Monday, September 15, 2014

Playing in the Sand - Naturally; Part 2

School may be back in session, but there's still plenty of time to get outside or get to the beach and PLAY in the Sand. A few short months ago, we wanted to share our thoughts about the importance of sand play. We believe that sand represents an empty canvas to children. Sand is something that children can explore, manipulate and learn from.

But many playgrounds are designed to use sand in restrictive ways. Used within typical playgrounds, sand is usually found in a small "sand table" or in buckets. But how can children explore their vivid imaginations if they can't experience SAND as nature intended? That blank canvas quickly becomes a scrap piece of paper with pre-determined lines drawn on it.

Children find sand boxes limiting. Whenever we've seen a sandbox adjacent to a sand pile, children are never in the confined box. They're always in the free-form area, playing with abandonment.

When sand is where it’s supposed to be, children love playing in it. They can dig to China, find “fossils,” hunt for gems, make roadways, build mountains, create waterways, build sand castles, dig tunnels, and discover hidden treasures. If they mix sand with water, they can make shapes of almost any kind.

And while children are in the sand playing, they are still learning. What are they learning?

*      When sand is wet, it changes color. And when wet sand gets very cold, it freezes solid.
*      When sand is wet, it can be shaped, and the finer the sand, the more intricate the shapes can be.
*      Sand is comprised of many tiny particles of various sizes and colors which children can sort and collect.
*      Sand, like other fine materials, slips through the small cracks in their hands, so children learn to clasp them together more tightly when trying to contain fine materials. 
*      If children try building a bridge using sand, they learn that it won’t support itself and that they need something with more “structural integrity” like a stick or a piece of wood.
*      Sand can be portioned and divided, and added and subtracted. More is heavier, less is lighter, and to get more, you take more, and keep adding until you have just the right amount, a decision in itself.
*      Sand can bury or “hide” things, like treasures, which can be found later.
*      Sand particles get into everything: pockets, fingernails, sneakers, hair, lunchboxes, and classrooms. Sand makes a floor very slippery.
*      When it rains, rivulets can move sand, and make beautiful, smooth patterns.
*      But if children try making a sand dam, they soon realize it won’t hold water.
*      Children learn to control their bodies in different ways when they’re kneeling on the sand, sitting and twisting, or turning and reaching.

If our firm were designing a Natural Playground for a childcare center, school, or community, this list would comprise the “design parameters” for a free-form, sand play area. Similar parameters would be developed for every other aspect of a Natural Playground, because they’re the ultimate outdoor classrooms that should challenge and inspire children while teaching them lessons about themselves and about nature.

For more information about Natural Playgrounds, visit our website at

By Ron King, M.Arch, CPSI
President, The Natural Playgrounds Company