DIY marble runs – part 1

Last year AJ told us that what she really wanted for Christmas was a ‘blueberry rollercoaster.’ Additional information wasn’t really forthcoming, so she got some other things for Christmas, along with a letter from Santa telling her that his elves were busy researching the blueberry rollercoaster, and he hoped to have it finished for next year. Claire and I assumed that she’d forget about it after Christmas, but of course she hasn’t forgotten and mentions it occasionally, along with the fact that she’ll be getting one next Christmas.

Marble run 02

Fastforward to a couple of weeks ago, when AJ was given a bag of marbles. I think marbles are an almost perfect toy; you can build endless variations of games around them, and kids can play with them in a group or by themselves. After playing a few different kind of marble games, I decided it would be fun to create some impromptu marble runs out of bits of cardboard that we had handy. I cut some edges off of an ikea box, and folded them in half so that they were V-shaped. These ended up making a pretty good run, and they were easily taped together. Then we took the flat part of the box and propped it up so that it was on a nice slope for the incoming marbles. Sometimes they rolled back down and sometimes they went over the edge and into the castle on the other side. Fun!

Marble run 01

Once we had set this up AJ immediately proclaimed, ‘Hey! this is just like the blueberry rollercoaster!’ Ah ha! So now Santa’s elves have a crucial piece of information.

We played around with a few variations, and AJ continued to move things around and add bits of sticky tape at random to the contraption.

There are plenty of marble machines that you can purchase, but I think it’s pretty fun to be able to build something yourself. Given that the first trial of this using cardboard was pretty successful, I’m going to try making something more elaborate next time. My main criteria are that the materials must be inexpensive and must pack away easily. Stay tuned.

16 Responses to “DIY marble runs – part 1”

  1. Ash

    You know what I think would work great? That plastic conduiting stuff that you run cables through to keep them tidy. We just bought some (its square shaped to lie against the wall) but I bet you could find a round or oval version if you wanted. If you could work out some kind of click based thing to clip them together you could make endless variations.

  2. paula

    great! i think you could try using styrofoam. you can get it for free in domestic appliances shops or buy big pieces because its very cheap (at least here in argentina). its a very versatile material: you can cut it with no effort, you can paint it, you can glue it together (the glue dont have to contain “tolueno” because it would be melted).
    thank you for the idea, i have two daughters and never though about marbles before!!!!!!!

  3. Wolf

    I just made this for the kids they love it!
    Have a Great Day
    Darren 5
    Carra 4

  4. Diane

    You could use the tubes the wrapping paper comes on too. Then you could cut in half or leave some whole and have tunnels!! That would be cool!!

  5. rhelynn

    That is great fun! My mom used to drape soft blankets ‘tent-style’ over several chairs. We would use the tunnels and runways created in the cloth in the same way. Usually a few stuffed animals or a box would catch them as they zoomed out and onto the floor. Low-tech, but easy cleanup :o)

  6. rita susana

    i think marbles are dangerous for kids as they might attempt to put them in their mouth which could choke them. marbles seems very attractive and looks like candies…

  7. Cassandra

    In my preschool class, we use plastic rain gutters. I bought a couple of 6 footers and cut them down with a sawzall. Kids used them as tunnels, marble raceways with hal & half bottles to mark off a bowling lane, skis, you name it, they tried it. Great creative play item!

  8. T. Huff

    I have also used foam pipe insulation cut in half, along with masking tape. You can make loop-di-loops, jumps, corkscrews and many other forms

  9. Phil

    Hi Rita, it’s true that marbles can be dangerous for toddlers and babies; this activity is definitely targeted at kids who know the difference between marbles and candy; and as with all our activities, parental supervision and involvement is recommended.

  10. Norm

    These are all great ideas!

    My dad has told me that when he was young, he and his friends would make marble tracks but putting two garden hoses together and putting the marble in the valley between. He said they would bank it and even make loops. It sounds like great fun for kids who are a little older.

  11. Hsien Lei

    I love marbles. They’re beautiful, feel great, make a satisfying sound, and inexpensive enough to collect a lot. That said, for toddlers and babies, it’s easy to substitute the concept of marbles with large superballs and make heavier duty runs for them that are as simpile as a halved paper towel or toilet paper roll. Today we used up the last of our gift wrap which has a nice long core. 🙂

    I loved this post so much I featured it at Play Library.

    Toy Talk #13

  12. Mark

    Great ideas! My five-year-old son has been crazy about marbles since term 2 of school started (the craze hass well and truly taken over the school). He has worked in marbles with dominoes – using falling dominoes to trigger marbles rolling, and vice vesa. Try it! Another idea i’ve been hoping to try is at Rob’s Bearing Trampoline Game, where marbles run down a slide to bounce off a series of ‘drums’ or trampolines. He has detailed instructions, including a video. With the ideas shared here at Kiddley, I’m sure I can fix up a cheaper, simpler version I can put away easily!

  13. Stac

    After reading this I found a package of marbles at a local drug store for a buck. There were over 100 marbles in the package. They all looked the same, but what a deal.

  14. julia

    This is great! The name “blueberry rollercoaster” reminds me of the book Jamberry … my (2 1/2 yr old) son just loves that book.

  15. Christa

    Thanks for this sight. My daughter is 10 and for a school assignment, we have to build a marble run. I was searching the web for different ideas of what we could include in ours. There are several great ideas here of different materials we could incorporate into her run. I thought this was a neat and fun science project that the kids are doing. The kids will each get 3 chances to run their marbles and the teacher will time the runs to see whose run makes the marble go for the longest amount of time. They have certain items that have to be included in their runs, for example, 3 simple machines (pulleys, inclines, levers, etc). Once they start their marble, they cannot touch it again. We have about a month to construct this. Will be a fun project to do with her.

  16. john

    nice! love the idea this kept my kids busy for a while and it’s often hard to do that

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