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Sand & Water Play for Infants & Toddlers

By Amanda Hermes ; Updated June 13, 2017

Digging in the sand and splashing in the water might be favorite activities of your little one. Although these activities can keep a child happily entertained, they also provide opportunities for sensory stimulation and learning. Simple items that you probably have on hand can add to your child's play and enjoyment.

Learning through Play

Babies and toddlers learn about their world by using their senses, and sand and water play is an effective way to teach little ones about sensory exploration, according to the North Carolina Division of Child Development. Infants learn simply by feeling different textures, like the roughness of sand or the wetness of water, as well as various objects you can hide within the sand or water. According to Mike Salas, a teacher from PBS’s “A Place of Our Own,” filling cups with sand or water and pouring them out can help toddlers learn about the properties of liquids and solids, as well as basics about density, weight and volume. With water, use drops of food coloring or bath dyes to practice identifying colors and demonstrate how mixing primary colors together creates new ones.

Inexpensive Fun

Sandboxes, pools, and water tables can be costly, but you can make your own with dishpans, buckets or big plastic containers. Water is almost free, and you can purchase sand cheaply from home improvement stores. For digging, scooping and pouring, just bring out plastic cups and spoons from the kitchen or recycle empty plastic food containers. Small plastic fish, animals, cars, and other toys are inexpensive and easy to find.

Lasting Fun

Kids don’t tire or grow out of sand and water toys for years. You can easily change the accessories, such as shovels, cups, trucks, boats – you name it – to keep the sand or water center new and interesting as your child grows and his interests change. Outdoor water tables or pools are obviously best for summer, but kids have just as much fun with the same toys in the bathtub. Children can enjoy sandboxes or tables for much of the year, and you can bring buckets or trays of sand into the garage or another warm area during cold spells.

Kids with Disabilities

Pre-K and kindergarten teacher Mike Salas writes that water play can be a beneficial activity for kids with attention deficit disorder or hyperactivity, since it’s quiet and soothing. Visually impaired children need lots of sensory activities, like identifying objects they find in the sand or water by touch only. Children with spectrum disorders such as autism often enjoy playing with sand and water for extended times because of the textures of both mediums. Sometimes autistic children even soothe and calm with the sensory stimulation of sand and water.

Making a Mess

Sand and water play can be quite messy with infants and toddlers, since they love scooping the sand or water up and dumping it out. It’s best to keep these activities outdoors. Younger toddlers, especially, might end up completely covered in sand or water, so stripping them down to a diaper or swimsuit before beginning is a good idea during warm weather.

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