Letterbox Lab provide innovative children’s science kits as subscription boxes.
The Explore Box (£8 + £2 postage) is for kids aged 6+ and contains a least an hour’s worth of fun science.
The Investigate Box (£22 + £2 postage) for kids aged 8+ has more experiments and more items of collectible lab equipment with enough to keep a junior scientist busy for 3 or 4 hours.
Both kits have full-colour illustrated instructions and online videos to make it easy to do all the experiments.
My lovely helper is my daughter, Little C, age nearly seven! I was sent an Explore Box, which is perfectly designed for her age group.
Incidentally, this box took us longer than usual to complete, firstly because the some of the results were slightly more long term than usual, and also because Little C was ill for several days. I can tell you now, a child with a high temperature does not wish to participate in fun science experiments.
Anyway, we finally finished, and it was splendid.
So let’s have a look at what we did!
The box is flat, and fits perfectly through the mailbox, but they pack in a remarkable amount of goodies!
They include everything you will need, except for things you would expect to have, such as water.
This box contained five experiments/activities.
The first one was called Pop goes the Potential Energy.
Did you notice that yellow smiley face in the pictures above?
Well, it was one of those popper things you turn inside out, put on a flat surface, and wait for it to pop into the air.
This was very cool.
I also managed to catch it on video!
This was such fun! We played with the popper for some time.
The next project involved food colouring. And who doesn’t enjoy playing with that?
Root to Success provided everything except three glasses and water. They even included kitchen roll in the box!
Such pretty colours!
This is what the glasses looked like after a few minutes.
And below is what they looked like the next morning!
Amazing! It worked perfectly!
(And yes, I get up early enough that it’s still dark outside.)
I should also say that when Little C saw this, she squealed ‘Mummy, it’s turned into wine!’
Anyway, she was delighted with this one. It was so simple and yet so effective.
Next up, one which offered some proper technical challenges.
Robo Hand required some assistance from me.
Drawing outlines (I did the cutting out).
Pulling scary faces with the cardboard hand.
(OK, this wasn’t in the instructions, but it was still fun!)
Measuring, more cutting, and sticking.
Then threading the string (tricky, and also done by me).
But here is the result! (Smiley popper had to get in the picture too.)
We decided to leave the wristband out, and just tied loops round Little C’s fingers to move the cardboard fingers. It was really rather effective.
Here it is in action.
This looked even better in real life.
(Sorry for the dodgy video, I’ve only just discovered I can add them!)
There was another long-range project in the box.
Solar Powered involved something which every kid has done at some point: growing cress.
But this version had a twist.
You put one dish on a shelf, and one in a cupboard.
Can you guess which was which?
(If you can’t, you need to brush up on your basic science.)
This was the final result.
Poor cupboard cress, it looks very sad.
We felt so sorry for it we’ve put it out on the shelf with the other dish, in the hope it perks up a bit before we eat it.
Our final project was another complicated but awesome mechanical project.
Robo Hand also needed some input from me.
I decided it would be sensible to prepare all the cutting out and poking holes beforehand.
But once we had the bits ready, Little C was ready to take over putting it all together.
We discovered that it was rather big, and also rather droopy.
The cardboard couldn’t really support its own weight.
But we solved it by taking out a couple of the pieces, and then it worked perfectly!
It wasn’t picking up anything heavy, just a piece of fabric, but it really did work.
Check it out in action!
Little C definitely deserved her certificate!
The box even included is little bonus gift (right), which was a butterfly you wound up with a rubber band and went fluttering around the room! What a lovely extra.
So, I must admit I had a few reservations when I saw how much help was required for some of these projects. Of course, every box has required some help, but my job has mostly been holding things and taking pictures. This time I had to be a lot more proactive.
But despite working against my lazy instincts, this turned out to be wonderful!
Little C loved everything about this box, though the grabber hand and the popper were the best.
As for the work I had to put in, there was rather a lot of cutting out, which required precision beyond that of your average six-year-old. I ended up doing more fiddly stuff than normal, but it didn’t matter because Little C could always complete the final stages, even if I was doing the prep work.
The popper was awesome, and a great toy in general. Having something to keep is always appreciated!
Growing cress is a classic childhood activity, but the different growing conditions really made us think about the whole process and what is necessary for plants to grow properly.
Coloured water is simple but effective, and seeing the blue and red combine using nothing more than paper towels was really quite magical. (It would have been even more magical if it had really turned into wine, but hey ho.)
The two mechanical projects definitely required prep work and parental assistance, but Little C’s participation was definitely the important bits.
Unusually, the experiments did not have more-or-less instant results. Two of the experiments (coloured water and cress) required days rather than minutes or hours to see results, which meant we were frequently referring back to the projects. Even the two mechanical items took longer than usual, so in this case, it was definitely more than an hour’s worth of science fun!
It was extra thoughtful to include the butterfly as a bonus gift. And of course the rubber band mechanisms was totally appropriate to the theme of the box!
A quick word about the new pricing: I got a lovely email from one of the people who run Letterbox Lab, explaining the reason for the change. Basically, the Explore Boxes cost more to send than originally intended, as they contain more stuff. They’ve reduced the postage of the Investigate Box, as they cost the same to post as the Explore Box. They also rounded up the subscription price, because they felt it was better to be honest about the price than continue to use the (frequently seen) trick of making something seem much cheaper by pricing it at £X.99p.
Regardless of the minor postage increase of the Explore Box, I think this represents incredibly good value for money. And don’t forget, they include things you can use again and again.
One of the (many) things I love about this box is that I am confident that as Little C gets older she will remember the things we did when she is studying science at school. Having those little echoes make such a difference, I think, as it can make something which might feel a little strange or intimidating feel suddenly familiar and joyful.
The question of encouraging girls into STEM subjects crops up frequently, and this box is a wonderful (and totally neutral) introduction to science for all children. The little cartoon characters, Meg and Pico, that guide you through the activities are a boy and a girl, and it’s frequently Meg who takes the lead. I don’t know if this was intentional or not on the part of the creators, but it’s very encouraging.
Once again, we have had the most marvellous time with Letterbox Lab, and as always, I can’t recommend it highly enough!
A different version of this review first appeared on allsubscriptionboxes.co.uk.