ATTEND A CLASS
* Next project: To be announced.
* Where: All Lowe's stores in Chattanooga, Dalton and Cleveland.
* When: 10-11 a.m. Saturday, Feb. 8.
* Cost: Free.
* Ages: Toddlers to early elementary.
* Register: lowesbuildandgrow.com
* Next project: Build a (wooden) race car.
* Where: All Home Depot stores in Chattanooga, Dalton and Cleveland.
* When: 9 a.m.-noon. Saturday, Feb. 1.
* Cost: All materials provided free; participants can take home their project.
* Ages: 5-12.
* Register: workshops.homedepot.com/workshops/kids-workshops.
TAKE IT HOME
Lowe's and Home Depot both offer special kid-friendly, ready-to-build kits. Options include fire trucks ($6, Lowe's), bird houses ($9.97, Home Depot), tool boxes ($18, Lowe's), rocking horses ($37, Home Depot) and doll houses ($197, Home Depot).
Kits come with all necessary pieces, but you must use your own tools to put them together. Lowe's offers a 20-piece, kid-size tool kit ($15) that is specifically designed for its Build and Grow projects.
TOOL TIPS FOR YOUNG TINKERERS
Childhood creative development website BuiltByKids.com offers the following guidelines to abide by when teaching children to use tools:
• Teach your child how a tool is supposed to be used so they know how to employ it safely. If inappropriate use could be potentially dangerously, be sure to show them how it should not be used. Examples: Only using a stapler in the closed and locked positions; choosing the right screwdriver for the right type of screw.
• After they're done with a tool, teach your child how to properly and safely store it. By helping them associate each tool with its proper place in your workspace, you'll create good habits and save yourself a lot of time and unnecessary clutter.
• Safety first. Be sure your child knows the proper safety precautions to take and how and when to use safety equipment when performing various tasks -- eye protection while cutting, drilling or hammering, ear protection around louder tools.
To some parents, putting a hammer in a child's hands sounds like the prelude to a destructive nightmare, but if they are properly supervised, helping youngsters learn to use tools safely has its upside.
National home improvement chains offer monthly workshops that teach kids the tricks of the tool trade with easy-to-build projects under the guidance of sales associates.
And if parents needed more incentive to drag their kids from the couch to the workbench, the entire experience is free, from registration to the finished products, which participants can take home with them. Even the aprons and safety glasses -- both kid-size -- are complimentary.
"A lot of times, it's the first time the kids have put a hammer in their hands. You can hear them all over the store. They're just beating and banging," says Steve Underwood, manager of the Home Depot in Hixson, where 70 to 90 children participate in the store's monthly Kids Workshops.
Since Home Depot began offering the workshops in 1997, participants have completed more than 36 million projects, Underwood says.
Lowe's began offering its own kid-oriented events, known as the Build and Grow clinics, in 2001.
On Saturday morning, Tim Cunningham, 44, and his 6-year-old son Gabe attended the Kids Workshop at the Home Depot near their home in Hixson. There, Gabe built a calendar that now sits on the desk he uses when bei.ng home-schooled by his mother, Heidi Cunningham. The workshop was an excellent chance to bond, his father says. "I told Gabe about it because I knew it'd be something he'd enjoy," he says. "He and I like to get out and do what he likes to call a 'Man Day,' so we ate breakfast and then ... that kicked it off a little bit."
The projects are designed for participants ranging from toddlers to preteens and typically can be completed in 30 minutes or less, depending on how much Mom or Dad helps out. For some budding builders, the workshops become a tradition, Underwood says.
"We have kids who have it on their calendar and will wake Mommy and Daddy up on Saturday morning and say, 'Hey, it's time to go to the Home Depot,'" he says, laughing. "It gives them something to do to get out of the house instead of sitting on the couch and playing video games."
Lowe's and Home Depot have streamlined the build kits to require a minimal amount of tools and techniques, typically a bit of hammering, sanding and a bit of painting. Past projects kids have tackled include entry-level fare such as birdhouses and toolboxes as well as tie-ins linked to popular films including "Planes" and the "Madagascar" series.
Once they've hammered in the final, tiny nail, participants in either program receive a certificate of completion and a collectible pin or a patch to mark their success.
For many, however, the most cherished takeaway is intangible, says Lowe's spokesperson Karen Cobb.
"We've found that it's very rewarding for children because there's a sense of accomplishment at building something with their hands that they can take home," Cobb says.
Not that the pins go unappreciated, she adds.
"It's not uncommon for us to receive letters from parents and from children who have taken the aprons they received and sewn on all the patches they've received. It's quite a popular activity."
Contact Casey Phillips at email@example.com or 423-757-6205. Follow him on Twitter at @PhillipsCTFP.
Casey Phillips has worked as a features reporter in the Life department since May 2007. He writes about entertainment, consumer technology, animals and news of the weird. Casey hails from Knoxville and earned a bachelor of science degree in journalism and a bachelor of arts in German from Middle Tennessee State University, where he worked as the features editor for the student newspaper, Sidelines. Casey's writing has earned numerous accolades, including first and second place ...