Sand and water hold a tremendous attraction for young children, which was so clear by the expressions of concentration, wondering and pure joy shown on their faces. Here is a small snap shot of a conversation we over heard…
You have to dig it all the way across round here.
You have to have a spade to go all the way there.
(pointing to dry sand in the middle of dug part): Well there’s a little island there.
Look I can jump across.
Let’s make this channel deeper. Let’s dig more.
(standing in middle of water): Look its so deep. I can’t see my feet.
Look I’m sinking.
If you dig there we can join up these channels.
You make a dam there to stop the water.
I observed Ms Dickson sensitively offer the children new vocabulary to help them to describe what they could observe in the sand. Ms Dickson was able to listen to the children with an open mind and delicately join in the play, gently offering suggestions and encouraging the children to problem solve. This was a beautiful interaction.
We know that young children are active learners. Jean Piaget, a Swiss developmental psychologist, held that children draw on direct physical and social experiences as well as culturally transmitted knowledge to construct their own understandings of the world around them. Children start life taking in information through all their senses. Children naturally love playing with sand and we can capitalise on this natural affinity by offering the children opportunities to investigate it. Due to it’s sensory nature, sand play is an excellent medium for exploration and discovery.
The beauty of sand is that it truly allows children to explore their imaginations, it’s a material found almost everywhere on earth, and children love playing in it.
They can dig to Australia, find “fossils,” hunt for treasure, 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.
There are so many things the children can learn on their own by playing in a pile of sand!
- When sand is poured, it will form a mound, the slopes of which vary in angle depending on the size of its granules and the dampness of the sand.
- On a sunny day, the surface of the sand will be hot, but when children dig down, they find coolness.
- 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.
- When water evaporates from a structure made with sand, it collapses.
- When too much water is added, structures don’t hold their shape.
- 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.
- Sand is portable, so children find many ways to move it by pushing it, pulling it, putting it in and pouring it out of containers, carrying it by hand, shoveling it, moving it by dump truck, and pouring it out of funnels.
- 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, shoes, hair, lunch boxes, and classrooms. Sand makes a floor very slippery.
- But in the wintertime, sand on ice makes it less slippery.
- When it rains, rivulets can move sand, and make beautiful, smooth patterns.
- But if children try making a sand dam, they soon realise it won’t hold water.
- Dig deep enough on a beach, and children find water; deeper still, they’ll discover that their holes collapse.
- Children learn to control their bodies in different ways when they’re kneeling on the sand, sitting and twisting, or turning and reaching.
- When children are barefoot, their feet and bodies have to adjust in surprising ways to accommodate the ever-changing surface of sand.
Our intention is to offer an outdoor classrooms that can challenge and inspire children while teaching them lessons about themselves and about nature.
I wonder what you would have been curious about if you were exploring the sand?
- Clair Wain, Director of Early Years