The 10 Best Sandboxes

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This wiki has been updated 33 times since it was first published in April of 2015. As most parents can tell you, kids love to play in the dirt, whether they’re making towers or digging for hidden treasure. These sandboxes are great for the backyard, and let children play to their hearts’ content without a trip to the beach or the playground. They’re available in both plastic and wooden designs, and some come with fun accessories, like shovels, rakes, and buckets. When users buy our independently chosen editorial picks, we may earn commissions to help fund the Wiki.

1. Step2 Naturally Playful Table

2. Little Tikes Turtle

3. Step2 Play and Store

Editor's Notes

March 06, 2020:

We added the Step2 Naturally Playful Table today, and placed it into the number one spot. Its handy elevated design is great for toddlers who like to move around the periphery as they play, and for anyone who likes to play with sand without getting it all over themselves (which includes many a toddler). It comes with a set of sand toys to get your kiddo started, including two shovels, two claw rakes, and a bucket. The lid is thoughtfully designed with molded-in roadways on the underside so kids can race their die-cast cars on it. The lid also has handy elastic tie-downs, which help to secure it tightly to the base.

Also joining the list today is the Costzon Pirate Boat, which is great for any little adventurer who likes to pretend they’re sailing the high seas. It’s equipped with a steering wheel, a flag, and a bench with handles that opens up to reveal storage space. While it has an open bottom (which allows for water drainage and airing out the sand), it does come with a piece of black, non-woven fabric that can help keep sand in place.

In this update, we removed the Be Good Company My Little Sandbox and the KidKraft Pirate Sandboat, both of which contain some small parts and are not meant for children under three years of age.

Keep children safe and avoid any accidents by supervising them around sandboxes at all times. Do not fill a sandbox beyond the weight capacity that’s specified by the product’s manufacturer.

October 14, 2018:

Added the Costzon Foldable Cabana thanks to its comfort and sun protection. Moved the Best Choice Products Cedar down several spots due to growing concerns about durability — will continue to keep an eye on this for future updates. Removed the KidKraft Backyard after reports of potentially dangerous splintering.

Special Honors

Eirwen Kids Cedar Square Sandbox Made of solid, heat-treated wood and with rust-resistant hardware, this open-bottom sandbox airs the sand while it lets water drain through. It can be folded flat when not in use, and opens up to reveal benches on two sides. It features an attractive natural finish and can hold up to 600 pounds of sand. It’s suitable for children from 3 to 10 years of age.

4. Costzon Foldable Cabana

This item has been flagged for editorial review and is not available.

5. Little Tikes Big Digger

6. Step2 Crabbie

7. Simplay3 Activity Station

8. Costzon Pirate Boat

9. Best Choice Products Cedar

10. Step2 Splash N Scoop

Unstructured Play In A Box

Not only does play spark the imagination, but it also provides many possibilities.

Human curiosity is something that appears at a very young age. Children are naturally inquisitive about the world around them and how things work. That form of curiosity can help pave the way to early experimentation with one's surroundings, which leads to active learning through play and the physical manipulation of things as a form of expression. These experiences also become a part of a person's identity, hence why play at a young age offers so many benefits to a growing child. Not only does play spark the imagination, but it also provides many possibilities. Recalling those days in kindergarten when you'd go out into the schoolyard to have fun with your friends during lunch, you might have experienced the fun of playing in the sand. When in abundance, this substance is easy to shovel, store, and transport, and it can be shaped into many forms, giving a child some degree of control over what they wish to create and how they want it to look when they're done. This could explain one of the reasons why the sandbox is a popular form of play and social interaction for little ones.

Typically constructed from sturdy wood or plastic, a sandbox is simply a confined, shallow box partially filled with sand and used for unstructured child play. Now that we've provided its textbook definition , what's all the hubbub and how does the sandbox provide such a useful environment for children? Much like the activity of fingerpainting, a sandbox provides a blank canvas of sorts that fosters creativity and learning. The unique quality to the sandbox is that a child (or group of kids) can interact and collaborate in an effort to both form and explore their own little world with their hands. This can involve touching, constructing, deconstructing, molding, or moving large volumes of sand from one place to another. Anyone who's ever been to the beach on a summer day can recall seeing kids using brightly-colored pails to build sandcastles. Kids work together inside a sandbox to construct something very similar when they don't have the luxury of being on the beach.

Thinking of this type of collaboration, it's no wonder that the term sandbox has also become synonymous with virtual development environments for computers, too. Granted, a discussion of sandbox development environments is a tangent from our topic here, but the terminology and concept of working together to create something and test possibilities is what matters. Kids may not be inclined to test and develop software at such a young age, but they will develop their imaginations, collaboration, and decision-making skills by playing in a physical sandbox. Working with sand at a young age also develops a child's motor skills, which can help later in life when it comes to handwriting or playing sports. Finally, the sandbox teaches impermanence, meaning that things won't always stay the same from one minute to the next.

So besides the traditional forms of unstructured, collaborative play, how else does the sandbox maintain its relevance? Simple objects like coins or beads can be buried in a sandbox and collected by kids as a form of treasure hunting. It can also be used a sensory tool to help kids learn to read and write as they trace patterns into the sand with a stick or other tool.

What To Look For In A Sandbox

Exposing children to sand for the first time can be a little daunting. That said, make sure you introduce them to a sandbox slowly at first. For example, you can show your child a small amount of sand in a spoon or shovel, as this allows them to see the substance without it overwhelming their senses. Little ones should come to associate sand with fun and not fear.

Safety is one of the most important considerations when adding a backyard sandbox to your child's world of imaginative play. If you're purchasing something made from wood, it should be durable, relatively smooth to the touch, and with minimal chance of splintering or injuring your kids. Natural river and beach sands are the safest types with which you can fill a sandbox, but you should stay away from products made from crushed limestone, marble, crystalline silica, or any other type of dusty substance that could potentially be inhaled or ingested.

Some sandboxes come with the benefit of a lid, which can help to keep the play area dry and prevent it from becoming contaminated by bugs, other animals, or from blowing away during periods of inclement weather. On that note, should your sandbox get wet, give it a chance to dry out in the sun before covering it up.

A Brief History Of The Sandbox

The earliest references to children playing in the sand date back to 19th century Germany through the educational writings of pedagogue Friedrich Froebel. Froebel originally created the concept of a kindergarten (or child's garden) and stressed the importance of free play and a child's contact with nature.

The first documented use of sand as a play material dates back to the sand bergs found in the public parks of Berlin in 1850.

The first documented use of sand as a play material dates back to the sand bergs found in the public parks of Berlin in 1850. Germany's kindergarten movement eventually incorporated the first sandboxes by the latter half of the 19th century.

The concept of the sandbox didn't appear in the United States until 1885, after physician Marie Elizabeth Zakrzewska saw a sand berg in a Berlin public park. The first sand gardens appeared in Boston by the beginning of the 20th century.

Today's sandboxes are ideal for both home and schoolyard use, and are usually equipped with plastic pails and other tools for exploration, discovery, and the shaping of a child's imagination.

Karen Bennett
Last updated by Karen Bennett

Karen Bennett lives in Chicago with her family, and when she’s not writing, she can usually be found practicing yoga or cheering on her kids at soccer games. She holds a master’s degree in journalism and a bachelor’s in English, and her writing has been published in various local newspapers, as well as “The Cheat Sheet,” “Illinois Legal Times,” and “USA Today.” She has also written search engine news page headlines and worked as a product manager for a digital marketing company. Her expertise is in literature, nonfiction, textbooks, home products, kids' games and toys, hardware, teaching accessories, and art materials.

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