The Wonder of Sand & Water
- Grades: PreK–K
What happens when children mold sand to create a tunnel? They develop skills in areas such as problem solving and predicting while gaining knowledge about absorption and the properties of sand, water, and mud.
While you may have sand and water tables indoors, by doing some of these activities outside, you invite children to expand their thinking-to think "outside the sandbox"!
Before introducing the activities, try these ideas to get children thinking:
- Bring a large, see-through plastic container, a bag of rocks, and a bag of sand to group time. Ask children to fill the container with rocks. Is it full? What would happen if we add sand to the container? Will it fit? Children will be surprised to see that the "full" container now can hold an amazing amount of sand.
- Bring a heavy-duty sealable sandwich bag filled with water to group time. Invite children to feel it, talk about it, and brainstorm how water can be used. Then, with a trusty dishpan underneath, ask children what will happen if you make a tiny hole in the bag! What will happen if I make more holes? Will the water flow differently? Once the water is safely in the dishpan, ask children to predict what will happen if you put in a piece of paper. Is there a way we can make the paper float?
- Take children outdoors so they can combine sand and water to explore mud. How does the mud feel in your hands? What kinds of things can you do with mud?
Using the Activities
The first time you use each idea, you may want to follow the plan as printed. The next time, you can modify it by trying some of the spin-off ideas or expand it by trying some of the ideas in the Using Sand and Water to Explore list. For example:
- After exploring the "Scenic Sandbox" activity, invite children to bring in beach items so they can use the sandbox for dramatic play.
- After enjoying the "Shape Search" activity, hide "artifacts" in the sand and have an archaeological expedition.
- When children are sifting sand, invite them to use finer and finer sifters (pantyhose are great for really fine sifting) and compare the different "siftings." How are they the same or different? What else can we use to sift the sand? Bring in a pan balance or scale and have children estimate which siftings will be the heaviest.
- When children are enjoying the float and sink activities, they can explore freezing and thawing: Does frozen water float or sink? What happens when it thaws?
As children participate in the activities, take note of the following:
- Is the sand or water table a place of social interaction or scientific/mathematics exploration for children-or both? Some will use it for both, but children will often prefer one way of using it over the other!
- What type of fine-motor control do children demonstrate for pouring, scooping, measuring, and building with sand and water?
- Do children talk about what they are doing with the sand or water? What percentage of the talk is imaginative as opposed to practical?
- Can children work independently or do they look to you for direction?
- Are some children being inspired to look for more materials to add to the explorations? Are they applying the skills they are learning in the activities to the world around them?
Conversations and Questions
You'll be amazed at how far you can extend children's thinking with interesting questions and conversation starters. Here are a few to try:
- What would happen if you mixed sand and water?
- Who and what needs water?
- How can we change the sand?
- What would happen if you left a dish of water in the sun?
- What tools can you find or create to move sand or water from one place to another?
- Can you find a way to make play dough float?
- What would happen if we painted the sidewalk with water?
- How can we use magnets and metal objects in the sandbox?
- What if you looked for things in the sand with your eyes closed?
- How many words can we think of to describe sand and water?
Building Skills With Sand & Water
Expand on the sand and water activities in this section or involve children in your own sand/water activities to help them build skills in:
- Temporal relationships
- Problem solving
- Sensory integration
- Social interaction
Use Sand & Water to Explore...
- Sinking and Floating
- Flow and Sifting
- Absorption and Viscosity
- Nonstandard and Standard Measurement
- Ancient Sand Painting Designs
- Multi-sensory Exploration
- The Beach