Tumble Trax Magnetic Marble Run
- Strengthens problem solving, spatial reasoning, and creativity
- Multiple ways to play: individually, in groups, with challenge cards, or with imagination
- Can be played independently after a brief explanation of the toy
- Requires a magnetic surface to play
- No advanced functionality
We love STEM toys at our house. My boys love getting new toys, and anything that involves building, problem solving, and new challenges. I love using toys and games to supplement their STEM curriculum, and getting them away from the TV. Learning Resources sells some great educational toys, and I am always happy with the quality and durability of their products. I recommend their Pattern Blocks and Bear Counters. I use them almost daily to teach math concepts to my kids, and they are very affordable.
Marble runs have been very popular lately, because they are great for teaching engineering principles and combining creativity with problem solving. For kids who love building and watching marbles, marble runs can provide hours of educational play. If your kids are younger than 5, I recommend trying Discovery Toys’ Castle Marbleworks. The ‘marbles’ are too large to swallow and produce a gentle jingle sound that helps hold toddlers’ attention. The track can only be built in one way, but this toy introduces children to the concept of marble runs and gravity. Throughout the toddler and preschool years, this remained one of my boys’ favorite toys, and is still an instant hit when younger friends visit.
After shopping and comparing reviews, I decided to try Learning Resource’s Tumble Trax Marble Run. This marble run is unique, because it is built on a vertical magnetic surface such as a refrigerator or dry-erase board. Education experts have long written about the importance of children learning on vertical surfaces, because it encourages them to think in new ways. The cost was less than $20 and had great reviews, so I decided to give it a try.
Like all of Learning Resource’s products, the item arrived in a sturdy storage box. The box includes 14 ramp components made of foam, clear plastic, and magnetic backing. The foam is very colorful, and the different stripe and polka-dot patterns help children differentiate between ramps. Clear plastic covers protect the foam, and provide ‘walls’ so marbles stay on the ramps. Four marbles are included. Lastly, 10 pattern cards are included that show example tracks kids can duplicate with increasing difficulty.
The real fun starts when kids feel confident to start creating tracks of their own! The goal of the game is to build a marble run, either from the challenge cards or from imagination. The marble run is considered successful if the marble rolls continuously from the starting point, across the ramps throughout the run, and lands in a foam basket at the end of the run.
When I opened this game, I was hosting a playdate consisting of 3 kindergarteners and 1 first grader in my house. All of them were immediately excited to try building tracks on the refrigerator. I noticed that all the pieces felt sturdy, and the magnetic pieces clung readily to the fridge. The marbles move smoothly through the tracks, and the challenge cards are clear and the right size for little hands.
The first thing my little engineers wanted to do was build the track on the first challenge card. They were surprised when it was not as easy as it looked. Building the track required some trial and error in adjusting the foam ramps so the marble would fall into the foam basket. Watching the children excitedly offer advice to each other was remarkable. They took turns chiming in, “Tilt that ramp down a little,” “That ramp is too steep!” and “Try moving this one down further.” Teamwork and desire to complete the puzzle led to many “lightbulb” moments, which are the telltale signs of learning and kindling passion. The cheers of “We did it!” signaled their success, and they argued over who would set up the next challenge card ramps. I was immediately impressed that such simple materials and so little intervention on my part could spark such interest in a STEM challenge game.
The ramps look deceptively simple, but upon further inspection, a significant amount of thought has gone into making this game great. For example, the magnetic backings of the ramps make for easy setup and portability. The unique stripes and polka dots on each ramp enable younger kids to use the challenge cards independently. A five-year-old can easily examine a challenge card, choose the foam pieces with the corresponding colors, and begin building quickly. The pieces all offer their own challenges, which is great for problem solving. One ramp is a sloping “S” shape, another has wavy ridges, and another is shaped like a saucer. Kids begin to associate the shape of the ramp with the movement of the marble, which is a great STEM lesson! The toy also includes a magnetic foam circle, which can be used for marbles to ricochet off and back onto ramps or into the basket. This piece offers opportunities for increased challenge and fun, as kids love to show off how the marble can bounce off the circle and back onto the ramps.
The precision needed for the marble run to work properly builds children’s fine motor skills and strengthens their resilience to frustration. This toy is challenging enough to facilitate true learning, but is fast-paced enough that children won’t become bored. We have owned this game for 6 months now, and my children can still play with it for an hour or more before changing activities. My favorite moments with this game are when my boys create their own tracks and beam with pride as they show me how it works. My little engineers are getting smarter every day!
I would not leave babies or toddlers unsupervised with this toy, as the foam pieces could be damaged by chewing, and the marbles are quite small. I also recommend going through the first few challenge cards with your child, so he or she understands how to play. This will prevent unnecessary frustration. Furthermore, while this is a great toy, your kids might also want a marble run that does not require a magnetic surface.
In conclusion, the Tumble Trax Marble Run offers real learning opportunities in spatial reasoning, engineering principles, and creative problem solving. It is simple to setup and play, and kids can play independently or as a team. Young learners can use easier challenge cards, while budding engineers can attempt more difficult cards or even create their own marble runs. I highly recommend this product for all families who wish to provide some fun and knowledge for their kids.
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