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Are STEM Subscription Boxes Worth the Price?

We put Amazon STEM Club, Genius Box, and StemBox to the test.
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STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Math) is the buzzword of the moment in parenting circles. My 5- and 7-year-old daughters are both enrolled in an after-school STEM club, and "Project MC2," a popular Netflix original show geared toward science and tech, is at the top of our recently watched list.

It's a trend that doesn't seem to be going away anytime soon, which I think is great; my girls have never been so fired up about science. So I was stoked to find out that subscription STEM boxes are a thing. My kids and I put three popular STEM boxes to the test. Here are the pros, cons and everything in between.

Amazon STEM Club

Price: $19.99 per month with free delivery.

Pros: Registering for Amazon STEM Club is easy and transparent (even more so for Prime members), and you can cancel at anytime. The program is broken down into three age groups that serve preschoolers, elementary kids, and middle schoolers; we opted for the 5- to 7-year-old package. Amazon then put together a box of different STEM toys, which was delivered a few days later.

We loved this STEM bundle. It included three individually boxed Thames and Kosmos toys: A make-your-own planets set, a dinosaur skeleton excavation kit and a gyroscope. This bundle currently sells for $29.85 on Amazon, so we got close to $10 off by going through STEM Club. My kids, along with my niece and nephew, had a blast making their own bouncy-ball planets. The dinosaur dig was also a big hit. Each toy came with a packet of easy-to-understand directions and little fun facts.

Overall, this box delivered a diverse assortment of cool science activities.

Cons: The packaging and delivery are both super-basic — there's no fanfare here, just a box with three toys inside. And unlike the other two subscriptions on this list, Amazon's bundle wasn't thematically linked. Instead, it felt more like a random selection of STEM toys (but we honestly didn't mind).

Genius Box

Price: $25 for one month; $24 a month for three-month subscriptions; $23 a month for six-month subscriptions. Free shipping.

Pros: My girls got a big kick out of the Genius Box packaging, which is designed to make it look as though you've been picked for a top-secret science mission.

Inside the box were multiple activities, all related to sound. Remember playing telephone using a string and two soup cans? Genius Box recreates the game with plastic cups and wire, then throws in an explanation of why/how it works. They even take it a step further, demonstrating how connecting a metal Slinky to the cups creates a laser beam sound. (It's true; try it!) Another activity allowed you to make your own harmonica using popsicle sticks and straws. We had a lot of fun with this box while learning about sound and the way it travels.

Cons: At $25, I couldn't help but feel like the price tag was a little steep for such basic activities. While you can take 15% off new subscriptions by signing up for their newsletter, you could easily take a do-it-yourself approach and get the same results for less money. Of course, you'd be trading convenience — not to mention the thrill of receiving "top secret" missions in the mail.

StemBox

Price: $30 per month for one month; $29 per month with three-month prepay; $28 per month with six-month prepay; $25 per month with 12-month prepay. (Tip: Sign up for their newsletter to get 20% off new subscriptions.)

Pros: Our STEMBox was easily the most science-y, complete with scientist's goggles (which my kids fought over) and a really cool NASA patch; the theme was rockets and space. I'm a huge astronomy nerd and couldn't wait to jump in. We were tasked with creating our own rockets — first using a small film canister, then using a water bottle. One very cool thing was that you can check out STEMBox's YouTube channel for videos related to your experiments. My husband got in on the action, which turned it into a full-fledged family activity. We headed outside with supplies in hand, ready to launch some rockets.

Cons: Unfortunately, we had a tough time actually completing the experiments. I learned after ordering that STEMBox is actually designed with 8- to 13-year-olds in mind. The explanations were a little too advanced and technical for my little ones, so my husband and I had to simplify the terminology to help them understand. We also had a hard time getting our mini rockets to really blast off — the process was super-involved and had many steps, making it hard for my girls to keep up.

That said, I do feel like STEMBox is probably really cool for older kids. Also, their customer service was wonderful. They accidentally charged my debit card after I'd cancelled my subscription, but swiftly fixed the problem once I emailed them.

Overall Impressions

Road testing these STEM boxes created just one problem in our house — my kids are begging me to continue subscribing to all three! If I had to choose one, it would definitely be Amazon's STEM Club. It provided an assortment of different, in-depth activities that were fun and informative. They stoked my daughters' imaginations while teaching them about age-appropriate science concepts. The price is on-point and the delivery is lightning fast, and since we're already Prime members, managing the subscription is easy. If my girls were a little older though, I'd also consider going with STEMBox for its advanced activities. Genius Box seemed to offer the least value per dollar spent, showcasing very basic experiments with items you probably already have in your house.

If you're adept at DIY projects, the cheaper route may be to purchase a science experiment textbook and use household items to help expand your child's mind. Of course, this method requires more effort, time, and planning on your part, which is probably why STEM subscription boxes have become popular of late.

 

Have you given any of these science-centered services a try? Let us know your thoughts in the comments below.



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About the Author
Marianne Hayes Contributor

Marianne Hayes is a freelance writer, wife and mother in Tampa Bay. After earning a degree in journalism and creative writing from the University of Central Florida, she spent nearly a decade getting lost in New York City and Los Angeles before making her way back home again in 2014. Marianne's writing has appeared in a variety of publications including The Huffington Post, Forbes.com, LearnVest, The Daily Beast and more. When she's not writing, Marianne is usually cruising her local bookstore with her two daughters.

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what about Tinker crate
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Thanks for this! I have a preschooler who is showing lots of interest in STEM toys but so far these subscription boxes were geared more to older kids so I was eyeing the amazon one.
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Signed up for Amazon STEM for about 6 months. I only canceled it because our house is filled with toys now. Such a great deal for $20 as most the toys were $40+ new. I'll prob sign up again next year.
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We homeschooled for many years, and as both my husband and I are geeks, there was always a heavy emphasis on STEM. There are multiple, inexpensive things I can recommend and some that are not inexpensive but are totally worth the money anyway. Homeschoolers tend to be notoriously cheap because most are living on one paycheck, so we are very good at teaching a ton with very little money.

1. Lego - Lego has some fantastic sets to teach all types of STEM from mechanical to programming to robotics. The Mindstorms kits are amazing and are used in the FIRST Lego League challenges. The Lego Mindstorms are not inexpensive if you buy them yourself, but the team aspect makes it easier on the parents.
http://www.legoengineering.com/?o...&Itemid=59
https://education.lego.com/en-us

2. Since I mentioned it in the previous post, FIRST Lego League is great. They give the kids a topic, say environment or transportation. The kid teams (usually 10 or less) have to think of an issue having to do with that topic. One year, we had transportation and my team chose distracted driving. The kids then have to think of a solution to that issue. At the same time, they also have a 4x8 ft table with a "track" on it and they have to build the Lego Mindstorm robot to navigate the "track" and do specific activities autonomously. The activity could be something like close a window on a Leg house or pick up something from one spot and move it to another spot. It's pretty cool. FIRST has age levels for 6-9yo, 9-14yo, and high school.
https://www.firstinspires.org/robotics/fll

3. 4-H - 4-H has TONS of educational programs. One that we used to take our kids on was an environmental education field trip. It was 4 days and 3 nights and it had 13 classes crammed in there. The classes are all hands-on and the kids learned an amazing amount in that time frame. One we went to was at a beach and it had classes like maritime forests, estuaries, reptiles, amphibians, etc. And like I said, this was all hands-on so they got to hold the snakes and help care for the turtles.
https://4-h.org

4. Scouts - My kids were in scouts for years and they learned a ton of STEM from it. Basically, anything you can name.
https://www.scouting.org
https://www.girlscouts.org

5. Day of Coding - Many companies participate in this, but Apple actually hosts a workshop at their stores. I highly recommend this. Apple actually does summer day camps and tons of other stuff. Also, iTunes U was my favorite. I can get so lost in there and it shows what a geek I really am. Also, Apple runs Field Trips on request. These are fantastic. The nice folks at the Apple Store taught my kids how to build a website. My kids published full websites at 10yo.
https://www.apple.com/everyone-can-code/​ [apple.com]
https://www.apple.com/today/camp/​ [apple.com]
https://www.apple.com/education/itunes-u/
https://www.apple.com/today/

6. NOAA has a ton of stuff, too. We did a few field trips to the NOAA office and the kids got to work with them on things. This is good for older kids, but younger ones were fairly bored.
https://oceanexplorer.noaa.gov/edu/welcome.html

7. Stanford Educational Program for Gifted Youth - Stanford's EPGY offers classes for students from elementary level, and online high school and many other resources.
http://epgy.stanford.edu

8. The Junior Master Gardener Program - This is a great program that teaches kids TONS of stuff about botany, life cycles, basically, if it has to do with plants, they cover it. My kids did the JMG program and it was great!
http://jmgkids.us

9. Free Science Experiments - Any type of hands on thing absolutely thrills kids. We covered chemical conversion by blowing up film canisters (aka seltzer & a drop or two of water), we made an electrical circuit, tore apart a computer, etc. Things you do not realize will teach kids STEM. We did a boatload of woodworking and that helped teach the kids about math and engineering.
https://lesson-plans.theteachersc...sbread.php

10. Your local science museum, zoo, aquarium, etc. - definitely check with those folks. Many of them will run full classes the kids can take which will frequently be less than the price of admission!! We used to go to the aquarium for the classes and the kids would go behind the scenes of the aquarium to feed the animals, help with caring for the animals, etc.
Our local science museum holds a toothpick bridge building contest every year as the culmination of Engineering week. They have a machine that will test how many footpounds the bridge can take before collapsing.

11. Triops - This is something I picked up at Hobby Lobby for all of $5 or so. They have lessons plans, etc. I called them to get some info and they were shocked that ours were about 6 months old. They said the triops are only supposed to live a few weeks. ROFL
http://www.triops.com/CMS/html/in...tl97abi=91

12. Cooking - Keep in mind, that at its hear, cooking is simply basic organic chemistry. Get The Joy of Cooking, it not only covers recipes, it has the how and why of cooking. It will explain how yeast causes bread to rise and the effect of gluten on the dough and why you might want more or less of any of the above. It will info about how different foods react to different methods of cooking and why. We had a large garden and between the Junior Master Gardener and The Joy of Cooking, my kids learned more about biotic, insects, and organisms than most kids get in their entire lifetime.

13. Beekeeping - If you have any land, it doesn't have to be much, but this will also really give the kids a serious grounding, while also making your plants grow better, and giving you honey. Also, honey bees are having a tough time of it right now with Colony Collapse Disorder, and such, that they need all the help they can get. It doesn't take much room for bees, they go out and hunt.

Okay, now that i have bored you to tears with info about STEM, enjoy!!
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