What is a Child Theme?

This is an explanation of child themes, like those used in Genesis. A good WordPress theme consists of this 2-part system and I recommend everyone use a parent/child theme combination.

what is a child theme

These types of themes consist of two layers: the main “parent” theme underneath (like Genesis*) and the “child” theme on top (like Midnight) on top. The “parent” theme provides the main structure and the “child” theme allows design customization.

If you don’t use a child theme, not only do you run the risk of messing up the functionality every time you edit your design, you will also have to re-do your customizations every time you update or upgrade. Not fun.

An analogy to explain child themes

Image you want to paint a beautiful piece of artwork to display in your living room. You have two choices. You can paint directly on the wall, or you can paint on a canvas.

Painting directly on the wall would be risky, wouldn’t it? Because if you make a mistake, you would have to redo the whole wall. Also, if you move to a new house, you would have to repaint the artwork on your new living room wall.

However, if you paint on a canvas, a mistake would only require a new canvas, not a new wall. Second, if you move, you can simply take the canvas with you and rehang it on your new wall. Simple.

It’s the same with themes built on a framework. Making customizations to a parent theme (i.e. a theme without a child theme) is like painting directly on your living room wall.

But customizing a child theme, is like painting on a canvas. With a child theme, there’s less to mess up and you won’t have to “repaint” (i.e. make your customizations all over again) when you upgrade. (And plan on upgrading because there are new updates for WordPress all the time.)

I recommend using a child theme, but not all themes come with a child theme. The default WordPress theme, Twenty Eleven, for example, doesn’t. Twenty Eleven is a handy theme to use for something basic and straightforward. It’s nice because it comes pre-installed with WordPress. The good news is, you can create a child theme easy enough.

How to Create a Child Theme for Twenty Eleven


Can’t see the video? Watch it here.

Video Notes

1. Fire up FTP. Here’s how to use FTP.

2. Navigate to your “themes” folder on the server side. Your themes folder is located in “wp-content.”

3. In your themes folder, create a new folder called “twentyelevenchild.”

4. Now create a style.css file to put into your twentyelevenchild folder. Do this by opening up your basic text editor application on your computer. This might be TextEdit, Notepad or something similar.

5. Open up a new document in your basic text editor (like Notepad or TextEdit) and paste the following code into it (grab everything including asterisks, brackets, etc.):

/*
Theme Name: Twenty Eleven Child Theme
Description: Child theme for Twenty Eleven
Author: Amy Lynn Andrews
Author URI: http://BloggingWithAmy.com
Template: twentyeleven
*/
@import url(“../twentyeleven/style.css”);
body {
background: #333;
}

6. Make sure the file is in plain text format and save the file as (name it) style.css. (Save it in a folder on your computer where you can find it.)

7. Go back to your FTP. Navigate on the left side of your FTP screen (“your side”) to the style.css file you just saved.

8. Click and drag that file into the twentyelevenchild folder you created above on your server side.

9. Go back to your WordPress Dashboard –> Appearance –> Themes. You should now see your Twenty Eleven Child Theme listed as an available theme. Activate it.

10. View your site. If you kept the code above as I wrote it, you should see your site refresh with a dark gray background, indicating your child theme is active and working.

Congratulations, you did it!

Further Reading:

If you’d like more technical details and explanation, check out Creating a Simple Child Theme Using Twenty Eleven.

Here’s the theme I use and recommend and why.

*There are affiliate links in this post.

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