Does your child look at his or her overflowing toy box and complain that she has “nothing” to play with? Or perhaps you'd rather borrow toys than buy? Toy-rental and subscription services are popping up everywhere to help us freshen up our toy selection and declutter, with an eco twist. From educational toys to Legos and science kits, these services offer a rotating box of fun that will spark your kids' imaginations.
Rent The Toy Chest: Easy, local toy rental
If you live in King County Wash., try Rentthetoybox.com. This service offers a variety of toys for 2–4 week rentals, and delivers to areas within 50 miles of the greater Seattle area. Choose from building toys, puzzles, costumes, playdough, toys for pretend play, puppets and even board games! (You get to keep the playdough, but you rent the accessories.) It delivers to you, and you put out the toys in the box provided for pick up on the designated day. Easy peasy!
Cost: Varies by product. For example, it’s $1.99 to rent a wooden Melissa and Doug puzzle for two weeks. A Melissa and Doug knight costume is $4.99 for a two-week rental. However, you add the home delivery and pick-up fee to each order, from $10–$15 (depending on your zip code). Orders for more than $75 come with free pick-up and delivery.
Reviews: This company is fairly new and the website was somewhat difficult to navigate, but the owner says the website is being reworked to be more user friendly. I was also impressed with the quick responses to my questions from the owner, and the customer service seems to be good.
Pley: Netflix for Legos
If you live with a Lego fanatic, Pley might be for you. For a monthly fee, you'll receive one kit at a time (think Netflix for Legos), which your kids can select from a menu of over 155 sets in the Builder plan, and 300 sets in the Master plan. They can choose from various themes and age range/difficulty level. When your child is done building and playing, simply return the set in the enclosed shipping mailer. When the set is returned, the next set on your “Pleylist” will be automatically shipped to you. Legos are inspected and sanitized after each use, and best of all, there is no charge for lost pieces. Check out the free trial.
Cost: The Builder plan is $19.99/month. The Master plan is $49.99/month. Both offer unlimited exchanges and free shipping. The Master plan offers advanced Lego sets and fast shipping as an option. Cancel anytime.
Reviews: They seem mixed, with some complaints that boxes had missing pieces and that customer service was poor. However, many reviewers were very pleased with this service.
Sparkbox Toys: Play to learn
If your kids yen for learning adventures, try Sparkbox Toys, which ships four educational, age-appropriate toys to your home each month. The toys chosen by a panel of experts, and prides itself on a selection of toys that are "high quality, cutting-edge and award-winning," which aren't typically found at big-box stores. If you're worried about germs, you'll be happy to know that toys are cleaned and inspected with child-safe cleaners in a rigorous four-step process before you receive them. You can even check your child’s “treasure box” before your shipping date and edit the box if needed. And — bonus — if you fall in love with a toy, you can purchase it to keep.
Cost: For one box every 4 weeks: $34.99, one box every eight weeks: $19.99. Shipping is free, there are no late fees, and you can cancel at any time. There are also annual plans in which you can sign up for a year of service, which saves a bit over the monthly plan, but these are not refundable.
Reviews: Overall the reviews are very good; most parents report that the toys are educational, unusual, and not what you can normally find at the regular toy stores.
Kiwi Crate: Craft and STEM kits
The subscription service Kiwi Crate offers options in crafting, STEM, imaginative play and more for ages 3–16. Choose from a Koala Crate (ages 3–4), Kiwi Crate (ages 4–8), Tinker Crate (ages 9–14, science and engineering) and The Doodle Crate (ages 9–16, craft projects). Each kit comes with enough materials for two to three projects, and each month features a new theme such as gardening, space or dinosaurs. You can even add on enough materials for a sibling, they call this the “no fight” option!
Cost: Monthly cost is $19.99; six-month plan is $18.50; 12-month plan: $ 16.50; shipping is free.
Reviews: Reviewers said that the content of the boxes they received were great. The only negatives reported were from a few folks having problems cancelling their subscriptions. (However, some said they had no trouble cancelling at all.)
My Pretend Place: Costume on
My Pretend Place is an online store and subscription service for kids who love to dress up. Sign up for a Dress Up subscription to receive a quarterly themed box including a complete costume, as well as accessories such as related books, crafts and activities. The other months in the quarter you will receive more activities such as sticker and activity books that add to the theme.
The Pretend Play Projects subscription is a monthly program in which you will receive a new project each month. This unique company also offers individual costumes and accessories to purchase as well as lots of other packages with or without signing up for a subscription.
Cost: A Dress Up subscription costs $50 for three months; Pretend Play Projects is $15/month; shipping for both is free to the lower 48 states. Cancel any time, and you can also return the box for a full refund if you don’t like it.
Reviews: My Pretend Place received overall good reviews, with parents especially enjoying the "in-between" activities that come with the quarterly dress-up box. Reviewers also liked the Projects subscription, as the crafts are designed so that kids will have something to play with after completion.
Spangler Science Club: STEM-tastic
Make science fun by joining the Steve Spangler Science Club, a monthly service that ships a box with enough materials to conduct a dozen science experiments and design challenges. Spangler is best known for his science toy designs and his viral Diet Coke Mentos geyser experiment. Each box contains instructions, liberally laced with Spangler’s humor, plus a top secret document for the parent or adult helper containing the answers. This subscription is perfect for kids in grades K–6.
Cost: Choose from three plans: auto-renewing monthly: $29.99, 3 month subscription: $86.97 and annual $299.88. All subscriptions are auto-renewing and can be cancelled, must be cancelled by a certain date, check the website for more info.
Reviews: I couldn’t find any negative reviews on this club. Parents were pleased that the experiments were well-explained with clear directions and reported that each package had ample materials.