Magnetic marble tubes for the preschool classroom

I finally got around to making a set of magnetic marble tubes for my class and boy did my kids LOVE these simple-to-make paper tubes…

I saved quite a few paper Christmas wrapping paper rolls just for this activity and the other night, I was motivated to turn them into a marble run. To make these…

  • Cut each tube into a variety of lengths
  • Paint each tube with tempera paint (optional)
  • Cover the tubes with clear packing tape (optional)
  • Hot glue two magnets to one side of each tube

I brought the magnet marble tubes to preschool and set them by the magnetic board and a bag of small rubber marbles.  It didn’t take long before curiosity set in and a few of the children began to try and figure out what the tubes were for…

There is nothing I enjoy more than watching these kids work together. It is such a pleasure to observe the children as they collaborate and communicate to achieve a common goal…

The marble runs took on all different shapes and the children quickly learned how to adjust the tubes when a marble would get stuck somewhere in the middle…

The children discovered what would work and what wouldn’t work through trial and error along the way…

The children made me promise that I would leave the marble tubes out for them to play with again next week…

Simple to make and easy to replace if a piece gets lost or torn…

Linking up with No Time for Flashcards :Link & Learn!

By |2012-01-22T11:00:31+00:00January 22nd, 2012|

About the Author:

Deborah J. Stewart, M.Ed. has been working and teaching in the field of early childhood education for over 30 years. Deborah currently owns and teaches in her own part-time, private preschool called The Children’s Studio. Deborah’s deep passion for teaching and working with young children is documented and then graciously shared with millions of readers around the world through her blog and other social networking communities. Deborah believes that young children learn best through play and exploration and embraces this belief in all that she does in her own classroom so that she can effectively and passionately share rewarding, real- life, tried-and-true practices with other teachers, parents, and leaders across the field of early childhood education.


  1. KStengel January 22, 2012 at 11:29 am - Reply

    Thank you so much for sharing all of your great ideas! I look forward to opening the emails to see what new treasure is inside. Thanks again for taking the time to inspire us all!

    • Deborah J. Stewart, M.Ed. January 22, 2012 at 11:43 am - Reply

      You are welcome:)

  2. Rachel January 22, 2012 at 12:16 pm - Reply

    OMG I love this!!!! I have used tubes in the block center for cars to race through, similar concept! But love this!

    • Deborah J. Stewart, M.Ed. January 22, 2012 at 2:18 pm - Reply

      We tried to fit our cars through too Rachel – but the tubes I used were too skinny for our cars:) I think I will have to make another set using fatter tubes!

  3. Asiya January 22, 2012 at 12:27 pm - Reply

    Love this idea! My son would love it…great way to use up all the toilet paper and paper towel rolls I’ve been keeping around 🙂

    • Deborah J. Stewart, M.Ed. January 22, 2012 at 2:18 pm - Reply

      I love that you have been saving them! Too sweet!

  4. Cathy@pre-schoolplay January 22, 2012 at 1:20 pm - Reply

    This is such a brilliantly simple idea, I love it! And I’ve still kept all my Xmas wrapping tubes:-)

    • Deborah J. Stewart, M.Ed. January 22, 2012 at 2:19 pm - Reply

      I saved mine too and knew I wanted to use them for this but I just now got around to making them.

  5. Tom January 22, 2012 at 1:38 pm - Reply

    The simplicity of this toy is great. Simple, but it still allows the children to build and experiment in so many ways. The picture of the boy looking to see where his marble will tells it all. Where did you get the big metal pan? Tom

    • Deborah J. Stewart, M.Ed. January 22, 2012 at 2:16 pm - Reply

      Hi Tom – this is a “grease catcher” like you buy at an auto shop to go under cars when you are working on them. I just painted it so it would be white rather than silver.

  6. artsy_momma January 22, 2012 at 1:46 pm - Reply

    So neat & colorful! Where do you buy your magnets from?

    • Deborah J. Stewart, M.Ed. January 22, 2012 at 2:15 pm - Reply

      I got these magnets in packages of 50 from Walmart – in their craft section!

      • artsy_momma January 22, 2012 at 2:24 pm

        Thanks! I had no idea Walmart even sold those 🙂 There are so many fun magnet crafts I have been seeing lately!

  7. Leeanne A January 22, 2012 at 1:53 pm - Reply

    Oh my goodness – I love this – time to make more stuff for the classroom! Thanks for sharing it!

    • Deborah J. Stewart, M.Ed. January 22, 2012 at 2:19 pm - Reply

      Don’t want you getting bored Leeanne:)

  8. lrs January 22, 2012 at 4:06 pm - Reply

    What a great project! cant wait to do it with my preschoolers. Where did you buy the rubber marbles from and will the glass ones work?

    • Deborah J. Stewart, M.Ed. January 23, 2012 at 1:07 am - Reply

      I think most people use the glass marbles. I used the rubber balls because they were quieter:) I found them at the Dollar Store or Walmart.

  9. Karen January 22, 2012 at 5:54 pm - Reply

    Deborah, this is fabulous!!!!!!! And thank you for your advice about the Kindle. I am stil pondering all that using one would entail, but I so appreciate your advice and thoughts.

    • Deborah J. Stewart, M.Ed. January 23, 2012 at 1:50 am - Reply

      You are welcome Karen:)

  10. Kristah January 22, 2012 at 6:03 pm - Reply

    I really want to do this in my classroom, but I have one child that still puts everything in his mouth. I wonder what else I could use that is bigger than marbles. I have plastic golf balls, but not sure where to find tubes big enough to fit . Does anyone have any ideas?

    • Sayde January 22, 2012 at 6:44 pm - Reply


      You might try slicing the colorful pool “noodles” into chunks, instead of paper tubes. The middle hole in most pool “noodles” is larger, so a small golf ball should roll through! You could then hot glue the magnets on, and use them in a similar fashion to Debbie’s brilliant idea!

    • Alec Duncan, from Child's Play Music January 22, 2012 at 11:53 pm - Reply

      Kristah, you might find that the cardboard tubes from dress material rolls is big enough for golf balls. Or mailing tubes.

    • Julie July 18, 2012 at 10:31 pm - Reply

      how about pvc tubing used for plumbing?

  11. MiaB January 22, 2012 at 7:42 pm - Reply

    This is so CLEVER!!! What a simple and fun activity.


  12. Alec Duncan, from Child's Play Music January 22, 2012 at 11:51 pm - Reply

    I love this post, Deborah! It occurs to me that if you hot glued magnets to sections of PVC pipe this would make a great modular water wall. You could also use sections of flexible corrugated drainage pipe which would give you curves.

    • Deborah J. Stewart, M.Ed. January 23, 2012 at 1:51 am - Reply

      My only concern is the weight of the pvc pipe – but I am game to give just about anything a try:)

      • Alec Duncan, from Child's Play Music January 24, 2012 at 5:51 am

        Well, for PVC you could always use more magnets. Or stronger ones. PVC reticulation pipe comes in different wall thicknesses, so you would choose the lightest class of pipe – which also happens to be the cheapest 🙂

        The corrugated drainage pipe is very lightweight – I use 40mm (~1.5inch) for some of my instruments and it weighs next to nothing. You can get it from hardware stores and it’s very inexpensive – here in Australia a 20m roll costs around $20. It has many uses in the outdoor area (musical instruments, ball-runs, construction play, loose parts etc ) so it won’t be wasted.

  13. Amber January 23, 2012 at 7:56 am - Reply

    🙂 After our marble days last week…I was just wondering how I could make something like the magnetic marble runs I see around now a days. Hmmm…unfortunately I just discarded a bunch of containers and tubes I had kept around since I’m wrapping up the preschool/child care. I can see my husband’s face now when I start saving them again!

    • Deborah J. Stewart, M.Ed. January 23, 2012 at 11:50 pm - Reply

      Haha – I would like to see his face too:)

  14. Janice @ learning4kids January 23, 2012 at 8:59 am - Reply

    Oh, this is a fab idea!!! I love it!!

    • Deborah J. Stewart, M.Ed. January 23, 2012 at 11:50 pm - Reply

      Thanks Janice!

  15. Little Wonders' Days January 23, 2012 at 8:08 pm - Reply

    Very, very cool. I would never have gotten my kids out of there if they went to your school! I also love that you just set them out and let the children explore how to use them.

    • Deborah J. Stewart, M.Ed. January 23, 2012 at 11:49 pm - Reply

      I have some bright kids in my class – they always figure things out:)

  16. Jenni & Jody January 24, 2012 at 10:32 am - Reply

    GREAT idea! I am excited to post this link on our message board and share it with all of our pre-K moms. Thanks so much

  17. Steffanie January 26, 2012 at 8:57 pm - Reply

    Super Super great idea. I’m always trying to keep my kids interested and I think they will love this idea.

  18. Maestra Magali January 28, 2012 at 10:11 pm - Reply

    My students love your idea
    Thanks from Mexico =)

  19. Love and Lollipops February 4, 2012 at 8:51 am - Reply

    What a fabulous idea. I’ve previously made a marble run with my boys and the trouble was that it kept coming away from the wall. (I used tubes and tape to stick it to the wall)

    Another terrific idea – thanks for sharing!!


    • Deborah J. Stewart, M.Ed. February 4, 2012 at 11:01 am - Reply

      Yes, children tend to play a little rough so by using magnets, they might hold on a bit better:)

  20. Love and Lollipops February 19, 2012 at 2:56 pm - Reply

    Hi Deborah,

    I have just posted our version – we made a game of it. I have linked to your post in mine.

    Georgia 🙂

    • Deborah J. Stewart, M.Ed. February 19, 2012 at 7:28 pm - Reply

      Awesome! Will stop by and link back!

  21. martha March 5, 2012 at 8:09 am - Reply

    Love it, where do you get the big magnetic board?

    • Deborah J. Stewart, M.Ed. March 5, 2012 at 8:19 am - Reply

      This is a large metal “grease pan” available at auto supply stores or even some Walmarts carry them. I painted my pan so it would look prettier:)

  22. Andrea Oliveira March 26, 2012 at 2:45 pm - Reply

    Hi Deborah,

    I wanna thank you for all your great ideas. I´m a preschool teacher here in Brazil, my little ones are 3 years old and they are all for exploring. Your website is the one I use to plan my classes.

    Thanks again,

    • Deborah J. Stewart, M.Ed. March 26, 2012 at 3:09 pm - Reply

      Hi Andrea!
      I am so thrilled to have you join me here – what a wonderfully small world we have with today’s technology!

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