Bruny Island, Tasmania © Norah Colvin
I grew up near the beach (but sadly not the one pictured) and my siblings and I would spend many long hours playing on the cliffs, climbing the trees, and splashing in the water. Sometimes we’d even lie on the sand and sunbake. Most of us are paying for it now as our fair skin, even with sunscreen, or without as it was then, was not designed for the hot Queensland sun.
One of the nicest things to do was to stand at the water’s edge as the waves receded, and feel the sand withdraw from beneath my feet, leaving me standing in hollows. If I stood there through successive comings and goings of waves, I could end up standing in quite large holes. The meditative effect was calming and reassuring, placing me firmly in nature.
© Norah Colvin
Of course, the beach is not the only place that sand can be found. There are the hot red sands of Central Australia; and of Utah, where Charli Mills has recently relocated.
© Charli Mills
There are the cruel sands of time that flow too fast and can’t be upturned for a do-over.
But these sands are not the focus of my post. I am thinking of the sandpits, or sandboxes, common to playgrounds for young children in early learning centres, schools, and parks. I would probably not be taking much of a risk if I were to suggest that most of you played in a sandpit when you were young. Maybe you were involved in an accident of some sort: getting sand in your eye or hit by a spade, possibly fighting over a toy.
There are many friendship lessons to be learned when playing in the sandpit, even if playing alongside, rather than with, others:
- Play nicely
- Take turns
- Sand stays in the sandpit: it’s for digging, filling, building, and sifting; but not throwing.
Sandpits are generally popular during lunch breaks at school, particularly if suitable toys and implements are available. I have seen groups of children spend successive lunch times building roads, cities, and rivers; working together constructively in ways we only dream of in our artificially designed group-work activities. The fluidity of the group ensures that fresh ideas are always available; and sees some suggestions implemented, and others discarded.
But the sandpit is not just for playtime and recess. Utilising it during class time provides a welcome break from the indoors. There is nothing like a bit of physical activity in the fresh air to awaken the brain cells and stimulate thinking. While opportunities for free play may offer the best of learning experiences for children, I’m providing a few suggestions in case justification of something more academic is ever required.
Introduce each sandpit session with some tactile experiences. It cannot be taken for granted that all children have experienced sand play and may be unfamiliar with how it feels underfoot, to walk on, or hold in their hands. Also, having a bit of play in the beginning will help the children concentrate as the lesson progresses.
It is also a good idea to set some rules for sand play. Ask the children, they probably know best.
Have everyone remove their shoes and socks and stand in the sand, then ask them to (for example):
- twist on the spot, feeling their feet dig into the sand
- wriggle their toes, feeling the sand squish between them
- stamp their feet, noticing the difference from concrete, or grass
- sit at the edge, stretch out their legs, and push their feet under the sand, then slowly lift them up, letting the sand slowly fall off
- pick up handfuls of sand and then let it slowly fall through their fingers
- pick up handfuls of sand, bring their hands together, then rub them together as they watch the sand slowly fall
Have children sit around the edge and count the number of children (in ones), feet and hands (in twos), fingers and toes (in fives, and the tens)
Pouring and measuring volume
Ask children to estimate and measure; for example:
- How many of these containers does it take to fill that one?
- How many of these containers can I fill from that one?
- Which container holds more?
Digging for buried treasure
Hide items in the sandpit for children to find. They may need to find a certain number, follow clues, or understand a grid. It could even be set up like a battleship game with children hiding and guessing the placement of toys in the sand.
Have children use arbitrary units to measure the width or length of the sandpit; for example: using feet, hands, blocks, containers.
Have children look for shapes in the construction of the sandpit and other playground equipment. Have them draw shapes in the sand.
Have children draw a picture or pattern with glue on a heavy piece of card then sprinkle with sand. Mix in some powder paint to add colour.
Of course, there is nothing better than giving them time to play and conduct their own learning: talking, negotiating, planning, and problem solving. Although I wouldn’t go so far as to say that everything one needs to learn could be learned in a sandpit, it’s probably not too far from the truth.
The title of a book written by Robert L. Fulgham and published in 1988 declares All I Really Need to Know I Learned in Kindergarten: Uncommon Thoughts on Common Things. Surprisingly, I must confess to not having read it, but the words have infiltrated society and become an oft-repeated adage. I feel as if I have read it, and agree with the simplicity of the truth it espouses.
According to Lessons from the Sandbox written by Patricia Leigh Brown and published in the New York Times in 1989, the book was almost an accident. I could carry the link a little further and suggest perhaps, an accident occurring in the sandpit. The story of its publication and success should give a writer heart. We can never predict how a story will develop, let alone end.
This week at the Carrot Ranch, Charli Mills has challenged writers to In 99 words (no more, no less) write a story about a walk across the sand. This is my response. I hope you enjoy it.
© Norah Colvin
The sun shone. A gentle breeze kissed the children’s cheeks, cooling them, as they shared the bucket and spade to build castles and dig moats. She gathered shells and seaweed for decoration. He filled the moat. Parents smiled, satisfied.
Suddenly, he jumped onto the castle, gleefully twisting from side to side. She protested; she’d not finished. He laughed. She cast aside the last of her ornaments and stomped away. He shrugged.
Remorseful, he went after her, “Wait. I’m sorry. Let’s build it again.”
“But make it bigger this time.”
Hand in hand they raced back to start again.
Thank you for reading. I appreciate your feedback. Please share your thoughts.