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Lovevery Play Kits Reviewed: Are These Subscription Boxes Worth the Money?

Lovevery takes the guesswork out of finding developmentally appropriate toys for your baby (and toddler). But the subscription boxes don't come cheap.

Lovevery toy kit sample from The Looker box
The Looker is Lovevery's Play Kit for babies from 0 to 12 weeks old.
Lovevery

I started seeing the Lovevery Play Kit ads almost immediately after I became a mom. The ads showed colorful, aesthetically pleasing baby toys that seemed to be curated around developmental milestones. 

Because my newborn was more of an inanimate blob than I'd expected (they all are, it turns out), I'd been having trouble figuring out what to do with him between nap times. Not only was it kind of boring to try to interact with an inanimate blob, but I also felt the modern parenthood anxiety of milestone-meeting, experience-fostering and lesson-learning bubbling almost from day one. 

My hunch was that I could quell this anxiety by creating and executing daily activities with my baby, almost like a curriculum. That would make maternity leave a lot less boring, too. The problem -- I'm not a trained Montessori teacher or a child development expert. I was also busy nursing, changing, bathing, burping (the baby, not myself) and rocking to spend any time lesson planning for a newborn. Could the Lovevery Play Kits do the heavy lifting for me? (And the better question: Would they be worth the price?)

My colleague Alison DeNisco Rayome and I tested four Lovevery Play Kits with our real kids (The Looker for kids who are 0 to 12 weeks old, The Senser for 5- to 6-month-old kids, The Realist for kids aged 19 to 21 months and The Helper for kids who are 25 to 27 months old) to answer that question. Read on for what we thought. Plus, check out the list of hot kids' toys to buy as gifts, toys for the kid at heart, STEM toys we love and the best gifts for 2-year-olds

Read more: Here's a toy that makes the perfect gift for any age

What are Lovevery Play Kits?

Lovevery is a US-based toy company that sells Montessori-inspired subscription boxes focused on "stage-based play." The idea is that kids have different needs at different stages in their development, and the right toys can support those needs. 

The Play Kits (Lovevery's name for its curated subscription boxes) are separated into four buckets by age: 0 to 12 months, 1 year, 2 years and 3 years. Each age bucket is further broken down by smaller ranges, with boxes named after their respective developmental stage (e.g. The Charmer Play Kit is for months 3 to 4, while The Observer Play Kit is for months 37, 38 and 39).

Every kit includes a few toys, a book and a parents' guide that provides ideas for using the toys inside to help your child meet their milestones. The toys are made from sustainable and baby-safe, natural materials -- and they look pretty sleek on your shelves, too.

Is Lovevery Montessori?

Yes, Lovevery is inspired by the Montessori method, which emphasizes independence, STEM skills and toys that develop skills used in real life. That also means you won't find any flashing lights or noisy toys inside your Play Kit. Instead, the toys tend to favor "open-ended play," so kids can continually invent new ways to play with them. (Read more on Lovevery's approach to the Montessori method.)

Read more: Baby Registry Checklist: 10 Baby Products I Wish I'd Asked For

Lovevery toy kit sample from The Senser box

A toy from The Senser, Lovevery's play kit for kids aged 5 to 6 months.

Lovevery

How much does a Lovevery Subscription cost?

When you first sign up for a Lovevery subscription, you'll enter your child's birthday (or due date or adjusted age), and Lovevery will suggest a Play Kit to get started with. You can also add a few of the earlier boxes to your initial order, because the toys inside will likely still appeal to older kids. 

Boxes for kids aged 0 to 12 months cost $80 a box and ship every two months. Other ages will get a box every three months for $120 a box. You can also prepay for several boxes at a time, which lowers the cost per box down to as little as $72 for infants or $108 for older kids.

Because you can skip boxes or cancel your subscription at any time, it's easy to buy a one-off box to try it out or to give as a gift. Since the Lovevery website shows what's inside each box before you order, you don't have to buy the ones that don't look as compelling.

Read more: 9 Book Subscription Services for Kids and Young Adults

Is Lovevery an American company?

Yes, the subscription box company is based in the US. Boise, Idaho, specifically, is the city that the company calls home and it's where the toys are designed. They're manufactured, however, by a network of suppliers throughout Asia.

Testing the Play Kits (with a real baby and toddler!)

Boxes for 0 to 12 months

Cost: $80

Boxes we tested: The Looker (weeks 0 to 12) and The Senser (months 5 to 6)

The Looker box includes:

  • A double-sided mobile
  • Sensory links (soft, high-contrast toys that can hook together or on a stroller or play mat)
  • Two black and white card sets (one with simple patterns and one with complex patterns)
  • A standing cardholder (to put the cards in during tummy time) 
  • Black and white mittens (to promote hand discovery and body control) 
  • A wooden book with black and white animal pictures
  • A silicon rattle with a removable ball
  • The parents' play guide

What we liked: 

The double-sided spiral mobile, with high-contrast black and white on one side and colorful circles on the other side, was a big hit with my newborn daughter -- she loved looking at it when we held it up or tied it to her play gym. (Lovevery suggests hanging it over the changing table as a distraction, too.) The black and white cards were a mainstay in her play gym, and the little book seemed to hold her attention more than some of her other high-contrast books did (perhaps because it's "baby's first book made with sustainably harvested wood" and she's a budding environmentalist? Who's to say). 

Not listed on the website, but my kit came with a mug for a parent that reads "The Days Are Long But the Years Are Short." It's not my favorite child-rearing sentiment, though it's proven true for me, but it was nice to have a little gift included.  

The real winner, though, was the parents' play guide. It's difficult to know how to engage with a newborn, but Lovevery gave some practical ideas to align with her weekly development. I found that helpful as a first-time parent who was overly stressed about being able to give her enriching playtime.

What we didn't like:

The sensory links were never a favorite, perhaps because she had several other similar clip-on toys that came with her play mat and and stroller. And while the black and white mittens were a good idea, in theory, the effort it took to get them on and off a squirmy newborn wasn't worth it for me most days.

--Alison DeNisco Rayome

Lovevery toy kit sample from The Senser box

The Senser is Lovevery's Play Kit for babies aged 5 to 6 months old.

Lovevery

The Senser box includes: 

  • A spinning rainbow wheel
  • A magic tissue box (to pull cloth tissues out of and put back in)
  • Magic tissues (cloth tissues that can link together) 
  • An organic cotton rainbow ball
  • Parts of Me book
  • A pair of play socks with bells on the toes
  • A tummy time wobbler
  • The parents' play guide

What we liked:

Once my daughter hit the 6-month mark, the way she played changed dramatically, particularly since she could stay sitting up with little assistance. The spinning rainbow wheel is one of her favorite things to play with, and it keeps her occupied longer than most other toys. Once she got the hang of the magic tissue box, she enjoyed pulling the tissues out of that as well (and using them to chew on and play peek-a-boo with). The tummy time wobbler has been another solid choice both while on her tummy and while sitting up. She still tries to eat that, too, like everything else.

I'll admit, I was a Lovevery skeptic, just given the price tag. But this box convinced me these are great toys that can give your baby plenty of entertainment, and I'm already planning to buy the next one. 

What we didn't like:

The play socks seem like they might have been a bigger hit when she was younger, as she discovered her feet long ago. The rainbow ball is also pretty but only holds so much interest. 

--Alison DeNisco Rayome

Lovevery toy kit sample from The Looker box

The Looker box from Lovevery comes with a magic tissue box.

Lovevery

Box for 1-year-olds

Cost: $120

Box we tested: The Realist (months 19, 20, 21)

The Realist box includes:

  • A wooden lock box with four locking mechanisms 
  • A puzzle with shapes that nest and stack
  • Fabric "critters" that can be tucked into matching pockets on a quilted wall hanging
  • A cup and pitcher for pouring your own drinks
  • Bea Gets a Checkup board book
  • A wooden "ring chute" with rings
  • A flashlight that lights up
  • The parents' play guide

What we liked:

The lock box is my 2-year-old son's favorite toy, and the fabric critters have taken up residence inside it. Locking and unlocking each of the doors -- and putting things inside, then taking them out -- has occupied more of his time than pretty much any other toy. Unfortunately, he's now learned how to lock his own bedroom door. Thanks, Lovevery.

The flashlight is easy for a toddler to turn on and off and my son likes to use it to find toys in his bedroom when the lights are off, since he can't reach the light switch. We've also read the included board book, Bea Gets a Checkup, dozens of times and the requests keep coming.

What we didn't like:

The ring chute toy is aesthetically pleasing but it seems to only have one real use, a use my son is not very interested in. Considering how large the toy is, I'd have preferred something with a little more versatility. 

--Karisa Langlo

A toddler playing at a toy sink.

The Helper Play Kit comes with a play sink that pumps water.

Karisa Langlo/CNET

Box for 2-year-olds

Cost: $120

Box we tested: The Helper (months 25, 26, 27)

The Helper box includes:

  • A play sink with a real pump, plus cups and dishes for washing up
  • Felt flowers in a stand that can be removed, counted and bundled
  • Washable tempera paint "sticks" with paper in a travel-friendly zippered pouch
  • Making Muffins board book
  • A "dot catcher," which looks like a rainbow Connect Four game
  • A two-sided puzzle that uses the same pieces for two separate designs
  • Routine cards with photos of everyday tasks for mapping out routines
  • The parents' play guide

What we liked:

My son couldn't get enough of the play sink. Its ingenious design lets you keep the water running without the sink ever overflowing or running out of water. Because it's not hooked up to a waterline (it just recycles the same reservoir through its pump repeatedly), you can't get any dishes clean in it, but my son loved pretending to wash dishes next to me at the real sink while I washed real dishes.

The box arrived just as we were starting to work on learning colors, and the rainbow dot catcher couldn't have been a more perfect toy. My son now knows his colors like the back of his hand, but he still likes to drop the colored wooden discs into their corresponding slots, and he gets a kick out of the quick-release lever.

What we didn't like:

The puzzle and routine cards both seemed a little too advanced for a young 2-year-old. They both also seem like toys you could make yourself, if you had the inclination for DIY. 

-- Karisa Langlo

Box for 3-year-olds

Cost: $120

Box we tested: Didn't test one (yet!)

Lovevery offers four Play Kits geared toward three-year-olds, up to age four: 

  • The Observer Play Kit: Months 37, 38, 39
  • The Storyteller Play Kit: Months 40, 41, 42
  • The Problem Solver Play Kit: Months 43, 44, 45
  • The Analyst Play Kit: Months 46, 47, 48

While we haven't tested one of them yet, the Lovevery Play Kits designed for 3-year-olds all include a similar mix of items as the younger boxes, with more sophisticated, preschool-age appropriate toys and books.

Lovevery toy kit sample from The Looker box

The Looker Play Kit from Lovevery.

Lovevery

Beyond the Play Kits: The Lovevery app and other products

The Lovevery app requires a subscription to the toy boxes to access (though you can also get the app if you received a box as a gift). Like the parent play guides, I found it to be a great resource for ideas for what to actually do with your baby all day long.

On the Activities tab, you'll see a list of toys from the age-appropriate toy box that you can tap on to get ideas for how to use by the month of your baby's age. There are also suggestions for using toys from prior boxes that are still age-appropriate in new ways. Beyond that, you'll find several other DIY activities to try (at 7 months, things like playing with paper and teaching your baby to clap), which you can check off to keep track of what you've tried. 

The My Baby tab shows what motor, cognitive, communication and social/emotional skills your baby will be learning that month with a pediatrician's video. This section reminded me of a more in-depth What To Expect app. But I appreciated that it makes sure to note that all babies are different to ease the minds of worried parents. An Ask and Learn section lets parents write or search for different questions and topics that Lovevery's developmental psychologists and pediatricians answer. 

If you have the toy boxes, it's worth downloading the app (if you have an iPhone -- there's no Android version) to get the most out of them. 

The other Lovevery product you'll often find on baby registries is The Play Gym. As with all of its products, it's more aesthetically pleasing than many others on the market -- and more expensive, at $140. It's also a bit larger, since it's meant to be used for the baby's entire first year, with relatively tall wooden posts -- so it may not be the best choice for people in apartments or smaller spaces. 

The Play Gym comes with a few toys that my baby loved, including a bell to ring and a crinkly teether. But to be honest, she seemed to get bored more easily on this mat than on the less expensive Skip Hop one I originally registered for, which is decidedly not a Montessori product. I think if I'd been invested in the ecosystem of toy boxes, it might have given us more to do there. 

As with everything else with parenting, it depends on what you want: If you have the resources to invest in the Lovevery system, it's a great choice. But your child will be just fine without it, too. 

--Alison DeNisco Rayome

Is the Lovevery subscription worth it?

If you're looking for a one-off, curated toy box to give as a gift, the Lovevery Play Kits are definitely worth the money. The quality of the toys individually makes the price reasonable, and you get the added bonus of knowing they've been hand-selected by experts. If you can afford it, you likely won't be disappointed. Lovevery knows what it's doing!

As a subscription box, though, the price becomes a bigger concern. Do you need to spend the equivalent of $40 a month on toys (or $36 a month, if you factor in the prepay savings)? One thing to think about: As your child ages, the mystery of how to interact with them naturally dissipates, and they'll likely begin playing with whatever you have lying around the house anyway (including the Play Kit boxes themselves). At this point, an expertly curated toy box becomes even more of a nice-to-have.

And another thing: Between birthdays, holidays and overindulgent grandparents, a lot of children are positively drowning in toys. A monthly box will only worsen the problem of clutter, which goes against the Montessori ethos. According to the Lovevery website, "parents say these are the 'only toys you'll need.'" I'm inclined to agree! But I have no idea how to keep all the other stuff out of my house.

"We did all the research so you don't have to," the company's website also declares. And for those parents who otherwise would spend hours researching developmentally appropriate kids' toys, the statement isn't wrong. But not every parent does -- or should -- fret over toy research. And even for parents experiencing anxiety around optimizing a child's playtime, there are far cheaper ways to fill a toy chest. 

Correction, June 7: This story initially estimated the monthly cost of a subscription incorrectly. The box costs the equivalent of $40 a month or $36 if you pay in advance.

The information contained in this article is for educational and informational purposes only and is not intended as health or medical advice. Always consult a physician or other qualified health provider regarding any questions you may have about a medical condition or health objectives.