So here we are again. With schools closed to most children for the second time, and no sign of a return to the classroom just yet, many parents are back to the daily juggle of home learning.
This time around, lots more schools have moved their teaching online, which means many children are now doing the bulk of their learning – and often their play – on a screen.
Particularly during the winter months, subscription boxes can be a godsend for screen-frazzled kids and their parents. Delivered to your door, they’re something to look forward to – and the perfect excuse to get off the iPad for a bit.
Plus, each one has an educational element, whether your child is learning to read and follow instructions, or developing their fine motor skills by drawing, painting or crafting.
Depending on the age of your child, some boxes can be completed totally independently – buying you some much-needed time. Other boxes make a nice family activity for the weekend, and others are great for some one-on-one time with your kids that doesn’t involve navigating three different home learning apps.
Most subscription boxes are set up on a monthly rolling basis that you can cancel any time, but often there’s a discount if you commit to a longer period and pay upfront. The usual pre-pay options are three, six or 12 months. Keep an eye out for introductory offers, trial boxes, and one-off boxes.
Most subscription box companies sell off the remaining stock of their past boxes, so you don’t even have to commit to a sub. Sibling boxes are ideal if you have kids of a similar age, and one-off boxes make a lovely gift idea for the stressed-out, homeschooling friend in your life.
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toucanBox craft subscription box
These monthly craft boxes are aimed at young children aged three to eight, and each box is absolutely filled to the brim. They’re inspired by Montessori learning so the focus is on creative play, and it’s clear that a lot of thought goes into each one – from the personalised packaging to the imaginative projects.
Each box contains the materials primary schoolers need to make two crafts, as well as a magazine. You pick the projects you fancy for your first box, then every month after that is a surprise. The instructions can be quite detailed, which is great for children at the top end of the age range, who can follow them independently. Subscription options get cheaper the longer you commit to, from three to 12 months, and even the monthly rolling option is a good price at £8.95 a month plus delivery. You can also buy the boxes as one-offs – perfect if you want a half-term activity to keep on standby.
Little Cooks Co cooking subscription box
Developed by a nutritionist and mum, each of these monthly cooking kits contains all the dry ingredients to make a healthy recipe – and the focus is very much on the kids getting stuck in. Our six-year-old tester made rocky road bites with dates and apricots in place of sugar, and buckwheat groats – which we’d never heard of.
You’ll need to add a few store-cupboard ingredients, but most things are provided and there are recipe cards for things like savoury dishes and healthy smoothies in the box, too. The kits are aimed at kids aged roughly three to 10, and our tester needed an adult to help with the blender, the hob and the oven. This is a good one if you’re struggling for lunchtime inspiration.
Tinker Crate Steam subscription box
US-based KiwiCo offer eight subscription boxes inspired by Steam subjects – that’s science, technology, engineering, arts and maths. Each box has a recommended age range, all the way from babies to adults.
Our favourite by far is the Tinker Crate, which is aimed at ages nine to 16. This is the science and engineering box, and projects include everything from building mechanical robots to creating bounceable slime – with a child-friendly set of instructions for each one. Another brilliant option is the Atlas Crate, which includes hands-on craft projects for kids aged six to 11. These are based on the theme of geography and culture and you get several projects in one box, so they’re a very welcome escape while we’re all hemmed in at home.
The Bake Off Box baking subscription box
This newly launched box isn’t specifically aimed at kids, but it makes a brilliant family activity – particularly when nobody can face the thought of another walk. Every month you’re sent a recipe developed by the Great British Bake Off team, along with the pre-measured dry ingredients to make it, plus a piece of baking equipment. February’s debut box came with a cake stand.
The sheer size of the box had our young testers squealing with excitement, and for fans of the show it feels like a real treat to make such indulgent bakes at home. You do need to have a few extra ingredients to hand, so it does require a bit of pre-planning. And the tension is palpable. At one point when the ganache on our supersized signature chocolate cake refused to set, the youngest tester – panicked – declared it was “just like baking in the tent!”
ScrawlrBox art subscription box
This monthly art supply box isn’t aimed at children but was a huge hit with our eight-year-old tester, and would work well for older children and teens. Every month you get a mystery box of art materials that’s themed around a specific artist. There’s a little magazine with info about their work, and the idea is to have a go at creating something inspired by it.
Our tester spent several hours creating a piece of graffiti artwork using some really cool markers and was particularly delighted that the box included sweets. Because there’s no parental supervision needed, older children can just be left to their own devices. Plus, as the months go on they build up an impressive collection of premium art materials that can be used over and over again. To save a bit on the monthly price, choose the six- or 12-month sub.
Mud & Bloom nature subscription box
Our wildlife-loving tester was particularly keen on this nature-inspired box. Aimed at three to eight-year-olds, each one includes a selection of activities designed to encourage kids to get outside and get their hands dirty. It’s like forest school, delivered.
There’s a surprising amount to do in each box – we planted veg seeds, grew flowers and made bird feeders across the space of several afternoons and still had a few activities left. And you don’t need a garden. Our most recent box came with peat-free compost pellets to grow the seeds in, and we scavenged for pinecones and twigs in the park.
Mud & Bloom also offer a sibling box with double the contents, so nobody’s left out. And it’s nice to see a box that’s completely plastic-free, with recyclable packaging.
Make & Wonder art subscription box
Yes, it’s another art box, but this one takes a totally different approach. Each monthly box introduces kids to a new female artist – from Frida Kahlo to Bridget Riley. As well as learning a little about the artist’s approach, they get a set of activity cards and all the materials to create four projects.
The idea is that children take the lead and parents take a back seat, and the activities are much more organic than any other kids’ craft boxes we’ve tried. Instead of step-by-step instructions for each one, for example, you get a flexible process to follow – with ideas and prompts to get you talking and inventing. The boxes are aimed at ages three to 10, and there’s a triple box option if three siblings want to have a go together. At the end, everyone’s finished creations are totally unique – and that’s exactly the beauty of it.
One Third Stories languages subscription box
These language learning boxes for kids are based on a really clever concept. Delivered monthly, each bright yellow package contains a children’s story book that starts in English, and gradually weaves in and repeats key words in a second language – you can choose French, Spanish, Italian or German.
It’s a brilliantly sneaky way of getting kids learning languages without really realising it, and you’re sent an audiobook to listen to with every book, to help with pronunciation. There’s also a booklet full of new activities each month that’s designed to reinforce the new vocabulary from the story. That includes speaking and writing tasks, games and flash cards. Age-wise these are aimed at four to nine-year-olds, but parents are just as likely to learn the lingo in the process.
Parrot Street Book Club subscription box
While they’re not able to choose new books from the school library, growing bookworms will love getting something fresh to read through the post. This monthly book club splits kids into two age groups – ages five to eight and eight to 12 – and everyone in their group gets the same book, so there’s no boy/girl divide.
There’s an activity pack that gets them thinking about the book, with suggestions of themed recipes and crafts to try. They also get a little welcome pack with a reading record when you first subscribe, so it feels like they’re part of a club. And if you’ve got two kids with the same reading age – or perhaps friends who want to start a virtual book club – you can opt for a sibling box. They’ll get one book to share, but double the activity cards.
The verdict: Kids’ subscription boxes
The toucanBox was the most unanimously popular option with our young testers, and the price is great for the substantial craft goodies you get inside. Extra touches like little LED lights to bring their crafts to life really set this one apart. KiwiCo’s Tinker Crate came a close second and would be better suited to older children, while The Bake Off Box deserves a special mention as a great rainy-day activity for the whole family. Even if some members only get involved when it’s time to taste-test…
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