I’ve been meaning to do this for a while, but over the next couple of posts, I’m going to review all of the subscription boxes we’ve tried out this year (see yesterday for two cooking-themed ones that I recommend). Subscription boxes are really big these days, and because our charter school lets us spend some of our educational funds on educational subscriptions, I’ve gone ahead and tried out a bunch of them. Like all kids, mine do get bored on long summer days, and I like having some activities I can throw at them and let them do. We do plenty of free coloring, lego building, pretend play, and the like, so a box kit is our family’s answer to a formal summer camp. The little kid boxes are also great for entertaining my littles while I’m trying to homeschool my big kids.
The problem is, while you can kinda see from a website what is included in a box, it’s hard to know until you handle it whether it is well-done or suited to your kids. By then it’s too late, because you’re stuck with 6 or 12 months of the thing. And when I search for reviews of these things online, they’re almost universally written by people who were sent a free box in exchange for a review. They’re almost always glowing, and my experience definitely doesn’t match up with theirs. So I’m not going to get a commission off of any of these things, and I’m going to tell you the good, the bad, and the ugly of each one.
Before I begin, let me say that for kits intended for preschool and lower elementary kids, I fully expect to be pretty hands-on with the activities. Open-ended play and the ability to repeat are high on my wish list. Kudos if they include all the supplies we need for the projects, not just a list telling me I can go find paint and bubble wrap and make a craft with them. Pinterest can tell me that. If I’m spending money on a box kit, I don’t want to have to run to Michael’s for supplies.
I’ll start with my favorite discovery of the past two years (pictured above)–Ivy Kids! These amazing kits, aimed at preschool through about second grade, are themed around a quality children’s book and have over a dozen art and math and literacy activities inspired by the book. I can’t tell you how much we love these kits. As soon as one comes in the mail, all other activity in the home stops. We immediately open it, read the book, and dive into the activities. I have been really happy with the book selection thus far, and the activities are well-thought out and appeal to my 4, 6, and 8 year olds. There’s always something involving paint, which they love, always some games (using various kinds of dice or matching cards, etc), usually a poster or two (we’ve learned about types of Australian animals, different 3-dimensional shapes, the life cycles of ladybugs, the difference between hedgehogs and porcupines, and the list goes on), and then lots of mathy games using different math manipulatives such as color tiles, geoboards, and the like. Often there’s a stuffed animal or blow-up toy to go with the theme. Everything, down to the glue, is included in the box, and for a mere $5/month, you can get double the craft supplies for another sibling. Usually there’s enough of the paint or whatever for me to add in my own paper and have all the kids (and even some friends) do the art project (handprint/fingerprint trees, etc), as well. On the inside cover of a box is a picture of all the activities, and there’s a full lesson plan (with scaffolding for older or younger kids) of each activity. Essentially, it’s preschool or kindergarten in a box. We have been getting one per month all year, and we still have tons of play left in most of the boxes. At $39/month (with a slight discount for longer subscriptions), it is a steal. I couldn’t go to the store and buy all the supplies myself for under $40, and the replay value of many of the activities is well worth it. Yes, I could get on pinterest and string together lesson plans themed around a book, but these are so clearly-written and well done that I won’t bother. Yes, this subscription is pricey, but it is well worth it. I will continue to buy it until my youngest is 8, even if I no longer get to use my charter school funds on it. I will no longer buy any formal curriculum for preschool or K–this is enough, with our good old phonics book added in once they’re ready for that. You can browse and purchase past boxes here, and I’d recommend just trying one out if you’re looking for some inside activities for your little ones this summer.
Moving to a total dud, Little Passports was one of those fun ideas I’ve wanted to try for years. I think they’re one of the first subscription model kits out there, and I was so underwhelmed with them. For $15/month plus shipping, you get a few pieces of paper, a junky toy, and a couple stickers to add to your around-the-world suitcase and map. I like the idea of learning about geography through stories from different countries, but this concept was half-baked and too advanced (worksheet activity-wise) for my little kids but not enough content for my bigger kids. We open it, read and look at it for 15 minutes, and are done.
For a better geography-themed kit, try Cultured Owl. For $30 (with discount for multi-month packages), you get a booklet about the country (written to actually engage a second grader’s interest), a flag, a recipe from that country (usually for something that my kids really liked–fondue was a big hit!), and a few fun art projects inspired by that country (with all supplies included). Unlike Little Passports, there are enough activities to keep kids occupied for a whole afternoon (or more), and I think my kids have actually retained information about each country.
Green Kids Crafts are little boxes arranged around a science type theme. For $19.95/month (or $24.95 on amazon), you get several little art/craft activities that are honestly more display-oriented (eg, making a little model ocean in a bottle) than experiment- or skill-based. My kids (mainly the K and 2nd grader) have enjoyed them, but to be honest, one Ivy Kids box has three or four times as many activities (many of which include reusable pieces) for just twice the price. Green Kids boxes aren’t bad, but they only occupy my kids for an afternoon.
This summer, we just tried Compass Crate, $30/single box, or $25/month, with outdoor/adventure type themes. Aesthetically, these really appeal to me, as does the fact that the company is run by two homeschooling moms with a combined 8 kids, so they totally “get” our family’s lifestyle and goals. There are only three crafts (plus some little info cards), but they’re more open-ended (our most recent hiking/exploring box had us making a compass, decorating a walking stick, and decorating a nature journal–last month we made a flower press, which obviously we can still use). Unlike the Green Kids crafts, which you do and then toss away, these crafts are intended to have you embrace the theme and use the things you’ve made to go have adventures. So I love the idea, even though it’s pretty understated. It’s easy to run with the inspiration and use their resources for my whole range of ages. But again, if you just have little ones, I’d still pick Ivy Kids first to get the most bang for your buck.
Okay, I’m going to hold off on the big kid (8-12 range) boxes and do a separate post on those tomorrow! Has your family tried any subscription boxes?