As we approach the season of gift giving I am often asked for suggestions of developmentally appropriate toys and games. Over the next few weeks I will be posting at least weekly some of my prime choices. One of my favorite go to gifts for children is a marble run. This is a great activity for a child as young as three (as long as they no longer put toys in their mouth) and up.
Skills worked on:
visual motor attention and tracking
in hand manipulation/strength, nesting, rotation, strength
cognition and planning
opportunities to learn about science/gravity
Depending on the development of your child you may need to consider how to scale the activity to provide the “just right challenge”. For the very young child you may need to set the run up for or with them. Initially a small back and forth simple set up is best. If you are looking to work on visual attention and tracking think about setting up a single run that is just in a horizontal plane. Putting together the run requires some hand strength. You can work on developing hand strength by hiding the marbles in therapy putty (soft or medium is best, more on putty in another post) and encouraging your little ones to use their fingers to find the marbles, provide a little container to keep the marbles in. While a little one might not be able to assemble the run encourage them to take it apart when done. This works on strengthening the muscles of the arms and hands bilaterally. It is a great two handed activity.
As your child gets more adept at playing with the marble run, have them begin to set it up adding to the layers of complexity and problem solving.
Can they copy a simple plan that you draw out for them?
Can they draw out their own plan?
How tall or many towers can they build with connections?
Can they create patterns of color that repeat?
Which one and where to buy? A recent web search revealed at least 13 different models currently available through Amazon and other sellers. If your child is young or you are uncertain as to whether they will enjoy this toy consider buying a starter model that has add on sets. These sets make great birthday gifts. There are several models that are see through. This is a great way to work on strengthening visual tracking skills. There are a couple of models that are stacking and do not stay in place. It might be best to stay away from these models unless you have an older sophisticated child with good frustration tolerance and great proprioceptive awareness. The marble run is a great non competitive activity that the whole family can participate in together.