We are all aware of how important it is to encourage and nurture the love of learning in our children. But when you think back to gifts you’ve given in the past, how many of them actually help further that goal?
Taking it farther, how many of the gifts your children received last holiday season are still being played with today? How many had an impact on 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.
This Christmas season, you really need to consider a STEM subscription box gift.
What’s a STEM Box, and Who Needs It?
I just recently learned about these educational toys, 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 will be everything you need – there will be parts and directions on how to complete the engineering , science or computer experiment for that month.
You do need to match up the box to the age level of the child. But there are a wide variety of suppliers so you can buy an educational toy subscription suited for 2 or 4 year olds all the way through high school. Most companies will tilt their product a certain direction. Some focus on programming while others might be more towards budding engineers.
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.)
The following table provides an overview of whom each product is ideal for:
|Best For A Child That ...||Link||Our Hands-On Review|
|-For kids looking to explore science, art and engineering|
-Comfortable with both print and online materials
|Discover More About Kiwi Crate||Our Kiwi Crate Review|
|-Enjoys hands-on science learning|
-More into building
-Ages 9 to High School
|More Information on Tinker Crate||Our Tinker Crate Review|
|-Is enthusiastic about learning|
-Has an inquisitive mind
|More Information on Koala Crate||Our Koala Crate Review|
|-Hands on science experiments that build from month to month|
-Ages 9+, but have other products for 3& up.
|Learn More About Little Passports|
|- Wants to focus on artistic creativity but not afraid of tech|
-Ages 9 through high school
|Discover More About Doodle Crate||Our Doodle Crate Review|
|-Likes both Art and Science Projects|
- Is looking for approx. 1 project a week
-Ages 2-4 and 5-10
|Visit Green Kid Crafts||Our Green Kid Crafts Review|
|- Aspiring computer programmers|
-Want to show off work to others
- Ages 6-14
|Discover More About BitsBox||Our BitsBox Review|
|-Is an electronics aficionado|
-Interested in augmented reality
-Ages 12 to adult
|More Information on Creation Crate|
|- Wants to pair up with an adult on STEM activities|
- Is looking for multiple experiments per week through a month
-Ages 5- 12
|Learn More About STEMdeluxe||Recently sold to another firm - hopefully new owners continue the quality levels.|
|-Looking for one large kit per month rather than smaller multiple kits|
- Focus on physics, chemistry and engineering
-Not sure how to give more than one month worth of subscription
|Check Price on Amazon|
Which STEM Toy Gift Subscription Should You Buy?
I don’t want to step on the detailed reviews we did one each company’s product (which we’ve linked to in the table above)…but here’s a spoiler.
Each child reviewer loved their product. 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 happy with the box material no matter which subscription educational box you buy. 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 engineering toy subscription.
The gift you buy will depend on the child you buy it 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 box broken down by age
The easiest and quickest cut is by age. If you don’t know much else about the child than when they were born, it’s a good starting point.
STEM toy subscriptions 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 say and more about encouraging learning in general. There is also more emphasis on STEAM than STEM – so art has a more prominent place in these kits. For example, our Koala Kit was music-focused. The kit included items to make a xylophone and tambourine.
STEM box subscriptions for 5-8 year olds
With early school-aged children, the amount of choices available expands. There still are choices with more emphasis on craft and art. Green Kid Crafts and Kiwi Crate both have subscriptions that are more holistic.
There are a few choices for kids in this age group that emphasize science and engineering. Amazon’s STEM Club and Spangler STEMdeluxe 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 will have no problem completing the coding on their own. This shouldn’t be an issue for kids 7 year 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 the 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 have 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.
STEMdeluxe by 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 year 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 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 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. 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 subscription box grouped by learning area focus
While taking age into account is very important, we’ve also broken down the choices by primary 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 age.
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
The good news is two-fold. First, there are a lot of choices to match the fit of the product to your child’s interests. Additionally, our experience with the field of available boxes was nothing but positive. So if our sample is any indication, you’ll be happy with the quality no matter what product you go with.
Of course, you still need to make sure the STEM gift box you choose matches your child’s age and interests. Hopefully our overview helps with that task. Once you’ve limited the choices down a bit, read our individual hands-on reviews for more details on each product.