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Play in the sand!

19 Nov 2018

Play in the sand!

Children love to play in the sand pit or at the beach. They dig, build castles, bury toys, drive trucks, mix sand with water, sift sand through a funnel, and any number of other imaginative sand-play activities they can think up. Playing in the sand is a super-tactile, full-body experience for children that gives them wonderful opportunities for fun, learning, and sensory input. Plus, children or all ages love being in the sand pit, particularly with their friends, as it's a wonderful place for cooperative play and socialisation.

How sand benefits children

Playing in a sand pit is a great way for children to build a number of different skills, both physical and social. Sand play is very tactile, and helps children learn about textures and develop fine motor skills and hand-eye coordination.

Here are some other skills you may not have realised that sand play promotes.

  • Language development: Communicating with other children, describing play activities, listening.
  • Creativity skill-building: Moulding shapes and objects, making patterns, raking, drawing designs in the sand with a stick, building roads and play spaces for trucks and toys.
  • Socialisation: Playing and working with other children, sharing play spaces, watching others playing and joining their play, problem-solving.
  • Sensory and tactile stimulation: Developing sense of touch through feeling the different textures of sand (dry, damp, wet), moulding sand into shapes, burying themselves or objects in the sand and feeling them through the layers of sand.

Sand play safety

Cover the sand pit when not in use, to deter animals from using it as a litter tray. Keep sand fresh and clean by raking it regularly, and removing leaves etc. Sand reflects the sun, so ensure children are wearing sunscreen when playing outside in sand. Playing with wet sand is fun, but sand that is left wet or with pools of water can be a breeding ground for bacteria, parasites, and mosquitoes. If children play with wet sand, ensure there is good drainage or that water play in sand takes place in a separate area where the sand can then be spread to dry.

Shapes in the sand

Wet sand has a different texture than dry sand, and is really intriguing for little fingers to play in and explore. It also has a property that is interesting to children - it holds its shape, and will also hold the shapes of objects that are pressed into it. This presents a great opportunity for children to notice how objects like shells, toys, and even their hand- and footprints appear when pressed firmly into wet sand and then carefully removed. What other objects can they find to try this with? Encourage them to explore using items which may make interesting patterns, like the treads on their shoes, lava rocks, or the tyres on toy cars.

Sand play activities 

Portable sandpit

This is great if you don't have a garden, or for playing inside on wet days. You will need a large, shallow bin with a lid, and enough sand to fill the bin to between 3-5cm - you can put more sand in, but remember that sand is heavy and can make it hard to transport your so-called "portable" sand pit! Include a variety of tools like cardboard tubes, small rakes or forks, measuring cups, bottle caps, funnels, sieves, scoops, and small toys. Your child can play in the sand pit whenever and wherever they like, and it's so easy to pack away when they're finished - just pop the lid on and store safely out of reach. For indoor play, spread a tarpaulin on the floor under the sand pit, or play in an area where the floor is tiled, for easy clean-up.

Construction site

If you have small wood offcuts (with sanded edges), wooden blocks, pieces of carpeting, dowels, tiles, or just about anything child-safe that can be turned into a construction material, the sand pit is a perfect spot to encourage some creative building exercises. Children can trace roads through the sand with flat pieces of wood, and drive toy trucks and bulldozers over them carrying their building materials. Build a house or a whole neighbourhood out of blocks or odd-shaped bits of wood, then landscape them with twigs, rocks, and leaves.

Sand art gallery

Create modern art masterpieces with sand! Fill some squeezy bottles with sand - coloured sand is great if you have access to it, but regular sand will do just fine. Children can "draw" with their sand on concrete or on any flat, non-porous surface (like a tabletop), creating pictures as the sand slowly dribbles out of the squeezy bottle. This activity is excellent for developing fine motor skills and hand-eye coordination, as it requires concentration for children to work out how fast the sand will come out of the bottle when they squeeze, where to aim the tip of the bottle, etc. You can extend this activity by using A3 paper and supporting children to first draw on it with glue, then trace over the glue with sand. When the glue dries, the sand will stick and they will have 3D artwork to enjoy.

 Dino dig

Children love to play at being archaeologists, and once they discover dinosaurs, there's so much fun to be had. Grown-ups can hide toy dinosaurs in the sand pit ahead of time and send children on a dino dig - unearthing prehistoric creatures with different tools like spades, brushes, and chopsticks. This game helps children to develop patience and to take their time, as an archaeological dig is purposefully slow and methodical. Adults can show children how to dig down to their dino in the sand, then spend time making space around it, brushing sand away, and talking about the process and what they're seeing.