How Sand Play Encourages Cognitive, Physical, and Social Development

Children, throughout time, have been interested in playing in the sand. They can dig in the sand, sift it, build with it, pour it, and enjoy the smell and feel of it. They use sand to pretend and explore and to discover how it moves. Unlike some forms of play, sand is well-suited to the imagination of children.

The Benefits of Sand Play

Each child plays in the sand in his own way. After all, there are no correct or incorrect ways to use sand. Sand invites a 5-year-old’s participation. It allows a child to create and test hypotheses, stretch their imagination, and supplies a soothing sensory experience. Playing in the sand allows a child to learn cognitive, physical, and social skills.

Sand play is open-ended. Therefore, children determine the path or direction for play. This type of freedom permits a child to develop and excel. In fact, according to constructivist theory, a child has an innate drive to learn about their world through the exploration and interaction with materials. As ideas about how the world operates develop gradually, sand become more and more complex as a child exerts their freedom to play.

Experimenting and Discovery

When a child first encounters playing in the sand, they will go through what is known as an exploration-play-application sequence. For instance, a child experiments with spades and buckets, such as the sand toys made by Djeco, before they actually use and play with them.

Therefore, children who do not partake in the opportunity of playing in the sand need time to explore their surroundings before starting play. That is why it is important for parents to provide their children with the necessary tools and toys to engage in constructive play. Doing so will allow a child to develop useful cognitive, physical, and social skills in surroundings where mistakes are inconsequential. The skills they use during sand play are used as a resource for future applications.

Indeed, sand play is open-ended as it provides a level of comfort for children in an environment that allows them to ask and answer their own questions. They can do, think, and interact in a non-directive type manner. Interactive play, such as sand play and similar interactions, help children answer questions from adults, such as the following:

  • What else can you do?
  • What would happen if you…?
  • What do you think about that?
  • How did you do that?
  • Is there another way to…?

An Open-ended Approach

The use of open-ended questions supports a framework that allows children to learn a great deal on their own. Whilst the adults provide the support for play and learning, that support is gradually withdrawn as children become more adept at play.

Sand play encourages development physically as the large muscles are used for pouring, sifting, digging, scooping, and cleaning up spills. Eye-hand coordination and small muscle coordination improve as the child learns to manipulate their spades, and other sand toys and accessories. When children work together in the sand, they also learn to share, compromise, or negotiate. A child takes on roles related with dramatic play and learns essential social skills, including understanding and empathy.