• By Amanda Blackburn.

Marble Runs

At one of my local children’s play centres, I was asked to try and get hold of some marble runs for reviews. They wanted to purchase some for their local playgroups and summer camps they run all over the country and asked for my toy advice. They knew I was visiting the London Toy Fair this year and thought it would be a good opportunity for me to take a look.

The local play centre group are Ofsted registered and always take great care in choosing suitable toys. I have worked with children for over 25 years and have a great understanding of what children like and how to get the best out of toys. I was very honoured that they asked for my help and feel very proud that they choose to read my posts and like my toy choices and adaptations for younger children.

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 adults.

Marble runs can help children learn how to;

• Follow instructions - Good marble run kits should include colour instructions helping children recognise the correct pieces and where to place them. The more advanced marble runs contain many complex parts which need a lot of concentration to build.

• Patience- Building takes time and patience.

• Problem Solving- What happens if the piece isn’t the correct way round? How can they make sure the marbles don’t miss a piece or get stuck. Once the runs have been built the suggested way from the manufacturer's instructions encourage the children to build their own track, what problems are they faced with? How can they build a marble run that takes a long time for the marble to get from the top to the bottom or takes hardly any time? Use a stopwatch to record the time taken, get the children to build one each and have a race.

• Thinking skills- marble runs are built in three dimensions, each piece will affect the way the marble can travel to the next piece. Some more advanced sets have blocks that can send a marble off in different directions. Being able to visualize what impact a block might have on the path of the marble as the marble run is constructed encourages thinking skills.

There are so many different marble runs available to purchase online but at the Toy Fair in London I only counted 5 in total and I tried very hard to get all 5 sent for review but only managed 3. I even contacted companies online to try and get more runs for review but they were not willing to send them out.

I was however not disappointed with the outcome of my ToyFair trip because one of my favourite toy companies that during my years of toy experience have always made strong, colourful, great quality toys were only too happy to help. James Galt & Co has been established for over 180 years. Galt produces and sells quality toys which meet the needs of all stages of child development from 0-10 years. Galt products are designed to be fun and to encourage learning through play. Traditionally the company is associated with art, craft and activity products. In more recent years Galt has established a name for itself in the First Years category with the innovative Playnest. I still have Galt Toys that I purchased for my oldest son who is now 22, the children I look after still play with these toys and they are still in wonderful condition. Galt definitely makes toys to last.

The first for review is Junior Ball Run for children from 10 months old made by Galt. Obviously, babies can’t play with marble runs because they would put the marbles in their mouths and choke, so this is as good as you get to a marble run with the same concept for younger children. This strong well made fun junior ball run contains 15 large chunky pieces, 5 balls, 2 with faces, 2 with rattles and a transparent mirror ball. The older children were able to help me slot together the 15 primary coloured, robust plastic pieces by following the instructions included in the box.

The little girl who is 14 months was so excited when she watched one of the coloured smiley balls roll down the track. It was adorable to watch her face light up as the 2 coloured balls that rattle rolled down the tracks and through the holes. The transparent ball with a mirrored spinner was her favourite and she kept looking at herself in the mirror. She was able to roll the balls down the holes encouraging hand-eye co-ordination. The set stands quite tall and she loved standing up and pushing the balls through the holes. It stands very sturdy and doesn’t tip over and the pieces click together perfectly with no force and don’t come apart when knocked. When you have finished with it, it comes apart easily and quickly and can be stored in the good strong cardboard box it comes in.

My verdict.

The junior ball run is strong, sturdy, fits perfectly together and comes apart easily. The well designed bright and colourful run is nice on the eye and definitely encourages children to play. It comes apart for easy storage and because it is made of high-quality plastic it will last for years and years. I would highly recommend this to any childcare setting or to any parents with younger children. All children love rolling balls down tracks and this is a great first ball run for a young child to explore.

Children’s verdict.

Lots of smiles and plenty of playing.

Next for review, Galt Marble Racer!

Some of the schools I trained at many years ago had Galt marble runs and they were excellent back then, so strong and sturdy and easy to fix together. Well, apparently this set is compatible with the classic Galt Marble run. The Galt Marble racer for ages 4 to adult is an exciting 80 piece construction set that features special racing pieces. Race your marbles down a variety of different fun chutes, see who’s marble gets to the finish first.

Inside the strong cardboard box;

Starter top, starter base, finish 3 racing vortex, wiggly bell chute, staircase, staircase support, curved chute with a horizontal wheel, vertical wheel chute, paddle wheel, ‘S' shaped chute, 4 straight chutes, 37 tubes, 4 bases, full-colour guide.

This marble racer was a massive hit with the children, the 4-year-old needed some help fixing it together but the Older 6,7 and 8-year old were able to construct it all by themselves. All the pieces were super strong and sturdy and definitely wouldn’t break, even if stepped on. There are so many different ways to build the track and the children kept trying out different ways, using a stopwatch to time how long the marble took from top to bottom. I set challenges for the older children to see who could make the fastest or slowest.

My verdict;

Strong, sturdy, colourful, exciting pieces, clips together easily and holds together well. I would definitely recommend this for schools, childcare settings and parents. Another wonderful Galt product that is built to last.

Children’s verdict (their words);

We like the way the marble rolls down the vortex, sometimes it drops down the hole quickly but other times it’s super slow. The different pieces are fun and we love having races with our marbles. We would like more pieces to make it longer and taller like a roller coaster.

The last up for review, Q-BA-MAZE.

Q-Ba-Maze for ages 6 and upwards, is a unique system of colourful cubes that interlock to form a marble run. It’s very different from any other marble runs I’ve ever seen. The cube pieces slide together and interlock to form many different shapes. We created a letter M and a Z for the children’s initials. You can create marble maze sculptures in the form of robots, animals geometric shapes or any other design. We also created a working maze of marbles and because the set includes double ended side pieces you never know which way the marble will end. The steel marbles are quite small and the cubes are made of strong plastic. We followed the instructions included in the set until we were able to understand how it works. It is definitely more challenging than most of the marble runs I’ve ever built but very clever and I personally liked it. The children were not as interested and got frustrated with sliding the pieces together and needed lots of help. Once the pieces were slotted correctly together they kept coming apart when they were building, this really frustrated them. I was able to do it without getting cross but the children needed lots of encouragement not to give up.

Inside the box ;

72 x cubes in 3 different colours 20 x marbles 1 x instruction booklet.

My verdict;

Strong, colourful pieces, good quality, excellent educational benefits inspiring creative play as you experiment with motion, stability, physics and art. I really liked this and would happily sit and play with it, especially without the children as they kept knocking my creations over. It does come apart quite easily when knocked, and this needs improving as it definitely frustrates the children.

Children’s verdict in their words;

7-year-old: It’s clever, frustrating and very hard.

8-year-old: Boring.

10-year-old: I think it’s good but very hard and I’m not very good at thinking of ideas so I would need lots of help and wouldn’t want to play it on my own.

10-year-old: I didn’t like it, it’s small and boring.

12-year-old: I really liked it and didn’t find it that hard, I would play with it again.

This Q- B-A Maze set we were sent for review was very basic, there are other more interesting Q- B-A Maze sets available, I think the children would have liked the other sets better as they have tubes and more exciting looking pieces. I like the set and found it very clever but I’m not ready to recommend this to the group due to the way it falls apart very easily. Maybe with more pieces and sets, the structure could be made more sturdy and this wouldn’t be a problem. I would, however, recommend this set to all adults who want to be creative and have lots of patience.

I would like to thank the toy companies for sending me these sets to review, as always all thoughts and opinions remain my own.

If I come across any more Marble runs that i think are worth sharing, I will add to this post.

Thank you for reading!


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