Marble runs are all the rage and my four year old can spend a lot of time putting them together and watching the marbles run from top to bottom. At his age, many of them really take my participation since complex engineering issues require at least a first grade education.
Marble runs come in three different types:
1. The plastic marble run – Marble Run (Quercetti Toys) This is a fun set, but requires some skill to balance towers so that as you grow them, they still stand up. This one is only $19.99, so very affordable.
2. Wooden sets – These, notably the Quadrilla brand, are better made and more like building blocks, but you do pay significantly more. For a smaller set, count on paying 4-5 more than the plastic version. Wood does have a more satisfactory feel though, and you’ll feel more natural. The Quadrilla Marble Railway, Twist and Rail is $99.99.
3. Marble tracks or rails – These sets are clearly for older kids (or dads) and future engineers. While the age recommended age range is 8+, the photos always show a big, big boy playing with them, so I think even advertisers know this is not for little kids. The prices here are far more affordable at $55.00 for this big set, but the toy is a lot more free form (think erector set) and requires more imagination (or dad involvement) to get excitement out of it. Skyrail Suspension from International Playthings – $55.00
And if you get really jealous of all the fun your child is having with the marble run, there’s always the Executive Marble Run. It’s clearly not as cool as the plastic ones (and a lot smaller), but does have the advantage of being wood and significantly cheaper at $18.00