Wednesday, July 23, 2014

Ramps: Marble Run Challenges

We love playing with marbles and ramps.  We also love the iPad game Amazing Alex that lets you put chain reactions together for a goal such as getting a ball into a basket.    So we combined the two for our next activity idea.   Could we make a "marble run" that had challenges built-in?  These challenges would have to be solved in order to complete our goal and they would add up to form some simple chain reactions.  What was great was that it continually changed.  Each time we completed a "level" we would go and play something else.  Then I would put together a new challenge for the next time we came back (which is why you see the outfit changes in the pictures).

For a few weeks I collected paper towel rolls, toilet paper rolls and any other cylinders I could find.  I put together a few balls (marbles and golf balls) and got a big roll of painters tape.

I started with a simple challenge - get the marble into the box at the end - but I left out one piece in the chain:

The marble fell onto the floor - whoops!  So we discussed what we could do to make the marble continue and Bug suggested adding a ramp.  After talking through where it should be positioned, we taped it to the wall.  Boy was she excited when it worked!

So then I setup the next challenge:  this one was supposed to waterfall or redirect the marble down but I left out one of the steps (again):

Given that she had just had success with adding an extension she tried to do that again.   The ball still missed so we talked about how we needed to go the other way towards the box.  Our final result:

Not what I had envisioned but it worked!   So I then added stars along the path and explained that the ball should pass all the stars - hoping that would help with where to place the missing pieces:

Her solution - just move the target box closer!

She was completely not interested in the stars and asked for them to be removed as they were not helping the marble roll (according to her).  Now we started to explore having a simple chain reaction - the first challenge was to knock a book into the target box.  She tried holding the marble and knocking the book over but that did not count.  Then she tried rolling the marble along the box and into the book, but it did not knock it over.  

So we spoke about how having a marble come down a ramp will make it go faster.  So she selected a ramp and taped it to the wall.   The marble went faster but still did not knock it down.   So we decided to make the ramp longer.  Bug wanted to join two ramps together, but her alignment was a little off:

The solution - use a bigger and longer tube (a poster tube).  She selected the angle, and we taped it to the wall.  The marble still did not knock the book down.  Before I could discuss doing a steeper ramp, she stated that the marble was too small and therefore not strong enough.   Also this bigger tube would allow for a bigger ball.  She got the golf ball and rolled it down.  It worked!  She was so excited!  Even though it was not the solution I envisioned, she was so proud of herself for working through the problem and that was the highlight of this activity!

The next challenge changed tactics a bit.  In this there were 3 balls.  The initial one released from the starting position, a golf ball at the start of a long ramp and a magnetic ball held in place in the middle of a ramp by a magnet.  The goal is to get the magnetic ball into our target box.  The problem - how to make all the balls collide into each other.  

At first the marble ran right off the box so we added a ramp as a bumper to redirect the ball in the way we wanted.   It then came down the first ramp, bounced off the redirection bumper, rolled and started the golf ball that knocked the magnet ball off its holder magnet and into the target box!  (By the way these are not out of sequence - we did change back into our same pajamas!)

We have had a lot of fun with these challenges and hope that you will too!!   I have another one setup and waiting for her to solve in the morning.  We can't wait to hear what kind of chain reactions you setup in your marble run.


  • painters tape
  • cardboard tubes: toilet paper rolls, paper towel rolls
  • boxes
  • small balls: marbles, golf balls


  • Setup a target box or container.
  • Tape some pieces of ramps to make a run to the wall leaving out spaces to be filled in.
  • Allow the child to figure out what should be added to the run.
  • Add collisions and challenges as you progress.


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