Bringing a piece of the beach to the backyard in the form of a sandbox can provide the perfect place for kids to explore, learn and have fun. While there are many plastic sandboxes and premade kits for sale, parents armed with some basic knowledge can build their own using materials available at most hardware stores.
Robert Leary, of Munster, built a sandbox for his son this summer after watching him playing with his trucks in the yard.
“He was covered in dirt, and I recognized the need for the sandbox at that point,” Leary said.
Using leftover wood, Leary and his son set to work.
“We wanted a larger - 4 foot by 4 foot - sandbox and we wanted wood,” Leary said. “The cost to buy one already built was crazy. We did buy a tarp for the cover and weed control for the bottom.” The total cost was $10.
“It took Jack and I a few hours to build it," he said. "It would have been quicker, but I let him help and he is 2 and a half.”
He advises sandbox builders to put a weed barrier on the bottom and a lid on the top. Make sure the area is big enough for a few kids to play and place it in a part of the yard where you can see it from the house and where it gets plenty of shade.
“Jack loves his new sandbox," Leary said. "He asks me all day every day, ‘Daddy, can I play in my sandbox?’ He also brings me all his toys one at a time and asks me ‘Daddy, can I bring this in my sandbox.’ He loves his sandbox, and it’s better than playing in a pile of dirt.”
John Bachmann, Purdue University Calumet grounds supervisor, also has some tips for sandbox DIYers. He took part in planning of the playground at Purdue University Calumet’s Charlotte R. Riley Child Center. When the center was built, it had two sandboxes under a back deck to provide cover from rain, he said.
With their proximity to the doors, children kept carrying sand in, and it was decided to move them and make one bigger sandbox.
“That’s when we specified this one be made how it is,” Bachmann said. “We had a cover designed so that once kids are done playing, the teachers could put the tarp over it to keep water out and cats.” Water can lead to algae-like plants and wet sand.
“If building one at home, you need a cover," Bachmann said. "If you have neighborhood cats, you want to keep them away from using it for the wrong thing.”
Play sand, a popular choice for sandboxes, is available at most hardware stores and gardening centers. Purdue Calumet’s sandbox uses beach sand, which is also used for the campus volleyball courts.
“We take a few loads over there every year and refill the sandbox," Bachmann said. "Sand seems to find its way to children’s pockets. No matter where you put the sandbox, the sand is still coming indoors.”
The sandbox was built out of a recycled plastic material often used for decking instead of wood. Bachmann recommends the plastic to prevent splinters.
He said sandboxes are a great thing, “especially if you’re 5 and younger. They’re a lot of fun for kids. They provide a lot of opportunities for learning and fun.”