This week I’m sharing kid-friendly inspiration from the Bay Area Maker Faire.

Have you ever noticed that things can be much more fun and compelling when they’re really, really big? Think about awe-inspiring cruise ships vs. cute little kayaks or imaginative play possibilities in a refrigerator box. Today I have four show-stopping examples of play on a large scale, and I’d love to hear your thoughts on how you could replicate these at home or school.

Big Idea #1: Make your own Marble Machine

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Open Make, a collaboration between the Exploratorium, MAKE Magazine, and Pixar Animation Studios, assembled this popular marble run installation. With a peg board as a base, participants could move various ramps, tubes, and funnels around to create the marble run of their dreams.

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Grown-ups and kids were wholly engaged by this project. If you click on over to the Exploratorium’s Tinkering Studio site, you can download a Marble Machines PDF that will give you some ideas on getting your own marble run going. For more inspiration, we made these two marble runs from toilet paper rolls and cardboard boxes on TinkerLab.

Big idea # 2: Hundreds and Hundreds of Blocks!

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If you plant a pile of hundreds of blocks in the middle of a sea of families, this is what you might expect to see! These structures were created by CitiBlocs, and I think they’re super cool. They’re narrow wooden blocks that seem to be great for building UP, designed for kids ages 3 and older. These structures remind me of the game, Jenga.

Big Idea #3: Baseball Bat Xylophone

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Gorgeous, and simply genius!

Big Idea #4: Super size Lite-Brite

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Did you remember the Lite Brite? This glowing, oversize Lite-Brite was an attention grabber, and people couldn’t keep their hands off of it.

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Wouldn’t it be cool to have one of these permanently installed in the kitchen to entertain kids during dinner prep? Okay, maybe that’s just my dream! When I spotted a vintage Lite-Brite at a second-hand store last year I snapped it up for my kids to enjoy.

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This photo isn’t from Maker Faire, but from a wonderful nature and wildlife center near our house, CuriOdyssey, where we’ve played with this even larger scale Lite-Brite made of colored-water filled bottles placed in what looks like a huge wine rack. I think it’s brilliant!

Photo: Frog Mom

What large-scale games are you excited about?


  1. wow. wow.
    my head is spinning with possibility and I didn’t even attend the fair. I can’t imagine how excited your family must be.
    thanks for sharing rac

    Hey danielle! There were so many ideas there, but my brain has finally settled down. I have to come to terms with the fact that I just can’t do it all. 🙂

  2. Sounds like an amazing place to visit :). So much fun, and creativity!

    Amy, there’s no end to the tinker-hacking-artistic ideas, is there?! Thanks for the comment.

  3. Our state’s children’s museum has a marble run like that, where kids can move pieces around on a magnetic wall, as well as a big light brite. The Discovery Center at the Boston Museum of Science has a big light brite, too. (I like that one with colored water, though!) Part of the appeal of these is that they become community based. The kids have to work together, even if they don’t know each other. Which is nice. 😉

    Hi Amy, I love the idea of a big magnet wall. I wonder if anyone sells a marble run for the fridge? I’m sure I’ve seen this somewhere…And you’re so right about the benefits of the collaborative project like this?

  4. Hi, Rachelle!

    A note to let you know that Tinker Lab is on my list of 13 favorite children’s book and craft and … bloggers: http://delightfulchildrensbooks.com/linkswelove/ (Tinker Lab defies categorization.) Have a great day!


    P.S. Love the homemade marble machine!

    Hi Amy 🙂 Wow — thank you for the honor. I love your site, and have already added some new books to my daughter’s reading list.

  5. Love the water-bottle light bright! How Cool! And that marble machine sure brings back some childhood memories. My cousins and I used to make those every year when we got together at Grandma’s house. When used rectangular boxes set on their ends and up-cycled food packaging to design ours. We always had a blast!

    I’m not sure about a store bought fridge marble run, but I have this homemade version from Family Fun magazine on our to-do list. http://familyfun.go.com/playtime/marble-run-844525/ They show it using magnetic strips but I was planning on using the little button type magnets like these https://www.amazon.com/gp/product/B000N9IVJK/ref=as_li_ss_tl?ie=UTF8&tag=fumblthroupar-20&linkCode=as2&camp=217145&creative=399349&creativeASIN=B000N9IVJK becuase it just seems like the strips might not be enough support for the marbles. IDK, Maybe you can let me know if you try it! 🙂

  6. I am not sure how we missed it- except that there was more at Maker Faire than could be seen in the 1 1/2 days we had. Love the think big theme here as I explore tinkering classes for k-2 kids using peg boards. What isn’t to love!!!

    • Hi Dawn,
      This was from the Maker Faire a couple years back. We always miss something when we go. There’s just too much to do!

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