Play in the sand; splash in the water; get dirty; get wet. The beach is the only place my mom doesn’t get mad about me doing that stuff. Of course I love the beach!” Dixie Dykens (age 5)
- Freedom to be really creative, there is no right and wrong way and there is no mess to be tidied.
- Space to use your whole body or just your fingers, movement; running, jumping, cartwheels (wish I could!), rolling.
- Sand and water are freely available and loose parts such as seashells, seaweed and driftwood can be found and added – each child sees a treasure in what they have found. There is no waste.
- Adults are relaxed, maybe because they can see their child and are therefore not fearful of perceived risks.
- Time is usually plentiful – adults tend to come to the beach for longer periods of time allowing children to really get engaged in an activity.
- Children do not feel judged and feel free to experiment without adult interference - unless the adult insists on helping because they might feel that it looks a bit sad to be seen building their own structures!
- A social experience, children can choose to work together. Observing children's play behaviours it is interesting to note how often children who have never met before will jointly tackle a sandcastle, working cooperatively and often without verbal instructions to each other, each child contributing what they feel is appropriate.
- Children instinctively choose to build near the water’s edge knowing that the water to sand ratio is vital and I believe that they also know that at the end of the exercise their hard work will be reclaimed by the incoming tide. Even very young children know that they cannot take their creation home – I have never seen a child having a temper tantrum because it has to stay there only upset children who have to leave the beach when they wanted to stay longer!
There is often no evidence of plastic castle mould shapes or buckets, in fact the castles I have seen children build have been built by hand, no spades, no buckets, only what nature provides – large shells and sticks for digging, hands for moulding. Parents offering the plastic bucket or spade often have that rejected as if children are seeking that added challenge and sensory opportunity of using only their hands or what they find in nature.
Too often I see small amounts of sand in an indoor sand tray, usually filled with so many brightly coloured plastic moulds, spades and buckets that the sand is not even visible. I found a piece of plastic litter on the beach and found the bright pink colour visually very intrusive. Then there is also often the rule “ do not mix the sand and the water” WHY not …….that’s the best bit! As not every child has access to beaches, how can we offer these experiences to those children too? Can we have a large sandpit outdoors, a sand-shed or a large tray and allow combined sand and water play? Can we remove some of the plastic man made resources and offer children natural materials such as shells, stones, seedpods, sticks, baskets, wooden and metal spoons, metal buckets, wooden bowls for sand play? I hope so!