OAKLAND — Receiving a package in the mail remains a big thrill for many people, especially for kids.
And like many kids, my six- and eight-year-old daughters seem to have as much fun, if not more, with the box than with what comes inside of it. They will take a box and build cities, make pieces of art and turn sheets of cardboard into everything from animals to vehicles. Often, their creations eventually get knocked over, stepped on and destroyed, and then replaced by other works that come from their minds and hands.
The point is that creativity comes from unexpected places. And, since creativity can come from something as simple as a cardboard box, it makes sense to put something in that box that can also spark children’s imagination. For a parent, a monthly subscription that delivers such projects can be an easy way to get kids interested in science, technology or other subjects, and not just the box they came in.The potential to encourage kids’ interest in such activities has led to a cottage industry: subscription-based delivery of projects that fall under the umbrella of STEM — an acronym for science, technology, engineering and mathematics. Add an “A” for “arts” and then STEAM-based deliveries can come to your door on a monthly basis.
With kids at home on summer break from school, signing up for a monthly box of science can be an easy, economical way to keep one’s children interested in doing something other than just watching Netflix all day.
There are many STEM/STEAM-based subscription kits around. Here’s a look at three of the companies putting science-based activities in the mail.
Anyone who remembers the old “Where In The World Is Carmen Sandiego?” TV series will have a sense of familiarity with Little Passports.
Like Carmen Sandiego, whom viewers were challenged to find in a new location every week, Little Passports’ kits center on two characters, Sam and Sophia, and the various adventures they go on every month. Co-founders Stella Ma and Amy Norman, who run Little Passports from Los Altos, began sending Sam and Sophia out on adventures around the world in 2009.
Since then, they have expanded Little Passports’ offerings to take the characters, and the children who receive the projects, on trips to learn about everything from U.S. states to scientific experiments involving solar power and 3-D imaging. There are also preschool-level kits for younger children.
“It’s unique because we pair the hands-on experiences with meeting a scientist in every country the children visit,” Ma said. “The scientist helps them solve a mystery question in each situation, and there is a theme to every adventure.”
Like many mail-delivery STEM kits, the prices of Little Passports kits are based on the type of kits, and the length of a subscription. For example, a 12-month subscription to the World Edition kit costs $155.40, or the equivalent of $12.95 a month. That same kit costs $13.95 a month for six months, or $14.95 if purchased on a monthly basis. Science Expedition kits start at the equivalent of $18.95 a month if bought for an entire year at once, and go up to $21.95 a month on a month-to-month payment plan.
It would be easy enough to sell STEM kits one at a time, just like they were on the shelves at any hobby shop or retailer.
But, Sandra Lin, founder and chief executive of Oakland’s KiwiCo, said that a subscription model adds interest and excitement to the projects within the company’s boxes.
“There’s the convenience factor,” Lin said. “We found out parents and kids liked the idea of having these experiences on a regular basis, having this range of fresh, new experiences that arrive on your doorstep. And in general, the subscription model is facilitated by the fact that people are placing a higher value on their time.”
KiwiCo, which just changed its name from Kiwi Crate, offers five different subscription box options, each of which is designed for a specific age range. Cricket Crate, for up to 2-year-olds; Koala Crate, ages 3-4; Kiwi Crate for ages 5-8; and Doodle Crate and Tinker Crate, aimed at ages 9-16. Most of KiwiCo’s subscriptions run from $16.95 a month if purchased a year at a time, to $19.95 for month-to-month shipments.
Lin said the idea for KiwiCo came from skills that she wanted to teach her children, who were 3 and 5 years old when she started KiwiCo.
“I wanted them to get exposure to hands-on activities, learn things along the way and think of themselves as makers,” Lin said. “We’ve also been fortunate where we’ve been able to develop projects that appeal to the family.”
One of the biggest pushes in scientific studies of late has been to increase young girls’ interest in STEM subjects. For Kina McAllister, CEO and founder of Seattle-based StemBox, this meant creating kits that go beyond what she called “the feminine stereotype” of topics such as creating new types of perfume.
“I wanted something to feel authentic,” McAllister said. “I knew it would be good to expose girls to other types of science, give them every type of STEM topic and let them know STEM is not just a lab thing.”
McAllister said StemBox decides what to include in its kits by looking for experiments that have an “aha!” moment, such as extracting actual DNA from a strawberry, and building and launching rockets.
The inspiration for McAllister’s company came from her own experiences when she was younger and dealing with STEM kits that were marketed toward girls, she said.
“I thought of all the stuff that used to interest me in STEM,” McAllister said. “But it was frustrating. Often, kits would be missing parts, and the really involved kits were for boys. What’s most important is that we speak directly to girls, but our kits are very inclusive, too.”
StemBox’s kits have monthly themes, with July’s being astronomy. The company’s website also has video tutorials and information about women involved in STEM industries. Subscriptions range from $30 for a month-to-month plan to the equivalent of $25 a month for a year that is purchased at one time.
McAllister said her company is “small,” but it certainly got a boost when Melinda Gates listed StemBox as one of her three favorite holiday gifts in 2015.
Subscription STEM kits:
Little Passports: https://www.littlepassports.com/
Published at Mon, 24 Jul 2017 16:00:21 +0000