Put the A in STEAM With the Think With Art Box

Trying out the techniques in the Think With Art crate.
Trying out the techniques in the Think With Art box. All photos: Amy M Weir

Last year Jenny Bristol reviewed the Creation Crate, a subscription box with electronics projects aimed at kids ages twelve and up. The target age was one of the things she liked best about the box, so when the creators of Creation Crate asked her to try out their new subscription service for kids ages 6-10, she passed it on to someone with a creative kid smack in the middle of that age range instead—namely, me.

But if, as Jenny complained in that review, there are already more than enough STEM kits for the elementary-aged set, what makes this new one so special? There may be plenty of STEM kits out there, and there are also plenty of arts and crafts kits: what the Think With Art subscription box does is combine the two. It’s a STEAM kit. “The focus of the box is to teach critical thinking skills to children,” creator Chris told me. “Art is only the medium we use to teach the lessons.”

The Think With Art box, as it came in the mail.
The Think With Art box, as it came in the mail.

Each Think With Art box comes with art supplies and a 20-page booklet with a story about a frankly adorable little cat named Mr. Toffee who has a problem you will need to solve, using your new art techniques to show it. The booklet sits outside the tissue-paper-wrapped supplies in the box, which is good, because this way my second-grader grabbed it first and started to read instead of ripping straight into the “toys.”

Think With Art booklet
The Think With Art booklet lets you know exactly what you’ve got. The junk behind is just our messy table, not the contents of the box.

The booklet is great. It’s written at a level my somewhat advanced second grader found perfectly-comfortable-without-being-babyish to read on her own. After an introduction with a list of box contents and a note for parents, our feline hero Mr. Toffee is introduced. There’s a page that shows “how to draw Mr. Toffee” that simply shows how Mr. Toffee is made of basic geometric shapes. Already you’re sharpening critical thinking skills because this isn’t a step-by-step spelled-out how-to-draw, but it’s broken out in such a way that a kid can figure out which steps to take themselves. My daughter came back to that page a few times as she drew.

Then there’s a brief four-page story setting up Mr. Toffee and his desire to see the world, only he’s afraid of cars, boats, and planes. This sets up the challenge: can you come up with a new way to for him to get around instead? “A bicycle!” my daughter shouted at first–until she read on and the “Project” page specified she come up with “something no one has seen before!” “A bicycle with wings!” she decided.

But let’s backtrack for a moment. Let’s talk about what’s in the box.

Contents of the first Think With Art box
Supplies!

The box contains a pencil, a separate vinyl block eraser, an owl-shaped pencil sharpener, a paperback sketchbook, and a sheet of stiff watercolor paper (which can be easily overlooked). Most specifically for this challenge, there’s a set of 12 watercolor pencils and a fan paintbrush. And as a bonus, there’s a white plastic tablecloth (“to keep the table clean!” as the booklet says) and “Fun Think With Art stickers,” which are very cute:

Think With Art Stickers.
…and inspirational, too.

We also had a roll of washi tape in our box, which, unless it’s considered another “Fun Think With Art sticker,” wasn’t listed in the booklet. I don’t know if this was an extra that came with our review box or something they decided to add later: there is a blacked-out word in our booklet that makes me suspect we have an early draft, so perhaps the washi tape will be added to the booklets that go out in the official launch at the end of the month. This picture shows the contents sans washi tape, but there does appear to be a roll of it in this boy’s box. So I don’t know what to tell you about the washi tape. There’s no “how to use washi tape” in the directions either, which is a shame because I had to look it up myself.

But speaking of the directions, after Mr. Toffee’s story but before you’re given the exact parameters of the project, the booklet introduces your special new art techniques. “I know how to use art supplies,” my daughter said when she first reached this page, tossing the booklet aside. “Now hold on a bit,” I said, “this is teaching you something new to try. Just try what it says before you do your own thing!” And that was how she learned why watercolor pencils are called watercolor pencils. You can see her response when she discovered she had learned something new right here in the sketchbook:

watercolor test page
Wow.

When you’ve completed your Think With Art project, you’re encouraged to share it on social media with the hashtag #twacreations. Each month, one person using the hashtag will be chosen to win more art supplies.

My daughter has yet to make a final copy of her bicycle-with-wings on the sheet of watercolor paper. She’s moved on to filling the rest of the sketchbook with new combinations of drawing and painting, including sketching the pencil sharpener from the box. A pink owl, Think With Art! How did you know that was her very favorite? She was even wearing her pink owl sweatshirt that day!

pink owls
“Which is the REAL owl?” she asked me. I don’t know, they’re all pink.

There’s a “Next month…” teaser at the end of the booklet, and the parent note hints at the other art supplies that may come in future boxes. “Acrylics? I want acrylics! Can we get the acrylics box?”

Here’s where I have to admit that I’ve never really gotten the concept of ordering subscription boxes. I did get my sister three months of Conscious Box one Christmas (after seeing it reviewed on the old GeekMom site!), but it works for me as a gift more than as something I would order for myself (or my kids). Buying just one box seems to miss the whole point of a subscription service, but they seem so expensive! I had enough trouble keeping up with paying for the puzzle books Highlights For Children kept sending us because I would forget to unsubscribe after we got the free samples I kept saying yes to on the phone! Surely it would just be better to buy specific items individually as I actually want them?

So, just because I’m skeptical and cheap, I searched for all the individual items in this box online. Sure, each individual item could be had for pretty cheap, but all together my rough estimate, based on the average prices of the most similar items I could find, came to about $22.49, which is just fifty cents less than the 12-month subscription cost per month. And my total doesn’t even include the booklet, of course, which can’t be gotten anywhere else, and the booklet is definitely worth more than fifty cents. The booklet, and the curation of stuff to go with it, is kind of the point of the whole box, really. It’s not about getting a box of stuff, it’s about learning to use the stuff to solve problems and invent new things.

So Think With Art definitely would make a pretty nice gift for a young creative, and maybe even something not a gift. The first official batch of Think With Art boxes ships on January 30, so if you like what you see, head on over and order one (or subscribe for more)! If you use the code GEEKMOM at checkout, you get a $5 discount.

maddie's final #twacreations picture
Mr. Toffee and his Bicycle with Wings! #twacreations

Note: We received this Think With Art box from the creators for this review.