When I informed my kid that we were going to build test a Tinker Crate, I am pretty sure I made his entire Saturday. I sealed the deal when I revealed that the project of the day was to build your own wooden crane. The project took a bit over an hour from start to finish, and my 10 year old was able to read the instructions and direct the whole process on his own. He has lots of Lego building experience, but this was his first exposure to Tinker Crate. (Kiwi Co provided us with a box to facilitate the creation of this review. They did not request or receive any input on the contents of my review nor did they ask me to endorse the product. My opinions are my own and of course your mileage may vary.)
What we loved about Tinker Crate:
This is a very high quality kit.
The pieces were all completely cut out, no trimming or punching required. They appear to have been cut with a laser cutter, as they were very precise and clean. The pieces are made of plywood, and are very strong. A lot of kids’ kits have softwood pieces that splinter easily, but these are quite sturdy. There were extras of some of the easily damaged pieces like the foam stickers, and some of the smaller pieces that could be easily lost.
Everything went together as it should. The project was appropriate for the age range listed, in my opinion, although by the time he is 16 my particular kid may have outgrown this. The only building tasks my 10 year old struggled with were mounting the crane body to the box (more on that in a minute) and threading the cord that controls the crane arm and hook. (That bit was a just a bit fiddly for him and my superior fine motor skills were a plus.)
See our Tinker Crate Build Test in action:
Where we went wrong
Now, about mounting that crane body. There is a post on the bottom of the body (you can see it a couple times in the video, I think, and you can also see it, pre-assembly, in my header image) that goes down through a hole you punch in the box and is then secured by a wooden washer with a slot in it. Simple enough, but kiddo had never seen something like this in action and couldn’t quite visualize it.
Naturally, as his mom, I offered to help. And while I was trying to show him how it worked, I wiggled the washer onto the post, and snapped that bad boy clean off the entire contraption. And by “clean off,” I mean I sheared it off so thoroughly there was no reason to hope it would ever go back on. The break on the crane body was clean, and the post was in splinters. Without this post, the crane would not be able to pivot on its mounting. It would have to operate from a fixed position.
A minor panic attack ensued. My kid was on the verge of devastation, thinking I had just wasted all his hard work so far. Nothing is more painful to me than disappointing my kid! I grabbed a small wood screw and my trusty set of drivers (you may remember them from our Pumpkin Gutter project) and went to work. Very careful drilling allowed me to replace the post with the screw. The repair has held up to a lot of action since then.
UPDATE: Tinker Crate has informed me that if your kid’s mom is a brute like me, they do offer replacement pieces or even a replacement crate, if necessary. Just contact their customer service.
What was okay but could be improved:
The readability of the directions could be improved.
Aside from the fine motor issues and the repair to the piece I broke, every difficulty (and there were not many) my son had with the build could be attributed to him missing things in the directions. He needed my help more for figuring out where he had gone wrong in following them than for any actual build related skill.
This problem would be encountered by many kids with dyslexia or other decoding issues, and by some with executive function issues as well. The layout of the directions is attractively done in low-contrast colors without much separation between the steps. Although this is very pretty, it makes it hard for some people to find the beginning and end of each step.
It would be easier for people with dyslexia and other decoding issues to follow the directions sequentially if there were more contrast and better separation between the steps. Creating a layout that “chunks” them by alternating the color of the background, outlining each step, or prominently numbering the steps would make these instructions more accessible to some readers.
I recommend a work-around
If you know your kid has dyslexia or a decoding issue, you can work around this issue for them. My suggestions (take any, take all, give me your own down there in the comments box!) would be:
- Use a highlighter or pen to “chunk” these directions before starting the build
- make copies that break the large direction sheet up into smaller sections
- Number each step with a bold, high contrast notation either between steps or above each one.
Emergency Contact Information is always a good idea!
Information about how to acquire a replacement part when your mother applies a little too much brute force while she is “helping” you would be great too. Obviously I don’t blame Tinker Crate for the fact that I overdid it, but if repairing the damage hadn’t been possible it would have been reassuring to have that information right in front of us. (See my update above… it would still be great if the phone number was on the directions! My kiddo would have felt better if the information was right in front of him when we had our mishap.)
What we aren’t sure we loved:
There was only one. Little Bro is outside the recommended age range for this kit as a builder, but that didn’t stop him from falling in love with and wanting to take over the finished machine. That’s really the only complaint to be made about this thing. I would absolutely recommend this as a gift for my kid or any kid age 9-16 who loves knowing how things work. Furthermore, based on the quality of this kit, I wouldn’t hesitate to recommend Kiwi Co’s other subscription crates either. This thing has been on the job around here for nearly two weeks and shows no signs of quitting, so it gets full marks from us!
You can learn more about Tinker Crate and Kiwi Co’s other hands-on subscription boxes at www.kiwico.com. I am not an affiliate and I do not in any way receive a commission from any purchase you make! Please follow me on Pinterest for more great ideas for kids’ STEAM projects!