If you’ve been hunting for something “productive” for your kids to do while stuck at home, you might have heard of two of popular kids STEM subscription companies: KiwiCo and MEL Science. You’re probably wondering which one is more fun, or perhaps more effective at teaching? And which age ranges they are best for. Of course, cost is always an important factor, too.
We got you covered. In this review of KiwiCo and MEL Science, we answer these questions and more. We’ll even show you some videos of what the kits actually look like so you’ll know what you’re getting and can better choose the right one.
In these crazy times due to COVID-19, the urge to just hand over the iPad and have your kids glued to a screen is stronger than ever. And although you may desperately need some peace and quiet to get that whole “work from home” thing done, it’s important to keep them learning. While there are ample resources online that can help you continue your children’s STEM studies, it’s hardly enough to keep them engaged, challenged, and on-task — at least enough to occupy all the newfound free time!
The good news is that MEL Science and KiwiCo can really help. They deliver quality science fun right to your home that your kids will LOVE. Each requires a different level of parental involvement, however, so which one you ultimately choose may partially come down to how much time you want to spend “co-sciencing” versus giving your young ones something educational to conquer independently.
But first, what is a STEM subscription box anyway?
Before diving into which one is best, let’s break down what a kid’s science box is. KiwiCo and MEL Science ask you to first select which product line or experiment set you are interested in. After deciding your subscription length — you can do a 1-month trial if you don’t want to commit just yet — you’ll add your payment method and be on your merry way to stimulating your kids’ minds with curated, fun science experiments!
Although each box focuses on a different core concept, we’ll give you a flavor of what to expect. We’ll also show you what came in the boxes we received later on!
Generally speaking, each STEM box has the materials, instructions, and parent guide to perform an experiment that demonstrates a fundamental scientific phenomenon.
$19.95 per month – Koala, Kiwi and Tinker Crates
$29.95 per month – Eureka Crate
$24.90 per month – MEL Kids
$19.90 per month – MEL Chemistry Lite
$34.90 per month – MEL Chemistry or MEL Physics
|Level of Parental Involvement Needed||Low to Medium||High|
|Educational Areas of Focus||STEM||Chemistry or physics|
30% off your first month with code: FINVSFIN30
3 MONTHS FREE Prepay 12 month. You save $104.70
1 MONTH FREE Prepay 9 month. You save $34.90
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KiwiCo Review and Box Deepdive
KiwiCo has multiple subscription options for all ages. They specialize in STEAM – STEM with an emphasis on Art. Out of their 8 crates, 4 of them primarily focus on developing your child’s foundation of scientific capabilities. KiwiCo, is all about creating enriching products for your young learners, but choosing the perfect crate is up to you! Start with the age, narrow down your interest, and then wait for the crate to be delivered. I was a Kiwi Crate subscriber for a long time (ok, my daughter was), and they were also kind enough to share a Tinker Crate with me for free for this review. Let’s review each of KiwiCo’s options by age:
Koala Crate (for ages 2-4) Play & Learn
- Examples of Koala Crates include a Doctor’s Visit, Rainbows, Camping, and Ocean Games.
- With each crate, you will receive the materials, a parent guide, magazine, and online DIY ideas to help you take the learning even further.
- Unless your kid is Benjamin Button, they will obviously need some real assistance completing the kit at this age.
Kiwi Crates (for ages 5-8) Science, Art & More
- For your early elementary school learners, you can do building activities focused on learning basic concepts of science and physics, such as the chance to build an arcade claw, create paper kites, and craft a climbing jellyfish or glowworm.
- Each set comes with the maker project, the materials, the explore! Magazine, and online DIY ideas!
- As your child gets older, these crates naturally require less and less parental supervision.
Tinker Crate (for ages 9-16+) Science & Engineering
- Each of these crates will provide you with all the necessary materials, a blueprint, a copy of the Tinker Zine, and video tutorials. Your children will be able to learn more about physics, constellations, and electronics.
- Example Tinker Creates by Kiwi include a trebuchet that launches a ping-pong ball up to 10 feet, a hydraulic lifting claw, and wiring up some fiber optic stars.
Eureka Crate (for ages 14-104) Engineering & Design
- Eureka Crates by Kiwi provide you with the engineering project, materials, the Maker’s Guide, and a Design Challenge.
- Some example creates include the opportunity to make a cantilevered desk lamp, an electric pencil sharpener, and even a wooden ukelele. (SO cool!)
KiwiCo Unboxing Video
Curious to see what a KiwiCo crate looks like opened up? Look no further!
If KiwiCo looks perfect for the kids in your life, take 30% off your first box by using the coupon code: FINVSFIN30
MEL Science Review and Deepdive
Full disclosure: Thanks to MEL Science for providing us a free kit for us to review!
With MEL Science’s hands-on experiments, you can start your child’s scientific journey at age 5. With an emphasis on chemistry or physics, these subscription sets provide your children with the chance to create tin hedgehogs, hot ice, copper coral, tin dendrite, martian rust and galaxy in a bottle, just to name a few!
While your children are going to be learning scientific principles, they will also be wildly entertained. With hundreds of experiments within their 24 chemistry sets, you can choose the experiments that pique your kids’ interests!
Each month, you receive a box filled with 1-3 hands-on experiments (with enough chemical reagents for at least 2 attempts), featuring visual step-by-step instructions, VR lessons, and access to the MEL Chemistry App. And for your very first experiment, you will learn the chemistry of monsters through a carbon snake and foam eruption!
MEL Chemistry vs MEL Chemistry Lite sets
The key difference between MEL’s Chemistry and the Chemistry Lite box is the Starter Kit. More specifically, the regular Chemistry box comes with a free VR headset in the first box and other helpful starter kit items, but the Chemistry Lite box does not.
If you do choose to purchase the MEL Chemistry set, you will receive the Starter Kit (pictured below) with 8 reusable tools to conduct your experiments, including:
- Glass Beaker and flask
- VR headset
- Macro lens
- Phone/tablet stand
- Safety glasses and a tray
- Solid fuel Stove (burner)
MEL Science Kit Unboxing Video
MEL Science starter kit and chemistry set was nice enough to send us a free box to review. Hopefully you find this video of my Mel Chemistry review helpful! Check it out to see what you can expect in box for your kids:
Convinced your kids are going to love this as much as my daughter did? Sign up for MEL Science now to get the Starter Kit and VR headset for free!
KiwiCo vs MEL Science: What are the key differences?
Beyond price, there are a few major differences between MEL Science and KiwiCo’s Crates and kits that we want to highlight:
- MEL Chemistry has a starter kit, while KiwiCo’s boxes are all self-contained; and MEL Chemistry Lite boxes do not have a starter kit, they are all self contained
- KiwiCo crates and kits do not require any additional materials, while MEL activities usually need other chemicals, ingredients or gear – all things you likely have around the house
- MEL has a VR headset kit and an online app
- KiwiCo kits don’t need a ton of parental involvement once your kid reaches a certain age, while MEL Science activities tend to require more supervision and participation. In both cases you should be close by (to help and potentially keep your kids on task), but overall KiwiCo may give you more of a breather than MEL Science.
One of the critical differences between the MEL Scienec boxes and the KiwiCo Crates (and the MEL Chemistry Lite boxes) and boxes is that MEL’s “non-lite” first box contains a “starter kit” plus an experiment/activity box. You keep the starter kit for your entire subscription – it contains beakers, safety equipment, etc – it’s basically the lab hardware. You’ll use it for all the experiments.
Each month you’ll get a new MEL Science activity kit that has the chemicals and ingredients that you’ll need for that month’s fun. KiwiCo’s kits have all the things you need in each box; there is no starter kit or materials that you have to store month to month (or clean to reuse, for that matter). The “Lite” chemistry kits by MEL are the same as KiwiCo; they don’t have a starter kit.
Kiwi’s boxes are different from MEL’s in another key way — with KiwiCo, you don’t generally need any outside materials to complete your experiments or activities. Everything you need is in the box that comes each month. With MEL, you may need additional materials that you’ll have to find around your house, like sugar or glass bowls. Not really a big deal — except unfortunately during the COVID-19 crisis!
MEL Science also gives you a very cool VR experience, while Kiwi doesn’t have an app for your phone, nor a VR headset. Naturally the VR extends what you can learn, especially for audio-visual learners; you can click in to get more info on the compounds you are using and the experiments. Plus, it’s really fun! The way that MEL’s VR system works is pretty easy:
- Download the MEL VR app for your phone (iphone here) (android here)
- Unfold the VR headset device that came with your box – super easy to do, no engineering degree required!
- Open the app and drop it into the headset
- Use the silver button on the top right of the device to navigate (that’s how you click)
MEL also has a different app that you can use to scan your chemicals and more. They’ve done a great job extending the learning from the physical world of the kit to the virtual world.
Finally, I’ve found KiwiCo’s sets to be easier for my kid to use without my help — plus, they are less dangerous than the MEL Science ones. For example, the MEL starter kit comes with a little burner — basically, a stove. It needs fire! I’m not comfortable having my kid light a match in the house without my very careful supervision. Kiwi’s crates are a lot more “crafty” and easier for her to do on her own. Not to say that she doesn’t occasionally need help folding or bending something in a KiwiCo box, but I don’t feel that anything in there is actually dangerous.
Plus, the instructions are really well done in the KiwiCo sets, and she never has problems following along without my help. It’s possible that the older kid KiwiCo sets like the Tinker Crate will need more parental involvement, but I feel that the design of the KiwiCo activities are more focused on something a child can do without a lot of help, vs the ones from MEL.
Note that my opinion here is that you need to choose the science box that will have the right level of parental help that you want — either could be right for your family!
What do customers say about KiwiCo and MEL Science?
Out of 1,080 reviews on TrustPilot, KiwiCo has responded to a majority of them – both good and bad.
On Facebook, the reviews of MEL Science give it a 4.6/5 rating with many customers raving about its usefulness with homeschooling. There were a couple critical Mel Chemistry reviews related to customer service, but other than that the reviews spoke of the high qualivty and experiment options.
MEL Science kits are also sold on Amazon and while a couple reviews from customers were disappointed with the product and their customer service, the majority of reviews were glowing.
The Verdict: KiwiCo vs MEL Science, which STEM box is best for your kids?
So, which subscription should you go with? When it comes to KiwiCo, you are able to start your eager learners earlier (age 3) whereas with the MEL Science sets, you will have to wait until they are at least 5 years old. That said, both subscriptions provide your children with hands-on scientific learning, and allow you to engage with them during their experimentation.
KiwiCo provides experiments that focus on multiple scientific topics — physics, hydraulics, and optics, but MEL Science places a strong emphasis on chemistry and physics. While KiwiCo is slightly more affordable, MEL Science offers a ton of additional value in the form of VR lessons (with a headset) that allow your children to continue learning until their next experiment comes in the mail!
The key item I would think through is how much effort you, as a parent, want to put into the experiment. If you are excited to spend time with your kid – and do some messier and slightly more adventurous experiments — MEL Chemistry is pretty awesome. Kiwi’s crates require a bit less parental involvement to get done – but they are still fun to do with your kid if you want to spend quality STEM time with them.
So now, the choice is yours. Either way, you will be receiving a really awesome science box that provides your kids with deeper knowledge of scientific topics, a great way to spend quality time with them, and the chance to inspire curiosity! My kids loved both STEM boxes. Let us know what you decide to go with in the comments below. We also reviews KiwiCo vs Little Passports vs Amazon STEM if you’re curious how those two compare as well. Happy learning!
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