If your children are growing bored of playing in the backyard sandpit you need this list of 10 easy sand play ideas! Sand play offers many opportunities for sensory exploration and also encourages children to use their imagination and move their muscles but they can become bored with the same material offered in the same way each day.
Want to get them playing with sand again? These 10 easy ideas will reignite their excitement about that forgotten sandpit and extend that play-based learning.
1. Make your own coloured sand
My family day care children absolutely loved this activity and it is so easy to do. We have a focus on recycling here at Jode's and the children all had the special job of washing a used jar at home and bringing it to use again for some fun.
I handed out bowls and asked them to head over to the sandpit and fill their bowls with sand. This does work better with dry powdery sand but damp will work too.
Once back with their bowls of sand they chose colours and I sprinkled a little edicol vegetable dye into each bowl and then it was up to those little hand muscles to stir the colour through the sand. Edicol dyes make lovely bright colours and they wash out of clothes and other materials easily. You can find them in most educational craft catalogues and I often add them to my cornflour base when making my own paint. Do not confuse them with tempera paint dyes as these do not mix well with materials such as sand and playdough. They also won't give you these lovely bright colours. You only need a tiny amount of powder to create bold colours so they are very cost effective too.
The children were very busy building layers in their jars and had to run to the sandpit a few times to restock! The sand that didn't make it into the jars we just swept into a container and they headed over to the outdoor cafe to add it to some water and make all sorts of lovely colourful concoctions.
When they were satisfied with their jars we practised screwing the lids on and they were so excited to show their parents at pick up time. The sand jars are pretty to look at but they are also useful for craft activities and play. I do suggest they are outside activities though as it will make a mess!
2. Make your own Bushrock sandpit
Does your sandpit need a facelift? Why not try using some natural materials such as boulders or old wood sleepers to form your borders? It doesn't need to be as big as the one we built below but you would be surprised at how many ways the children find to explore in the sandpit when you add a few natural materials!
You can find out more about how we made our sandpit by clicking on the photo below.
3. Do a little Sand cooking with a pallet kitchen and kitchen items
Sand , water and some ‘real life' cooking props never fail to keep children interested . You provide a bucket of water and some cake tins, trays and spoons and I promise you they will supply the imagination! If you can try not to confine their play to just the sandpit area. Let them take their creations over to a rock or makeshift kitchen to ‘cook' or find some flowers or other treasures to add to their cooking.
Our easy to make pallet kitchen has provided many hours of play and is still holding up well. Find out how to make your own by clicking on the photo below.
4. Use nature to extend play
Next time you are at the beach instead of just digging and making sandcastles why not go for a wander with the children and see what is hiding in the sand?
There are all sorts of wonders like shells, cuttlefish,seaweed, jellyfish, pebbles, driftwood and so much more. Talk about colours, shapes and where the treasure might have come from. Let them add shells, seaweed and pebbles to castles and other sand creations.
What happens when you add water? Do the shells stick to the sand? Can you dig a hole with that piece of driftwood or stick instead of using the spade? Can that big shell collect some water instead of using the bucket?
5. Build a Sand and rock quarry
A sand quarry area is a relatively easy way to combine two of children's great loves when outdoors, sand and rocks! Again you don't need a large space like we have to make a little quarry area, we have the space and a whole lot of rocks on our property so we use what we have. All you really need is to put aside a little area, add a thin layer of sand and some pebbles and rocks. Throw in some cars and trucks and you will be amazed at the play that begins to develop.
If you head to your local Bunnings or landscaping/garden centre you will find small bags of coloured pebbles and stones as well as the larger decorative stones, river stones are nice and smooth and safe for little hands. Gravel is also fun to load into trucks for transporting along with the sand. It doesn't need to be pretty, the children will rearrange it anyway! If you want more tips for building a sand and rock quarry you can click on the picture below.
6. Add props to the sand to encourage little imaginations to grow
Try not to just stick to the usual buckets and spades. Why not add cooking props brought cheaply from the op shop, branches, flowers, pebbles, colour, water , logs, pipe offcuts and other loose parts or one of our absolute favourites – a length of garden edging! This bamboo one has been used in so many ways…they always manage to amaze me with what they come up with!
By adding some pebbles, dry pasta and outdoor kitchen props the boring old sand soon became the basis for an Italian outdoor restaurant and we feasted on pasta bolognaise, pizza and other scrumptious looking treats!
7. Create some sensory sand art
Here's a fun way to use some of that coloured sand you are going to make. Ask the children to help you colour the sand then hand out some recycled pieces of wood or strong cardboard.
Use some thin pva glue in small squeeze bottles and encourage the children to make a design with the glue on their wood or cardboard canvas. They can then sprinkle some coloured sand over the top and it will stick to the glue bringing their design to life! You can find out more about how to make your own sensory sand art by clicking the photo below.
8. Make your own Moon sand
There is just so much to love about moon sand, it is basically a homemade and chemical free version of the commercial kinetic sand available in the shops. You can mould with it, crumble it, squish it and just revel in the unique texture of it. It's obviously not as good as the store version but at least I know what is in it and my girls have just as much fun with it!
You can find my recipe for cloud dough/moon sand by clicking on the photo below.
9. Experiment with sand and glue to create Sand sieve glue creations
Another fun way to experiment and get creative with coloured sand. This one is also good for encouraging hand eye coordination and working those fine motor muscles in the hand and wrist. All you need is some coloured sand, glue and a few old sieves (large or small). You can find out more about what we did by clicking on the photo below.
10. Build a race track and add cars
A classic but an absolute favourite with both boys and girls. Provide a bucket of cars, some lengths of wood and any other racing car type props you can think of. Then stand back and watch roads and racing tracks begin to emerge in the sand. I also like to add a tray or bucket of water because I find they like to do a little car washing after some hard racing in the sand!
Large combs are also a fun addition as children enjoy dragging them through the sand and they make interesting track patterns to then drive cars on.
You might be getting the idea that I love sand play? You would be right! I hear many parents and educators complaining about sand and the fact that it goes everywhere and many who even refuse to have it.
I think that is such a shame really as sand is easily brushed off before coming inside and it offers so many interesting opportunities for play based learning. Perhaps you might like to give one of the ideas above a try and give your sand play a makeover!
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A Little About Me
Jodie Clarke is an early childhood professional supporting educators who want and need to stay passionate about the work they do! She has 30 years hands-on experience in the early childhood and human services sectors across many different roles.
Jodie is mum to 3 in Australia and has already helped thousands of educators with their work through her popular blog posts, activity ideas, online training and e-books.