Sandbox Toys – New Ideas Beyond Shovel and Pail
Written by Noreen Greimann
Do you know that feeling when summer is almost here and you just can’t wait another day for pool season to begin. It’s hot and you are eager to dip your toes in the water and embrace the wave of relaxation washing over you.
That’s how we feel when sandbox season is finally here. Yes, that’s an actual season and it runs from mid-March until end of October…basically when it’s warm enough for the sand to not be frozen. After this lingering winter we have had this year, my kids were craving some digging time more than their Easter chocolates.
Well, this past weekend, the time had come. We officially opened the sandbox. Everyone lend a hand as we carried the sand toys from the shed to the sandbox. The digging, sifting and scooping began immediately.
This sandbox is an upgrade from the green turtle one we had before. My husband built it last year after I saw this model online. I LOVE how the lids fold up into benches. He also build the box next to it to hold all the toys.
My children’s favorite sand toys are not your typical buckets and shovels. Though, they do use them as well. No, it’s all the other “stuff” we have added over the years.
The best part is that all these ‘non-traditional’ toys are often cheaper (or free) than regular sand toys and often last longer. Win – win!
Playing in the sandbox provides the kind of unstructured play that children can never get too much of. Think of it as their laboratory, where they are always busy conducting experiments, trying out new theories, and stretching their imagination.
Let’s give them to tools they need.
Sandbox Toy Idea #1: Cups, Bowls and Tins
Buckets are good for filling them with sand and dumping it out. But that’s usually where it ends. Containers of various shapes and sizes, however, are invitation for much more creative play and become pots for cooking, pie or pizza pans, boats, bowls and so much more.
Muffin and pie pans, spoons and funnels were purchased at a Dollar Store. Other containers have come from the recycling bin. They don’t have the longest life span and that’s okay. When they break, the recycling bin is their final destination and a new container is waiting to enter the sandbox.
Many times I find my children cooking up something we recently ate. It is a perfect opportunity for them to be a part of the grown-up world in a playful way that allows them to both copy what we do and also create their concoctions.
Sandbox Toy Idea #2: Building Materials
When I first asked my husband if I could have some short 2x4 pieces for the kids, he said: “What are you going to build?” I replied: “Oh, I don’t want to build anything. It’s for the kids.” That, of course, led to more questions. He wasn’t convinced that the kids would enjoy playing with a piece of wood. Well, it didn’t take long for them to come up with all kinds of uses for these scraps of wood. Now, my husband regularly adds materials to the sandbox.
Another favorite are pieces of clear flexible tubing and PVC pipes. Different diameters allow for the tubing to be connected very easily. And the PVC pipe sections can be connected with coupling pieces. The ones pictured are fairly large. We also have a few with a smaller diameter. Sometimes, the kids use them for sand and water. Other times, they simply imagine what might be flowing through.
Sandbox Toy Idea #3: Nature’s Treasures
A sandbox is not complete without a collection of items from nature. Rocks are perfect for creating scenes. Seashells can be used for digging or decorating or as fairy pools. Pine cones become small trees. Sticks are fences, trees or outline roads. Walnuts and chestnuts also make wonderful additions.
I had asked my 5-year old to set something up with the nature materials we had on hand and she said: “You mean, like a forest and a lake and a road?” So, that is what she did.
Take a look around your backyard and see what catches your attention. And keep an eye out for unique objects on hikes through parks. Yesterday morning, my son found this hollow log on a walk and proclaimed: “Mama, this can be a house for my gnomes. They would like that.” I have a feeling the gnomes will end up with roads all around their new home and a garden off to the side.
Sandbox Idea #4: Water – The essence of sandbox joys
When it comes to water, most children know no limit. They will pour water until the sun sets if we let them. I get it. It’s fascinating to watch water pour out and slowly disappear into the sand. And then saturation kicks in. Water begins to pool around the feet and that sets of another round of “I need more WATER!”
Solutions are needed.
One way to slow down the flow of water is handing your child a squirt bottle. It takes much longer to empty and gives you a break.
We also have a bucket filled with water for each sandbox session. My kids are allowed to scoop out the water or use it in the squirt bottles. But when it’s empty, that’s it. It usually takes them 2 or 3 days to learn how to manage their water usage at the beginning of a new season but after that it’s rarely an issue for the rest of the year.
And I think that goes without saying, but I’ll say it anyway: You DON’T want to have a bucket of water standing around with younger children, but this works well for older children.
Don’t have a sand box? Not a problem!
Use a large flat plastic container (like the ones they make for under the bed storage) and buy 2 or 3 bags of sand. Your kids will be thrilled. Though, do keep in mind, the smaller the sand box, the more sand will likely end up next to it. Place it in an area where you don’t mind some extra sand or where you can easily sweep it. Constantly reminding your child to keep the sand inside the container is not going to be fun for either of you.
Once you see how much fun your kids are having, you will want to upgrade to a bigger sandbox anyway.
Now, it’s your turn. Tell us what your children play with the most in their sandbox or what you would like to add to the sandbox. I’m always looking for new ideas.