What kids love about our Bricks 4 Kidz workshops is many of our projects come with a big payoff at the end, giving kids a sense of pride and accomplishment for their efforts. For that reason, we’re drawn to the idea of kids at home taking on this homemade marble run challenge. Not only do they learn basic engineering and physics from the process, they’ll “earn” a new toy at the end.

Sure, you could always buy a kit, but what’s the fun in that? Who knows, maybe they’ll come up with an ingenious way to build those fun elements you find in the kits, such as funnels and water wheels. This could be a stepping stone to designing bigger structures, such as a paper roller coaster.

The engineering design process

By designing and building their own (with coaching and encouragement from you), kids have a great opportunity to go through the engineering design process. Even if your children aren’t on a math-engineering track, going through it helps kids learn to take their idea from vision to reality.

* Identify the problem/challenge: Build a marble run, a path that can use the energy of gravity to allow a marble to roll from the top of a structure to a destination at the bottom — in the least amount of time.

* Brainstorm: Which materials should we use? How should we build it?

* Design: Make a sketch of the structure, the pieces and where they would go.

* Build, test and evaluate, redesign: Rinse, repeat if necessary. Are the marbles rolling where we want them to? If we reposition a piece, where will the marble land? What changes could we make to add time to the marble’s journey? What can we use for a side guard to keep the marble from falling out?

* Share the solution: Take pictures, get the successful marble run on video and share with your friends on social media!

Supplies and materials for your creation

Here is a sample of materials that kids have used to create their own homemade marble runs. For starters, you can make a wall-mounted version, and another time, build a freestanding structure from the ground up. For an extra challenge, make a design that includes two or three elements, or even more!

By the way, there’s no need to start from scratch. Feel free to page through books or hop online to see what others have done. After all, many engineers spend their careers improving existing designs.

Cardboard tubes: Collect those paper towel tubes and empty toilet paper rolls and start imagining the possibilities. (Tip: Ask co-workers and friends to save theirs so you can build your supply more quickly!)

LEGO Bricks: Some have created handheld marble mazes with the interlocking bricks, while others have concocted a wall-mounted run.

Milk cartons

Craft sticks

Yogurt containers

Egg containers

Pool noodles (which pair well with LEGO Bricks!)

Empty bottles

Disposable cups

Painters’ tape

Duct tape

Scissors

Glue

Keep the kids in control

As we blogged earlier, it’s important to keep kids in the driver’s seat of your marble run challenge. When they turn to you for help, don’t jump in and fix it. Ask questions to get them to come up with the solutions. Even if their fix is headed for clear and certain disaster, they can also learn from failure (including how to bounce back). You’ll be there to soothe and cheer them on to find the next solution.