The 9 Best Sandboxes

Updated May 30, 2018 by Daniel Imperiale

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We spent 41 hours on research, videography, and editing, to review the top options for this wiki. Why do kids love to play in the sand? Maybe for the same reason adults like to go to the beach. Whatever the reason, if you aren't lucky enough to have an oceanfront villa, you can let your kids pretend they're by the sea with one of these sandboxes.They feature everything from inventive designs to seats to storage for toys and tools. When users buy our independently chosen editorial picks, we may earn commissions to support our work. Skip to the best sandbox on Amazon.

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Unstructured Play In A Box

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. 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.


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Last updated on May 30, 2018 by Daniel Imperiale

Daniel is a writer, actor, and director living in Los Angeles, CA. He spent a large portion of his 20s roaming the country in search of new experiences, taking on odd jobs in the strangest places, studying at incredible schools, and making art with empathy and curiosity.


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