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Sandboxes: Is the Mess Worth It?

By Karen Taylor*

I simply had to write about sandboxes this month, because spring is finally here!  I’ve been waiting for the weather to warm up so I could share my enthusiasm about playing outside in the sand.  It’s not because I love the gritty feel of sand, because I don’t.  It’s not because I love having it all over the yard or in the house.  Nope.  It’s because playing with sand is a wonderful experience for children!

Preschoolers love to dig in sand, drive vehicles through it, bury things, and pour it from one container to another.  They’ll sometimes play in it for hours!  Sand encourages creative play because there is so much they can do with it, and each play time will be different from the last.  If you don’t have a sandbox, having a place to dig in the dirt is also great!

Dirt is easy and free – just let your children know where in the yard they can dig and play (not in your roses!).  A sandbox takes a bit more planning.  Here are some things to consider:

Pick a location.  Sand is heavy, so you may not be moving it for a couple of years.   Some people pick an out-of-the-way location in their yard.  I decided to place ours on the patio near my back door, where the children would be in the shade of a patio cover, and where I could easily watch them.   Having it on concrete also made it easier for me to sweep up spills and put it back in the box.

Get a sandbox.  You might purchase one (or ask for one at, or search online for free plans to build your own box (with the help of the kids, of course – how fun!).  Instead of a box, some people make a sand table, hoping that their kids will bring less sand into the house when they are done.  Or you might find an unusual container.  I used an inexpensive molded plastic pool for our sandbox, and it worked well for years.

Consider a cover.  Cats have a knack for hopping fences and finding a sandbox, making it a very unhealthy and smelly mess in no time.  That means a sandbox needs a cover that is easy to use so that you never leave the sand uncovered.  You might use wood, cardboard or some other firm material, or a tarp.  Since I was using a molded plastic pool, I bought a second pool and nested it on top.  It was so light and easy!  To keep it from blowing away, all I had to do was set a few toys inside it.

Locate some sand.  Search online for information about dust free sand that is considered healthier for children, and then call some stores to see if they sell it.  Sometimes it’s called clean or play sand.

Add some toys!  Consider a small plastic scoop or shovel, a spoon, sieve, funnel, measuring cups, and plastic toys.  You may find what you need at the bottom of the toy box, a kitchen drawer, or at a garage sale.

Expect messes.  Some days you’ll be scooping or sweeping up sand to put back in the box.  And just about every day you can expect to shake sand out of hair, clothes, and shoes.  I always asked kids to take off their shoes, and then helped them brush off their sand in a boisterous hugging kind of way that they loved.   Even with that step, sand got in the house, and I could hear it rattle as the vacuum sucked it up.  So, was it worth it?  You bet!  Anything that causes such happy, creative play is priceless!  You could even consider your sandbox or dirt digging area a major part of your preschool curriculum since so much learning will happen while they play.

Children probably love sand and dirt as much as we dread the mess, but if you are looking for a great activity that will get lots of preschool use, consider a sandbox or dirt digging area!  Our sandbox provided years of summer fun.  When my son and his friends outgrew it, the sand was used to lay brick, and the plastic pools were recycled.  But the good memories are still there.

If you have a question about your preschooler, or there’s a topic you’d like me to discuss in a future issue, please send an email to me at


*Karen Taylor provides regular homeschooling information and mentoring on Facebook and she is the director of Cedar Life Academy, a Private School Satellite Program (PSP) for homeschoolers in California.

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