Why don’t today’s kids play with marbles?
Marbles should be a hot item for kids. They’re pocket-sized. They’re pretty. They make great noises when you roll them across the floor. They’re relatively easy to retrieve from under the couch and stove.
Is it because they don’t have faces? A look around the playroom confirms that many of the most-loved toys smile back at you, whether it’s Thomas Minis or Shopkins or Hatchimals. Perhaps the humble marble seems impersonal by comparison?
Then again, my son’s plenty personal about the winners and losers of the marble races staged for YouTube—we’re talking actual tears about which piece of glass didn’t advance to the final. So kids clearly don’t need a face to develop empathy for inanimate objects.
Is it because they’re a choking hazard in an age where parents are ever-alert for possible dangers posed by toys?
Although that’s true, it hardly seems reason for exclusion, because you wouldn’t hand a bag of marbles to an infant. The Consumer Product Safety Commission actually included marbles in a list of toys to NOT feature a choke hazard warning, as they are so clearly intended for children over the age of three.
Maybe it’s, as Matthew Wills suggests for JSTOR Daily, the “rarity of dirt patches in suburbia” that did in marbles. Or maybe it’s just that parents don’t want to spend their money on something that can literally be poured down the drain.
Thanks to a creative Christmas gift from two clever aunties, our household is now home to about 500 marbles, and if the last marble-fueled month is any indicator, it’s time for a marble Renaissance. Here are five types of kids who need to knuckle-down with a bag of marbles.
Kids Who Love Categories
Peeries. Mibs. Shooters. Toebreakers. Marble players speak their own language, which makes the gift of marbles a dead duck for kids who love categorizing things. Kids can spend weeks learning about transparent swirls, onionskins, end-of-days, lutzes, peppermints, and clambroths, any of which can be used in countless marble games.
Kids Who Love Art
A bag of marbles makes a great gift for a young artist. Put paper on a sheet pan, squeeze some paint on, and roll around marbles to create beautiful—and loud!—process art. When you’re ready for a new challenge, tape the paper to a slide or inside a salad spinner. Because they’re cheap and varied, marbles also make excellent subjects for drawing.
Want more inspiration? Check out Lee Mullican’s Marble Drawings to help your kids scale up their marble art.
Kids Who Love Field Trips
The last of Ohio’s marble factories closed in 2010, leaving just one marble producer left in the United States. But glass-blowing is alive and well in Ohio, and its many glassworks can give kids a close-up view of glass production.
Visit Glass Bubble Project behind the West Side Market and meet Morty the Rooster while you watch or make glass. Go to The Glass Asylum in Chagrin Falls to make your own glass, or watch other people while you eat at the adjoining M. Sign up for a group class at Larchmere Fire Works near Shaker Square and keep your day on theme by celebrating at Fire afterward. The Akron Glass Works is housed in an old church and features an impressive range of items for purchase in addition to classes and workshops.
All of these shops are excellent winter destinations, as their furnaces are heated to over 2,000 degrees. Northeast Ohio has an impressive number of options.
Fancy an out-of-state trip? Head to West Virginia for the Sistersville Marble Festival in West Virginia (September) or to New Jersey for the National Marbles Tournament (June), though if you win you might have to kiss a stranger.
Kids Who Love Their Grandparents
If you have older family members who have held on to their marbles, you might start a new hobby together. Get a collector’s guide (Dean Six, Susie Metzler, and Michael Johnson’s American Machine-Made Marbles is a good place to start for both marble photos and Ohio marble history). If you want to buy or sell marbles, consider traveling to one of the marble collecting conventions held around the US. The Buckeye Marble Collectors Club holds its annual Winterfest Marble Meet in Canton each February.
Kids Who Seek YouTube Stardom
Chances are your child has already found one of the astoundingly popular marble run videos on YouTube. Adults with channels like Jelle’s Marble Runs, Toy Racing, or M&H Racing have set the stage, but kids can and should step onto it and bring their boundless creativity to this genre. If you want to help propel your kid to internet fame, you can buy marble run sets on Amazon; try Marble Genius for overall construction and Marbleworks for starting gates and finish lines.