Children have been intrigued by sand for many generations. Sand is natures etch-a-sketch. Playing in the sand can be a great opportunity for children to have unstructured play time. Whether shaped into castles, dug, dripped, sifted, poured, built or buried, sand can take many different forms, thus offering endless opportunities for fun and learning!
Reasons Why Playing in the Sand Is Good for Kids
1. It Is an Open-Ended Medium
Children learn the most when faced with open-ended questions and open-ended tasks, and sand is a medium that is inherently open-ended. No matter the skill or cognitive level of the child, sand is an appropriate play object. Very young or underdeveloped children can simply sit in sand and take in the texture and qualities of the medium while older children with more sophisticated thought processes can use sand for exploration and creativity. Sand has a variety of qualities to it that make it even more open-ended.
Open-ended play in the sand can be fostered by using key phrases such as:
- How could you change/fix that?
- What else could you do?
- What would happen if you…?
- What do you think/feel about…?
- How did you do that?
- Is there another way to…?
2. It Stretches the Imagination
As children begin to more fully understand the physical properties of sand, they have the opportunity to expand their creativity and imaginations through the designs of a variety of buildings, towns, and castles. Many children find working with sand to be relaxing and non-threatening, allowing these children the freedom to express their imaginations in safety and without consequence.
3. It Promotes Physical Development
Muscle skills in the arms and upper bodies of children will be further developed through sand play. By digging, pouring, sifting, and scooping sand, children use their upper bodies and arms in ways that many of their other toys do not require them to work. Large amounts of sand can become very heavy and difficult to move, thereby creating further exercise and muscle-building opportunities for young children. If the sand becomes wet, it becomes even more difficult to scoop and manipulate, further flexing the young muscles of children playing in the sand. The legs and lower bodies of children get involved from squatting in the sand or from lifting and carrying buckets of sand to other areas. Additionally, hand-eye coordination and small muscle control is improved through small movements as children work with sand accessories such as scoops and shovels.
4. It Encourages Social Skills
Playing in sand involves sharing tools, negotiating for play space, and compromising about what will be built in the sand. Although each child may have a separate play space, many of them will engage in pretend play as they combine to “cook” with the sand or construct roadways, dig tunnels, and build towers for a small city. By working together in a common play space, children learn empathy and how to recognize and understand the perspectives of the other children while working together and sharing sand tools.
5. It Promotes Cognitive Development
Children learn the inherent physical properties of sand by playing with it and by comparing wet and dry sand. They can also learn the theory of the conservation of matter as they pour sand from one container into another and compare the amount of sand that fits in each. While playing in sand, children will learn to problem-solve as they try to figure out how to prevent their towers from continually falling over or their moats from collapsing in on themselves. They will discover cause and effect from learning what happens when water is added to the sand. Finally, children will learn more vocabulary words that fit specifically to sand play as well as from chatting with other children in the sand play area.
6. It Teaches Mathematical Concepts
Using containers of varying sizes and shapes helps to teach children about ideas such as “more than,” “less than,” and “equal.” Through trial and error, these children will be able to make predictions about which containers will hold more or less sand. Providing measuring spoons or cups could help children learn more specific measures as well as other mathematical terms such as “empty” and “full” or “heavy” and “light.” Over time, and with maturity, children can learn how many scoops of different sizes it takes to fill a container, an early precursor to learning teaspoons, tablespoons, and cups.
7. It Encourages Scientific Experiments
- Bury metal treasures for children and provide magnets – children will learn about magnetic force while going on a treasure hunt
- Set up a rope and pulley system for children to move buckets of sand up to a table or across a sandbox to teach about levers and pulleys.
- Punch holes of varying sizes in plastic bottles for children, and watch as they discover the differences in hole sizes.
- Provide other objects for children to construct their own scientific experiments such as funnels, ramps, and rolling pins.
Sand pit play develops an understanding of basic science and maths concepts. Sand play helps develop concepts such as exploring, classifying, estimating, experimenting, comparing, counting, measuring and constructing.
8. It Incorporates Artistic Expression
- Encourage children to draw pictures in the sand, develop elaborate sand castles, write their name and messages and create interesting moulds from household objects in addition to buckets.
- Children can experiment with the properties of sand and create their own buildings and towns, they can decorate the objects with stones, leaves, and flowers that they find in nature.
- Provide sand combs and discuss different patterns and designs with children as they draw in the sand.
- Play music while children work and play in the sand to encourage children to sing along.
Allowing your child to play in the sand by themselves and with others helps them to develop fine motor skills like those necessary to use a small shovel, pull a truck, and build a castle or moat. By burying themselves in sand, and feeling their body position within the sand, children are engaging their proprioceptive sense, or the sense of their body relative to space. Sand play is particularly beneficial for developing a sense of textures. Not only is sand a new and different texture for children to feel on their skin, but the contrast it creates with concrete, grass, dirt, and wood will emphasize the sensation of each surface. Sand play adds to their sensory vocabulary. Sand can feel like so many adjectives: rough, smooth, bumpy, squishy, runny, dry and more.
Sand Play Accessory Ideas
The following are just some tools and objects that can be used when playing in the sand:
Cardboard tubes, ping-pong balls, spatulas, rolling pins, sand wheels, funnels, sieves, colanders, mortar and pestle, stones, shells, scoops, measuring spoons and cups, gardening tools and gloves, plastic flowers and vases, wooden spoons, buckets, zoo / farm animals, pipes, tubes, cyclinders, pine cones, jars and lids, clothespegs, potato mashers, maginifiers, magnets, marbles, zip lock freezer bags, toy vehicles, net bags from onions / citrus fruit, feathers, bowls / pans, ladles.
Ultimately, there is no right way to use sand. It invites participation; it permits children to make and test hypotheses; it stretches the imagination; it provides a potentially soothing sensory experience; and it is an excellent avenue for children to learn physical, cognitive, and social skills. Sand play can be the perfect opportunity to further the development of the minds and bodies of children. No matter the age or development level of the child, sand offers an opportunity to explore and experiment in a safe and inviting environment.