Tuesday, February 28, 2012

Marbulous Marble Run: Runs Kids' Imaginations Wild

We also added marbles from others sets to our creations. Having marbles of different weights and materials also created more learning opportunities.

WHAT: Marbulous Marble Run at Lakeshore Learning Materials
DOES:  Offers endless opportunities of physics-based learning, a charmingly social activity that allows kids to cooperate or just let one be the dropper while the other be the builder
INVEST: $29.95
TOOLS: Social Scene Helper, Think Like a Scientist/Engineer, My Body Needs to Move

Which sets are better for creating marble runs?  Wood or plastic? Which brand?  I wish I could answer this question for you but that would mean that I would have to have kids of different ages and abilities test out all the different kinds of marble runs out there.  That would take forever even though it would be a lot of fun.

We had an inexpensive plastic marble run in our house for a long time but it was time to let it go.  I wanted Number 2 to make his own marble run creations but he had that issue of what I can only describe as Hand-Me-Down-Thus-No-Interest-itis  Our old marble run wasn't even a hand-me-down. But I learned that when you don't put stuff away after the older one lost interest and before the younger one is ready, that toy sort of "dies."  Thus, I decided to buy Number 2 a brand new set.  Let the research begin!

Number 1 created a "marble dispenser" using the Marbulous pieces.

Plastic? Fantastic!

Even though my heart has ached for those sexy wooden marble runs, my wallet has always said, "Plastic only, don't even think about wood."  The wooden ones are beautiful but we had fun with plastic in the past so I was fine with getting them again. Another plus about plastic is that it is usually cheaper to add onto your set if you have a marble run maniac living in your home.

One day, I came upon a coupon to Lakeshore Learning and soon found myself driving to their store to buy Marbulous Marble Run.  (You can subscribe to them for periodic coupons)   It looked like our previous plastic marble run but then when it came out of the box, I realized it was really different.

First, the material was really great.  The plastic is hard which means it will snap on tight and offer your hands and fingers lots of opportunities for some hard work (but not too hard).  The hardness of the plastic also means that you will have more weight on your marble run which is good because as your run grows in height, you risk the whole thing tipping over which could frustrate your child and you will have to go under your couch to get the marbles. Not OK.

Problem- Solving and Speech

But here is something that I found that was interesting in MarbulousThere are different heights of the pieces as well as cone-shaped and other connector pieces and this allows for building onto the middle of a "run" piece rather than solely on the ends of them. The different heights made way for more complex problem-solving.   That means you really have to stop and think.  Oh, I do I like toys that make my kids stop and think.  The marble run is great for SPEECH too!  Yes, try telling your kid to hand you a piece, what would you call it?  "Hand me that curvy piece and get the bell, no, that piece is "s" shaped, I need the one that is more squiggly."

Definitely Not Sedentary

I also learned more about the requirements of building marble runs through Number 2 as he is not so great at building.  That is, marble runs will make kids' move their bodies as they build. You can not sit and make anything interesting when building a marble run.  You must really get up, move around. move your structure, steady your body including your arms and then connect the pieces.  And while it's not hard, if you push incorrectly, you could crack a couple or slightly bend some of the more delicate pieces.  I've seen some online reviews complain about this.  Why? It's nice that it is delicate. There is nothing  in life where one size fits all.  If you think your child may break a piece, set those aside until you think they will be careful enough to handle it appropriately.  This is a skill in judgment as much as it is a motor skill.

If you fold their instructional photo, you will only see which pieces you need first. 

The Tallest Buildings All Begin with a Single Brick

I also learned that by folding the pictures into sections, he was able to identify the necessary pieces better and become less overwhelmed and more encouraged to keep going.  We would unfold another section when we were done with the first section.   He even tested his run as he added one new piece. He may not have been testing but I pointed out that this was a good move because testing as you go along is a good skill for any project.  He was so proud of himself, especially since he loves marble runs and he knows it is hard for him.

Number 3 who is now 13 years old still enjoys playing with them with my kids.  She finds the sounds soothing and I suppose there is a definite rhythmic gratification that results after building it.  It is also so great as a social toy because you can just sit/stand there and just keep filling it to watch what happens.  In this video, Number 1 made a "holder" of many marbles because he could not fit large amounts in his hands.  (We have lots of marbles from a Chinese Checker set that we threw out.)

Number 3 describes the runs as "soothing" and used the example of babies and mother's heartbeat to explain what she meant.

Runs to Run the Imagination

There are so many learning opportunities but the one I'd like to leave you with is that a love for marble runs could lead to a love for making rube goldbergs.  I think if today's kids had enough time to make rube goldbergs and make a mess all over their homes while simultaneously impressing their parents (secretly because we feign horror at the mess), they may develop more interest in STEM (science, technology, engineering, mathematics) subjects.   But if making a mess at home wasn't incentive enough, here is something just amazing that if you haven't watched, it's a must-see for any kid who likes building or likes rube goldbergs or likes music ... okay, basically, I know of no children that wouldn't enjoy this video.  A teacher sent me this video a while back.  All of the videos that I've seen from Ok Go really incorporate some sort of physics activity with their video. It excites children and parents alike!

Thanks Ok Go for allowing us to include this video here!

Want to buy it on Amazon?  I found a very similar set (if not the same?) from Mindware for a good price (around $32) and so you might want to try this out. 

Disclosure statement: Toys are Tools has not been compensated in any fashion by the manufacturer or retailer of any of the mentioned products for the publication of this post.  Toys are Tools is also not responsible for any crazy experiments that may occur after you purchase this product and watch the Ok Go video.  Parent/Teacher discretion is advised.


  1. 2 questions:

    1. is the marbleous compatible with quercetti?

    2. when will we see frigits!?

  2. We love marble runs and rube goldbergs here! They really are great for planning ahead while building.

  3. I have always wanted a wooden marble run for the kids and recently got a Q-Ba Maze, which is part building toy and part marble run (for mini marbles) which my kids love. I bet they'd enjoy this one, too.

  4. My almost 4-year-old son has this and loves to play with it. He needs help putting it together and I wish it was a little sturdier, but it's a great toy.

  5. Toys that really excite kids are those that makes their imagination go crazy. But of course parents needs to assure their safety before  they give it to their children.

  6. I have the Mindware one and add-on. I want to know if the lakeshore set is compatible. I'd buy all the different sets to add-on if they were. My kids at home AND my preK love it! Also, how do you feel this compares to the Q-Ba maze? I have my eye on that one next :x

  7. Wow, you have that at your preK? What a fun preK!! I would bet that they are compatible but I have never tried your set so I can't be certain.

    I think this marble run is really different from the QBA maze. The way it is different is like this: QBA Maze is really more of a maze, a 3d maze to be precise. The Mindware Marble Run looks very much like the Lakeshore Marble Run and this type of marble run is less of a maze and more like a Rube Goldberg. That is, there run of the marble is the delight of making fun and interesting pathways for a marble to basically makes its way down the run. QBA Maze is also different in that it has a pixel-like character and so that means you can create an image as you make a maze. I think that is so cool. Here is an image of Mindware's Brainy Guy. http://www.toysaretools.com/2013/07/Brainy-Guy.html

    Will share more pics of Brainy Guy in his new home.

  8. thank you. that makes sense.