Build A Toy Maze

Build a toy using this this simple wood and wire maze design that will keep young hands and minds happily occupied, includes a toy diagram and instructions.
By the MOTHER EARTH NEWS Editors
November/December 1987
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Build this simple toy for hours for creative fun.
PHOTO: MICHAEL SOLURI
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Build a toy maze using these easy-to-make instructions to create a homemade toy your children will love. 

How to Build A Toy Maze

Toward the end of the first year of life, a child climbs up on two feet and achieves real mobility. Whole new worlds become open to explore. Stairs develop a magnetic attraction. Drawers and kitchen cabinets offer breathtaking gymnastic possibilities. Soon, though, curiosity overwhelms the singular thrill of movement, and the utterly fascinating objects that lie at the top of those stairs, inside those drawers and behind those cabinet doors attract attention.

Efforts to master fine motor skills mark a major phase in a child's development. Between the first and second years, interest in small objects comes to absorb as much as 20% of a youngster's waking hours. At this age, visual acuity is refined, but manual dexterity lags behind. Thus, organizing play for children one to two years old requires a careful balance between encouraging curiosity and avoiding frustration.

First comes the ability to move an object to a desired location. Then the child shifts the item's orientation for inspection. In short order, he or she will learn to manipulate small articles by moving fingers independently of one another. And by the end of the phase—at 24 to 36 months—most children can produce a continual rotating motion to unthread a screw.

Toys for Toddlers

Between the first and second years, children really don't need to be provided with many toys. They find their own from an assortment of ordinary household objects. Plastic cups, wooden spoons, balls and metal bowls that nest are just a few examples of common items that many children enjoy playing with.

What toys adults provide should be carefully chosen to suit youngsters' skills and to be safe. Dennis Burkholder has put his imagine and ample experience with toddlers together to come up with a very suitable ex ample. Blocks that slide on wires allow a child to move colorful objects from one location to another with gratifying twists, turns and drops along the way. Movements are directed but varied—well suited for someone with emerging manual dexterity.

A Toy From Common Shop Materials

The wooden base of the toy is simple enough in concept, requiring just four feet of 2 by 4 and the same amount of 1 inch dowel, but figuring out how to make the convoluted wire bends had Dennis stumped for quite a while. He experimented with welding rod, a plumber's snake, stainless steel dowel, soft copper tubing and a number of others before coming up with 1/4 inch brake line with 1/8 inches welding rod slipped inside. The brake line alone is just about stiff enough to resist the yanking of a 1-1/2-year-old, but it crimps too easily in forming. With the welding rod inside, you can bend the brake line in your bare hands without kinking it, or you can wrap it around suitably shaped objects to create smooth curves, and it gains considerable stiffness. (Just don't bend the line at the junction of two pieces of rod, or you'll get a kink, not an arc.)

Four-foot brake line sections allow plenty of slack to produce interesting arcs. Dennis snaked them among each other and wound them in spirals so the plastic blocks would spin dizzily to the base. Bending the tubes provides a fine opportunity for adult playfulness, but do avoid any configurations that could trap a child's head or neck.

There are lots of possibilities for the objects that slide on the wires, but plastic blocks from Fisher-Price (Creative Blocks, 18-piece set, #666) happen to work particularly well. They come in a variety of shapes and have an internal diameter large enough to keep them from jamming on curves in the brake line.

To anchor the brake lines to the wooden base, Dennis drilled 1/4 inch by 3/4 inch holes in the wood and slipped the tubing down in them. Then he bored into the wide dimension of the 2 by 4 and through the tubing with a 1/16 inch bit. An 8d finish nail tapped into each hole anchored the tubes.

As entertaining as this toy may be for a toddler, we've also noticed a certain adult fascination with slipping blocks along the convoluted paths. Perhaps it's just about as close as many of us want to get to a roller coaster these days.


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