Every parent’s dream is that their kids will love to learn. We want them to be inquisitive, not just in school but also in their day-to-day lives.
But do we provide them with opportunities outside of school to learn? With so many of our children learning at home, what have we done to help them explore science directly – in a hands-on way?
Taking it further, how many of the gifts your kids received last holiday season are still being played with today? How many had an impact on a loved one’s future?
We give gifts for a variety of reasons, but underlying them all is a common thread: we care for children, and we want them not only to have fun but to succeed going forward in their lives. If you think installing a love of science and technology in a child is important, I have a gift idea for you.
In 2021, you really should consider getting them a STEM subscription box gift.
What’s a Monthly STEM Subscription Box, and Who Needs It?
I recently learned about these educational subscription toys (known as STEM subscription boxes), and I’ve come to be a big believer. In short, every month you get a new educational toy or kit in the mail. Inside the package will be everything you need – there will be parts and directions on how to complete the art, science, technology, or engineering experiment for that month.
It’s important to match the box to the age level of the child. Luckily, there are a wide variety of suppliers so you can buy an educational toy subscription suited for young toddlers of 2 or 4-year-old all the way through high school teens. Most companies will tilt their subscription boxes for kids in a certain direction. Some focus on coding projects while others might have stem projects focused on budding engineers. They might concentrate on the engineering design process, for example.
This does make it a little difficult to figure out your options on your own. That’s why we took it upon ourselves to do hands-on reviews of as many different science subscription gift box products as possible. (Disclosure: We asked all of the providers on the list for free review copies. Most complied. While this didn’t affect our stance on any client, we thought you should know. The reviewers didn’t know which company provided free boxes. However, we did allow the writers to keep the sample boxes free of charge to repay them for their hard work.)
The following table provides an overview of whom each product is ideal for:
- Love exploring science, art and engineering?
- Feel comfortable with print and online instructions?
- Fall between the ages of 5 -8 years old?
- Enjoy learning about the world around them?
- Want to learn about different cultures and traditions?
- Is aged 3 to 12 years old?
- Enjoy learning about science through hands-on experiements?
- Seem more into building than theory?
- Is aged 9 to 17?
- Looks forward to art projects while expanding their knowledge of the world around them?
- Is aged 2-10?
- Fall between the ages of 3 and 4?
- Love learning by playing and doing?
- Like creating with their hands?
- Looking to do some good old science experiments – with guidance from a master experimenter?
- Is from 5 to 12 years old?
- Excited to tackle DIY activities about geography, history, foods, and other cultural customs?
- Learning more about the world on a country-by-country basis?
- Is 6 to 11 years old?
- Want to combine art and technology in creative ways?
- Is aged 9 to 17?
- Super-excited to learn how to code in a fun, innovative way?
- Is aged 6 to 12?
- Looking for some fun electronics projects to build – that they can use afterward every day?
- Is aged 11 & up?
Which Science Technology Engineering Gift Subscription Should You Buy?
I don’t want to step on the detailed reviews we did on each company’s product (which we’ve linked to in the table above)…but here’s a spoiler.
Each child reviewer loved their stem activities/subscription boxes. All of them.
Now, the kids didn’t know they were reviewing. They were just playing. But their parent was keeping track of what they did and how they liked it. When the results came back, every child said they enjoyed their box.
This makes for not-so-dramatic review material, but it’s good news for you if you are looking to give a gift. At least from our experience, your child should be able to LOVE their science kits. Of course, we took the time to match the child to the box. That is, we figured out what traits each student reviewer had, and did our best to align them with the strengths of the particular subscription box.
The monthly stem boxes you buy will depend on the children you buy the science kit for. The following sections will help you to make a choice based on some broad categories. Remember, we have product-by-product reviews available if you want to get a first-hand look at what each company provides. These are just high-level categorizations.
Best STEM subscription boxes broken down by age groups
The easiest and quickest cut is by age groups. If you don’t know much else about the child than when they were born, it’s a good starting point.
STEM subscription boxes for 2-4-year-olds
If you need a gift for a toddler, both Green Kid Crafts and Koala Kids have products for you. At this age, the products are less about science per se and more about encouraging learning in general. There is also more emphasis on STEAM projects than STEM projects – so art has a more prominent place in these kits. For example, our Koala Kit was music-focused. The projects include items to make a xylophone and tambourine in that subscription service.
STEM box subscriptions for 5-8 year olds
With early school-aged children, the amount of choices available expands. There still are subscription boxes for kids with more emphasis on craft and art. Green Kid Crafts and Kiwi Crate both have STEAM projects that are more holistic.
There are a few choices for kids in this age group that emphasize science and engineering projects. Amazon’s STEM Club and Spangler STEMdeluxe are good box options that will fit the bill if that’s what your child shows more interest in.
You can begin to look at BitsBox with a child in this age range as well. While a parent might have to help out a beginning 5 or 6-year-old coder with some of the projects, there are children in that age range who will have no problem completing the coding on their own. This shouldn’t be an issue for kids 7 years of age or up in our opinion.
Educational toy subscriptions for 9-13-year-olds
I think this is really the sweet spot for STEM box gift subscriptions. There will be some children that are ready to tackle more traditional science, technology and engineering problems at this age. Others will still be looking to activities with more emphasis on fun, yet still open to learning.
Doodle Crate is perfect for anyone over 9 years old that shows interest in art. When I’ve vacationed in Door County our family will occasionally go to the Hands-on Art Studio. The Doodle Crate project lineup reminds me of many of the activities our family has enjoyed on lazy summer days in the past.
My 17-year old daughter had as much fun creating a textured clay luminary as my 9-year-old son. (Ssshh – don’t let her know I said I saw her having fun!)
Little Passports has a progressive program, in that one lesson builds upon the last, which is targeted at this age group. If you are pretty sure the child you are thinking about is in love with science and learning, this is a great way to keep them engaged with your gift going forward.
BitsBox is a great choice for students at this age that are attracted more to computers than other areas of STEM. It quickly allows even beginning budding programmers to create apps that actually do something rather than print “Hello,World!” on a screen. Our sample box had enough variety to keep a 9 year old entertained for hours. He created a digital doodle book to draw on; he rescued rockets and then changed it on his own to zombies.
It’s a perfect choice for when a child has outgrown a block-based language like Scratch and wants to jump to type-based coding. The cards included give enough hints to help a child figure out on his or her own how code can be modified to make a game completely different. I highly recommend it for someone showing interest in programming but not yet learning a real language like Python.
The Atlas Crate is a subscription gift box aimed at children interested in geography, history and the social sciences. If you have a child in mind that is interested in places around the world and the people that live there, this is a product you should check out. It’s relatively new on the market but as mentioned in our hands-on review it really holds the interest of geography buffs.
STEMdeluxe by Steve Spangler Science Club is targeted to this group as well. It’s a very thorough program, with multiple experiments to keep both the child and helper adult entertained throughout the month. These are more traditional ‘sciencey’ experiments. For example, one of the included experiments is an updated version of “sink or float”. Our 10-year-old helper had a blast trying this one out and eventually solving one of the questions asked by the guide.
Tinker Crate puts more emphasis on leading with the engineering learning portion of STEM education. This is a perfect gift for the kid who loves Legos but wants them to do more. While it is recommended for 9 and up, our 9 years old had fun building the included Hydraulic Claw lesson with some help from his high school-aged brother. This is a great idea for the child that likes robotics or wants to have something to hold in their hand when done that does something “cool” – like move or throw and object. If that sounds like the girl or boy you have in mind, make sure you check it out.
STEM toys and kits for high school students and adults
Before I begin my aside/rant, the product kits below are targeted at high school students. They definitely would hold the attention of your average high school kid every month with any science bent.
One of the great things about the time we live in is learning doesn’t have to stop when you become an adult. We can make learning one of our hobbies. It’s my belief through experience that a continued passion to learn is a great anti-aging elixir. People seem “old” when they deny themselves the chance to learn by succumbing to a whole litany of excuses why they can’t. Eventually, other people believe them.
Therefore don’t deny yourself learning play, just because you no longer are forced to go to school. If any of these descriptions seem like they’d be fun for yourself, give it a try for a month or two.
As mentioned earlier – the Doodle Crate is perfectly age-appropriate for older teens and adults (like parents!). Hands-on creatives will get projects working in clay, wood, wax among other mediums. I could see this being a perfect stress reliever for a college student that needs a break from studying to work with their hands.
Creation Crate is primarily targeted at older learners – though some middle schoolers could probably handle the projects on their own. As always, it depends on the person. Their 2.0 launch is about to happen shortly so there may be a few changes – if so I’ll update this article to let you know.
The current program involves hands-on electronics and programming experience through an Ardunio and using a breadboard, wires, and components. It’s great for adventurous middle-school children all the way through adults.
What I particularly like about this program is the flexibility of the platform – there are so many fun things you can build with an Ardunio that there no ceiling where you eventually become too experienced and outgrow it. As an example, here’s a Halloween prop I created this year on my own – but any child could create the same thing after learning using CreationCrate for a while and applying the knowledge elsewhere.
This is a great intro to electronics for adults as well. It’s a good starting point to get your feet wet, and get a grasp on what is possible. You can do this at a relatively inexpensive cost. If you find you enjoy microprocessor programming, you can then take it up a notch and try more involved projects.
Tinker Crate is aimed at this older group as well. When I saw the first kit I thought “Man, where was this when I was in high school.” My second thought was I could still play with it today – but then my children took hold of the box and began getting to work on it.
On Tinker Crate’s website, the highlighted sample crate is a Trebuchet. Flinging ping pong balls and learning about levers and pulleys at the same time – what’s not to love?
Best STEM boxes grouped by learning principles
While taking ages into account is very important, we’ve also broken down the choices by experiment focus. As with most things in life, there is some blurring across the category lines. An engineering-focused gift will necessarily have elements of science utilized, for example.
Keeping that in mind, here’s a quick bullet list of subscription services based on the area of primary focus. We’ve ordered them within the lists by ages.
Art-focused STEAM box subscriptions
- Koala Crate
- Green Kid Crafts
- Kiwi Crate
- Doodle Crate
Engineering learning STEM box subscriptions
- Amazon STEM Club
- Tinker Crate
Programming-focused STEM box gifts
- Creation Crate
Science-focused STEM subscriptions
- Spangler Science Club STEMdeluxe
- Little Passports
- Amazon STEM Club
- Atlas Crate