Sand is a great way for children to play and learn. Most of us have childhood memories of building roads, using buckets to make sandcastles, and create dams using the garden hose pipe in the sandbox.
Usually, sandboxes are relatively safe but there are some precautions to be taken to keep them that way. Let’s look at the safety concerns, how to mitigate them so that children can enjoy playing in the sand, and be kept safe at the same time. While keeping an eye on all the benefits children get from playing in a sandpit.
Safety concerns for kids in general
We all know there are ‘good’ germs and some ‘bad’ germs out there. The ‘good’ germs are found in plain dirt, shared playground equipment, and toys. These germs can aid in building and strengthening children’s immune systems.
And then there are the ‘bad’ germs. Some of these germs can be found in sandboxes. Cats, dogs, and raccoons sometimes use the sandboxes as their own personal toilet. And that’s where the problem comes in as their fecal matter contains diseases like toxoplasmosis carried by cats, toxocariasis carried by dogs and cats, and ringworm or roundworm carried by raccoons.
These nasty illnesses are transmitted via the fecal-oral route, which means that as children put things in their mouths, they could digest these awful germs.
That being said. Well-maintained sandboxes are safe to play in.
Are sandboxes safe for toddlers?
Yes, it is safe for toddlers to play in a sandbox. The recommended age that children can start playing in a sandbox is 12 to 18 months, with constant supervision of course. But because toddlers “see” with their mouth by placing all kinds of things in their mouth, keeping a hawk-eye on them is a must. If at all possible, climb into the sandbox with your child and play together. This is a wonderful bonding experience as well.
Also, remove all debris and foreign objects allowing your little one to play. It goes without saying if you do see a cat, dog, or raccoon feces, do not allow your child to play in that particular sandbox.
Make sure the sand has been properly washed and does not contain microcrystalline silica. There is a toxic ingredient, namely microcrystalline silica that could be found in playground sand if not washed properly. As the child plays, these particles could become airborne, entering their lungs.
Keeping toddlers out of public sandpits for the first few years of their life might be a good choice as public sandboxes may be dangerous. The reason for that is public sandpits are usually not well-maintained. They are open to stray cats, dogs, and raccoons. Also, the quality of the sand might not be the best.
Buy a sandbox for your kids
After reading all the dangers of what sandboxes can do to children, you might think there is no way that you will allow your precious little one to play in one. But the benefits definitely outway the cons.
It allows a child to get absorbed in his/her imaginary world. Studies have shown that imagination ignites passion in humans. Imagination helps children’s creative and problem-solving abilities later in life. It also develops decision-making skills towards behavior and social skills.
They learn how to play with others, practicing sharing is caring, which helps them in their social actions and behavioral skills.
The smooth, rough, bumpy textures they experience as they touch the sand aids in their sensory vocabulary. Sensory integration is the ability to interpret information using our 7 senses. Sight, touch, hearing, taste, smell, balance, and body awareness.
Playing with the sand and the toys will also strengthen their hand and finger muscles, helping with their fine motor activities.
Children learn to collaborate as they work together building a city with castles and roads. They will learn how to negotiate and brainstorm by simply playing, which is still the best way to learn.
If a child accidentally damages another child’s castle or house, it teaches humility and forgiveness. How to say sorry. And how to accept an apology. The small spaces teach children how to share and take care of each other’s creations.
It also teaches children some things are impermanent, and even though rain washes away their artwork, it’s okay because another one can be built in its place.
Having your very own sandbox at home is a great natural way for children to play. Also, you will have the assurance by knowing what type of sand is in the sandbox, when last the sand was replaced, and just how clean it really is.
How to mitigate the safety concerns
As mentioned above, animals sometimes use sandboxes as their personal toilet. To avoid this and the nasty repercussions, properly cover the sandbox when playtime is over. This will keep animals and insects out of the sand, and keep it safe for your little ones to play in.
Keep pets out of the sandbox. They might take it over as their personal place and litter box.
In the unfortunate event that the sand does get wet, allow it to dry out properly. Once it is dried, place a well-fitting cover over the sandbox. This will deter bacteria that likes to live in wet sand.
A good tip is to rake the sand on a regular basis and remove any clumps, debris, or foreign material.
The sandbox frame needs to be made from proper material and well-maintained. The frame should not be made with inexpensive railroad wood as this could cause splinters and might contain creosote which is a carcinogen. Rather use non-toxic landscaping timbers, or recycled furniture wood, or splurge and buy a ready-made one.
The sand quality is of utmost importance. Avoid products that are made of crushed quartz that contain crystalline silica, crushed limestone or marble, or very fine sand that causes excess dust. Rather opt for play sand or washed sea sand.
In closure, if your home cannot sustain a full-fledged backyard sandbox, smaller sand trays and sand tables work just as well, just on a smaller scale.
When you bless your children with a sandbox, you’ll give them more than sand. You’ll give them great childhood memories.