Let The Play Be Child-led + Learning With Wooden Marble Runs
We've been playing with a new wooden marble run (AU here). It's a fantastic marble run that is recommended for children 36months+. As soon as we unpacked it I was taken back by the play guide. It is way too advanced for my child and too advanced for most children under the age of 7-10yrs.
It made me think about how with play, we often set our children up for failure. This play guide is not developmentally appropriate for my child. Although it shows young children in the photographs. If we as adults build the marble run as shown in the guide for our young children, they only have to move one piece or knock it and the whole thing will fall down or not work with the marble and this will cause distress and frustration for the child. If the child looks at the play guide they may ask the adult to build the complex structures for them, then feel anything they make themselves is inadequate or not good enough.
A better way to present this marble run is to allow the child to play with a few key pieces and experiment, allowing the child to openly play or play alongside them until they work out - for themselves - how the marble run works. Then the child will begin to make more and more connections and discoveries - themselves. This can help build the child's sense of self and make them feel capable. The child will make small marble runs that they build themselves, they will use trial and error to work it out.
When the child plays with the marble run, in a way that is child-led, the child can make connections, experiment, learn about cause and effect, test hypotheses, learn about physics and gravity, and, develop and refine their fine motor skills.
Another way that we set our children up for failure (frustration, not using the materials) during play is by presenting too many materials, often too many to manage. We have the 80-piece marble run but to start with the child doesn't need them all out. Sometimes we also set unrealistic expectations of what play should look like. This can happen when we see a play guide that isn't age-appropriate, when we have our own thoughts of how the child should play, or when we compare our children's play to siblings, peers or children shown on social media.
A four-year-old will take time to make a marble run that works. It might be very simple.
Then through lots of trial and error, it might get larger and more complex. If it falls down, yes the child will feel frustrated but they will be able to make it again, perhaps bigger and better than before.
The child is building on existing skills they've learnt through block play. There is lots of STEM learning here.
Children are innately creative. With time and space, we can nurture and promote their creativity.
Maria Montessori recognised that children learn well from each other, as their skills and capabilities are similar. Children often learn more from their peers than from their teachers or caregivers. When my child is struggling with something, often I will ask my other children to help out. And at other times they play naturally together.
Below is a marble run two of my children made together, it's still very simple. ❤️
If you are interested in marble runs, here are a few lovely options.
- Marble Run Wooden Classic Construction Set 60 pieces - we have the same set in the 80 pieces (AU here). The pieces don't lock or click into each other, but it's a really affordable option.
- Kaden Marble Run No 10 Bridges (UK) (AU here) - the whole Kaden range of marble runs is beautiful. These look similar to the Cuboro marble runs.
- Bamboo Build & Run Marble Run (AU) - made from bamboo.
- Kaden Marble Run No 2 Waves (UK) (AU here).
- Glückskäfer 23 Piece Wooden Marble Track (UK) (Canada here) - this is so simple and looks like a good starter set for young children.
- Guidecraft Unit Block Marble Run (AU here). I've found Guidecraft toys to be reliable and high quality.
- HABA Ball Track Large Basic Set (AU).
- My First Marble Run (AU) - this is nice for a bit of colour and with 32 pieces, it's a good size for young children.
- Hape Quadrilla Race to the Finish Marble Run - my older children loved their Hape marble run and the larger sets are spectacular!
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