Engineering a Marble Run

Shen's Marble Run

For Christmas, Shen asked Santa for marbles. I’m not sure where he got that idea. He’d never spoke about marbles before and when it was his turn to sit on Santa’s lap and tell him what he wished for Christmas, he said, “Marbles.” Perhaps, in the moment, Shen simply said the first thing that came to mind and forgot to say what he’d actually been talking about: Hot Wheels cars and a train set.

I found a marble run set online from Quercetti and gave that to Shen “from Santa.” It’s a low-tech toy that can scale up or down in complexity according to how many pieces you have. You can buy additional segments or sets that have motorized elevators and such. We started with the basic 45-piece set, which costs about $20. It’s still a little too challenging for Shen to set up, so I have had to help him. But he thoroughly enjoys watching the marbles wend their way through the maze of tracks. I asked him what he likes about the marble set and he replied, “I like playing with you.” (Awww.)

Quercetti Marble Run

Shen asks many questions about how things work, so I think the marble run can help him develop those engineering skills. He did construct a tall run that worked – even if it wasn’t perfectly stable. But matching the pieces to one of the design examples on the box takes a little help. The other day, we built one of the example structures and then Shen asked me to shoot a movie of him demonstrating how it works. I shot it in 3D using the Poppy (read about Poppy), but the lighting and resolution of the video aren’t great, so it’s a bit fuzzy (sorry). But I love that my usually shy Shen thought about what he wanted to say — we did three takes and he started the same each time: “Hi. I made a marble set with my mama and I can show you something really cool.” At the end, he says, “Done. Goodbye.”

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