This month’s Tinker Crate featured a fun project instantly recognizable to any grandparent Tinker assistants — the once-ubiquitous Lava Lamp! Tinker Crate is a subscription box that inspires kids to learn about science, engineering, and technology, all while having lots of fun. Each month, the box explores a field of study within a STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Math) discipline. Kids practice their problem solving skills and learn how to engage in both structured and open-ended exploration and investigation. Most boxes walk the tinkerers through construction of fairly complex mechanical devices.
Everything that arrives together in a single Tinker Crate – the supplies, a fold-out instruction sheet, and the Tinker Zine. In addition to the cool stuff found in the Tinker Zine, most crates have a secondary project that builds on the primary project, extending the exploration and focusing in on the science principles demonstrated by the main project.
The kit includes all the materials needed to construct the main project, the Lava Lamp. Sometimes you need to provide some simple items from home for the second project or the additional explorations suggested in the Tinker Zine.
The instructions and other project info are printed on a faux blueprint fold-out sheet. Along with materials and instructions, you get some handy pointers and a troubleshooting guide. The sheet tells you everything that came in the box, some tips, and help if you can’t get it to work. This is a well-designed and tested box — we’ve never had a project with a fatal design flaw or any frustrating, unresolved engineering issues. Plus, there is help available if needed!
The instructions are clear and easy to follow and include both visuals and text, with lots of tips and checkpoints to make sure you’ve done everything correctly as you go. You aren’t expected to be an expert or know all the principles behind the project coming into it — the instructions are well thought out and anticipate areas where a novice might go astray. We can tell from the exquisite detail and thoughtfulness of the instructions that the projects are designed and tested, with lessons from testing and re-testing make their way into the instructions.
The main project is always a great hands-on activity and a great demonstration of the scientific principles featured in the box, but the Tinker Zine is where the lessons really take shape! Our lava lamp is similar to the groovy classic, but it doesn’t rely on heating the lave by bulb to make it circulate. We use heatless LEDs to illuminate the project, but the convection effect is produced by a hand pump.
The Tinker Zine explains the principles behind the project. This issue explored relative density of liquids and how the hydrophobic nature of oil produces the globular lava effect in the lamp.
The Zine always has some very in depth exploration of the principles behind the project, as well as examples of real world applications. This additional project encourages the kids to combine various (safe and stable) liquids of differing densities to observe how they segregate into layers ordered by density.
Our daughter sometimes holds our projects up a bit because she insists on reading every bit of the Zine before we can start!
The Crate included instructions for a secondary project which allows you to create a “marbled paper.” Secondary projects use some common materials from home, but the Crate sometimes has a few unique components if needed.
The text is perfectly suited for the target age. The discussion of scientific principles and concepts is accurate and uses correct terminology, but the style is light and exciting. We can’t stress enough how great a job Tinker Crate does with explaining the principles demonstrated by the project. It is very relatable — in this section, the concept of emulsion is demonstrated by reference to common, emulsified foods with which kids are familiar.
Learning can be a group activity! Here, for reasons known only to him, our assistant is taking a routine depth reading on Dad’s (cold) coffee.
There were a few steps that needed adult assistance — one required pushing a pin through thick plastic. Elsewhere, an extra, steady hand was helpful. Tinker Crate always has lots of troubleshooting guidance available, just in case something isn’t quite right.
The assembly on this project was simple enough that everyone got in on the action.
A gentle squeeze on the pump hurtles the lava to the top of the lamp. The bubbles get tinier with frequent agitation, but they pool back into larger blobs if left undisturbed for a brief time.
The kit comes with three colored sheets to stick between the lights and the column of water, creating a colored lamp. We liked the rainbow effect created by stacking the three filters together.
The finished lamp is very cool! The pump attaches to the stand when not in use, and the entire apparatus can sit in the provided drip tray, just in case any leaks occur. Ours was perfectly leak-free, but the instructions had cautions on how to avoid leaks, and troubleshooting advice if they were to occur. Because the light is LED, this lamp can survive quite a time if protected from destructive little hands.
We really love Tinker Crate, because the projects are extremely well designed, with a comprehensive and engaging STEM-grounded lesson built around the project in each box. It is a great box for tweens, but the projects are interesting enough that mom or dad will have fun helping younger kids tackle the projects, too!
The Description: Tinker Crate help kids gain crucial STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Math) skills through hands-on activities that are also seriously fun. Every crate includes all the materials and inspiration for a super-cool project. Ages 9 to 14+
The Price: $19.95 per month
The Categories:Kids Craft & Activities Subscription Boxes, Kids Educational & Learning Subscription Boxes,Subscription Boxes for Kids,Subscription Boxes for Teens & Tweens. KiwiCo Family, STEM Subscription Boxes, Subscription Boxes for Dads, Subscription Boxes for Teen Girls, Subscription Boxes for Teenage Boys.
The Reviews: See all our Tinker Crate Reviews.