Are kids drawn to dirt? Are boys drawn to jumping in mud puddles? Do kids love to walk and play in the sand? The answer is an absolute YES. Some kids LOVE it more than others and they don’t mind getting dirty.
Why do kids NEED dirt? If you ask a pediatrician how they feel about children playing in sand, mud, etc., most will tell you that children who play in the dirt are less likely to get sick. Their immune systems are more stable and less likely to fall to an illness. Not to say that a child should be dirty all the time, being clean is also part of a healthy lifestyle, but playing in dirt/mud every once in a while won’t hurt your child. This is something that many parents have known for years: let kids play, let them get dirty. Don’t keep them away from every germ.
When our oldest son turned 1, I told my husband I thought we should build him a sandbox. Not buy a small plastic sandbox, but build a big one — enough room for Tonka Trucks, buckets, shovels, etc., so he could build roads, sand castles and more. So at my suggestion, my husband and father built a 6-foot box, complete with seats and we promptly filled it with sand. It has been the best birthday present we have ever bought, even after 7 years it is still being played with. How many toys can you say that about?
When our second son was born, we decided to rebuild the sandbox and make it bigger. It would now need to be big enough for two boys, all the trucks and buckets while they build roads, sand castles, etc. Our sandbox has entertained many children; it has been flooded with the hose on numerous occasions and been a place of pure laughter.
Why is playing in the sand/dirt important? And what is so fun about a sandbox? It is important for multiple reasons:
1. Getting the kids outside: Fresh air and a dose of Vitamin D from the sun. Both are important for their brain development. Turning off the TV, gaming systems, computer and enjoying the outdoors helps the brain and body relax.
2. Creativity: I am often amazed what the boys create in the sandbox, they build roads, islands, animals (dinosaurs), we set up battlefields, treasure maps with buried treasure, etc.
3. Science experiments: Our oldest son and his grandmother once planted sunflower seeds just to see if they would grow, and they did. We had beautiful 6-foot sunflowers in our sandbox. We have also used food coloring to make “rainbow” sand, we had blue, green, red and yellow sand.
4. Self–play: I believe it is important for children to learn how to entertain themselves without our constant guidance — telling them how to play. The sandbox is great for that — both of our boys can be seen anytime of day or night in the sandbox playing — no parent needed for entertainment.
5. Cause and effect: They learn how to play with dry sand, and then add water and they are able to mold sand into amazing things. Building tunnels, bridges and then watching the water run from place to place.
6. Kickin’ it old school: It is just plain fun — the boys laugh, bury each other’s feet and enjoy the sand. No need for a gaming system in the sandbox to have fun.
I know a lot of mothers who don’t like sandboxes — too messy — trust me, I understand, there are days I feel like I live on the beach, with all the sand that gets tracked into the house. But then, I watch them enjoying it so much and it isn’t such a chore to clean my floor.
This is something that I think my boys will look back on with fond memories and hopefully someday they will build sandboxes for their own children.
• Leah Derewicz is a 15-year Ahwatukee Foothills resident. Reach her at firstname.lastname@example.org.