I was the kind of kid that didn't ever really ask for any toys or games or anything. It was always a challenge for me to come up with a Christmas or birthday list. Still is, actually. Just ask Sam. There were, however, three things that I *distinctly* remember wanting more than anything else in the Toys-R-Us catalog....one was a wooden train set. Another was, inexplicably, a stupid plastic dog that you could bring in the tub with you. His fabric ears would get wet and you could push a lever on his collar to make him shake his ears, "just like a real doggie!" His name was Rub-a-Dub Doggie and I so appreciate my parents reluctance-yet-ultimate-willingness to buy me such a dumb toy now that I have kids of my own who want dumb toys.
But perhaps my favorite Wish List Toy of all....was a Marble Run. It was made of plastic and came in pieces, so you could build a Brand New Run each and every time you played. My mazes were full of twists and turns and hills and jumps and loop-the-loops and other Very Exciting Components. Seriously, you guys, you do not understand the depth of my nerdiness.
And now I have kids to share in my nerdiness!
After spending two hours in a tiny doctor's office this morning, Evan was in no condition to sit quietly and watch a show during Quiet Time. But, after sitting for two hours in a tiny doctor's office, I was in no condition to play Tool Men or Construction Guys or Cars. Sooooooooo.....I pulled out some paper towel rolls and boxes I'd been saving for "Projects" and it just hit me.
We made our own Marble Run!
We started at the bottom (an oatmeal container that we taped to the wall and that acted as the Marble Catcher) and worked our way up. In addition to paper towel rolls and boxes (that we opened up the ends of), we also used construction paper to make V-shaped tracks and funnels.
We taped each piece to the wall with painter's tape so we could leave it up for a few days without damaging the wall. We also tested the run after placing each piece to ensure that it would "work." For older kids, I would recommend making the entire run before sending a marble down. An older child can anticipate the motion of the marble and visualize distances and angles better. The lesson would be in the outcome of the prediction, as opposed to the process of learning the physics of the activity.
For Evan, who is 4, we would place a piece, send a marble down, and if it didn't connect to the next piece, we would change it right then. It was a good practice in laws of motion, but also in spatial awareness. There were several times that I could see him trying to get the track to fit the way he was envisioning it, but either the space constraints of our Marble Run Location wouldn't allow it or the marble failed to stay on the course. It was great to watch him repositioning the pieces until they were successful, but also to redesign the track in his mind as he found which designs worked and what didn't.
When at last the run was finished, it was time to play. There were two starting points: The Mommy Lift Me Up Start and the I'll Do It Myself Start.
We used magnetic marbles (only because, somehow, we don't have any other kind), which ended up being kind of cool. The run was successful when marbles went down one at a time or in pairs. Three, as is often the case, was a crowd. They didn't end up in the Catcher.
Max, who slept through the construction phase, got into it after his nap. It was a good thing he slept for so long, though, because Evan played with this thing for almost two hours straight...and then again before dinner.
At one point, it was the Marvelous Fruit Machine. You put in an ingredient at the top and a Marvelous Piece Of Fruit comes out. Anyone care for a white zucchini? An orange lemon? A purple strawberry with polka dots? Then, it was a Grinder. You put in branches and out comes mulch. But wait! If you take it from here, it turns back to branches! It was a factory. It was a map. It was a Secret Ingredient Mixer Machine. It was science. It was pretend play. It was TWO HOURS OF ENGAGED, UNPLUGGED, SELF-DIRECTED PLAY. And we'll DEFINITELY be keeping it up for awhile, taking it down and reconfiguring it to our hearts' content this summer.
And next Christmas? You know what I'm putting on somebody's Wish List.