HABA Ball Run

The HABA Ball Track Building Set is, by all measures, a toy to treasure. Made of European Beechwood, the pieces are beautifully finished, and a pleasure to touch, lift, position, reposition. The basic set includes just enough ready-made sections of track and tunnels to make the purpose of the toy immediately accessible, and more than enough building elements to invite curiosity, imagination and endless elaboration. The HABA Ball Track Building set will engage children in hours of play, exploration, design, construction and, above all, experimentation.

The fact is, that any construction toy that involves building marble runways, even one made of plastic, provides children with a near perfect environment for gaining the basic understanding of and appreciation for the processes that are central to all scientific pursuits. Given a set with a variety of both construction and track elements, creating a marble runway that really works invites observation and testing, experimentation and patience, refinement and repetition, elaboration and further testing.

Children are sensitive creatures, and though they may not express a specific preference for wood over plastic, the warmth, heft and precision of this thoughtfully made wooden toy will deepen and enrich the play experience for as long as they continue to play.

Though the HABA Ball Track Building set provides everything needed for many, many hours of absorbing fun, there are supplemental sets available that extend the value of the set, renewing the invitation to play by introducing new properties and functions. We tried the Cascade (a zig-zag, waterfall-like box that makes a lovely sound as marbles drop through), the Speed Track (a long, high ramp, that, as advertised, makes the marble go very fast, prompting new explorations of what you can make the system do), and the Score Counter (adding a random, but fun way to compete). But were most excited by the HABA Games for HABA Balltrack an extension that significantly adds to the overall play value of the entire set. It, in fact, redefines the set by introducing the idea of games.

The ball run is not a game. It’s a construction toy, the object of which is to build something – not play something. By adding games to the set, the entire toy gets redefined. Suddenly, there are rules, social structures, so many more variables to play with, which, in turn, get extended and redefined by the nature of the toy.

For example, the set of miniature nine-pins (wooden, of course – 8 natural color, one red). So now the child has something to aim for. How many rolls will it take before she can knock down all the pins? Who can knock down the most? Can you knock all the pins down except for the red one? Should you use the large marbles? Roll them down the special large marble ramp? Both ramps? Should you both roll your marbles at the same time, from opposite sides? Should you use the large marbles to hit the small marbles so that they roll into the pins? Should you use the small marbles to hit the large? Should the small marbles have to be launched from the very beginning of the entire marble run? Can you re-aim a ramp while a marble is rolling? And then there are the three arches – targets to roll through. One is worth three points, another only two, and a third, the widest, only one point. Where do you put those arches? Where does the marble have to come from?

And then there’s the floor, the whole room – everything becomes a target or an additional obstacle or another ramp. With the game extension, the whole Ball Run takes its place in the child’s world, becomes one aspect of a small universe of things to roll at and under and through, becomes even more of a shared thing, an invitation to play that your child can extend to his family and siblings and community.

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