KiwiCo vs MEL Science: Which is the Best STEM Subscription Box?

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Kim Hildenbrand

As a mom of science-loving kids, I am always looking for fun and stimulating projects they can do at home.

My tween son loves computers, whether he’s completing coding projects, building complex online amusement parks, or solving tricky math problems. But one of my goals right now for him is to facilitate less screen time and add more hands-on learning to the mix.

When my children were small, coming up with fun hands-on projects was generally as simple as setting out some lumps of clay or a few sheets of paper with some paint. But at almost 11, my son now craves more complex projects that present challenges, let him experiment with STEM (science, technology, engineering, and math) concepts, and really make him think!

My ideal solution: STEM boxes. These ready-made science kits arrive regularly in the mail, with each one offering one or more engaging educational projects.

No prep, no stress—each box contains virtually everything you need for an afternoon of hands-on learning for your child.

Thankfully, there are loads of subscription boxes to choose from, from a variety of brands and tailored to all different ages and interests.

My son and I took a look at two of the most popular options: KiwiCo Tinker Crate and MEL Science Physics Box, both geared to age categories that he falls within.

Below, I’ll share our experience to help other families try to determine which option might be the right fit.

MEL Science Physics Box vs KiwiCo Tinker Crate

 

How many activities are included? Typically one STEM project. Two to three physics experiments.
Suitable ages 9 to 16 years
They have other lines for different age groups.
8 to 14 years
They have other lines for different age groups.
STEM activities? (Y/N) Y Y
Science activities? Y Y
Price Starts at $16.95 per month. $34.90 per month.
Shipping cost Free in the U.S.
International shipping ranges from $4.95 to $5.95
Free in US.
Shipping areas Virtually worldwide. MEL Physics boxes are still US only.
Other MEL Science kits ship worldwide.
Termed subscriptions available or only rolling ones? Termed or auto-renew subscriptions. Subscription only.
Refund policy Refunds for damaged products or returns within 14 days of receipt. Refund for a lost box or damaged contents if reported within 2 weeks.
Review summary My rating: 4.5 stars

This fun STEM box offered everything necessary to make a cool coin-eating robot. Though it didn’t quite operate as we’d hoped it was still a great activity to build.

My rating: 4.7 stars

This engaging STEM box features three fascinating physics experiments—the cost is a bit higher and we had to buy our own batteries – but the activities themselves were captivating.

Reviews from customers 4.4 stars from 801 reviews for the Tinker Crate specifically. 4.4 stars from 622 ratings for MEL Science overall.
Special Offers 1st month FREE on 6 & 12 month subscriptions with code FRESH:
KiwiCo FRESH
Free VR lessons:
MEL Physics
3 months off other boxes:
MEL Science Kits

 

MEL Physics review - MEL Science review - kids science subscription boxes

MEL Science Physics Box Review

What are these boxes?

The MEL Physics box touts itself as:

 

not just a STEM box, but a collection of tools.

Every kit features physics experiments and VR lessons.

Plus, subscriptions come with a mobile app that digs in deeper to the scientific explanations as well as online lessons with science teachers.

Who is behind the company?

MEL Science has quite an interesting story. Virtually all team members share a love of science stemming from childhood, and collectively have 10 PhDs in science and have received multiple prizes in chemistry and physics competitions.

As adults with their own children now, they wanted to go behind standardised education and help make science education “easy, interesting, and effective.”

What ages is this subscription designed for?

The MEL Physics box is geared to children ages 8 to 14.

What’s inside each box?

Each box features two to three physics experiments, complete with instructions, hardware, and components to complete the projects.

Topics include hydrophobic sand, luminescent lighting, electric motors, and much more.

How do they compare on price?

The MEL Physics box costs $34.90 per month, with free shipping—roughly twice as much as the KiwiCo Tinker Crate.

What did other reviewers have to say?

The MEL Physics box is a new range for MEL Science but it has two 5 star ratings already on Amazon.

MEL Science Boxes overall (not just the Physics Box) garnered an average of 4.4 stars from 622 ratings across 2 platforms.

These include the MEL Science, MEL Chemistry, MEL Kids and MEL Physics lines.

On their own website, they also showcase loads of positive reviews from satisfied parents.

Pros

  • You get more than one experiment: Our box came with three, so the hands-on learning kept going over the course of a few days.
  • Extras are included: Along with multiple experiments, you get a mobile app as well as VR lessons.
  • The box is well-organised: Every component you need arrives neatly packed and separately bagged.
  • The instructions are plentiful: Experiments feature both detailed written instructions as well as kid-friendly visual instructions.
  • You can eventually get all the experiments: According to MEL Science, the experiment topics are “looped” so regardless of when you begin your subscription, at some point you will get to enjoy every experiment.


Cons

  • Children may need assistance and supervision: The directions even include a “danger level” rating, and some reviewers noted that the physics boxes may contain tricky items requiring more parental supervision.
  • You may need to provide small items: Though the vast majority of components come in the box, we had to provide a felt-tipped pen and two coin batteries.
  • The app may have shortcomings: Some online reviewers noted it could use some work.

Here’s a quick look at some reviews:

MEL Science Review - MEL Physics Review

MEL Science Review - MEL Physics Review

Where does the company ship to?

Currently, the MEL Physics line ships only to the United States as it’s a new addition to their range. According to the website, they plan to add Europe in the future.

Other MEL science boxes including MEL Kids and MEL Chemistry, ship worldwide.

Do they offer sample boxes?

There is currently no option to buy a single MEL Physics Box. However you can start a subscription and cancel at any time.

Special Offers with MEL Science

MEL Physics is new and is still only available in the US.

For this line they offer free VR lessons with the subscription:

MEL Physics

Other MEL science boxes are offered with up to 3 months free.

These include MEL Kids and MEL Chemistry – which deliver worldwide:

MEL Science Discount

All offers are available for a limited time.*

MEL review - MEL Science review - MEL Physics Box Review

Free VR lessons with the subscription of this new line: MEL Physics

MEL Science Review: My Personal Experience

My almost-11-year-old son loved the MEL Science Physics Box. He actually preferred it over the KiwiCo Tinker Crate.

He has not done much in the realm of physics before, and he was mesmerised by the illuminated infinity tunnel.

MEL review - MEL Science review - MEL Physics Box Review

Free VR lessons with the subscription of this new line: MEL Physics

How easy was setup?

The first reflection project my son tried (an infinity tunnel) was pretty easy and didn’t take too long.

However, after doing one of the three projects, my son was ready for a break. That was actually nice, as he was able to come back the next day to give another project a try!

MEL review - MEL Science review - MEL Physics Box Review

Free VR lessons with the subscription of this new line: MEL Physics

The experiments were all based on the “reflections” theme: the infinity tunnel my son tried first, plus a one-way mirror project and an experiment to explore mirror images in numbers.

MEL review - MEL Science review - MEL Physics Box Review

Free VR lessons with the subscription of this new line: MEL Physics

How much did my child enjoy them?

When I asked my son what he thought of the MEL Physics Box, he immediately exclaimed, “I give it five stars!”

He felt it was the most interesting and impressive project he has ever created from a STEM box before.

MEL review - MEL Science review - MEL Physics Box Review

Free VR lessons with the subscription of this new line: MEL Physics

Other thoughts:

The one drawback of the MEL Physics Box compared with the Kiwi Crate was that technically not every item was included: a felt-tipped marker and two batteries. Because they were somewhat unusual (coin batteries), we had to send my husband to the grocery store to buy them (for five dollars).

However, the directions clearly stated we would need to furnish our own batteries and felt-tipped marker, so we can’t claim we didn’t know in advance!

While I felt the box was thoughtfully packed with a soft organiser for storing each item, it’s worth noting that our box arrived a bit jumbled with items not tucked in the organiser. Never fear—nothing was broken or any worse for the wear!

MEL review - MEL Science review - MEL Physics Box Review

Free VR lessons with the subscription of this new line: MEL Physics

Would I recommend a MEL Science’s Physics Box?

I would absolutely recommend the MEL Physics line. This box featured fun, engaging, and extremely educational projects.

Plus, the materials were high quality, and the instructions were clear and easy to follow. And it’s not every day a child gets the opportunity to explore physics concepts.

Special Offers with MEL Science

MEL Physics is new and is still only available in the US.

For this line they offer free VR lessons with the subscription:

MEL Physics

Other MEL science boxes are offered with up to 3 months free.

These include MEL Kids and MEL Chemistry – which deliver worldwide:

MEL Science Discount

All offers are available for a limited time.*

KiwiCo Tinker Crate Review

KiwiCo Tinker Crate Review

What are these boxes?

The Tinker Crate bills itself as:

 

a laboratory for hands-on STEM projects.

The monthly box features all the materials to produce a creative STEM project, a blueprint featuring step-by-step instructions, a “zine” featuring extra experiments and activities, and online video tutorials offering advice.

Who is behind the company?

KiwiCo was founded by Sandra Oh  Lin: an engineer and mother of three.

The idea was born both from her fond childhood memories of creative projects with her mom and from her innate desire as an engineer to provide her kids with open-ended hands-on projects.

These days, KiwiCo has a team of “in-house experts,” including child development professionals and former educators.

An advisory board comprised of art, science, education, and psychology experts reviews each project to make sure it is appropriate and high-quality.

In addition, children test each project to ensure it is fun and engaging—and that its instructions make sense.

What ages is this subscription designed for?

The Tinker Crates are designed for ages 9 to 16. KiwiCo have a range of other crates for different age groups from 0 to 104 years of age.

What’s inside each box?

Each Tinker Create features all the materials necessary to build one STEM project, as well as a zine.

A box might include instructions and materials to make a walking robot, paper circuits, or trebuchet.

How do they compare on  price?

Tinker Crate starts at $16.95 per month, with free shipping, ringing up at around half the cost of the MEL Science Physics box.

What did other reviewers have to say ?

The KiwiCo Tinker Crate garnered 4.4 stars from 801 ratings from Influenster. On its own website, the company shows Tinker Crate earning 4.7 stars on 6,894 reviews. (To their credit, they post the positive as well as the negative!)

KiwiCo overall (not just the Tinker Crate) scored 4.6 stars on Trustpilot with 2,108 ratings.

Pros

  • The projects are innovative and varied: Reviewers appreciated the range of projects designed to appeal to children, including robots, trebuchets, and other gadgets.
  • The directions are clear and thorough: Many reviewers felt children could complete these projects with minimal assistance.
  • The company seems generous with the extras: Along with the high-quality zine, we received a full-length activity book titled “Terrific Technology” with our Tinker Crate.
  • All materials are provided: No need to run out for batteries…Tinker Crate contains everything a child needs to finish a project.

Cons

  • The recommended age range may be on the high side: Some reviewers felt Tinker Crate appeals to kids a little younger, with a maximum age of around 13.
  • The projects are not necessarily durable: In some reviews, parents noted that projects were not typically long-lasting. As cute as our robot was, the majority of it was crafted from lightweight cardboard.
  • Customer service can have ups and downs: As expected, a few reviewers expressed frustration regarding shipping or communication issues.

Here’s a quick look at some reviews:

KiwiCo Tinker Crate Review

KiwiCo Tinker Crate Review

Where does the company ship to?

Virtually worldwide.

Do they offer sample boxes?

You can purchase a single box to try out, but the cost per box is a little higher than purchasing a subscription. A subscription can be paused or cancelled at any time.

Special Offer on KiwiCo

1st month FREE for 6 & 12 month subscriptions here, with code FRESH:

KiwiCo FRESH

KiwiCo Tinker Crate Review

1st month FREE for 6 & 12 month subscriptions here, with code FRESH: KiwiCo FRESH

Tinker Crate Review: My Personal Experience

My son enjoyed the Tinker Crate, and had a good time crafting the coin-eating robot.

He is not a huge fan of artistic projects in general, so he was more interested in its inner workings than he was in its inherent cuteness.

How easy was setup?

The Tinker Crate robot project was a single project versus the Physics Box’s three projects.

However, compared head to head, the single robot project did require more steps than a single MEL Science project, so it was slightly more time-consuming.

He also found it a bit tricky to set up, and found some of the parts “a bit finicky.”

 

KiwiCo Tinker Crate Review

 

1st month FREE for 6 & 12 month subscriptions here, with code FRESH: KiwiCo FRESH

How much did my child enjoy them?

Though my son preferred the MEL Physics Box, he did quite enjoy creating the coin-eating robot.

“This project is such a fun idea and useful if you want to use it as a little piggy bank,” he said.

However, he did get frustrated at times, and by the end it was clear that the robot would not work exactly as he had hoped: The motion was not quite exaggerated enough to enable the robot to gobble a coin.

Whether child error or robot issue, it was a minor detail, and my son still had fun.

KiwiCo Tinker Crate Review

1st month FREE for 6 & 12 month subscriptions here, with code FRESH: KiwiCo FRESH

Other thoughts:

There was a whole separate handout provided on how to troubleshoot a robot that had droopy arms. While this was a nice touch, it made me wonder if several parents had also had issues with its operation.

We appreciated the fact that every single item was included in the Tinker Crate—which meant no need to send my husband to the store for batteries!

KiwiCo Tinker Crate Review

1st month FREE for 6 & 12 month subscriptions here, with code FRESH: KiwiCo FRESH

Would I recommend the KiwiCo Tinker Crate?

Yes, I would. The project offerings are so creative and varied, all the materials are included, and the price is right.

The projects may not last forever, but the boxes offer loads of educational fun, and the clear, simple instructions let kids work independently.

KiwiCo Special Offer

1st month FREE on 6 & 12 month subscriptions here, with code FRESH:

KiwiCo FRESH

Which is Better, MEL Science or KiwiCo

Overall, both STEM boxes were engaging and offered ample hands-on learning and fun—but I give a slight edge to MEL Science Physics Box over KiwiCo Tinker Crate.

I truly think either kit would be fabulous for virtually any kid, but a child who is more into arts and crafts might prefer a Tinker Crate, while a child like mine who is quite into STEM may lean toward the Physics Box.

My son is fairly science-oriented and simply preferred the depth of the physics project.

He was truly fascinated with the infinity tunnel, one-way mirror, and mirror image experiment.

However, a child who is younger—or who prefers more play-focused or light-hearted STEM projects—might lean towards a fun coin-eating robot!

(And as I jokingly noted to my son, a child who loves art might also have put a little more effort into affixing the googly eyes more neatly onto the adorable robot.)

Overall, Tinker Crate seems to offer less durable materials but focus more on producing an appealing (and functional) end result, such as a robot that walks or a hydraulic claw that grabs.

The MEL Science Physics Box is perhaps a bit more durable as well as focused on the process, with experiments such as creating an oil spill or a colourful rain experiment.

And in fact, our MEL Physics experiments noted at the end of each activity that we were to “dissasemble the setup” after completing the experiment. They even provided instructions on disposal of batteries and other materials.

Meanwhile, the coin-eating robot may well remain perched on my son’s dresser for months to come.

It’s worth noting that the cost of the MEL Science Physics Box is virtually double that of the KiwiCo Tinker Crate—however, it typically features more experiments each month.

If you’re on the fence, I’d suggest trying a few months of each—or maybe both! If your children love science and engineering, I promise you’ll be delighted to hand them a box containing a hands-on project that will both keep them busy and keep them learning. Talk about a win-win situation!

Special Offers with MEL Science

MEL Physics is new and is still only available in the US.

For this line they offer free VR lessons with the subscription:

MEL Physics

Other MEL science boxes are offered with up to 3 months free.

These include MEL Kids and MEL Chemistry – which deliver worldwide:

MEL Science Discount

KiwiCo Special Offer

1st month FREE on 6 & 12 month subscriptions here with code FRESH:

KiwiCo FRESH

*Offers are subject to availability and to the supplier’s terms and conditions at time of ordering. Please check supplier’s website for full details.

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