PERRYSBURG, Ohio – For Bill and Kelisa Boden, 200,000 Legos are the building blocks of a new business.
The couple recently opened Build It, a hands-on educational center that uses Legos, K’Nex, and Duplo to motivate children to learn basic scientific principles.
“Tying in science, technology, engineering, and math is our main goal,” said Kelisa Boden, a fifth-grade teacher. “We try to make it fun and educational at the same time.”
Tracy Huziak-Clark, an associate professor of science education at Bowling Green State University, said hands-on activities, such as through the use of Legos and K’Nex, engage students in a way that traditional teaching methods don’t.
“Anytime students are able to be creative, work collaboratively, and create something it really builds on their learning,” Huziak-Clark said. “Getting their hands dirty stimulates parts of the brain that aren’t reached through just listening.”
Each wall of Build It is dedicated to a specific area of science, including earth and space, life, and physical sciences. The walls are brightly painted with colors specifically matched to colors used by Lego.
During a recent class designed for children in kindergarten through fifth grade, the youngsters were tasked with building cars from Legos. Then using a ramp, the children tested their cars for distance traveled, precision, and durability. Youngsters were then encouraged to alter their designs to help improve the results.
“My favorite part is that the kids wow me,” Kelisa Boden said. “I’m just amazed by what they put together. When I give the kids a challenge I’m never sure what to expect, but they amaze me.”
Classes are offered Mondays through Thursdays. Separate classes for preschoolers and their parents are on Tuesdays. Build It hosts a family fun night on the last Friday of every month. Prices for classes start at $8 per class or $30 per month.
The idea behind Build It stemmed from a Lego club that Kelisa Boden formed at the elementary school where she teaches with input from her own children – Ethan, 8, Andrew, 7, and Abby, 5.
The Bodens wanted their children to get involved in some type of after-school activity, but they weren’t interested in sports, art classes or any of the other activities they tried. “We just couldn’t find their niche,” Kelisa Boden said.
One of her children suggested a Lego club, and since one didn’t exist, Mrs. Boden started one with support from the school that initially drew more than 100 children.
But that was just the beginning.
Last year, Bill Boden found out that the company he worked for was moving to Chicago. The Bodens didn’t want to move their family, so Boden, who has a background in accounting, decided to start a business.
Together, they decided to build on the success of Lego club. They opened Build It a few months later.
“Our biggest hope now is to just start growing it,” Bill Boden said.
Even though the turnout for classes since Build It’s December opening hasn’t quite reached their initial expectations, the Bodens found surprising success in birthday parties. The center is booked solid through April and parties are scheduled as far out as July, Bill Boden said, noting it was a secondary focus “that kind of took off.”
The Boden children also play a role in Build It, helping their parents out in the center and even designing some of the party favors.
In addition to the Bodens, Build It has a teacher who facilitates the preschool classes.
The Bodens said they’re optimistic about the future, already planning on summer camps with themes such as Stars Wars and rocket ships. They also are planning a dream house theme in hopes of reaching more girls. Kelisa Boden estimates about 25 percent of the children signed up for classes so far are girls.
And since they like building with Legos themselves, the Bodens hope to eventually schedule times when parents can bring their children to get help assembling kits that Lego offers.
“It’s kind of nice that it’s off to a slow start, because we can learn as we go,” Kelisa Boden said.