There’s a lot of pressure being the World’s Best Parent (or uncle in my case).
Now that my niece (1) and nephew (3) live nearby, I don’t want my play time with them always being mindless activities just meant to take up time. While they’re growing up so fast, I want to be a catalyst for their learning and development.
As a parent, I’m sure you relate and probably feel that pressure more than I do.
So it was good timing when I discovered a company called KiwiCo.
Here’s what their website says.
KiwiCo was created to celebrate kids’ natural creativity and curiosity, while helping parents who want to bring enriching experiences to their children.
They do this by sending you a “crate” every month with a STEAM-inspired (Science, Technology, Engineering, Art, and Math) project. They currently have five lines of crates:
- Cricket Crate (Ages 0-2)
- Koala Crate (Ages 3-4)
- Kiwi Crate (Ages 5-8)
- Tinker Crate (Ages 9-16+)
- Doodle Crate (Ages 9-16+)
You pick the line that best fits your kid, and they promise to deliver hands-on fun and learning every month.
I was intrigued by the idea of a self-contained, educational activity-in-a-box, but I had some questions.
- How interesting would the activity be to my nephew?
- Would it really be educational?
- Is it worth the money (a monthly subscription)?
To answer those questions, I admittedly went a little buck wild.
I enlisted the help of friends and family with kids of different ages and shipped crates to Washington, Tennessee, and New York. Each kid got two crates so parents would have more “data points” to draw a conclusion from. Cricket Crates were left out of this review since they don’t ship until November 2017.
After each kid completed their crate, I received feedback from the parents and curated all their responses in this review.
So this review is a summary of five different reviewers (including myself).
Since it’s so beefy, I think you’re going to need this.
Table of Contents
- Is It Worth the Money?
- What’s There to Like?
- What Could Be Improved?
- Koala Crate Review (Ages 3-4)
- Kiwi Crate Review (Ages 5-8)
- Tinker Crate Review (Ages 9-16+)
- Doodle Crate Review (Ages 9-16+)
- How’s Their Customer Service?
- Insider Tips
- KiwiCo Alternatives
- Final Thoughts
Is It Worth the Money?
KiwiCo’s primary business model is a monthly subscription for $19.95 (with free shipping).
The general consensus from reviewers is that the crates are exceptionally well executed. They provide engaging activities with great instructions in a convenient package.
There was no debate on those points. The monthly cost, however, is where there was a little more “excitement.” ;)
Three of the five reviewers felt the monthly cost was worth it. One felt it was worth the occasional expense (once a quarter). And another only if the cost were closer to $10/month.
Ultimately, whether the crates are worth it come down to your priorities and budget.
Note: If you order your first crate using any of the links in this post, you’ll get a generous discount and I’ll get a small commission. I paid for all eight crates myself and believe I’ve written an unbiased and honest review.
For me, the educational convenience was absolutely worth it.
Liz, one of my reviewer friends, explained the convenience best.
She recently started buying groceries online. She knows groceries are more expensive online, but having them delivered to her door gives her the time to actually make dinner for her family. In the past, she’s gone grocery shopping in person but ran out of time to make dinner and brought home a ready-to-eat meal.
It was ridiculous to buy groceries but not have time to make dinner. –Liz (reviewer)
That’s a problem you won’t have with a KiwiCo subscription and why I find it valuable.
You don’t have to waste time searching Pinterest, flipping through idea books, searching Google, figuring out what would be age-appropriate and interesting (but not too difficult), and then buying the supplies.
A crate shows up at your door and you’re immediately ready to maximize quality time with your kid in a fun, engaging, and educational activity.
The last two crates I’ve done with my nephew have given me some really memorable times with him. As my sister would say, “melt my heart moments.”
Our evenings doing the box have been a blast, and the box has been the catalyst. -Angela (reviewer)
Another reviewer felt the subscription was worth it, surprisingly, because of the included magazine. In her words, the main activity is like candy (what the kids all want to do), while the magazine is like vegetables (where the learning or “nutrition” comes from). She really valued the additional activities and learning offered by the magazine.
If monthly isn’t in your budget, you can buy single crates from the store without a subscription.
That’s the perfect option for the reviewer who said the crates were worth the occasional expense. For example, once a quarter or as gifts to other mom friends. (I didn’t know this, but apparently moms like gifting these types of things. Who would’ve known!?)
What’s There to Like?
I asked all the parents what they liked about KiwiCo crates. Here are some of key points they made:
- Packaged nicely
- Clear instructions with well-designed visuals
- Activities were interesting
- Terrific end-product that kids want to keep or keep playing with
- Age-appropriate and not overly complicated
- Play-tested to the extreme
The last bullet point is probably the root of all the other bullet points. It’s clear a lot of research and intentionality goes into each crate.
For example, the Painted Canvas Pouches Doodle Crate requires the glue bottle have the right size opening. To make sure kids get the right size, the crate provided a spacer that sets the exact size needed. The crate also provided an extra canvas to practice on before going “live” on the actual pouches.
Those are the type of small details you don’t find in competing products.
KiwiCo instructions are also a visual delight. Like borderline I want to call them sexy. :) If you don’t like reading instruction manuals, these crates are for you! Rather than use too many words, I’ll say they opt to convey most of the instructions in a visual way that’s quick to understand.
It makes it easy for adults to scan and know what the next step is while you have an impatient toddler hanging on your arm. (I speak from experience.) Which also makes it kid-friendly if they’re old enough to tackle the crate without any adult help.
What Could Be Improved?
Honestly, there was only one real consensus here. Lower the price. ;)
It seemed like $10/month was the magic number that would make a KiwiCo subscription a no-brainer.
Another suggestion that has merit (are you listening, KiwiCo!?) is offering a quarterly subscription option (once every three months). Right now, you can choose from monthly*, 3, 6, or 12-month subscriptions. The monthly option is pay-as-you-go (cancel anytime) while the other options are pre-paid (with a slight discount for 6 and 12 month subscriptions).
* There is an every other month subscription option if you email support and request it. I stumbled across that tidbit in a Help Center article.
The other things I thought I could list here ended up getting contradicted. Meaning one person said they didn’t like something, but someone else said they liked that same thing.
For example, one mom said the Ultraviolet Lights Kiwi Crate was good at exposing her kid to the concept of UV lights but didn’t teach it as deeply as she would’ve liked. (She also gave the disclaimer that her husband is an educator, so her standards could be higher than the average bear.)
On the flip side, another mom said she liked the way the Painted Canvas Pouches Doodle Crate taught the batik technique for dying cloth. The Doodle Crate made it kid-friendly but explained how it was done historically.
Another reviewer wished the activities lasted longer than an hour, while another reviewer said she liked how long they lasted (having experience with activities taking longer and seeing kids lose interest). And one thing to keep in mind: I only tracked time of play for the main activity. Each crate includes other ideas and activities you can do with common household items.
Doing any of those suggested activities would add to the time value provided by each crate.
Koala Crate Review (Ages 3-4)
Each Koala Crate focuses on play and learn activities and comes with:
- Creative Materials: Lots of high quality materials for 2-3 creative activities.
- Parent Guide: Activity guide for parents to support inquiry-based learning.
- Imagine! Magazine: Extend learning with engaging stories and games.
- Online DIY Ideas: A web page with other ideas (rated by messiness and time commitment). This is in addition to the activities and games listed in the magazine.
There are a few overarching things I like about these crates:
- Each crate had a theme, and everything needed for the activities was included. No need for additional supplies.
- The Parent Guide included “ideas for play” that help keep your kid engaged with each activity longer. So rather than finish an activity and move on, the ideas help you slow down and maximize each activity with questions for your kid and/or creative ways to play with the activity’s finished product.
- The online DIY ideas are handy to have. Especially if you have all the supplies needed already at home. It’s an easy way to do more activities related to the crate’s theme.
The magazine offers some additional activities and learning opportunities. I would’ve loved to have taken my 3-year old nephew through the magazine; however, he didn’t show any interest. Not because the magazine wasn’t interesting, but because the crate activities and supplies were much “shinier.”
I feel like I’m not maximizing the crate’s usage by not using the magazine, so the next crate I’m going to try an experiment. Before I reveal the crate, I’m going to try to walk my nephew through the magazine first. And then do the crate.
We’ll see how that goes. ;)
It could also be that my nephew just turned 3, so he may not be old enough to appreciate the magazine activities yet.
You also have the option of upgrading to a Deluxe subscription for an extra $9.95/month that includes a book related to the crate’s theme. This is available for both Koala and Kiwi Crates.
I upgraded to Deluxe to see if it was worth the extra cost. While the book was nice, I don’t think it’s worth the extra cost for most people. Especially when libraries have plenty of books available for free and are something I think all kids should be exposed to.
- Reviewer: Me (World’s Best Uncle) and my sister Angela (married, stay-at-home mom)
- Kid: Sam (3-year-old boy)
This Koala Crate teaches matching and patterns, taking turns, and pretend play. The crate came with these three activities:
- Vegetable Garden: Making a pipe cleaner vegetable garden (it’s actually kinda neat)
- Barnyard Finger Puppets: Attaching facial features to different farm animals
- Barn Tote: Building a container for the vegetable garden and finger puppets
Sam, my nephew, had just recently started to do more “pretend play” on his own, so this crate was all kinds of perfect for him.
The vegetable garden was shockingly cooler than I expected. The physical act of planting and harvesting the vegetables was really creative. My nephew loved harvesting the vegetables for the farm puppets to eat and replanting them so they could have more food later.
And the barn tote was a nice way of keeping everything together.
Once we packed everything in it, he wanted to migrate to his play room, where we continued playing with everything and introduced other toys into our barnyard party.
And then we migrated to the living room couch.
And then we ran around the house protecting the animals from an attacking dragon (for literally fifteen minutes). ;)
From start to finish, we were actively engaged with the activities and playing with the end product for about two hours. And according to his mom, he continued playing with it the next day—being the first thing he wanted to do when he woke up.
It was really neat to see Sam have so much fun with this crate.
The first crate we did together was good (Cityscapes), but it was clear he enjoyed this crate more. After finishing the activities, there was more playtime with the Farm crate versus the Cityscapes crate.
However, with as enjoyable as this crate was, there were some downsides. Although the materials are of high quality, they are not going to hold up under extended play.
The barn tote was made of cardboard with the handle attached by adhesive. It’s not meant to be a long-term storage container. And the farm animal puppets already haven’t survived repeated play very well. The eyes and facial features (stuck on with stickers) are falling off. And I have some fear about the pipe cleaners used for the vegetables fraying and jabbing my nephew.
But, it’s not a deal breaker.
IMHO, the win of each crate is the quality time spent doing an activity together and not having a toy they can play with for the next year.
Kiwi Crate Review (Ages 5-8)
Each Kiwi Crate focuses on science and art and comes with:
- Maker Project: Hands-on fun to explore art, science, and engineering. Includes high-quality materials and kid-friendly instructions and ideas for tinkering.
- Explore! Magazine: Extend the fun with comics, experiments, and games.
- Online DIY Ideas: A web page with other ideas (rated by messiness and time commitment). This is in addition to the experiments and games listed in the magazine.
It seems like these crates are a hybrid between Doodle and Tinker Crates—exposing kids to both art and science elements in the same crate.
As is a defining feature of KiwiCo crates, instructions are exceptionally well done. Adults helping younger kids will have no issue following the instructions. The same goes for older kids who are able to tackle the crate on their own.
Kudos to the instruction designers for being able to address both adult and kid audiences with their instructions!
The explore! magazine is packed with lots of interesting learnings and activities. The magazine has a variety of different sections that reinforce the topic at hand. See below for an example.
- Read: Typically a comic introducing the crate’s topic and then other read sections sharing interesting real-life facts.
- Learn: A deeper look into the crate’s topic.
- Make: Other activities and ideas your kid can do to explore further.
- Find: Essentially a “Where’s Waldo” type of game.
- Eat: Shares something your kids can eat that ties into the topic.
You’ll get a lot more bang for your buck if you have your kids take time to read the magazine. Not only will it make the crate more educational, but it’ll occupy more of their time with the other activities. That makes the crate “feel” like you’re getting more play time out of it.
Similar to the Koala Crates, you also have the option of upgrading to a Deluxe subscription for an extra $9.95/month. The Deluxe option includes a book related to the crate’s theme.
Unfortunately, I don’t think the Deluxe upgrade is worth it for either the Koala or Kiwi Crates.
Just go to the library instead. Or buy books for cheaper off Amazon.
- Reviewer: My sister Jackie (married, working mom)
- Kid: Lindy (7-year-old girl)
This Kiwi Crate explores mirrors and reflections, UV Light, and hidden message paper. There were three activities in this crate:
- Build a periscope and use it to see around things.
- Use spy glasses and a special UV pen to make secret messages.
- Build a super spy briefcase to hold all of your secret agent tools.
Jackie liked that the crate was packaged nicely and the interactions were clear. Although, with all the different supplies and paper-matter, she was unclear about where to start.
The activities were really engaging for Lindy, my niece—particularly the periscope. She had a lot of fun trying to sneak up on her dad while he was watching football, carrying her spy briefcase, and writing secret messages around the house.
She was definitely a budding secret agent in training!
Overall, it took Lindy about an hour to do the three activities. From there, she also went through the Explore! magazine on her own and did the other activities. She even asked my sister to buy her bananas so she could write secret messages on them. So the suggested activities in the magazine were interesting enough that she wanted to do them without prompting from her mom.
Lindy also continued playing with everything for several hours after (in total, not all at once).
Tinker Crate Review (Ages 9-16+)
Each Tinker Crate focuses on science and engineering and comes with:
- Awesome Project: Materials to create a creative, innovative STEM project.
- Blueprint: Detailed step-by-step instructions.
- Tinker Zine: Additional science experiments and activities.
- Video Tutorial: A short video showing how to build the project.
The instructions are beautifully illustrated and explained. Even kids on the younger side of the age range should be able to follow them with minimal adult help.
And the Tinker Zine is chock full of worthwhile reading and additional activities for kids. They’re even interesting and educational for adults to read. ;)
The Tinker Zine does a good job of explaining key concepts and exposing kids to where those concepts play out in the world. In addition to the main activity, the other experiments suggested require things most households should already have (e.g. cardboard, pencil, tape, scissors, string). Which is nice since you won’t expend a lot of energy, time, or money getting supplies for the other activities.
Parents should definitely encourage their kids to do the additional experiments because they help reinforce the crate’s learnings.
I’d also recommend parents watch the video tutorial with their kid beforehand. It’s an easy way for kids to visualize what they’re about to do and get tips for potential problem areas.
- Reviewer: Brent (married, working dad)
- Kid: Micah (10-year-old boy)
This Tinker Crate explores gravity, center of mass, and balancing games. The crate has you build a gravity game and try to make a ball roll uphill.
After looking through the crate, Micah was immediately drawn to the balancing bird toy that allows you to balance a bird’s beak on the tip of your finger. His grandpa had a similar toy, so he was excited to make one himself.
Unfortunately, even after multiple attempts, Micah wasn’t able to get the weight distributed properly on the bird to get it to balance properly. His dad also felt the bird was cheaply made.
Eventually, Micah got frustrated and moved on. #sadtrombone
It may have helped if the instructions had specific areas marked on the bird for where to position the weights. The first couple of positions could be in the wrong positions to demonstrate what happens when you have the center of gravity in the wrong place. After demonstrating that, it could direct kids to the exact spot to position the weights to get the bird balancing properly.
Given this was a bonus activity (apparently not always included in every crate), I was okay giving it a pass.
Thankfully, Micah had much more success building the gravity game. And the quality of construction was much better there.
There were a couple instances when he asked for adult help. Not because the task was too difficult for him, but because he’s a perfectionist and wanted to make sure he got it right. (This may have also been influenced by his lack of success on the balancing bird.)
Once completed, it was fun taking turns with Mom, Dad, and siblings playing the game. I did like how the crate included instructions for making the game easier or harder. It’s one way the crate is able to accommodate a wide range of ages.
All in all, the activity and time engaged playing with this crate was between 45 minutes and an hour.
Gravity Game Video Tutorial
Doodle Crate Review (Ages 9-16+)
Each Doodle Crate focuses on art & design techniques and comes with:
- Quality Materials: From yarn to washi tape, everything you need to create amazing DIYs.
- Inspiration Sheet: Detailed instructions with design inspiration and other techniques.
- Video Tutorial: A short video showing how to build the project.
Just like the other crates, the Inspiration Sheet is simple and easy to follow.
And it appears Doodle Crates are unique in that they don’t come with a separate magazine like the Koala, Kiwi, and Tinker Crates. I find that interesting, since so much additional learning and inspiration are found in those magazines.
The Inspiration Sheet does try to incorporate some learning and suggestions, but it’s very minimal compared to the other magazines.
I wouldn’t call this a deal breaker; just an interesting thing I noticed.
Similar to the Tinker Crates, I’d recommend watching the video tutorial beforehand with your kid (perhaps while you’re waiting for the crate to arrive) so your kid has an idea of what he or she will be doing.
And to help reinforce the instructions once they start the project.
Painted Canvas Pouches
- Reviewer: Liz (married, stay-at-home mom)
- Kid: Molly (9-year-old girl)
This Doodle Crate taught drawing, painting, and resist painting using canvas pouches.
Even though Molly was on the younger end of the age spectrum for these crates, she did the crate entirely by herself. Liz watched but didn’t give any instructions. According to Liz, this was possible because of how well laid out the graphics and explanations were. They were very short and clear.
Liz also loved how play-tested the activities were.
Meaning, it was obvious KiwiCo took the time to have kids go through the activity and made adjustments so it was as kid-friendly as possible. Liz appreciated the little details like providing a wooden spacer to get the glue opening the right size and a test swatch to practice the technique on before doing it on the actual pouches. Also, she appreciated that they suggested using gel glue if trying the technique on T-shirts versus canvas. This is something they would’ve only known had they actually experimented with it.
She also liked how the instructions explained where batik (the art technique being taught) originated. This made it more an educational experience rather than just another painting session. Molly was able to see how the glue resists paint just like wax does in the original technique.
Molly took 1.5-2 hours to finish the craft (excluding dry time for the glue and paint). However, that was probably on the longer end of the spectrum. She read through the instructions twice and spent some time drawing different designs to find one she liked. A kid going through the craft quickly probably could have finished it in 45 minutes.
If anything, the one downside to this craft was how much time needed to be spent waiting for things to dry. Kids who don’t have a lot of patience may get frustrated.
Luckily, Molly didn’t, and in the end, she was really happy with her pouches. She made her brother one, and they’re both using them at school!
Painted Canvas Pouches Video Tutorial
How’s Their Customer Service?
I think you can tell a lot about a company by its customer service. That’s why I’m including this section.
I was really impressed that KiwiCo had three different ways of getting support.
- Online chat
In general, I’ve been happy with the level of customer service I’ve received.
The only minor issue I’ve encountered is that one support email (of five) took five days to answer. Giving support the benefit of the doubt, it may have taken that long to track down an answer. If that was the case, it would’ve been nice to get a preliminary “hey, I’m tracking down the answer for you.”
After waiting on hold for a couple minutes, I was given the option to have them call me back. I always like it when companies have that option, so I took advantage of it.
The guy I talked with was friendly and helpful. All positives with that interaction.
No issues here. Got a quick response to my question.
As I mentioned above, this is an area where it’s been inconsistent in how quickly I get a response. The first few questions were responded to in less than 12 hours. The last question took five days.
I jotted down some things worth knowing or worth doing to maximize your crate experience.
Leverage the Magazine
Don’t mistake the activity itself as the main learning component. In reality, the included magazine guides most of the learning aspect.
If anything, I would recommend parents and kids go through the magazine first before doing the activity. That way you’ll gain background learning that the activity will reinforce. Once you’ve done the activity, go back through the magazine and do the other suggested activities for further learning and play time.
(Also note, Doodle Crates don’t come with a magazine.)
Buy Single Crates Without a Subscription
KiwiCo does have a store where you can buy single crates without a subscription. The crates range from $19.95-24.95. But you also have to pay shipping with single crates. (You get free shipping with a subscription.)
And not all subscription crates are available for purchase as a single crate. Only crates with excess inventory or that are being phased out go in the store.
Timing of Second Crate
You may get billed and sent your second crate earlier than expected. Your first crate ships within 2 days; however, your second and subsequent crates (if you continue your subscription) ship on a set date every month, depending on where you live. Each date is a different week of the month.
So if you order a crate on the 1st but live in a region that ships crates on the 15th, you’ll get your second crate within two weeks of the first.
After that, you’ll start receiving crates once a month.
Estimated Delivery Date
When you get the tracking number, it has an estimated delivery date on it. I found every crate delivered at least a couple days earlier than that date.
And maybe I’m too accustomed to Amazon Prime, but it seemed like the crates took forever to arrive. From CA to NY, it took 7 days. It took 5 and 7 days (two different addresses) to TN. And 4 days to WA.
Every Other Month Subscription
Although the website only gives you an option to subscribe monthly, you can subscribe every other month if you email them and request it (still for $19.95/month).
Pause, Cancel, Re-Activate
The website makes it easy to pause your subscription for a month, cancel it entirely, or re-activate it.
I learned if you call or email support, you can pause your subscription indefinitely. I’m not sure why the website doesn’t give you that option (and only lets you pause it for a month).
- Green Craft Kids (Ages 2-10): Eco-friendly, themed boxes. Starting at $19.95/month.
- Little Loving Hands (Ages 3-7): Craft boxes designed to help your child learn about charitable giving. Starting at $25/month.
- Bramble Box (Ages 3-7): Play and craft kits. Starting at $25.95/month.
- Outside the Box Creation (Ages 5-11): Art projects for up to two kids. Starting at $34.95/month with an additional $34.95 sign up fee.
You’ll notice the Koala, Kiwi, Tinker, and Doodle Crates are competitively priced compared to other subscription services. In addition to being on the cheaper end, they also cover the widest age-range and have more of an educational focus (versus just a craft/art activity). The only exception would be Green Craft Kids, which also has STEAM-oriented boxes.
It’s obvious a lot of time, energy, and research goes into each crate.
I have a hard time envisioning any kid not enjoying a Koala, Kiwi, Doodle, or Tinker Crate. Although other subscription services provide art or craft activities, I love that KiwiCo crates have an education component to them.
The crates aren’t just fun activities; they’re fun learning activities as well.
I’ve been really pleased with the crates. Price aside, all the other reviewers feel the same. They’ve all commented on the quality, design, packaging, and execution of the crates.
We have done lots of craft stuff, and this product has super impressed us so far. –Liz (reviewer)
I’ll continue my subscription because it’s given me:
- Great quality time and memories with my nephew every month.
- An educational experience that makes it easy for me to reinforce age-appropriate skills.
- Saves me from having to research, buy, and come up with my own ideas.
- Makes me a contender for World’s Best Uncle. ;)
It’s one of those situations where I’m willing to pay a little premium for a lot more convenience.
Let me know in the comments if you have any questions or what you think of your first crate!