Learning from the elements: playing with sand

Playing with sand helps kids learn about shape, weight and capacity as they fill containers with sand and investigate changes, like what happens to the sand when water is added.

Sand words

Words that relate to sand will be more accessible to your child when they are interacting with it. Words like pour, trickle, sift, scoop, heap, dig, shovel, slide, mound, bury, tunnel, pat, mould, squeeze, flatten, damp, heavy, light, more, less, same, equal, absorb, flow, solid, liquid, wet, dry, course, fine. 

Get experimental

Sand is a great material for kids to explore. It can be shoveled, scooped, poured, trickled, sifted, patted, moulded, poked, piled, smoothed, flattened, jumped in, tunneled through, drawn in and decorated.

Encourage your child to explore different ways to play with sand by asking questions like:

  • ‘What could you do to stop the water from soaking into the sand?’
  • ‘How could you stop the sandcastle from falling down?’
  • ‘Does this bucket feel heavier than that one?’
  • ‘What do you think is making the sand warm today?’
  • ‘Is the sand heavier or lighter when you add water?’

If your child is ready for further investigation, try these ideas:

  • Encourage children to estimate how many cups of sand will fill a saucepan; then ask them to find out if they were right.
  • Experiment to find out how much water makes the sand damp, wet or sloppy.
  • Add a sheet of plastic to hold water for dams or rivers.
  • Find out what happens when you pour water into a hole in the sand.

Image Children direct their own learning while playing with sand at an early years centre

Published — 10 October 2016 Last updated — 02 November 2016

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