Young children love playing with sand and it is one of the best sensory activities. During the early years, kids learn through play and the sandpit is the perfect place for fun, learning and discovery.
Here are 30 simple sand play activities and ideas. Some are new activities, and some are simple variations of regular sandpit play. Most do not rely on much preparation and can be improvised or changed according to the materials you have on hand.
1. Sand Table
Instead of always defaulting to the sandpit, set up some sand in a special sand table (or water table) so children need to stand while playing, or use a sand tray (any tray will do) on top of a regular table.
2. Sensory Bin
Add some interesting sensory materials to sand in little bins – such as feathers, legumes, beads or stones – so children can explore them while playing. Sensory bins are a great idea for rainy days.
3. Explore Sand Textures
For another great sensory activity, mix different materials into the sand to change the texture a bit. Try adding a cup of flour, rice or kinetic sand, for example.
4. Coloured Sand
Make your own coloured sand to play with. The simplest way to do this is to add a few drops of food colouring (and perhaps a little water) to a bag of sand and let it dry in a tray.
5. Bottled Sand Art
Using a plastic bottle or glass jar, layer coloured sand to create a beautiful artwork. These sand creations can be displayed in the classroom or at home.
6. Sand Collage
Another fun way to turn sand play into art is to create a sand collage. Offer coloured cardboard paper, liquid glue and sand – preferably coloured. Kids can make different shapes or patterns on the page with the glue and sprinkle the coloured sand over them.
7. Sand and Water Play
At a water table, or in the sandpit, add some water to the sand for the ultimate messy play sensory activity. Kids can also pour in the water to experiment with how the texture of the sand changes.
Wet sand is also much easier to mould with.
8. Loose Parts
Encourage loose parts play by adding various items to the sand, such as blocks, bottle caps, buttons, pegs, Legos, seeds, spools, pom poms, etc.
9. Small Toys
Add small toys to the sand to encourage kids to engage in pretend play.
10. Mud pies
Offer kids cookie cutters and other moulds – even cups will do – and encourage them to make pretend pies, cakes, and other imaginative treats.
11. Treasure Hunt
Hide small toys or objects in the sand, and have the children dig for hidden treasures.
12. Sea Shells
Mimic a beach outing and play with sea shells in the sandpit – or play with them at the beach. They can be filled, used to scoop sand and pressed into the sand to reveal beautiful patterns.
13. Sand Tower Challenge
Challenge children to build the tallest tower they can using just sand. Wet sand holds better and will be easier to pat into shape.
14. Dinosaur Bones
Have kids pretend to be palaeontologists searching for dinosaur bones. Bury some toy dinosaurs deep into the sand and provide knives or carving tools for kids to “excavate” and scrape the sand off them.
15. Tracks in the Sand
Provide toy cars, trains, trucks or other construction vehicles and create tracks in the sand. Compare the different sizes and patterns of the tracks.
16. Measuring and Comparing
The sandpit is one of the best places for children to learn early maths concepts such as measurement and capacity. Children can measure and compare sand with scoops and containers of various sizes.
17. Letters and Numbers
Forming letters and numbers in the sand is a great tactile way for children to practise letter and number formation. Kids can trace them with their fingers or small tools. They can also “build” their names with objects in the sand, such as beads or small pasta shapes.
18. Sand Patterns
Using simple tools such as rakes or sticks, kids can experiment with making patterns in the sand.
19. Sand Castle
Building sandcastles is a classic and enjoyable activity for kids of all ages. Provide buckets, shovels and moulds to create different shapes.
20. Sand Playdough
Mix some sand into playdough to give it a unique, rough texture. Here are some homemade playdough recipes.
21. Ice Cream Shop
Make pretend cones out of paperboard and get kids to scoop ice cream into them with a real ice cream scoop or other tool. They can set up a little ice cream shop for their fantasy play.
22. Sand Art with Natural Materials
Collect leaves, flowers, twigs and other natural items and get kids to make designs and patterns with these. They can also create a collage on a paperboard with sand and natural materials.
23. Obstacle Course
If you have a large sandpit or sandy area, create a simple obstacle course in the sand. Use objects such as sticks, shells and small hurdles that children have to weave through, hop over, step over, etc.
Encourage imaginative and small-world play by offering figurines, such as farm animals, and building a farm world in the sand. Encourage children to create habitats for them in the sand, discussing the animals’ needs and adaptations.
Draw a large tic-tac-toe grid in the sand and play the game with stones or pebbles (paint Xs and Os onto them).
26. Sand Foam
Mix shaving cream into sand for a great sensory activity. Let kids experiment with adding more shaving foam to alter the texture.
27. Ball Run
Build a sand track with tunnels and ramps for rolling balls or marbles. Children can experiment with cause and effect as they release the balls and watch them roll down the ramps.
Kids can create their own artefacts or fossils by pressing objects – such as shells, leaves or flowers – into the sand. Pretend to be archaeologists while exploring and discovering.
29. Sand Sorting
Teach the skill of sorting by giving kids various objects and having them sort them into different categories in the sand.
30. Sand Volcano
And finally, if you’re feeling brave, create a small sand volcano and demonstrate a simple eruption using baking soda and vinegar, explaining the science behind it.
These activities for preschoolers and toddlers will help you inject some new experiences into their play and have fun while learning.
They will also be reaping the many benefits of sand play, such as:
- Fine Motor Skills – Manipulating the sand as well as the various sand play materials and tools develops strength and fine motor control in little hands and fingers.
- Social Skills – Playing together with sand encourages social interaction and learning prosocial skills such as sharing, cooperating, negotiating and working together.
- Language Skills – During play, as children discuss their sand creations or chat casually amongst themselves, they build their ever-growing vocabulary and improve their language and communication skills.
- Early Science Concepts – Playing with sand and water is a great way to learn early science concepts. Kids can discover the properties of sand and how the substance behaves when it is wet or dry.
- Sensory Development – Children need lots of sensory play as part of their development. Sand, on its own and combined with water, provides a wonderful sensory experience that most children love.
- Imagination – Pretend play – also called fantasy or imaginative play – is important for a child’s cognitive development. Children engaging in sand play are usually simultaneously engaged in pretend play, as they act out various scenarios.
I hope you’ve enjoyed reading about these different ways to enjoy sand play.
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