Learning Environments

Places for Water and Sand Play

The outdoors is a perfect place for water and sand play. Water and sand provide endless opportunities for experimentation. They are also easy to clean up outside!

children play with water in a tub lying on top of a sandboxThere are a variety of ways to include water safely in the outdoor play space.1 For example:

  • Water sprinklers
  • Trickling water sculptures
  • Cafeteria trays for young infants
  • Small tubs for individual play
  • Water tables, if certain conditions are met (CFOC 6.2.4.2: Water Play Tables)
  • Outdoor sinks made from utility sinks
    • Cut the legs of the utility sink down to an appropriate height, attach a hose, and place a bucket underneath to collect the water
  • Water walls
    • A water wall is typically made from a fence or stable piece of plywood on which empty plastic containers are attached with screws or zip ties. The containers should move so they can catch and dump water as it goes down the wall. A container at the bottom can catch the water for reusing2

a toddler is carefully stepping out of a sandbox holding a sand pailSand play is most appropriate for mobile infants and toddlers. It is commonly done in sand boxes and at sand tables. Sand boxes may be large or small, depending on the amount of space available. A variety of materials can be used to create borders around sand areas, including wooden planks, logs split in half, and low, smooth boulders. Programs may also choose not to have a border around the sand area. Remember to consider access to sand play for children who are unable to stand or sit independently or who use wheelchairs. Sand should be covered when not in use and checked daily to make sure there are no hazardous objects, insects, or animal feces buried in the sand.

In home-based programs, talk with families about the value of sand and water play and how to keep their children safe while engaging in these activities.

1Keeler, Natural Playscapes, 70–71, 80.

2U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, Administration for Children and Families, Office of Head Start, Early Head Start National Resource Center. "Outdoor Spaces."