump you pretty quickly with all the “hows” and “whys” that are sure to follow any information you choose to share. But just remember, if all else fails, you can always just whip out your phone and Google away – your kids already know that you don’t know it all, so why not just teach them how to use the all-knowing internet already? After all, it won’t be long until you’re calling them to help you figure out the newest craze in technology – why not give them a head start on teaching you new things now? Just don’t let them Google top songs of 1999 – Sisqo should stay our little secret.