Location: Your local Lowe’s. We attended a clinic at the Lowe’s in Topeka, Kansas, but the clinics are available nationwide.
Peanut loves Bob the Builder. Loves. He also loves tools, “building,” and all sorts of construction-related activities. I’d heard of Lowe’s Build and Grow Clinics through his godmother, who takes her two sons to them fairly often, and decided to give it a shot. After all, the clinic’s free, so what the heck, right?
You can sign up for the clinics at Lowe’s Web site (it can be hard to find the Build and Grow site, so I recommend using the link above), or, based on our experience in Topeka, you can just walk in if there’s space. We signed up for a Game Show Chip Drop and headed over to the Topeka Lowe’s bright and early on April 14th. The Topeka clinic was held in the store’s receiving dock, so it was very accessible: we just had to navigate to the back corner of the store to access the dock.
We checked in and got our first surprise: Peanut got his very own Lowe’s apron! There’s a space at the top to put his name, pockets for tools, and, when you finish the clinic, you get iron-on patches (kind of like scouting) to iron on your apron to show what you’ve done. They also have safety goggles at the tables, and your kiddo can have a pair of those as well (we skipped that part). We picked up our Build and Grow kit and headed to a table.
At this point we got our second surprise: you’re really on your own to build the kit. There was a Lowe’s employee at the desk signing kids in, handing out kits and certificates (the kids get their patch and a Certificate of Merit when they’re done), but there weren’t any employees at the tables guiding the kids through the construction project. This actually worked out well for us. The kit comes with really easy instructions (there are very clear pictures) and everything’s pre-cut/drilled, so it’s pretty straight-forward. Since you’re the one helping your kiddo build, you can set the pace to your kid’s needs.
Lowe’s recommends that kids be ages 5 and up for their clinics, and the tables are sized accordingly: they were a bit high for Peanut to be able to see over the top easily. There were, however, kids of all ages there, and many parents solved the table-height problem by having their kids sit on the tables while they worked on the project. There was a lot of noise–both from people talking and tons of hammering–and the noise echoed a bit because of the nature of the space. Peanut was definitely overwhelmed and intimidated by the noise at first–it took some cajoling to get him over to the table.
I think the trick is to find parts of the project that your kiddo can do. The hammering was definitely too hard for Peanut (the nails are tiny, and the little pegs were only slightly bigger, and there was no way I was holding either while a toddler with a hammer swung at the small target and my significantly larger fingers), but there were parts of the project he could happily do. Another mom who doubles as a preschool teacher showed me the trick of pulling the border off of the sticker sheet (all of the white stuff around the pictures–you leave the stickers and take off the extra) so the stickers were easier for little fingers to grab. Peanut then happily put the stickers on both sides of the chips while I hammered in the pegs. There’s a piece of plexiglass across the front of the chip drop; Peanut was more than able to help pull the brown sticky protector off of the plexiglass. (Plexiglass has brown paper stuck to both sides so it doesn’t get scratched, etc. while it’s being cut and installed.) He was good at sliding pieces into place in the pre-cut grooves, and he did pretty well at following instructions.
Lowe’s offers all sorts of Build and Grow Clinics, and they’re all free. The clinics are held in-store twice a month, or you can always buy a kit and do it at home whenever you’d like. All told, I do recommend the clinics with a caveat: you know your kid best. Take a look at the clinics listed online, and pick one that you think will both interest him/her and will be adaptable to his/her abilities. Be prepared for noise and to adapt the project for your kid on the fly. Since nothing is brailled, you will need to guide your kiddo through the project, so be prepared for that as well. If you’re anxious, take a deep breath and give it a shot: the clinics are free, so you won’t be out any $ for going if it doesn’t work out, and your child will get a wonderful feeling of accomplishment if things go well.