Got a cardboard box lid, some craft sticks, and a glue gun*? Make your own marble maze! Just pencil out where you want your sticks to go, then lay down a line of glue, attach the stick (so it stands on its edge), and so on till you’re done.
I got this idea from Frugal Fun for Boys and Girls. It’s easy as can be. If you don’t have craft sticks, you can use straws, chopsticks, TP tubes, or strips of cardstock or cardboard. If you’d prefer, you can use tape instead of glue.
We did a couple of simple back and forth mazes:
Here they are in action:
Then, in a lid from a box of boots, we made a more complex maze, and added Marvel superhero stickers just for the fun of it.
All three of ours were sized so a large bouncy ball would fit through them. You could make a much tighter and more complex maze if you used popsicle sticks and cut them into shorter lengths and designed it to fit a marble. Your limits on how tight the corners can be are all about how big the ball is that you want to fit through the spaces. So when you lay out your maze, before you glue the sticks down, test each of the tight gaps to be sure your ball can fit through.
Here are some sample mazes. Most are from my class. The tall “pachinko game” is one I made, and the one on the paper plate with the paper arches and wiki stix is from Buggy and Buddy.
What Kids Learn
This is a great project for having kids test the steps in the engineering process. They draw something out, test it before glueing, glue it, test it again. Sometimes they have to take out a stick they’ve just glued down and try again till the ball can make it through the maze.
Holding the box lid in their hands and tipping it gently back and forth to move the ball through the maze is good for building motor skills and hand-eye coordination. Kids also experience physics as they see that if they tilt the box too far, the ball rolls too fast or spills out. If they don’t tip it enough the ball doesn’t move. We use this project in the week where we study gravity. (Find more hands-on gravity experiments here.)
* Glue Guns?
You can do this project with tape. Or you can use craft glue (like tacky glue) – but that takes so long to set, and the bond isn’t usually strong enough to keep the sticks up on their side – they may just flop over flat. This project really works best with a glue gun. When I’m working alone, I use a high temp glue gun and it works GREAT – sticks in seconds and stands up to lots of use! If I have children around, I use a low temp glue gun, because hot glue guns can burn! It doesn’t “injure” you in terms of causing any burn that needs treatment, but man oh man does it hurt!
In our class, with parents’ permission and one-on-one teacher supervision, we let our 5 and 6 year old students use a low temp glue gun. Teacher Tom believes that even preschoolers can handle glue guns well, and he makes some good arguments for why hot glue guns are such a powerful maker tool for kids, enabling them to do things they simply can’t do with regular glue. You can check out his thoughts at those links.