Sand Play as an Indoor Activity for Toddlers

By Tiffany Barry

Sand tables are a favorite sensory play activity for toddlers. Sensory play encourages children's natural curiosity and love of exploring. You can purchase a sensory table specifically for sand play or create your own sand table using a simple plastic storage tub and filling it with sand. Mix in water until the sand is damp so that your sand can be molded into shapes or keep it dry for filling and pouring activities. Sand play is a versatile indoor activity, ideal for your busy toddler.

Dry Sand

Sand tables give toddlers a tactile sand experience. Simply allowing your child to freely play with and explore dry sand is an activity in and of itself. You can also provide small and large sand toys such as buckets, shovels and sifters and let your toddler scoop, measure and pour. Small paper cups are also a great addition to sand play time and give you an opportunity to incorporate some basic principles of measurement into the activity. Say, "Let's scoop some sand into this cup. Look, it's half full. Do you want to dump it out? Good. Now it's empty."

Wet Sand

Wet sand is a pleasant reminder of creating sand castles at the beach and basking in the warm summer sun, but your toddler doesn't have to visit the beach to enjoy sculpting with sand. Add enough water to dampen the sand in your sand table and demonstrate how to pack the wet sand into an object such as a paper cup, turn it over and create three dimensional shapes in the sand. Help your toddler create sand sculptures, buildings and sand pits then smash them and begin again.

Imaginative Play

The sand in your sand play doesn't have to be the main source of entertainment. It can just as easily be a vehicle for imaginative play. Give your toddler several toy cars, trucks and bulldozers and show him how to flatten areas to make roads or use the bulldozer to clear away sand hills. Make tracks on your newly created sand roads and talk about the different tracks that each vehicle leaves. Encourage a discussion and ask questions. Say, "Why do you think this dump truck makes bigger tracks than that car?" Any toy can be a great addition to your sand play. Dragons figurines might perch on a newly built sand castle, and crocodile figurines might bask on an imaginary river shore. Let your toddler take the lead and choose which toys he wants to bring to his sand table.


Sand play gives you and your toddler an opportunity to play a great many games. Adapt the sensory activity where a child reaches into a box and tries to guess a mystery item using only the child's sense of touch to a sand table game by hiding mystery objects in the sand. Tie a blindfold over your toddler's eyes and encourage her to use her sense of touch to feel the sand and sift through it with her fingers to find mystery objects. Talk about how the sand feels. Is it rough? Is it smooth? It is cool to the touch? Ask your toddler to describe the items she finds and guess what they are. Another fun game is to play archaeologist. Bury dinosaur figurines, fossilized teeth, and fake bones in the sand and give your toddler a pastry or paint brush and shovel. Let her dig for dinosaurs and uncover the past just like a real archaeologist.

About the Author

Tiffany Barry is a freelance writer with a background in early childhood education. She has been in the childcare field for more than 10 years. Barry writes about education, parenting and motherhood.