Marble raceways are a near perfect Geeklet toy — lots of physics and engineering lessons to be learned, no batteries, etc… Yet, sometimes the frustration factor is just too high. We’ve got a magnetic one that sticks to the dishwasher, for example, that loves to deposit marbles under said dishwasher.
The key is finding the right type of railway that’s going to challenge and entertain your Geeklets without driving them or you crazy.
Rather than discussing brand names of marble railways, let’s look at the different kinds and figure out which is best for your Geeklet. Some kids like the racing, some like the building. Some want instant fun, others are content to spend hours setting up the perfect marble run. Luckily, there’s a wide spectrum of raceway sets out there…
On one end you have a raceway like I had as a kid. Prebuilt. Unchangeable. You miss the fun of building your own, but it is always ready, doesn’t fall apart and can handle a huge load of marbles.
Wired: No waiting.
Tired: No building.
Next you have snap-together raceways like the on on the left, above. Quick to assemble and very sturdy. The fun starts right away and there’s a certain amount of creativity possible in setting up different courses, diverging tracks, jumps, etc.
Wired: Almost no waiting. Exciting races.
Tired: Not much challenge.
Next come the architectural kits as seen in the center photo. These are the most challenging of all, with limitless options tempered by the limitations of gravity and balance.
The set in the photo is basically just a set of blocks with grooves and holes for the marbles. The lack of any sort of connection gives you design freedom, but also makes them easy to knock over or jostle out of alignment.
Another architectural type is the roller coaster set, with all its little tubes and struts and supports. Again, these can be a lot of fun both to build and to play with, but they won’t give a kid an instant action fix.
Wired: Brain power needed. Options endless.
Tired: Requires patience. Falls over.
At the far end of the spectrum, you have the 100% home-made raceways. Built on the spot from cereal boxes, tubes or anything else that’s lying around. These take more fiddling and tweaking than the Falcon, which your Geeklet may find fun or frustating depending upon their patience level. Oddly, these aren’t as challenging as the blocks. With enough carboard and tape you can do almost anything. (Note: by disallowing tape or glue, the challenge returns.)
The one on the right, above, was inspired by paperrollercoasters.com.
Wired: Cheap. Options endless.
Tired: Set-up time may be too long for some kids.