Have you ever wondered why children are so attracted to sand and sandpit play?

The simple answer is that it’s fun and good for them. Sand play allows children to explore and use their imaginations. Sandpits are typically filled with sand that children can dig up, sculpt, or move around using different tools.

Building castles is one of the most classic activities that children enjoy doing in sandpits. As children participate in this play environment, they see endless possibilities. Playing in and with sand invites children to explore their curiosities, develop new ways of knowing and doing, and build on their interests.

Does your child come home with sand in their shoes and clothes? At Petit Early Learning Journey, this translates as your child spending valuable time in an inviting sandpit. Children spontaneously engage in our sandy environments with assorted tools, natural materials and open-ended resources.

In this article, we’ll dig further into:

Two children sit in a sandpit. One child in a horizontally colourful stripped shirt plays with a truck. The back of the truck is filled with wet sand. The other child in a pink dress fills a baking tray with damp sand. Behind them is a red and a silver bucket, and a red plastic rake.

What is sandpit play?

Sandpit or sand play is where children play in a designated area filled with sand. Sandpits, also known as sandboxes, are commonly found in parks, early childhood education and care services, schools, and family backyards.

Sand play can also refer to children’s play at beaches and along riverbanks, where the sand is often more coarse. It also extends to experiences where children play or use sand indoors, such as in sensory tubs or using kinetic sand.

Children can do many things with sand. The opportunities become endless when you add different resources. Sandpit play encourages children to use:

  • Their whole body for an immersive sensory experience with sand
  • Traditional containers like buckets or wheelbarrows in bright colours
  • Digging tools like spades, cups, shells, coconut shells, fingers, hands, heels and toes
  • Modern containers and toys like bright yellow dump trucks, jugs, pots, pans and kettles
  • Sculpting tools in addition to containers such as kitchen sieves, rakes, cookie cutters, water and hands
  • Other natural materials like flowers, leaves, wooden blocks and shells
  • Repurposed materials such as construction tubes and cardboard boxes

Among the notable features discovered at Petit ELJ centres are our delightful sand kitchens where children engage during unstructured, imaginative and pretend play. They also frequently combine sandpit play with nature play.

A child wearing a green hat and a long sleeved shirt animal patterned shirt and stripped blue pants crouches down in the sand building a hill and benefitting from sandpit play.

What are the benefits of sandpit play?

The benefits of sand play in the early years are numerous. Children often combine it with other types of play, such as nature and water play, which has positive effects on their development:

  1. It captivates children’s senses
    It allows them to explore sensory play, where they can touch, feel, and manipulate the sand, stimulating their senses and enhancing their fine motor skills.
  2. It sparks the imagination and encourages creativity
    Sandpit play encourages creativity and imagination, as children can build sandcastles, dig trenches, and create various shapes and structures.
  3. It promotes social interaction and cooperation
    Children can participate in group play or solo play in the sandpit. When playing around others, they still engage in social interactions that promote communication, language and cooperation. In group play, children collaborate on projects, share resources and tools, and engage in pretend play scenarios.
  4. It inspires all ages
    No matter how young they are, sand play benefits children of all ages, from babies to preschoolers. Infants can soak up the sensory experiences with supervision, while older toddlers on the move can discover new interests and expand on existing ones as they use sand for exploration. Even adults still enjoy sculpting with sand toys.
  5. Children learn about sand by playing with it
    It is much easier for children to learn about the properties of sand by playing with it than hearing or reading about it in a book. If you don’t have a sandpit at home, seek out parks or local beaches for fun sand play.
  6. It encourages early literacy development
    When children interact and play with buckets of sand to make castles, sand mud pies or share tools they engage in incidental learning. They begin to learn about early number concepts, volume and capacity, and science concepts such as the difference between wet and dry sand.
  7. It engages children’s fine motor skills and gross motor skills
    Motor skills involve the ability to move and coordinate body parts. Fine motor skills refer to the smaller muscle groups used to perform tasks. Gross motor skills impact the ability to control whole-body movements such as using the arms, legs and torso. Sandpit play encourages children to strengthen all their motor skills.

Overall, sandpit play is a valuable and enjoyable activity that supports children’s physical, cognitive, and social-emotional development.

Two preschool children face the camera as they enjoy sand play. One is crouched and holds a ball of sand in his left hand and the other is sitting holding a clump of sand in his right hand. Behind them is a baking tray filled with sand and a cup cake tray. The sandpit is surrounded by large clumps of grass at the back. A child is riding a tricycle in the background in front of a wall on a roof top play area.

Examples of sandpit play

If you have a backyard sandpit or are off to a park or beach with plenty of deep sand to feel, pat, dig, scoop, push, fill up a bucket, shift, shape and decorate, then the following examples of sandpit play may be helpful.

  1. Child-led play
    Children learn best through hands-on exploration. Invite them to set up your sandpit with an assortment of tools and resources from around the house and watch them create to their heart’s content. Look in your kitchen for scoops, containers and pattern makers that children can safely use in the sandpit.
  2. Build on your child’s interests
    Does your child have an interest that you can combine with sand play? Many children love playing with trucks, cars and dinosaurs. Extend their learning by adding their interests to their sandpit toys.
  3. Combine water for a wet sand experience
    Wet sand can add to a child’s sensory and STEM experiences. When a child engages sand and water play, actions such as pouring, squeezing and stirring build on their fine motor skills. Adding water can lead to mud play or a water moat or river.
  4. Add nature for a decorative, sensory and imaginative time
    Collect rocks, shells, seeds flowers, twigs, leaves and different grasses from your yard. What can your child do with these in the sand? Natural materials add to children’s sensory experiences and connect them with nature.
A child wearing a pirates costume and holding a cream coloured shovel digs deep into the sand. Behind him is a wooden fence and over a wooden pergola.

Tips about sandpit play for families

  • After water play or rain, make sure to drain and dry your home sandpit well. Damp sand can encourage insects that may sting or bite
  • Fill your sandpit with clean sand and cover it when not in use so pets and animals can’t use it
  • Place your sandpit at home in a well shaded area or under shade cloth to help cool sand
  • Avoid covering wet sand after play as this may spoil it for the future
  • When playing outside under the sun, wear a hat, slip on a shirt, put on sunscreen and have water nearby for drinking
  • Water and sand are essential for play – consider keeping a hose nearby for water play
  • Need a super sandpit but don’t have enough room? Consider a family trip to the beach
  • Keep children’s sandpits clean, healthy and safe by:
    • Raking sandpits regularly, especially before and after play
    • Keeping pets and animals out of the sandpit
    • Washing the sand down with a hose if necessary
    • Drying the sand in the sun before covering when it is not in use
    • Keeping the sandpit dry by installing drainage

A final word about sand play

There is so much more to sandpit play than just building elaborate sand castles. Provide your child with plenty of sand play materials including repurposed kitchenware, blocks and other natural materials or loose parts for open-ended play.

Children in sandpit play develop and learn so many skills that it makes sandpit boxes an essential experience in childhood. You don’t need access to the biggest sandpit or set activities. Instead, give children the freedom to explore sand with their creative ideas.

A Petit Early Learning Journey sandpit play space basks in filtered sunshine beneath a canvas sail. One the sandpit are several colourful buckets and spades. In the centre is a wooden table and to one side a wooden sand play kitchen. The right side of the sandpit has a few shrubs and trees.

Discover sandpit play with Petit Early Learning Journey

Children love to explore the environments both indoors and outdoors at Petit ELJ. We believe the environment is a third teacher, where the whole child is invited to grow and extend all areas of their development – social, emotional, cognitive, physical and language.

We purposefully built our learning environments at Petit Early Learning Journey to encourage children’s imaginations. All our centres encourage sandpit play where children play in sensory experiences building on their ideas and interests.

Are you ready to join us on a new adventure where children always come first? Come and see our play and learning spaces. Contact your nearest centre and speak with a Centre Director about a world full of wonder and possibilities for your child.

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