Thursday, April 15, 2010

Just add Sand

Welcome to Just Add Sand, part 3 in our series How to create a Natural Outdoor Play Space. 

Sand is another of nature's endlessly intriguing open-ended sensory materials.  Sand appeals to children of all ages.  They dig in it, sift it, build with it, pour it, enjoy the feel and smell of it, pretend with it and explore how it moves.

Now lets go and look at some sandpits shall we?

My philosophy when it comes to sandpits is the bigger, the better.  Less like a sandpit and more like a sand world, can you imagine the great feats of engineering that can take place at the wonderful Roseville Community Preschool?

Credit:  For the Children
Or this one at the Blue House International School:

Surrounding a sandpit with natural materials and natural ground cover expands the opportunities for children's play, and creates something that is sympathetic to the natural surroundings.

Credit:  Elite Childcare Solutions

Tree stumps or rocks both work well to enclose a sandpit, and also provide handy seating and play surfaces:
Credit:  Twin Towns Community Kindergarten
Credit:  Nurtured by Nature Play and Design

Adding vegetation around one or more sides of the sandpit gives children the illusion of a secret hiding space, and it also helps to control sand transfer:
Credit:  Irresistible Ideas for Play Based Learning

Of course, not everyone has the luxury of space.  If you are stretched for space, think of ways that you can add sand to containers.

I found an old bedside table on the side of the road, and used it to create a sand tray:

Credit:  Let the Children Play

Even an old tyre will do the trick:

The only thing children love playing with more than sand and water is sand and water mixed together!  Some sandpits beautifully combine the two:

Credit:  New Shoots Children's Centre

Helpful Sandpit Tips
  • locate your sandpit near a tap or water tank for easy access to water
  • fill the sandpit to a recommended depth of 600mm
  • enclose your sandpit in decking, stones or stumps to provide a place for play
  • build your sandpit in a shady spot
  • ensure that you have effective drainage
  • consider climbing plants on a timber frame for added shade
Sand play: Making it also offers a comprehensive list of things to consider before you get cracking on your own sandpit.

Series: How to create a natural outdoor play space for children.  Come with me and wander and dream through natural play spaces from around the globe.  We will take our time and look at each of these natural elements in a bit more detail.   We may just well find a few ideas that we can use in our own playgrounds or backyards to make them irresistible spaces for outdoor play.

Tomorrow:  Just add greenery


  1. The sunken sandpit box is a brilliant idea! Tessa Rose of course. We've been digging out our little sandy area and have surrounded it with rocks. Just needs some planting now!

  2. You'll have to post some pictures when you are done - love to see it. We built one for the boys in our last house, and were sad to leave it behind. The boys played in it from when they were tiny, and their interest never waned.

  3. What an amazing collection of sand pits! I'm very happy to see one with a tree growing out of it. We built ours around 2 trees and I worry every day that we're somehow killing them. Now I have hope! =)

  4. Hi Jennifer

    You may want to have a look at the sandpit photos on the Creative STAR Facebook page. These aren't as bonny as these examples - mostly coming from colder northern climates, shade is less of a concern.

    For those folk who have children with mobility concerns or who are crawlers or babies, then a sandpit that a child can access directly without having to get over a barrier is helpful. I'm a big fan of boundaries that are big enough to sit or play on or both!

    I don't have a photo - but I love construction sandpits - those with pulleys and systems to move sand.

    Finally, here in the UK, we dig holes in sand that get us to Australia!!!

  5. We've not tried digging to China however Tasmanaia is a challenge we're up for. These sand pits are amazing Jenny. We had our sandpit professionally redesigned and built a couple of years ago and although it is beautiful - with a new decking attached, the size was halved (to make room for the deck) which was a little disappointing. I would have preferred more sand and less deck ... sand pits are certainly a case for the bigger the better!
    :) :)

  6. Tom - I love that your sandpit has a tree growing out of it, although I can see that it would have to be up for the challenge :)

    Juliet: I'm off to look at your photos.

    Sherry and Donna: I agree, with sandpits size does matter! Ours is big and without a wide edging but we compensate by putting some big sandstone chunks in there and every now and then we throw in the wooden pallets. I'd love to grow some grasses around it though, and give it a more natural look. I also love the ones that have an organic shape to them.

  7. Great post! I'm going to mark this to come back to! I'm in the midst of trying to find a building to start a new little school and I'd love to create an awesome outdoor playspace with a big sandpit. I DID try to dig to China as a child and I'd love to let my littles dig to anywhere their imaginations happen to take them :)

  8. I'm glad it inspired you Kat :) I love looking at what other preschools and parents are doing to make great play spaces for kids. It gives you great ideas for your own, even if it is just a little step here and there. I'd love to know more about your new little school.

  9. You have inspired me! I have the perfect spot in my backyard to create a sandplay area -- it's so shady nothing grows there & the kids could stay cool while they play. Thanks for the wonderful ideas!

  10. This is such a lovely post. I'm a huge fan of small sand boxes. They allow for quite different play experiences. Our local Kinder often has a couple of sand boxes inside with plastic animals for imaginative play. It's so easy to do this at home even if you don't have a large outdoor area. Can't wait to read more about your outdoor play ideas

  11. I'm a french teacher and mum. I hope you'll understand my poor english !
    Il love your post. I've just translated your accessories list into french. I hope you don't mind ;) You can see it here, on my webblog :

  12. Love this idea for the snad pit. Wish my cats wouldn't instantly find it appealing too!

  13. This series is so inspiring. Thank you so much for sharing. I wonder, you have any tips for covering sandpits or keeping animals out. We live in the woods and I cover our ugly plastic turtle sand box every day so our cat and other creatures don't find their way in. I'm guessing a plastic tarp held down with rocks would be a deterrent but it seems like a bit of a pain. Any ideas for keeping a sandpit in the woods clean?

  14. Our kids love sand but we have to keep it covered when we're done playing because of a large population of outdoor cats in the area. Just something to consider, if anyone else has a similar pet demographic!

  15. Those sand accessories seem like a great way to entertain your kids. My son made a pretend railroad in the sandbox we have. It was precious.

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  17. You have posted some great sandbox ideas. I love the idea of adding naturescapes around the perimeter to give it a more natural feel. I am going to put some blocks in our sandbox per your suggestion.