Those of us living on the west and east coasts might take for granted some of what make our beaches so grand. No, we’re not talking about whales, fish, boats, or the sea itself (though they’re pretty cool)—we’re talking SAND!
Good ol’ fashioned, kids’ sandpit sand we used to play in during recess, the sand out of which we constructed castles, forts, caves, and giant piles to hide away brothers and sisters. The sand we trampled on as we played, squealing and gleeful on the playground and at the park.
But what might have escaped us as kids playing in the sand was how each tiny little grain was helping forge neural connections in our sensory cortex.
The sensory cortex plays a part in how the brain senses “touch” and “pain”, and during sand play, this kind of receptor activation and input provision was helping the nerves in our hands learn how to distinguish what they were feeling. Without lectures, without books, sand was teaching us about our worlds.
So, what’s a great way to bring the wonders of the beach to your own home? A sandbox for kids to play, explore, and marvel at the wonders of this small, but powerful, sensory delight!
There are so many benefits of sandbox play for preschoolers, so we’ve rounded up reviews for you for the best kids’ sandbox, some initial questions for you to consider, the pros and cons to owning your very own (can anyone say "vacuum cleaner?"), and what you should look for when out shopping for yours.
Some initial questions to ask yourself as you venture out into the great marketplace known as the interwebs are:
More kids, think bigger boxes. Do you want something for your only child to entertain herself while you’re showering? Do you want something to entertain a gaggle of toddlers from Parent & Me classes during a birthday party? Heck, do you want both??
Didn’t think those pesky little grains you track home from the beach could cost so much, did you? Of course, the bigger the box, the more sand you’ll need to fill it.
Not all sandboxes come with sand and toys included, as you’ll see below in our reviews.
Oh yeah, and speaking of toys, which ones do you have in mind? Do you want a carte blanche wooden frame that lets you and your little ones create your sandy world from the ground up, or do you want an all-included kit that nudges toward a creative narrative already?
Probably not much of a surprise, different spaces call for different sizes sandboxes. Big and spacious backyard? Go for a giant pirate ship of a sandboat (yep, that’s what it’s called!). You and your little one living the city life in a loft, where the only hint of a backyard is a potted plant on your balcony? Consider a tabletop version.
Before we break it down for you, take a look at the table below for an overview of our top picks.
Features we love
Buy it now
My Little Sandbox -
- Perfect for indoor play
Outward Play Spot Square Backyard Sandbox Frame
- Sand stays in the standpit
KidKraft Pirate Sandboat
- Sturdy and easy to assemble
Step2 Play and Store Sandbox
- Comes with built-in molded seats
Step2 Naturally Playful Sand Table
- Comes with toys
Outward Play Explorer Boat Sandbox
- Comes with UV-protected canopy
For all the details, read on and play on!
A complete play set that includes construction and digging toys, this is appropriate for all boys and girls who enjoy imaginative building from the ground-up.
Tabletop kids’ sandboxes are rising in popularity due to their smaller, more manageable nature and the encouragement of pro-social skills with parents and peers.
Bring the fun of the playground into your own home, and encourage imaginative play while stimulating sensorimotor skills in your little builder!
The included toy sets are pretty awesome. Each “My Little Sandbox” comes with a complete set of items that helps stimulate pretend play and a cohesive narrative structure to encourage imagination.
A square-shaped wooden frame brings the fun of the beaches and playgrounds to your own home!
It includes an all-purpose, weather-proofed tarp and inner lining to keep sand inside the box and prevent weed growth from underneath. The high-quality wood has been treated with high-temp dying and stained with a rot- and damage-resistant finish.
We love the “blank slate!” This is a large, wooden frame that can be filled with whatever your child fancies! Multi-colored sand, toys of any kind—the choices are infinite! And because it’s an outdoor set, cleanup is not nearly as big an issue as indoor, tabletop sandboxes.
Remember Peter Pan and Captain Hook? Ever dreamed of flying up toward the second star to the right, and straight on ‘til morning?
Now, you and your child can, in her very own Pirate Sandboat! Large enough for multiple children, this sandbox is built around the concept of a pirate ship, complete with steering wheel, parrot detail, shaded canopy “sail,” and pirate flag.
Constructed of sturdy wood, you can sail the high seas of adventure in this grand sandbox sandboat for hours on end!
Our favorite feature? Obviously the boat itself! Need we say more?? Having a pirate boat in our own backyard would have been a dream come true. Encourage hours of play and adventure, all while developing their cerebral cortex with social, gross motor, and imaginative skills, tying stories in to some of the world’s most classic adventure literature. One of the grandest examples of educational toys out there!
A sandpit with four molded-in seats for children to sit while playing, this sandbox comes with a lid for storage and protection from the elements and curious little animals.
Holding up to 200 pounds of sand, this sandbox might be the most complete “sandbox starter set” out there—minus the sand, of course!
We love the molded-in seats! Having worked with many children who have motor difficulties, they provide a better option than traditional sandpits without support for those with low kinesthetic strength and tone.
An elevated play table is perfect for toddlers and wandering kiddos that love moving and exploring during play.
An included lid with tie-downs that also has molded-in roadways provides instant protection and coverage.
Best of all, it’s small enough for indoors, but perfect to be used outdoors with multiple children at once. A versatile, middle-sized sand table!
The raised table design is simply awesome. For those ambulatory toddlers that kick up their heels as they play, this is perfect! Encouraging a standing, active engagement in the tabletop sand table by its raised design, this discourages sedentary sand play.
Of course, this must be taken into consideration if your child has any motor or ambulatory issues, can’t stand for very long periods of time, has low core strength and kinesthetic tone, or simply grows too tall for the height of the table to the point that it discourages proper posture by demanding he bend down to continue playing.
A ship-shaped sandbox complete with a canopy to keep kids protected and shaded, this model provides built-in seats and a storage compartment in the angled prow. Included internal sheets provide drainage solutions and protection from weed growth. Sail away for hours of adventurous fun in this colorful, enticing sandbox.
We think it's great that this option comes with a UV-protected canopy that extends the width of the sandbox, which makes for happy kids and happy skin! Adding to the sandbox’s feature as a ship, the canopy acts like a sail while kids steer, explore, and as always, build those sensory connections.
So, sand. What’s the big deal, anyway?
Well, hopefully, you’ve had a chance to see for yourself just how powerful a toy this can be, providing opportunities for tactile sensation play, social skills, and imaginative play. (Other toys which give kids a chance to develop other important skills include marble runs, remote control cars and trains.)
Another advantage is that these get kids outside into the fresh air
Best of all, this is something that children of all ability levels can enjoy, with certain sandboxes better suited to fit their needs than others. There’s a reason playgrounds were always outfitted with sand, although perhaps the reason eluded us as kids, simply providing a surface for our feet to trample as we jumped from swings to slides.
But after years of research, these tiny grains are regaining their popularity in education, in play, and in sensory stimulation, bringing the power of these small but mighty grains at the beaches and playgrounds into our own backyards and homes.
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