Sand Play

Most of what has been said about water play can equally be applied to sand play. Once babies can sit firmly they may enjoy a sand pit but careful supervision is needed. Water splashing does not do any harm but sand thrown up into hair is unpleasant, or thrown into eyes is dangerous. Eating sand can be unpleasant both to experience and deal with. The most common mishap is to rub eyes with hands coated with damp sand. There is a stage, round about one year to eighteen months which coincides with the first attempts to walk, when children may appear to be quite frightened of sand. Many first seaside holidays are ruined because of this. The most likely reason for it is that the sand does not give a solid surface under the feet and the new toddler feels insecure on it. Perhaps if parents carried children at this stage over the dry sand and put them down on the wetter, firmer part near the sea these children might feel happier. Best of all would be a rock pool where the water will be much warmer than in the sea and where there is usually somewhere firm to sit.

Seaside sand play is not a daily occurrence for many children however and either at home or in the nursery group some provision ought to be made for it. As with water there is a progression in sand play as children grow older and become more experienced. At first they will pat, pummel and move it from one place to another, filling and emptying containers. Depending on the type of sand they may progress to moulding it, and certainly to moving larger quantities a greater distance which accounts for a good deal of the mess which can be associated with sand play. At this stage a big sandpit is useful or failing that perhaps two sand areas with a legitimate sand-carrying track between them. By five many children can use sand very effectively to build complicated layouts involving humps, hollows, tunnels, tracks and can use many other toys in conjunction with this. They may also use sand as a raw material in imaginative games – making cakes or for cups of pretend tea. The child’s age and stage and the different types of playthings provided all make a difference to the play but the sand itself makes the biggest difference.

What Kind of Sand to Provide

Dry silver sand will pour and in many ways will behave similarly to water. A good fine grade is very expensive and it is best to buy it in bulk. Some nurseries collect sand-sweepings into a bucket and when this is about half full wash the sand by filling the bucket with water, stirring vigorously so that the dust and fluff rises to the top and can be poured away. The clean sand is then spread out to dry and can be used again.

Damp sand lends itself to different activities. Silver sand could be damped for this purpose. Some nurseries provide a natural variation by having their silver sand really wet and letting it dry naturally so that the children have experience of all the different consistencies. In fact for damp sand, a fine-grade, well-washed builders’ sand will do although it may stain hands a little. It is so much cheaper than silver sand that much more can be provided. One buys it by the cubic yard (or half cubic yard) and the transport/delivery charge may cost more than the sand itself. It is worth carefully calculating the amount of sand needed. Half a cubic yard of sand needs a hole more than half a cubic yard in capacity for some mysterious reason – and in any case the sandpit should not be filled to the brim. Having a 6-inch space between sand level and ground level means less overflowing and the children can sit in a comfortable position on the edge without their knees hitting their chins.

The same kind of containers and pouring equipment suggested for water can be used with dry sand although tubing needs to be fairly wide . Wet tubing presents obvious difficulties. It is also possible to use large wooden boxes -or the spare drawer from an old chest – if the corner joints are made leak-proof with glass-fibre tape applied with a suitable adhesive. As for water play, a suitable height will prevent spills as will taking care not to fill the container too full.

Containers for Sand

Sandpits can vary from large concrete-lined holes in the ground to a heap of sand in the corner of the garden but one or two basic rules should be observed when planning them. They should be the right size and shape for the number of children who will be using them; a rectangular pit may be better for younger children so that each child can have a part to play in without interfering too much with his neighbour. Cleaning up is easier if there is some kind of surround either of splinter-free wood or concrete paving slabs. Sand has an inevitable tendency to stick to children and their clothes and so be brought inside; it is a good plan to have an expanse of grass or yard in between the outdoor sandpit and the building entrance if possible. While some kind of shelter from excessive sun or wind is desirable, placing a sandpit under a large tree may mean that the sand does not dry out very quickly after rain. Easy supervision is essential so the sandpit should be in sight of windows.

If the soil in which a pit is to be made is reasonably heavy it is possible just to dig a hole and put in the sand, laying some kind of surround for the edges. If the soil is light the hole can be lined at the sides with splinter-free planks or bricks. If it is to be lined at the bottom some kind of drainage holes are necessary. If the only place available is a yard, a sand box or just a heap of sand in a corner fenced in with planks is better than nothing. Any wood should be splinter-free and protected against the inevitable dampness and the weather by a suitable paint – marine paints are useful for this. Any finish used should be carefully checked to ensure that it is lead-free and non-corrosive.

Other possibilities are sand boxes which rest on the ground, which can be bought from some manufacturers, or again a large zinc bath set at a suitable height. Since cats may be attracted to sandpits some kind of cover to keep them out is a good idea. A tarpaulin or wooden cover also keeps out leaves and rain but a frame covered with chicken wire would be enough just to solve the cat problem. Sand used outside will inevitably get dirty. It should be forked and raked at least weekly to let sun and air reach all the sand.

Ideally both wet and dry sand should be provided indoors and out. Failing this wet sand outside and both indoors answers very well but if only one indoor container is available it should be possible to have silver sand which is sometimes wet and some- times dry. Containers for indoor sand are similar to those suggested for water.

Sand Toys

These will be very similar to those for water play but for use with damp sand spoons, spades, spatulas, sand rakes, different-shaped containers, and buckets made of rubber or plastic will be necessary. Young children need small spades made of rubber or plastic. Older children may find a metal spade or trowel is best if they wish to ‘sculpt’ with the sand. As with water playthings it is possible to structure the materials to give a wide variety of colour material, size and weight; sets in different related sizes, pairs to show that the same shape container produces the same shape of sand pie. In addition some kind of truck or wheelbarrow, perhaps even a mechanical shovel would be useful for outdoor use in a large sandpit.

The question often arises as to whether children should be allowed to mix water and sand so that the water tray is a thin solution of sand and the sand tray a thick solution of sand. Some adults feel very strongly about this. A great deal of learning and a great deal of enjoyment can arise from this kind of mixing but it can also denote rather silly play. My own answer would be ‘ No sand in the water trough, but if you want to put water in the sand ask first.’