Marble runs are a classic kid’s activity, you may even remember making them yourself at preschool using pre-constructed wooden tracks! I love marble runs because kids can use their imagination, and problem-solve while unknowingly learning about concepts such as motion, gravity and force. This blog post shares how you can make your own marble run at home using recycled materials!
Age range: 18 months + please note that marbles can be choking hazards for little kids
Preparation time: 10 minutes
What you need
- Cardboard rolls (toilet paper rolls work great)
- Recycled materials such as fruit packaging and yogurt containers
- Masking or painter’s tape
- Bowl or basket
- Marbles or marble alternatives such as cotton balls, pasta shells, felt balls or polystyrene balls
- A blank wall or window
Setting up the activity
A marble run aims to keep the marble in motion for as long as possible. To start, use the tape to stick the first cardboard roll to the highest point that your child can reach on the wall. Place the bowl/basket on the ground then set kids the challenge of sticking the rolls to make tracks for the marble to run down. Kids can also use additional recycled materials to create more elaborate mechanisms for the marble to run through.
Marble runs need to be tested out as they are being made. One of the trickiest bits in making them is stopping the marble from flying off the ends of the rolls as it bounced down one track to the next. Kids can experiment with making stoppers and buffers to prevent this from happening – it is all part of the problem-solving process!
If you are making a marble run for toddlers, you may like to pre-construct the run for them (see this blog post by Tinker Lab). Or else cut some 3 inch strips of tape in advance so they can use this to stick the rolls to the wall themselves.
Kids can then play with rolling down different ‘marble alternatives’ such as pasta shells, gemstones, or cotton balls. These different objects extend children’s learning by encouraging them to explore size, weight and gravity with new materials.
If you would like to have a go at making a more substantial marble run, you can have a go at creating a peg-board backing that kids can build marble run on (pictured above). For this I highly recommend checking out The Tinkering Studio’s Marble Machine resource.
My marble run at the Wheee! Children’s Festival
Below is a video of a marble run that my friend Roma Patel and I made for the 2016 Wheee! International Children’s Theatre and Dance Festival, UK. We were inspired by the amazing marble machines and ball runs of The Tinkering Studio in San Francisco and wanted to give it a go ourselves!
The marble run activity featured two separate areas: one for babies and toddlers and one for the old kids. In the video, we also talk about how we were inspired by Simon Nicholson’s ‘theory of loose parts’ and the importance of placing children as co-constructors of culture.
Marble runs made by artists
‘Marble Runs’ have been created and explored by many artists, scientists and engineers. For example, in 2017 the New-York based design studio, Snarkitecture created this elaborate marble run installation that was displayed in Seoul. Watch how the balls dips, drops, and rolls its way to the floor. I also love the sound of the balls moving along the tracks.
Has anyone else tried other fun marble run ideas? Tell me below!
Happy making! x
Kids art projects: Make a window picture
Setting up a cardboard art activity for kids
Tips for arranging materials to support children’s learning