How to Build a Sandbox for Kids

A simple sandbox can provide hours of fun and creative excitement for children. Whether they use their trucks and dozers, or bury their favorite dinosaurs in the sand, the ability to move the material at will, create craters, mounds, hiding places, roads, etc. can stimulate the creative side of any individual, even adults. I have often wondered if the creation of large sandboxes with a waterfall and running water would entertain even the older, of us kids.

I think that it would!

Sand is a medium that is easy to obtain and easy to refill, once the old sand becomes dirty or lost in the surrounding environment. There is also the creative method of using small gravel for the sand. In years gone by, this material was called pea stone, and was very popular for driveways and planting beds. Today, the use of pea stone has definitely declined, and its abundance is not as popular. However, if pea stone can be found, the benefit over sand is the cleanliness of the material? Pea stone will simply fall off the hands, feet and the entire body of those playing in it. The material is less susceptible to the moisture caused by rain and humidity, and will remain in the “box “for a longer, more consistent period of time. In addition the allure that sand has for animals to use as a litter box is minimized with the use of small stone.

Whether you decide to be creative and try to find an alternate material, other than sand, the creation of a box, pit, area, etc. for this sand, pea stone, or other playable material can be as creative as your child’s structures, mounds, pits, channels, etc. that they create, once the area is constructed.

Listed below are some methods of forming an area for the sand, pea stone, or whatever material you have in mind for your children to play in.

  • Heavy timbers used in landscaping retaining walls, is probably the easiest method to creating a sand box. Simply lay the landscaping timbers to create the perimeter that makes sense for your backyard, or location for your play area. This shape can be extremely creative or a simple box or rectangle. Normally the timbers will not even require fastening to the ground or each other, if they are large enough.
  • Rocks and boulders that already exist on the site can be positioned to create an area for the sand or play material. Obviously this application with site rocks or stones will create a rougher play area for the children, and the spaces between the rocks can be mortared with cement, or simply allowed to remain open for drainage of the area if there is no cover installed.
  • Large framing boards can be cut and nailed to form a box for the sand or other play material. This is, again a very easy application and will only require the use of framing material found at any large, big box, builders supply store or lumber yard, a skill saw, hammer and nails. This is a routinely easy method of making a box for the play material, and can be supported on all sides simply by mounding up material against the perimeter of the box.
  • Hay bales, positioned to form a large play area, can also be used and easily obtained and positioned. What is very nice about the use of hay bales is that they will form wide enough surfaces for the children to sit along on all sides of the play area, and will also provide a creative material for the children to use as they position their play toys within the hay bales. Of course the deterioration of the bales will occur, and they will have to be replaced as the deterioration becomes too drastic. The softness and safety of hay bales will offer a protective surrounding for the children as they play.
  • Masonry materials such as concrete block or landscaping blocks can also be used to make a more permanent structure. The use of any masonry will not be as safe for the children, due to the hard surfaces, but can be used as a planting bed, once the children have out grown this enclosure, as a play area.
  • Mounded earth can be used to identify the play area for sand or other material. In many areas around the country where sand and topsoil is the dominant layer of ground cover, the simple mounding up or actual excavation of an area for play sand or other material is easily performed. Of course individuals in the Northeast, may have a little difficulty simply digging or mounding the granular and rocky soils of this region, however this application does not require additional financial commitment, other than manpower. There are also areas in the country where the soil is so sandy and fine that once the soil is loosened up, the material can act as the play sand or play material.
  • Downed timber of tree limbs can also be used to form the perimeter of a play area. In many areas, there is substantial downed timber and trees around the perimeter of the home. If this is the case, their use as a perimeter for a play area is a sensible, as well as, very economical method of creating this sand or play box for the children.
  • Simple excavation or even a simple pile of material. Anything is better than nothing, so to simply dig out an area and fill it with sand or simply mound up the play material will offer hours of creative fun and excitement for the children.

We have provided a number of alternatives to the creation of a play area or sand box for the children. There are a few other thoughts that should be considered if this project is to be undertaken.

  • Does it make sense to cover the play area to prevent rain as well as varmints from getting into the play sand or other material set aside for the children? This question can be discussed in depth; however, if you have ever accessed the local playground, chances are that there is a play area with sand, gravel or earth. In most cases, these play areas are not covered, and the children enjoy playing in them, despite the moisture and other contaminants. The decision to cover the play area is totally based upon your concern for cleanliness as well as the need to keep the material dry. There are countless methods that could be used to cover the play area.
  • One of the easiest and best alternatives is to have strips of wood that are one foot wider than the actual play area. These strips of wood should be slid down the opposing sides of the play area to form an arch effect over the top of the play area. I recommend that a maximum of 2 feet be allowed between the spars which are now wedged into the sides of the play area and form an arch over the play area. A plastic tarp or canvas can now be thrown over the arched spars, covering the play area. The cover can be secured to the ground with simple bricks or any type of heavy item to keep the cover in place. The arched effect will allow the water to drain off the top of the covering and down to the exterior sides of the play area. This is one of the simplest ways to cover the play area.
  • There are countless designs and accommodations on the internet for very sophisticated sand boxes and play areas that basically hinge upon themselves to solve the covering issue. These are all wonderful designs and accommodations; however, the need for such sophistication is in many cases NOT required. This website page is meant to actually provide your children a play area without the need to construct a piece of furniture for the exterior.
  • Simply place a tarp over the top of your creation with a piece of stump or concrete block in the center. This will allow some of the water to shed from the top of the covering when it rains, however there will still remain puddles of water, unless you have taken the time to ensure positive flow and shedding of all of the water.   Do not be concerned, simply take the tarp or covering off, taking the best care not to deposit the water into the play area.
  • Position some 2 X 4’s over the top of the play area and place a tarp over this support. This will not provide the positive flow that the lengthened spars will provide, however will provide a support for the covering over the top of the play area. Again, care will be required when removing the covering to try and reduce the amount of water being deposited into the play area.
  • Simply allow the water to enter the play area. If this technique is decided upon, it is my recommendation that the bottom of the play area, prior to the placement of the sand or play material, be carefully graded to shed the accumulated water to one side of the play area. Cover the bottom of the play area, prior to the placement of the play sand with a plastic tarp. This will allow the water to enter the play area, hit the plastic tarp under the sand and drain off to one side of the play area. Construct the bottom of this slope with openings to allow the water to exit the play area under the sand.
  • If you are more sophisticated in your abilities and your design creativity, this is, in my opinion, the preferred method of dealing with the water that enters your play area. Purchase filtration paper which is used by landscapers to allow draining of water but stability of the material over the top of the filtration paper. Excavate the bottom of the play area another 6 to 8 inches deeper than the preferred bottom of the play sand. Fill this additional area with a stone that is drainable. Slope the bottom of this excavation to have a positive flow to one side of the play area. Place the filtration paper on the top of the stone installed at the bottom of the play area. Install the sand or play material over the top of the filtration paper. If this method of drainage is used, the rain can enter the play area, filter down to the stone layer and drain off to the sloped side of the play area. Design this side of the play area with drainable piping or openings to allow the water to exit. ( see the sketch attached to this webpage for a very basic layout of his arrangement )

The ability for your children to use their trucks, cars, dump trucks, dinosaurs and yes, even princesses in the sand, or other play material, located outside, is both a wonderful and creative means of keeping them busy, and allowing you, the parent or grandparent, to watch them in a confined space.

The ease as well as the economical process required to actually create a play area, is something that almost anyone can achieve. Play sand, fine gravel, pea stone or even non-treated wood chips make for excellent play elements that can be mounded up, trenched, excavated, transported, you name it. Creativity abounds when a child gets into a play area that will allow movement of material into shapes and creations!

Think of the beach and how everyone loves the sand and its play potential.

Please take the time and the effort to create that play area for your children; maybe you might enjoy some calming effects by the introduction of this safe and confined area for play and creativity.

Or even play in it yourself!


drainage-play-area (PDF)

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