Sand Play Activities For Kids

Sand play activities are fun and kids love them. Sandpit activities help children calm down and enhance their tactile responses. Here are a few sand play activities for preschoolers and toddlers.

By Mina Dilip  • 9 min read

Sand Play Activities For Kids

With schools going online and gadgets becoming a part of our lives, parents are trying to find ways to help children feel grounded, connected and imaginative.

As a play therapist, I often recommend that parents take their children to the beach. However, in today’s times of ‘the new normal’, I have had to improvise. Now, I suggest that they bring the beach home! What I mean is to create opportunities for sand play activities for children in the safety of their homes.

I suggest sand play activities for preschoolers and toddlers because sand is a grounding medium that helps them calm down. The sensory quality of sand enhances children’s tactile (touch) responses, builds their motor skills and develops their creativity. Working with wet sand is known to improve attention in children who tend to get distracted easily. Click here to learn more about the specific benefits of sand play for children.

And now, let us look at some simple sand play activities for toddlers and preschoolers, along with the psychological rationale behind each one, listed below using the acronym ‘SAND GAMES’ for easy recall:

Sensory sand activities

Sifting Sand: This is a simple sand play idea in which you invite your child to sift through the sand using his fingers.

Scoops-n-whoop: You can offer your child a mini-scoop or toy shovel and invite her to scoop up the sand and put it into a sand bucket or just pile it up in the sand box itself.

Simulated Beach: Children enjoy building sandcastles at the beach. Add a cup of water to the sand, and you can simulate the wet beach sand, right at home. Your little one can then build anything he pleases — from a sandcastle to a mountain — depending on his imagination and creativity.

Benefits of sensory sand activities

Research shows that tactile sensory play builds new neural pathways in the brain, which lead to the child’s ability to complete complex learning tasks. Sensory play facilitates the development of language skills, cognitive growth, fine and gross motor skills, and problem-solving abilities. Sensory sand play is known to calm an anxious or frustrated child. Moreover, children learn about different textures through sensory play as they recognise that dry sand looks, smells and feels different to touch than wet sand.

Art and craft with sand

Sprinkle-like-glitter: One simple way of creating sand art is to dribble sand (instead of glitter) on a picture coated with glue. Children find this exciting and it helps them feel imaginative.

Sand rangoli: An exciting outdoor activity, sand rangoli involves filling up a rangoli pattern with sand instead of the traditional rangoli powder. Children can either use their fingers to do this, or you can fill up old glue bottles with fine sand and have them squeeze out the sand to fill inside the outlines.

Benefits of sand art activity

When you are engaged in a creative task or pursuit, the brain secretes two important chemicals, namely serotonin and dopamine. These chemicals boost the sense of well-being and counteract depression and anxiety. As a result, these creative activities can help your child feel relaxed and enjoy better mental health.

New versions of hide-and-seek

Hands-in-the-sand: Young children love this game. It is very simple. You just stick your hand in the sand and invite your child to find it. Your child will explore the sand with her own hands and will squeal in delight when she locates your hand beneath the surface of the sand. This is a great bonding exercise.

Treasure hunt: Playing hide-and-seek is a classic sand play idea for preschoolers and toddlers. You can hide a bunch of different types of objects beforehand and ask your child to find the hidden treasures. When all the treasures have been located, he gets to hide items in the sand, which you will then find. This way, you can take turns finding whatever hidden treasures lurk beneath the sand.

Benefits of playing hide-and-seek in sand

Both the activities are collaborative games. They enable you to spend quality time with your child, thereby leading to better bonding and connection. Moreover, if you hide multiple pieces of similar items in the Treasure Hunt game, you can also help your child learn the art of sorting and organising by category, as she locates each type of ‘treasure’.

Digging and burying sand play games

Digger: A simple game in which the child digs up holes in the sand to create tunnels, valleys and other landforms, Digger is a fun game that helps children master motor skills.

Bury the monsters: A fun game with deep psychological significance, this game can be cathartic for children battling fears and anxieties. This can also be a sand tray activity for young children.

Benefits of digging and burying sand play games

‘Digger’ helps your child to gain mastery over gross motor coordination through learning to grip handfuls of sand while digging and sculpting. And, ‘Bury the monsters’ helps children release their fears through a tactile-visual suggestion to their brain that they are getting rid of the monsters they fear by burying them.

Games to enhance learning skills

Finger-writing: You can invite your child to use his fingers to write letters, numbers or small words in the sand, which you can then try to guess. You can take turns doing this by writing something in the sand yourself and having your child guess what you have written.

Sand shapes: In this simple game, you take turns with your child drawing shapes in the sand and naming them.

Benefits of finger writing and sand shapes

Both activities are simple sand tray activities. Using fingers to write in the sand helps children internalise the shape and structure of letters and numbers, which assists with later learning in school. Similarly, children learn about concepts such as big and small and different types of shapes, using the sand shapes game.

Active outdoor sand play

There are several sand play activities that children can do outdoors. Either, you can have a big sand pit in your own garden or backyard, or you can take your child to a clean beach, where these games can be played.

Benefits of outdoor sand play

Make-and-break is an outdoor sand play activity that involves building simple structures using wet sand and then breaking them using the hands or feet. This gives children an amazing tactile-kinesthetic experience. It can also be helpful in releasing large amounts of pent-up energy and feelings of aggression. When children rebuild the structures just to break them, and go back to building them all over again, they learn failure management by doing it repeatedly. In the long run, such games develop resilience and emotional stability.

Make-believe play in the sand

Make-believe (or pretend play) is a loosely structured form of play that involves storytelling, role-playing and object substitution. In such games, anything can be anything — for example, a child may use a pebble to represent a dinosaur, or a toy cow can be used as a monster, and so on.

Benefits of make-believe sand play activity

Creating stories in the sand with the help of small miniatures or sand toys is a great way to help children develop imagination and creativity. Such games also help children express their feelings and desires in a safe manner.

Experimenting with colors and textures

Sand rainbows: This simple activity involves mixing up fine sand with different colors of paint and drying it out to have sand in various colors. Parents may use food colors instead of synthetic dyes and paints.

Kinetic sand: Kinetic sand is just like regular sand, but it comes in different colors and is coated with silicone oil, giving it a smooth, flowing texture. Unlike regular sand, kinetic sand does not leave any residue behind when touched. It is also moldable.

Benefits of sand experiments

Having sand in different colors can be helpful in creating art and craft with sand. It also adds an element of excitement and offers variety in play.

Sticky, slimy sand

Adding slime and/or glue to the sand to create sticky and slimy sand is an activity that all young children enjoy. This is messy play. Some parents find it very difficult to permit their children to engage in messy play, but it is a very important developmental tool. If you struggle with managing mess, you can try this outdoors.

Benefits of messy play using sticky, slimy sand

Messy play is very important in brain development. It teaches children in a tactile way to manage different textures and introduces them to new sensations without overwhelming them. Indirectly, it enhances problem-solving abilities. As children engage in messy play using sticky, slimy sand, they improve their fine motor skills, finger dexterity and their ability to discover tactile-sensory inputs as they explore textures.

Tips to set up a sand box / sand table at home

Traditional sand trays are made of wood and sand pits are built using durable building materials. But a simple sand box for indoor use can be created using a plastic storage box filled with clean, fine sand of good quality. You can source processed beach sand from construction suppliers. To minimise the clean-up, you can spread a tarp underneath the sand box so that children can play freely without worrying about spillage.

Sand play is an amazing addition to a household with young children because they take to it naturally, with no special encouragement. If you can ensure your child’s basic safety and make sure that the sand is cleaned periodically, you can be assured that your little one will be effectively engaged for hours on end, engrossed in sand play.

About the expert:

Written by Mina Dilip on 21 October 2020.

Mina Dilip, Child Psychologist, Certified Play Therapist, (PTUK)

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