Kids today don't "get" marbles. Okay, even when I was a kid I didn't "get" marbles - the game part at least. I remember there was a brief phase when kids were collecting marbles and I think a few learned how to play, but you just don't see kids huddled around a chalk circle on the playground shooting marbles and negotiating a trade for certain orbs.
I'm not sure why as some of them are absolutely beautiful. You'd think with so many kids loving sparkly things that marbles would be a sure-fire hit. Either way, we have a bag of marbles, but we only use them for painting.
Recently I had an excess of shoe boxes (a result of back to school indoor shoes and outdoor shoes and little brother's quickly growing feet) and decided one rainy day that it was the perfect day to reuse them before they went in the trash and do some marble painting. I took the base of a couple of the boxes and laid a piece of construction paper inside (you can bend the edges if it's too big or cut it to fit. The top of the shoe box provides a good holder for the marbles so they don't roll away.
I provided a selection of paints and the marbles and had the children tell me which three daubs of colours they'd like to start with. You can also just start with one colour and then add more bit by bit. I do find if you start with more than three though, it tends to just make a crowded mess before they get to see the patterns the marbles make.
They each chose one marble to drop in the box. I explained that they need to move the box back and forth or in circles (but not to shake up and down or the paint covered marble may end up on the floor!). We added colours as they went and mostly it ended up being a spectacular blob of grey before we switched it out to a new piece of paper and paint, but they were having great fun.
This activity also provides a good chance to talk about colour names, how to mix colours to make new colours and how white and black affects the colours when they are added.
Obviously if your child is a mouther, keep a close eye on them but since the activity doesn't have them technically handling the marbles (just holding the box) it should be safe for most ages under supervision. I've been doing this with my two since they were both about two years old without any issues.
Clean up is pretty simple - save the boxes for next time (or toss them) wash the paint off the marbles and hands, and lay the pictures out to dry.
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