Tuesday, February 11, 2014

Renaissance-Dad Marble Chute Maze of Fun

When I was a kid, my great-aunt Elenore had a really cool toy that was quite simple. It was a series of rails with grooves and a small box at the bottom. We would drop marbles in the top groove, and watch and listen to the marbles as they rolled down the rails. I would sit on Aunt El's floor for hours (well, it was probably 10 minutes, but to a six-year-old it felt like hours) and play with that marble chute roller thing. It was my zen place before anybody knew what zen places were.

Someday I would like to make one of those for my kids, and I will probably post the directions and final picture online. Unless it's terrible, and then I'll probably pretend like it never happened. However, last week, as I was fixing a sprinkler, I had a great idea about making something like this for my kids with parts that I already had around the house. If you don't have these parts, you can get them at a home improvement store. I involved my kids in the process, so they got to help decide what this would look like. I call this the Renaissance-Dad Marble Chute Maze of Fun.

Skill - beginner

Time - 10 minutes to cut and sand parts (5 minutes if your cuts are clean and don't need sanding), 5 minutes to assemble

Total cost - under $10, but free if you have the PVC pieces around your house

What you need:
Various lengths of 3/4" PVC

- One 10 foot section of 3/4" PVC (about $2) - Home improvement stores like to overcharge for smaller pieces (pipe, plywood, etc.). A 5' section is $2, and a 10' section is $2.25. Always go with the larger piece and ask them to cut it down if you can't fit it in your car. More bang for the buck!

- Various 3/4" PVC fittings - elbows, tees, and 45 degree elbows (50 cents to $1 each)

Ratcheting PVC Cutter--life changing.
- PVC cutter - optional, but get one (about $10) - I spent years using a saw to cut PVC. I always ended up with less than square cuts, as well as burred edges that I would have to clean up before gluing the PVC. When we moved last year, there was this tool left in my workshop, which I discovered was a PVC cutter. That magical moment changed my life. These tools ratchet, so cutting PVC is easy, quick, and accurate.

- Marbles - if you don't have marbles, you can usually buy a fairly large bag at Goodwill. Target and Walmart also carry marbles. Just make sure that your child knows that they are not candy. And make sure that you know they're not candy. 
3/4" PVC fittings

What you do:

1) Wipe down the PVC with a damp rag, and cut to various lengths. If your kids are older, have them help design what this will look like and determine how long the pieces should be. My 5-year-old was able to help cut the PVC with the cutter.

2)  Make sure that there are no sharp edges on the PVC. If there are, give them a quick sanding.

3) Assemble the marble chute. I put the pieces together without adhesive so the maze could be easily changed. This allows the child to hone his or her engineering skills and design something different. The other benefit of having it not glued is that it breaks down nicely for storage. We put the pieces in a bag, and can come up with new configurations the next time we pull it out.

4) Have your child drop a couple of marbles down to see how they roll. This is a great lesson on gravity, and one of the reasons I chose not to glue the pieces. With the fittings not glued, we could rotate and change the maze to help the marbles move more freely. We also chose to prop the bottom of the maze up with a book.

Some additional notes. We added the corner piece at the bottom so we could have two exit points. I had one girl watching each exit, and those were then the marbles that they could put back in the top. It kept them (and a friend) entertained for a good portion of the morning.

Dropping the marbles down the chute

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