As a mother of 2 and an early-year educator, I am constantly looking for ways to entertain all the little ones in my life. Sensory play is essential for a child’s development, so I always look into the best way to help them develop and grow. Sand is one of our favorite resources for sensory play as it has lots of benefits and loads of activities and games. However, I do get asked if sand is safe, if babies can play with sand safely or not, and how old should they be to safely play with sand.
It is generally safe for babies from 6 months old to play with sand. However, there are a few things that you need to consider when allowing your baby to play with sand to ensure that it is safe for them, along with specific safety guidelines to follow when your baby is playing with sand.
Sand can be fun, messy, sensory, and help with development and creativity, but when babies are playing with sand, certain measures need to be followed to ensure your baby has fun and stays safe while enjoying themselves.
Benefits of playing with sand for babies
Sand is a fundamental resource that many early-year educators, including myself, use to help develop little ones’ motor and sensory skills. Playing with sand is possibly one of the most valuable development activities that you can do with your child or allow your child to do, and play sand is even actively recommended as one of the top development resources for children from 12 months and up.
Some skills that playing with sand can help develop in babies and toddlers are:
- Gross motor skills: (Physical Development – big muscle development)Babies will use their hands to move the sand, try to pick up the sand, use toys to move the sand around and even dig in the sand, Pouring, funneling, scooping, and sifting sand, even cleaning up sand using a dustpan or a broom all these actions promote gross motor development in babies and toddlers.
- Fine Motor skills and hand-eye coordination: (small muscle development) babies and toddlers can develop finger dexterity by drawing in the sand, trying to picking up sand using a ‘pincer grasp’ (between thumb and finger). Using small toys to move around the sand, such as cars, diggers, and other small sand toys. When children learn to manipulate and use sand toys, they develop these skills
- Communication: Babies and toddlers will laugh and try to talk about what they are doing in the sand. As parents or educators, we can speak to our children about what they are doing and help them describe the activity, the textures of the sand, what happens if we mix sand with other things such as water, and how we can manipulate the sand for play.
- Social and Emotional Skills: Children can play with friends and family members and learn how to share sand toys and how to work together using cooperative play to create something or to share the space and sand toys fairly.
- Sensory Development: Sense of Touch is developed as children explore and learn about the texture of the sand and how it can change if we add a molding agent (water).
- Imagination and creativity: by using their imagination and creativity skills children will build, create and make a whole imaginary world with sand play
How to know which sand is safe to use
White play sand is one of the safest play sands to use as it is naturally fine sand containing feldspar, a rock-forming mineral plentiful and usually found as crystal colorless or pale and contain calcium, sodium, aluminosilicate, and potassium.
All of these are safe for contact and fairy harmless, even if minimal amounts are accidentally ingested. Safe Sand™ White Playsand is popular play sand that is used in schools, playgrounds, children’s play areas, and museums, and it is excellent for molding when wet. (See below how to make your own, baby-safe, Edible Sand at home)
Is play sand real or artificial sand
Play Sand is a fun and clean sand that is perfect for sand play with children from 12 months onward. It is real sand, but it is specially graded, washed, dried, and screened to make sure that it is of the best and safest quality for playing with. It is perfect to use in a sand tray or sandbox and can usually be found at most child-friendly stores. Play sand is perfect for molding, playing with sand toys, building, and sensory play.
Play sand is finer than normal sand that you may find at the beach or in the garden, and due to the cleaning process it goes through, play sand is much safer for children to play with than regular sand or building sand.
Is Kinetic Sand Safe for Babies?
Kinetic sand is considered non-toxic and will cause no harm if played with correctly. However, kinetic sand is not safe if ingested and can cause serious harm as it is not digested by the body the same way that normal sand is.
Kinetic sand is recommended for children three years and over and with supervision.
If swallowed, kinetic sand may end up having to be removed surgically due to the way it is made. So, because of these issues that it may cause, Kinetic sand is not safe for babies to play with.
General safety guidelines for sand play with babies
Although sand can be fun and entertaining for baby and can have multiple sensory and developmental benefits, it is also important to remember that there are specific safety guidelines to follow when your baby is playing with sand.
Depending on your baby’s age and the toys they may use while playing with the sand, there are different safety measures to follow. Here are some general safety guidelines to follow:
- Use child-safe and non-toxic play sand or ‘clean’ sand. (See below for our DIY edible sand recipe)
- Take care that your baby does not eat the sand. (See below what to do if this happens)
- Ensure no sand gets in your baby’s eyes. (See below what to do if this happens)
- Ensure sand toys have no small parts, which can cause a choking hazard.
- Sand play should be fun! If your baby is not in the mood, then try again when they are
- NEVER leave your baby unattended with sand or any sand toys as they pose a choking hazard
What to do if your baby eats sand
If you are using Safe Sand or Play sand, there is not much to worry about if your child decides to taste the sand or get a few grains in their mouth while playing. It is not good for them to eat the sand, but it is also not cause to worry, unless they are eating large amounts.
In most cases, children will taste sand, realize it doesn’t taste that good, and not do it again. Eating sand can actually be good for your child as it can help to strengthen their immune system through experience. However, if your baby shows signs of distress, excessive diarrhea, or vomiting, seek medical advice immediately.
If your child seems to always want to eat sand, this may also be cause for worry as it could be due to other underlying issues. In this case, I suggest seeking medical advice for Pica.
When it comes to the sand outside or beach sand, it may contain bacteria and fecal matter from animals. It is pretty disgusting when you think about it, but still, the chances of your child getting sick from eating this sand are pretty low, and although it may be gross, there is probably no cause for alarm.
If your child gets sand in their mouth, you can rinse it with cold to lukewarm water with your hand, making sure they don’t swallow any (Don’t worry if they do), then give them a drink of water to help rinse the rest down.
If your baby swallows a fair amount of sand, then take them to the doctor for medical advice, as a large amount of sand can cause them to choke or suffocate.
What to do if sand gets in your baby’s eyes
Children are relentless. As much as I may try to keep my boys safe in the sand, at the end of the day, boys will be boys, and someone will always end up with sand where it shouldn’t be.
No matter how many times this happens, they still want to play wild with the sand. As a mother, the best I can do is make sure sand in the eyes doesn’t become a serious injury.
The main symptoms to look for if you suspect your child may have sand in their eyes are rubbing the eye continuously, tears, irritation, constant blinking, and pain.
The sand or particles will always stay in the front of the eye (Nothing can go behind the eyeball as the space behind the eyelids is only 6milimeters, so nothing can go where it can’t be seen.)
Here are some steps to follow if your child gets sand, or any other small particles, in their eyes.
- First, use a wet cloth to clean the face and the area around the eye so that no more sand can get in the eye.
- Wash your hands to ensure you have no sand or particles on your hands
- For babies and young children, you can fill a glass or jug with warm water, hold your child’s head up and hold the eye open by pulling down gently on the lower eyelid, and then pouring the water into the infected eye flush out the sand. You can use your hand to gently rinse the sand out of your baby’s eye if needed but do not rub the eye. Repeat several times until all the sand is out. Repeat this process as needed.
- For older children, put the infected side of the face in a bowl of warm water and get your child to gently open and close their eye in the water if they can to help flush the sand out. Replace the water and do this several times until the eye is clear of all particles. (follow these steps if sand is in the upper eyelid as well)
- If there is sand or particles in the eye corner, you can try to get it out using a moist cotton bud or corner of a wet cloth.
- To get sand out from the lower eyelid, pull down on the lower lid slowly and try using a moist cotton bud to get it out by touch only; if that does not work, then pour water slowly over the infected area.
- If the sand cannot be seen, but symptoms are there, then the sand is most likely in the upper eyelid. If this is the case, and the steps mentioned above do not work then lift the eyelid up and outward and run it over the bottom eyelid with eye closed which should allow the bottom eyelid to draw out the sand from the top eyelid and enable it to be seen or rinsed easily from the eye
Once the sand or particles have been removed from the eye, the pain, irritation, and redness should go away. The symptoms should be completely gone within an hour or two, depending on the severity of the case.
If you are not able to remove the sand or particles, if symptoms persist 2 hours after trying to remove the sand, if symptoms become worse, if vision seems abnormal after the eye has been cleaned, or if blinking and tearing does not stop once the object has been removed, then seek medical advice immediately.
How to make your own baby-safe, edible sand at home
My boys love it when their sensory play becomes edible; it makes it all that more fun and extrasensory. We enjoy making edible bubbles that we can use for water play and bath time, but sand is a favorite too.
What makes it the greatest recipe ever is that it only uses one ingredient, and there are multiple options for that single ingredient. The best part about edible sand is that you don’t have to worry about the little ones putting it in their mouths.
Materials you will need:
- Blender or grinder (if you do not have either of these, you can use a ziplock bag and a rolling pin)
- Mixing Bowl
- Container to store your sand
- Tray to play with the sand
- Sand toys (See Below for alternate items that can be used as sand toys)
Ingredients you will need:
- Cheerios (Alternatives: Graham crackers, Marie Biscuits, Digestive Biscuits)
- Oreos (remove the cream from the center) – this can be used for making edible soil
- Butter (optional if you want to make moldable sand)
Take your ingredient of choice (Cheerios work the best and give the most realistic sand texture – Use colored cheerios to make Edible Rainbow Sand), the amount will depend on how much sand you want to make. Add your ingredient into a blender or grinder a little bit at a time and grind/blend until it has reached the desired texture. Repeat with the remaining amount until you have the amount of sand desired. If you do not have a blender or grinder, you can put your ingredient into a sealed Ziploc bag and use a rolling pin to crush it into sand.
Make your sand moldable and add room temperature butter (not melted) a little at a time until fully incorporated into the sand, until you have it at the desired texture for molding. This is usually better to use with older babies and toddlers.
To store dry sand, just keep it in an airtight container – it is good until the ingredients’ expiry date. For moldable sand, store in an airtight container in the fridge (Do not remove and leave container closed as this will form moisture in the container) – this will last until butter expiry date if stored correctly and no moisture gets in. We usually throw this out after a week of playing with it because putting it in and out of the fridge causes moisture on it.
NOTE: Make it extrasensory – add Cinnamon powder, Vanilla essence Powder, or any other flavoring essence powder (it should be a powder to keep the sand texture).
TIP: Adding Cinnamon to your sand will help to keep the bugs away.
Babies love sand play, and the older they get, the more creative they can get when playing with sand. Sand is a fun and great way for babies to exercise their imagination and develop their skills.
Remember to stay safe, have fun, and keep your camera ready to catch those special moments with your little one.
Article checked by:
Dr Binu George – Consultant General Pediatric
(MBBS, FRCPCH, Dual CCST (UK), Paediatric Neurodisability)
Head Of Department, Child Development Department at
NMC Royal Hospital, Khalifa City, Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates