Thinking in a box: Subscription box services for kids

Educational boxes for kids deliver hands-on learning and creative activities

Are you a time-strapped parent who finds it challenging to come up with educational activities to keep your child engaged? Signing up for a subscription box service for your child could help. Every month, a box filled with hands-on learning and creative activities is delivered to your doorstep.

As each box has a different theme, your child could be making a lava lamp one month or playing with instant snow the next - all in the comfort of home.

Plus, your child is likely to be thrilled to receive a package in the mail every month.

Recognising the importance of parent-child bonding and inculcating in children the love of learning, a growing number of Singaporeans have come up with subscription box services for children.

Previously, apart from a handful of local providers, parents usually had to subscribe to overseas services and get the boxes shipped here. In the last two years, at least three new local providers have emerged: Spurbox in 2015, Thinkasaur in June last year and EllieFun Box in April this year.

Parents can buy single boxes priced between $25 and $48, or opt for a subscription plan of up to 12 months.

The Sunday Times checks out three such services.


Thinkasaur

The materials in EllieFun boxes incorporate Montessori-based ideas and principles. Thinkasaur boxes contain content that aims to make science fun for children. The boxes from My Messy Box contain materials that allow the child to engage in sensory pl
Thinkasaur boxes contain content that aims to make science fun for children. PHOTO: THINKASAUR

The business was borne out of three young adults' common love of science and a belief that learning should never be boring.

Thinkasaur boxes (www.thinkasaur.com), which centre on scientific themes and experiments, were launched in June last year.

Marketing and creative director Judy Ng, 28, says: "We looked back fondly on the fun we had coming up with our own experiments as kids and wanted to create something that instils a sense of wonder and excitement for science in kids."

With today's children becoming increasingly glued to electronic gadgets and mobile apps, she and her team want to engage them in hands-on, do-it-yourself activities.

Ms Ng runs the business full-time with strategy and operations director Mark Voon, 30, while finance manager Jason Ng, 31, has a day job in the finance industry. Ms Ng and Mr Ng are cousins, and Mr Voon is a mutual friend.

It took about a year of research and development before the first box was launched. Each box, priced at $48, covers a specific scientific theme such as electricity, colours or astronomy and contains up to four experiments. They are suitable for children between five and 10 years old. Thinkasaur does not offer subscription plans.

Ms Ng says: "Children generally begin learning science in Primary 3 in schools here, but we want to expose them to the subject at an earlier age and build their passion for it, as well as for discovery and learning."

The boxes also include a learning guide, equipment such as gloves and almost all the ingredients required to conduct each experiment. There are 13 different boxes and popular ones include Crazy Chemistry, which gets the kids to make lava lamps and crystal gardens, and Wonders of Colours, which teaches colour mixing.

Ms Ng says the user base has been growing monthly, with figures more than doubling as the business enters the second year of operations. The product was named the Best for Science winner at Harper's Bazaar Junior Toy Awards last year.

The team is looking into the possibility of shipping the boxes overseas as it has received many requests.


My Messy Box

My Messy Box (www.mymessybox.sg), which focuses on sensory play and experiential learning, is one of the earliest subscription boxservices here.

After a year of planning and pre-production, the first box was launched in 2013 by husband-and-wife team Jeff and Gladys Lim, both 31.

Mr Lim is a property agent and Mrs Lim is a housewife. They have a four-year-old daughterand a six-year-old son.

It was their son who inspired them to start My Messy Box. When he was two years old, they felt his fine-motor development was "a little delayed". After some research, they found that sensory play - which was then popular in Britain and Australia - could help.

Mr Lim says: "We tried sensory play with our son and found that it worked really well for him - not just in terms of fine-motor development, but also as a medium for teaching. So, we wanted to create something that can raise people's awareness of this."

They sank a five-figure sum from their savings to set up My Messy Box, which they initially ran from home. They did everything themselves - from coming up with the themes and curriculum planning to designing, printing and packing the boxes.

They now have 15 different box themes and are in the process of developing more. The boxes are recommended for children between three and six years old.

Subscribers can choose from a three-, six-or 12-month plan - priced at between $25 and $34 a month.

Each box consists of between 10 and 20 items in three packs: An active pack with toys and items related to a theme; a creative pack with art and craft materials; and an explorative pack containing sensory play materials.

Some of their most popular boxes are the Under The Sea box, which contains cube-shaped water beads, and the Let It Snow box, which contains instant snow imported from the United States.

Mr Lim says: "Many parents say they do not have time to play with their kids. We come up with the ideas, source for the materials, pack them together and deliver the boxes to your doorstep. All you need to do is to open up the box to play and learn together with your child."

He declined to reveal figures, but says they have "built up a steady following over the years".

Last year, the couple expanded their business by setting up a centre called Busy Tables in Rochester Mall, where sensory thematic and sensory art classes are conducted by early childhood educators.


EllieFun Box

The materials in EllieFun boxes incorporate Montessori-based ideas and principles. Thinkasaur boxes contain content that aims to make science fun for children. The boxes from My Messy Box contain materials that allow the child to engage in sensory pl
The materials in EllieFun boxes incorporate Montessori-based ideas and principles. PHOTO: ELLIEFUN BOX

They were university schoolmates, worked as secondary school teachers, became mothers around the same time and now run EllieFun Box (elliefunbox.com), a business offering subscription box services for children.

Ms Abigail Chee and Ms Matilda Huang, both 34 and mothers of two children aged six and four, had found themselves constantly discussing their children's education and upbringing. Ms Huang has a third child, who is two.

They found that the Montessori method - it emphasises respect for the child and to follow the child's lead in his learning - resonated with them and decided to incorporate Montessori-based ideas and principles into their offerings when they started EllieFun Box in April this year.

Ms Chee says: "As Matilda and I put materials together to teach our own children, we felt that our efforts could benefit other like-minded parents who wish to be more involved in their children's learning process."

They invested a four-figure sum into the business and have since launched five boxes. The bilingual boxes include a Chinese book related to the month's theme and materials in subject matters including literacy, numeracy and craft.

Some of the themes include animals, community workers and "my body".

The boxes are targeted at children aged two to four. A one-time trial box costs $44.90. For subscription plans, prices range from $42.66 for a monthly plan, which can be cancelled anytime, to $38.17 a month for a pre-paid six-month plan.

The women have been encouraged by their sales figures so far, with the number of subscribers "increasing steadily month on month", says Ms Chee.

While most of their customers are here, they have also sent their boxes to Singaporeans living overseas who have asked for them.

She adds: "It makes us proud that we are able to support fellow Singaporean mummies overseas."

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Sunday Times on December 03, 2017, with the headline 'Thinking in a box'. Print Edition | Subscribe