Marble runs are great for open-ended building. They’re an example of a STEM toy (Science, Technology, Engineering, Math). And, they’re a lot of fun, both for the kids and the adults. But, what are the benefits to marble runs, besides fun the whole family can enjoy?
12 Benefits to Marble Runs
- Engineering or building something- slopes, bends, twists, turns, gravity, heights, etc make building a marble run challenging, but fun.
- Problem solving and trial and error- (Will it work if I ….?)
- Following directions (from the box and the other people building the marble run)
- Patience- it can take a LONG time to build a big marble run. It can also take time to make something new work or figure out how to successfully connect different pieces. There’s not a lot of instant gratification with a marble run.
- Perseverance- Building a marble run isn’t easy and can be difficult at times. But, sticking with the process and not giving up helps build patience and perseverance.
- Creativity- Marble runs are open-ended activities. There are lots of ways to build and construct marble runs, so the possibilities are endless. And, each marble run built is likely to be different.
- Cooperation– not everyone has the same idea, so when building a marble run, cooperation is needed so that everyone can participate while building a successful marble run.
- Different ways of thinking and approaching a task- this comes from problem solving, but also from working with other people.
- Math- depending on the age of your child(ren) and your goals, you can incorporate a lot of math naturally when building a marble run. For example, how many pieces are needed to make this tower taller than that one? How fast does the marble go down the marble run (count or use a stopwatch)? Predicting which run/tower will be fastest or estimating how long it will take to complete the marble run are other math concepts that can be incorporated.
- Hand-eye coordination- precision and care are needed when connecting pieces of a marble run, and building a marble run helps develop hand-eye coordination
- Spatial thinking- in order to build something, we need to think about what it will look like when it’s done. We also need to adapt and change our plans as needed while we build. When building a marble run, we need to consider the space we have available, the amount or type of pieces we have, and what our goals or next steps are. These are all spatial skills that will help children when they’re older, especially with math and science.
- Imagination- all the colors, shapes, and different types of pieces, combined with constructing a marble run that’s long, tall, super fast, has many starting points, etc gives plenty of opportunities for children to use their imaginations.
Yeah, but marbles are choking hazards and the pieces will be strewn about my house.
We don’t take out the marbles until we’re ready to test the marble run. Then, together, we count the marbles we’re taking out, usually about 5, and designate someone to keep track of them. Sometimes, Sweet Pea gets to be this person, and she takes her job quite seriously. Each time we test the run, we pick up the marbles and hold them (or let Sweet Pea hold them). That way, the marbles don’t wander off and we don’t need to worry about Buddy Boy taking them.
5 Tips for Making Clean-up Easier
The mess…A few pointers from what works well for us:
- This is one of those toys that the kids don’t get to just play with at any time. If they want to play with it, they need an adult. We take it out together, play/build, and put it away together. It doesn’t sit out unless it’s being used.
- The kids also are expected to help clean up the marble run when we’re done playing with it. Of course, to a little one pieces of a marble run strewn about in the building area can look like a monumental task to clean up.
- To make this task easier, we ask Sweet Pea to pick up all the purple pieces, or all the long pieces, or whatever ones seem easiest or are closest to her. When she’s done with that, she usually picks up something else, but if not, we give her another task.
- Buddy Boy is still a bit young for that, but we do the same with him and thank him for helping when he does. He usually sees us putting things away and joins in without prompting.
- Setting a timer and racing the timer helps with cleanup.
- We put the pieces away in gallon sized plastic bags, sorted by type of piece. This makes it easier to find what we need when we’re building, but also limits the dumping and having pieces scattered all over the floor, meaning there’s less to clean up when we’re done.
- Lastly, if needed, we remind Sweet Pea that if she doesn’t help clean up, we won’t be able to play with the marble run for a while because cleaning up is something we’re all expected to help with since we all got to play with it. Of course, this works best when this reminder is given at the start of play and the child is given a chance to agree to it or opt for a different activity.
Interested in buying a marble run?
Before purchasing a marble run, make sure that you get one that’s open-ended, meaning it can be constructed in a variety of ways. There are some marble runs that have one set way that they can be built, and that’s it. Another suggestion is to get a set that’s expandable. We started with a basic set and quickly realized that it was something the kids would enjoy, and that having more pieces would make it more fun, so we bought an expansion set.
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