Children have been intrigued by sand for many generations. It is a fundamental part of the ground in the same way that dirt or clay is, and has been available to children as a primary source of play for centuries. Before the advent of the toys and electronics of today’s society, children were forced to find creative methods to play with outdoor materials, and one of these ‘materials’ included sand. Like playing with water, it is soothing and entertaining for them- and even adults can occasionally be caught running their fingers and toes through sand and enjoying its texture from time to time.
If you’ve always thought that sand play was just a natural and fun way to keep your kids busy, think again. Below are 8 ways that sand play has a beneficial influence on your little ones in their early developmental stages.
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 a very 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. Similarly, there is no specific right or wrong way to play with sand. It is appropriate to manipulate or experiment with sand in any way that a child wishes. Children find this concept of never being wrong both comforting and liberating in their play. Sand has a variety of qualities to it that make it even more open-ended. When it is dry, sand is easily poured and sifted through the fingers, allowing children to explore its texture and mutability. However, dry sand can also be compacted and shaped into a variety of images and figures according to the imagination of the child. Children have the ability to manipulate sand into anything that they can imagine. When children add a little water to the sand, the physical qualities of the sand change immensely. The few physical limitations of sand encourage children to experiment and explore sand with minimal restriction or boundaries.
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 imagination through the designs of a variety of buildings, towns, and castles. Once they realize the malleability of the sand, they then start to investigate the possibility of constructing whole cities, along with many other areas of pretend play. Provide and frequently change the variety of common and household objects used, and watch as they become inspired to adapt their creations and construct new ones. Many children find working with sand to be relaxing and non-threatening, therefore allowing them a safe platform to express their imagination without consequence.
3. It Promotes Physical Development.
Muscle skills in the arms and upper bodies of children can 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 them. If the sand becomes wet, it becomes even more difficult to scoop and manipulate, further flexing their core muscles and strengthening their physical conditioning. Legs and lower bodies also 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 with scoops and shovels. And the best part is, most of us do not even notice all these different facets of physical involvement because of the sheer concentration and focus required to build our structures.
4. It Encourages Social Skills.
When children play together in a common sandbox or at a sand table, they are often faced with problems with sharing tools, negotiating for play space, and compromising what should be done or even built. 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 others – all 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 vessel. While playing in sand, children will learn to problem-solve as they try to figure out how to prevent their structures 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. There is also language development, as children learn to articulate their speech specifically to sand play as well as the activities that they are involved in.
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 to’. 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 can also help them learn more specific measures as well as other mathematical functions such as fractions, volumes, and even surface areas. Over time, children will find themselves being able to translate and apply all these precursors in their mathematical curriculum.
7. It Encourages Scientific Experiments.
Here’s an interesting twist on a typical beach scavenger hunt: bury metal treasures in the sand and pass some magnets to your kids. Watch as they ‘magically’ unravel these gems from beneath the sand, and then fill them in to the world of magnetism and all its wonderful properties.
That doesn’t have to be all. If you’re game enough, you may even want to consider setting up a rope-and-pulley system to move buckets of sand up to a table or across a sandbox – this will be a good introduction to more abstract Scientific topics involving force and energy.
Alternatively, you can simply lay out a myriad of everyday household objects for your kids (such as funnels, rolling pins, bottles, aluminium foils, etc.), and get them to construct their own experiments.
8. It Incorporates Artistic Expression.
Encourage children to draw pictures in the sand, develop elaborate sand castles, and create interesting molds from household objects in addition to buckets. As children experiment with the properties of sand and create their own buildings and towns, they can decorate them with other objects such as stones, leaves, and flowers that they find in nature.
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Sand is well-suited to the explorative and imaginative nature of young children, and provides a potentially soothing sensory experience for those at play. There is no right way to use sand, hence providing endless possibilities to keep those little hands busy digging, scooping, and building sand castles for hours on end.
The next time you decide to take your little ones out to the beach, up the fun factor by packing one of these in tow! Scroll on down because we’ve singled out five of our most unique sand toys from HABA that will bring sand play to a whole new level! (Drop by our stores for the full range!)
HABA ‘Sand Drill’
Shake up the sand box with this Shovel Excavator from HABA! Made from PP plastic (body) and phthalate-free PVC (wheels), this handy tool is perfect for digging and transporting sand – and thanks to its awesome locking mechanism, the mouth stays wide open for easier digging and shoveling!
HABA ‘Bricklayer Set’
Here’s something that will keep the littler ones ocupied: Recommended from 18 months and up, this Bricklayer Set comes with 1 brick mold and 1 trowel, and is just what you need for constructing elaborate brick structures.
HABA ‘Sand Drill’
HABA’s Sand Drill provides a quick, fun way to dig out holes on the beach or in the sandbox. The handle makes it easier for little hands to maneuver 360-degrees; and the opening at the bottom of the drill removes sand and pushes it up and out. Great for encouraging more imaginative play and enhancing motor-skill development among young children.
HABA ‘Spilling Funnel’
Also known as the ‘Sand Decorator’, this nifty sand tool allows you to design and create greater and more detailed sand creations than ever before! Simply fill one section with sand and the other with water; and watch as they combine together and spill out of the funnel tip like thick sand icing! Go ahead and practice your sand-manship; or better yet, decorate that sand-cake you’ve always dreamt of making!
HABA ‘Sand Golf’
Who fancies an exciting game of sand golf? Simply pick up the golf clubs, put up the little frames, the hole, and flag – and off you go for some hole-in-one sandy play fun! Whoever is the most skillful at putting the balls in with the fewest strokes, wins the game! This exciting sand game set includes 2 golf clubs, 2 hole-frames, 2 golf balls, 1 golf hole, and 1 flag – all you need for a proper game of sand golf!