Head Full of Marbles. Great sorting activity for preschool kids.

I always looked at them as a choking hazard. My kids always found them so attractive to handle, roll, transfer from one container to the next. My mom always believed it was ok, if done under supervision. And then I haven’t seen marbles for a really long time, until rediscovered to hem in a completely new educational capacity last week. It can be educational, can be fun… and it doesn’t have to be marbles after all!

Preschooler-age playdate. Two moms are still hyperventilating after half an hour of fierce sharing squabbles between the adorable three year old hostess and the her sweet two and a half year old guest. Everything looks fascinating to the two year old. Everything seems too precious to a three year old. Ouch. And now… finally a moment of bliss. Two year old is freely, fully, unobstructedly enjoying the toy kitchen. A tower of toy-delicacies is growing next to astonished mommy. The possessiveness-monster is nowhere to be seen. What keeps the three year old so busy, that she doesn’t even mind a little stranger in her kitchen domain? Little marble balls. She is immersed so completely into this activity… and I just can’t wait to try it at home! Common, it is easy to set up, so educational and, apparently, so engaging!

What do I already have?

  • marbles, marbles, marbles. They fascinate me almost as much as my friend’s three year old daughter. Definitely as much as my mother, who brought it out of my pantry every single time to play with my little ones. Nearly as much as own babies, when they were her age. We have blue marbles, clear marbles, flat with yellowish tint, oval with traces of yellow.

  • NOTE: after I was done setting all of these activities up… I discovered two toys that allow to do most of these activities. Super Sorting Pie Early Math Learning Toy and Mini Muffin Match up Math Learning Activity Set. Doh!

How old should my child be to use it?

Glen Doman, the man who revolutionized child development programs, believes that WITH SUPERVISION, kids should be exposed to little objects as early as they can try to pick it up. Three months? Picking up activities are terrific for developing small motor, developing the brain and even preparing fingers for holding that pencil correctly years down the road!

I don’t like fanaticism in anything, so we used a middle approach: we gave little EDIBLE objects to our babies. So that if it does slip past my supervision and ends up in a mouth, it actually belongs there.

No, I didn’t give marbles to my babies, but I did let my toddlers engage small objects as soon as I knew they wouldn’t attempt to devour every single one of them. And put it away as soon as the activity started getting out of hand. So these activities were popular in our house around 2-6 year old, give or take a few months.

What can I do with them?

My head is bursting with ideas. And the best part: it doesn’t have to be marbles! Beads, little erasers, lego pieces, rocks, pom-pom balls, beans, buttons, cereal rings… Pick what is closer to your heart, or easier to find in your home, or attractive to your little one, or just a different material for each of the activities altogether. .

Transferring marbles with a spoon


  • one bowl with of marbles

  • one empty bowl

  • a spoon


  • Use a spoon to transfer the marbles from one bowl to the other

Transferring marbles with thongs



  • Use thongs to… yep, transfer the marbles from one bowl to the other.1a1 - Copy - Copy - Copy - Copy - Copy - Copy

Sorting Marbles


  • multicolored marbles or other small objects in a little bowl

  • little six muffin baking pan or an ice cube tray


  • Show your child how to use fingers (excellent for developing that pincer grasp, and pencil holding down the road) to sort marbles into each of the sections of the muffin pan, separating them by color, or shape, or any way you find suitable.

Labeling marble colors


  • multicolored marbles or other small objects in a little bowl. Buttons might be easier for this activity – easier to determine their color.

  • little six muffin baking pan or an ice cube tray.

  • cards with various colors (names? just colors? objects with that color? all of them?)


  • After you sort the marbles into the different cells of the baking pan, place the cards with colors next to the muffin pan cell with the appropriate colored marbles: blue against blue, red against red…


Pouring Marbles


  • one measuring cup with marbles (actually,lentils, beans or plastic beans might be better – wouldn’t chip)
  • one empty measuring cup


  • Slowly pour the marbles from one cup to another. Both pouring and clink-clank sounds are very exciting for the little ones.

Playing with them in a kitchen


  • Toy kitchen set up with pots, pans, plates.

  • bowl of marbles.


  • Our kids didn’t ask for directions. Once both of them lost interest in pouring, mixing, sorting, they happily got busy using marbles for their recipes: marbles in little plastic toy glasses were lemonade; marbles in the pot were a stew; marbles in the pan were pancakes; marbles in the tray – cookies.

Funny thing was, nobody ate it in the end and every single one of them is safely on a top shelf. My 5 year old enjoyed the number activities. My toddler is now learned how to say a new word, “mambles, every time he wants to play with them again.