Sand, like mud and water, holds endless opportunities for discovery. Children (and adults) will explore it for hours - but, like mud and water, this needs an environment that is supportive of this kind of exploration. I've always been fascinated by watching the ways people explore beaches - they make things, create worlds, jump, roll, dig and dig and dig, mix water with sand, hunt for treasure, run, lay down and contemplate, draw and write in the sand and so much more... You can't do all this standing next to a small sand tray (especially if it is indoors and adults are worried about sand getting onto the floor).
We're really lucky at Dunkirk Primary to have two wonderful sand areas: there's a big sand pit in the main school playground surrounded by seating and plants; and in the foundation stage there's a really big sand area which can easily hold 30 children. This area used to be tarmac and was re-designed by the children with the staff: we visited lots of different places and together undertook loads of idea-generating activities to think about what we wanted. There's a wide slide into the sand, which lets children slide down side by side. There's pulleys and containers to lift up the sand. There's logs of different sizes to sit on and move about. And there are spades, rakes, buckets, pots and tools of many different sizes.
It's an amazing space to watch the children learn. As an adult you are able to really observe and watch the children's inventions and discoveries.
"Digging in deep sand with a long-handled spade provides a whole-body immersion in the concepts being explored and is a richer experience than reaching into a sand tray using only hands and arms."
Learning Through Landscapes
In such a big area of sand, children can work alone or with others - and therefore their play is extended all the time as they notice what others are discovering. Ideas can gather momentum and move between children. They can dance and jump and make sand-angels, and sit in the sand; they can bury things and dig for treasure, they can add water (children MUST be able to add water to sand), they can make small worlds and they can imagine they are in a different land.