For the to-do list: kids’ programs at home improvement stores

We’ve seen Mr. Lee at Lowe’s about two dozen times in the past year. our most recent project was a wooden castle.

Like most parents, I’m always seeking reasonably-priced or free activities for my son and I, especially those that will teach him new skills or bring him into contact with new ideas. One activity we’ve been doing for a couple of years now is taking part in children’s programming at regional home improvement stores. These free programs teach children basic skills of assembly and woodworking, and help kids gain conficence when they complete projects.

Sadly, most stores don’t market these programs very aggressively – which is why they’re being discussed here.

Lowe’s Build and Grow Clinics

Of all the kid building programs offered locally, Lowe’s hosts these programs the most often. Their Build and Grow program allows the first 50 kids to register the opportunity to build a free wooden toy from a kit supplied by Lowe’s. The kids are given aprons they can keep, along with patches for each completed project and a certificate bearing their name commemorating their accomplishments. The store also lends safety goggles and hammers, which is all of the tools these kits require.

Typically, Lowe’s holds two of these clinics per month, for kids of ages 6 to 11. The most recent kit was a wooden castle with kinghts, princesses and dragons punched out of card stock. The next scheduled kits will be a dinosaur (the Buildasaurus) and a Valentine’s Day card creator.

Since the clinics are restricted to 50 kids, registration is required; to register, visit the Lowe’s Build and Grow Web site. You’ll need to enter your name, address and phone number, along with the names and ages of kids attending. You’ll also need to provide your postal code, so that the site can locate the nearest Lowe’s store with available registration slots. A couple of days before the scheduled clinic, Lowe’s will send you a reminder about the project and provide a link for printing a waiver you’ll need to print, sign and bring with you. The clinics start promptly at 10 a.m.

The kits are generally easy to assemble, as they are provided with printed directions showing how the pieces are put together, and color codes indicate what size nails to use at which points during assembly. We have had some occasions, though, when having a largely featureless piece turned or facing the wrong direction before nailing it made completion of a kit more difficult or even impossible, so try to dry fit all of the pieces first, just to get an idea of how they all fit together and to make sure all the pre-drilled holes line up.

Home Depot Kids’ Workshops

Home depot offers a similar program, held from 9 a.m. until noon on the first Saturday of each month for kids ages 5 to 12. Registration is not required, and parents can bring their children to the store at any convenient time within that three-hour block. by visiting the Kids’ Workshop portion of the Home Depot Web site, you can see in advance what the next project is (at the time of this writing, the site doesn’t yet have the February offering posted; last year, it was a heart-shaped, wooden shelf for Valentine’s Day).

Participating kids receive a free apron and a commemorative pin they can put on their aprons with each finished project.

Generally, the kits at Home Depot are simpler in concept and assembly than those from Lowe’s, but the kits are usually made of solid wood (instead of soft plywood, like the kits at Lowe’s) and the finished projects are correspondingly more durable. We have a wooden pencil case the Lad built before starting Kindergarten 18 months ago that is still in service.

Another aspect of the Home Depot kits I rather like is that they make use of wood glue. It does make the assembly process a bit slower and messier, but using glue accomplishes two things I think are important: woodworkers use glue all the time, sometimes to the exclusion of metal fasteners, and using glue helps make the finished project sturdier.

Do you know of any other stores offering free services like these? If you do, please consider sharing them with other readers by replying to this post.





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