Marble mazes have been around for years!
In fact, when my daughter goes to visit her grandparents, she busts out the 30 year old marble maze kit that I played with at her age. And with the growing emphasis being placed upon STEM learning in the United States, marble mazes aren’t just fun, but are also beneficial for teaching engineering, problem-solving, planning, spatial awareness, and math concepts.
With this in mind, I started looking for a marble maze kit for our home when I stumbled upon the Q-Ba-Maze 2.0 Rails Creator Set from MindWare.
After opening the box, exploring the contents (40 cubes, 4 rails, and 15 marbles), and reading more about the brand, I was incredibly pleased with my spontaneous purchase.
The official MindWare website states that their marble mazes (or ‘marble runs’ as they call them) inspire much more creativity than others on the market: “Q-BA-MAZE is a unique system of colorful cubes that interlock to form a marble run.
The big difference?
You can create marble maze sculptures in any form such as animals, robots, towers, and geometric shapes.” Here are some of the examples of original designs featured on the MindWare website:
I really appreciate MindWare’s commitment to helping kids not only explore STEM concepts, but also engage in creative play. The Q-Ba-Maze was designed by an architect who wanted the toy to spark a child’s interest in physics, stability, design, motion, and art by providing an open-ended building experience.
I found this intriguing because I remembered reading a study recently about the benefits of children “building freely” as opposed to following a set design plan. Researchers from the Wisconsin School of Business and Buskerud and Vestfold University in Norway found that “free-building” was ultimately more beneficial in helping people come up with more creative solutions to problems, solve ill-defined problems (with infinite possibilities), and come up with new and original answers.
But this set isn’t free from instructions entirely: it includes directions for children to form ramps and towers from the included cubes and rails. But, apart from that, it is entirely up to the child to create a marble maze from their own vision, design, and planning.
The Q-Ba-Maze 2.0 is suggested for children 6 and older (and please note that the marbles are choking hazards, so keep this set out of reach of babies and toddlers), but my 5 year old was capable of building with the set and was excited to use it. Once we learned how to connect the pieces, we started simply: my daughter wanted to see how many cubes she could stack to build a tower.
This simple activity was a great way for my daughter to practice counting and also understand how the cubes fit together. Once she was comfortable with stacking, we moved on to building simple ramps by attaching one rail to two short stacks of cubes.
I thought my daughter might want to stop there, but she was motivated to make the current maze, “just a little bit bigger.” At that point we discussed how to add another ramp and how many more cubes we would need to make sure the marble would roll to the bottom of the structure. This required us to look through the materials and do some planning and design before actually building. I was pleasantly surprised at how eager my daughter was to look through the pieces to find the “right ones” in order to build what she was envisioning. Here is what she came up with:
We only utilized about a quarter of the materials available in the set, so we are excited to keep exploring to make our structure bigger and better.
I believe that the Rails Creator Set is the perfect starter kit for my daughter’s age and abilities. While there aren’t enough pieces to create exceptionally large structures, there are just enough to help young children build basic, but still exciting, mazes. It’s also a great set to understand the basics of how the Q-Ba-Maze pieces fit together in order to eventually add on to it with additional building kits.
The set would probably be overwhelming for children younger than 8 years old to play with independently (due to the specific way the pieces need to fit together and the way the instructions advocate for open-ended design). Be prepared to offer your child some guidance in the beginning so he or she isn’t overwhelmed.
Another way to integrate STEM learning as your child is playing with the set is to utilize this lesson plan from the MindWare website. It offers some great ideas on how to spark conversations about gravity, motion, creativity, and trial/error. It even provides some fun challenges to try once your child becomes more comfortable building and designing with the set.
And if you’re still looking for yet more marble runs, then you can also check out our review for Tumble Trax Magnetic Marble Run.