KiwiCrate Review: Our Experience After Three Months

kiwicrate review

Hi friends! When I shared a few pictures of my daughter enjoying her Kiwi Crate on Instagram a few months back, a few of you expressed interest in a review. So here it is! I am not being paid to share, and I bought a subscription out of my own pocket. I just know that I would have appreciated an unbiased review when I was first considering the product. (Note: if you make a purchase through my link, I do get referral credit! You and I each get $10 off.)

For those who are unfamiliar: KiwiCo is a monthly subscription service, which provides children with a box of STEM-related activities that includes all the materials, instructions, and supplementary information for a hands-on learning experience. They do ALL the brain-work for you, so you don’t have to plan or gather materials. You can just open it up and get to work! They offer boxes for several different age groups, from 0-16 (e.g. ages 0-2 is called the Tadpole Crate; ages 9-16 is called the Tinker Crate). We got the Kiwi Crate, for ages 5-8. Lydia is seven, and it was perfect for her.

I initially bought a three-month subscription to try it out. I’ll be up-front: Kiwi Crate is rather expensive, and I was nervous to make too big a commitment in case Lydia didn’t like it. However, of course, the bigger the subscription you buy, the better the value. (I’ll go into detail about price later.)

I decided to make the leap because we don’t spend any money on curriculum (we unschool), so I felt I could splurge on this. Science/technology/engineering/math are NOT my strong points, so I was happy to let someone else do the work for me here. Especially if these subjects could be introduced in a fun, engaging way without evaluation or pressure of any kind. I wanted something that might inspire her to dig deeper into STEM without external prodding.

I’m glad I didn’t just buy a single box, because our first one was the least impressive one we got, and wasn’t the best representation of what’s available. I mean, it was still good; but if I would have had to make my decision to continue based on that box alone, it would have been a tough one. The next two were completely fabulous and totally won me over, though. But I’m getting ahead of myself.

Okay. Let’s cover some of the details.

What does Kiwi Crate cost?

kiwi crate activities

Kiwi Crates are more affordable if you live in the US, because shipping is free there. We live in Canada, and so the shoddy current exchange rate, plus the additional $5.95/month shipping fee, make it more expensive. (Note: Kiwi Crates can be shipped all over the world, with varying shipping costs attached.)

You can check the website for all the details on cost. As for me in Canada, I got the 3-month subscription, and it had a “50% off the first crate” special going at the time. I ended up paying $89 after taxes and shipping, which worked out to about $30CAD per crate. It’s a little spendy.

If I was in the US, it would have cost about $17.29USD/crate for the same subscription, which is a lot more affordable. It would be even less per crate if you got, say, a full year subscription.

There are regular sales on the site. At the moment of this writing, you can get 60% off your first month when you use the code EARLY, but this is always changing. Check the site to see what the current deal is.

What’s inside a Kiwi Crate?

The best way to explain what’s inside a Kiwi Crate is to show you exactly what was in ours!

First Crate: Arcade

The theme of the first crate was “arcade.” It had more of an engineering emphasis.

It contained all the tools and materials to put together a wooden claw. It contained extremely detailed instructions, with pictures, so that she could do all the steps with very little guidance from me. (She probably would have needed almost none if she could read.) It also contained everything she needed to make two little pompom creatures to grab with her claw (including googly eyes!).

kiwi crate arcade 1

kiwi crate arcade 2(Here you can get a glimpse of how beautiful the design is.)

kiwi crate arcade 3(Completely unrelated: Look at those flexible feet. Katy Bowman would be proud!)

Each box also comes with a small magazine, containing a short comic, some activities (games, mazes, etc), ideas for additional projects, and suggestions to extend the use of the crate contents.

kiwi crate magazine

kiwi crate comic

Crate #2: Rainbow Optics

This was the first crate to really dazzle us. In it, we learned all about light! It contained:

Everything needed to make a beautiful colour-changing lamp:

rainbow optics 2Everything needed to make this shadow projection box, including finger lights:

rainbow optics 1

mixing coloured light

And a pair of glasses that breaks white light into coloured light. Here’s a shot of what it looked like to look at our kitchen pot lights through them:

Just so awesome. Even I learned a lot about mixing coloured light!

Box #3: Secret Agent

This box was the absolute coolest, and was the most fun. (But also maybe the least science-y. I don’t know if we learned anything beyond “UV lights are so cool!”) It included…

Everything you need to make a periscope, for spying around corners:

kiwi crate periscope

Everything you need to make a briefcase full of materials for writing secret messages:

kiwi crate secret agent

There were two ways to share secret messages: either by writing with the included markers on red squiggly “spy paper,” which you can decipher if you wear the red “spy glasses”:

secret message(Through the glasses you can see the message “I LOVE YOU MOM” — awwwww)

Or by writing on white paper with the invisible pen, and then shining the included UV light onto it:

kiwi crate UV light(Lydia decided to use it to practice math equations. I did not dissuade her.)

The included magazine gave us lots of ideas for additional spy activities the next day, including taking fingerprints and writing secret messages with lemon juice, which can be revealed with a hot iron (not pictured).

Final Verdict

Well. After our first three month subscription ran out, I went ahead and got another six-month subscription. I decided it was worth it!

The cost is a bit more than I would prefer, but Lydia just had so much fun putting them together, and the magazines sparked lots of interesting experiments and learning opportunities for us to bond over that I really appreciated. Plus, it’s really fun for Lydia to get stuff in the mail with her own name on it!

I would especially recommend them for US residents, for whom they are more affordable.

I think a Kiwi Crate subscription would make a great gift, especially for kids who already have all the toys they need. Remember, there are different boxes for different ages! If you order now, you can probably get the first box in time for Christmas!

Again, if you make a purchase through my referral link, you get $10 off your first crate.

What do you think? Does Kiwi Crate look worth it to you?

 

Make Your Own Black Walnut Ink

homemade black walnut ink2Hi friends! In my last post, I talked about my recent adventures in dyeing wool with plants. Today, I want to share another really fun experiment I tried: making my own blank walnut ink! It was incredibly rewarding.

I followed the instructions offered by You Grow Girl, but honestly, it’s so easy you hardly need instructions.

First, my daughter and I collected about 20 black walnuts off the ground from a local park. We did this in late September. They were still green, but we wanted to grab them before the squirrels got them all. The pigment comes from the skin, so you need them to have the skin still intact.

black walnuts

Then I threw them in an enameled stock pot, covered them with water, and left them outside to let them blacken and ferment for about three weeks. (Note: by the end, there was a tiny bit of mould floating on top. I just scooped it off with a slotted spoon. It didn’t harm the finished ink.)

Then I put it on an outdoor burner and let it simmer for a couple of hours. (It has a strong, woodsy smell, so I preferred to do it outside). Then I just turned it off and let it cool overnight.

boiling

The next morning, I strained out the walnuts (I left them outside for the squirrels to help themselves to) and moved the ink to a smaller pot. I let it simmer a little longer on the stove inside to increase the intensity of the pigment.

Annnnd… that’s it! I ended up with about two cups of liquid. I was amazed to discover that the very first time I dipped my pen into the still-warm liquid, I had a gorgeous, brown-black ink that flowed perfectly and dried with a slight sheen. It worked beautifully with my inexpensive pointed nib pen. (I have this set of nibs with this holder — the ink works great with the 512 — the total ensemble costs less than $10.)

I added a few tablespoons of rubbing alcohol as a preservative.

I transferred a small amount into a tiny glass jar I’d saved, to make dipping easier.

black walnut ink

After testing the ink out on different papers, I found that it worked best on my Strathmore Calligraphy paper. (It doesn’t bleed, and it doesn’t snag on the nib.) It was so fun, Lydia couldn’t stop playing with it.

drawing with walnut ink

black walnut ink drawinglady knight, done in black walnut ink

I was amazed how well the ink and pen worked together: I could write up to three sentences out with a single dip. And it’s so fun! You feel like Shakespeare! (Note: I realize he probably used oak gall ink.)

black walut ink test

It works great in calligraphy…

black walnut ink calligraphy(Full disclosure: I practised about 20 times before creating what you see here)

A few days later I learned how to make a folded pen and gave it a whirl with my new ink. I LOVED the results.

homemade folded pen and black walnut ink

All in all, the whole experience was just so fun and satisfying, and didn’t take much time or effort.

I honestly prefer my homemade ink to the India ink and calligraphy ink I’ve purchased! It looks deeper and richer when it dries. It does take a long time to dry, though, which is especially challenging as a leftie.

If you’ve got access to a black walnut tree dropping nuts onto the ground (and, you know, I desire to use a dip pen), I highly recommend giving it a try!

Experiments in Dyeing Wool With Plants

dyeing wool with plants

Hi friends! Since I can’t seem to decide what this blog is about, I thought it would be fun to share my recent adventures in natural dyeing!

As regular readers know, I’ve been knitting and crocheting for four years now. That’s what got me interested in fibre arts. When I stumbled upon a blog post where someone used goldenrod (which grows plentifully in our neighbourhood) to dye fabric, I thought it would be fun to try dyeing some wool yarn with plants. I already had some undyed wool in my stash I could try it on.

So I did what I always do in such situations: I took a book on the subject out of the library.

harvesting color book

This is Harvesting Color: How to Find Plants and Make Natural Dye by Rebecca Burgess, and it is perfect. I learned all about mordants and afterbaths. She has recipes for all kinds of wild plant dyes from all over North America, organized by season.

Flipping through the book, I was thrilled to discover that you can make natural dyes from a number of plants that grow naturally in the waste spaces around our neighbourhood, and that I was currently in the perfect season (September) to harvest several of them. I decided to try three of them: goldenrod, staghorn sumac, and pokeberry (pokeweed).

Going for walks to harvest plants with Lydia was a lot of fun: she felt so proud as she tried to find the best flowers and berries for the job. And what could possibly feel more wholesome than taking a barefoot walk down a nature trail and filling a woven basket with local wildflowers to dye your own wool? Nothing, that’s what.

Note: I won’t go into too much detail about how exactly I did all this. I highly recommend checking out the above book. I just wanted to share briefly, with the hopes that it might inspire you to try something interesting and new, too!

(I did all of these very slowly, one at a time, over the course of several weeks. They often involved soaking overnight. But I’m cramming them all together in this post.)

So first, we gathered:

Goldenrod:

goldenrod

Staghorn sumac cones:

sumac

pokeberries:

pokeberries

Then I made the dyes!

All of these plants required slightly different treatments, though they all involved simmering the plant matter in water for a few hours, straining, and then simmering the yarn in the dye for an hour or two. Most, I allowed to cool and soak overnight as well.

goldenrod dye(goldenrod dye)

pokeberry dye(pokeberry dye)

Then I squeezed out the liquid, rinsed, and hung them out to dry.

goldenrod hanging

In every case, I was surprised by the final colour: none of them quite matched the colour of the original plant matter.

natural plant dyes - goldenrod, sumac, pokeberry

Here’s a closer look at each:

The bright goldenrod flowers produced a soft, buttery yellow:

natural goldenrod dye

The red sumac berries/cones produced a golden-bronzy colour:

natural sumac dye

And most surprising of all, the purple pokeberries — which turn bright fushia when crushed — produced a deep scarlet:

homemade pokeberry dye

All in all, I was quite happy with the results. It was a fun learning experience! Next year I would use more goldenrod flowers, with the hopes that I could get a brighter colour.

Have you ever tried dyeing with plants? What should I try next?