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baby girl sandbox spade and bucket

Sandboxes are a right of passage in childhood. A Tonka truck, some plastic buckets and shovels, sand in the pants. These are the stuff of greatness!

When you’re five, anyhow.

But like most things in life, it’s often what you don’t see coming that poses the biggest problems. It’s easy to understand why parents love sandboxes. It’s hours of distraction to busy-minded tykes. From digging with their hands to eating dirt, it’s just what kids love, and understandably so.

That’s why it’s so important you maintain a happy, healthy sandbox. That’s right, the dreaded word homeowners loathe: “Maintain.”

Even now I can think back over three decades ago of getting STOKED to play in a sandbox, only to find it smelled, had mystery clumps, and wasn’t nice to sit in the middle of.

Imagine how often your kids touch their eyes, ears, mouth, nose. Imagine how much dirt they might eat by accident in the crazy sand-building fury. You kinda want it to be dirt and not, say, animal feces, right?

After all, science still says kids who eat good old-fashioned dirt have the best immune systems, so don’t worry about a little sandy appetizer before the cracker mid-day snack-attack. No! Really. Read this great article on how awesome dirt is for kiddies.

Here are some tips to keep your kids dirty in all the right, healthy ways this summer:

Get Fresh

Make sure you’re using a play-graded sand, because not all sands are created equal. Play-grade sand won’t have fillers like clay and will come off clothes and shouldn’t stain them. It’s also easier to keep it clean and it won’t be likely to clump badly. Some play-sand is better for making castles and building with, since it binds a bit, but hey, that’s what spraying the sand with the watering hose is for too!

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The larger your sandbox is, the more expensive it will be to replace the sand on a regular interval. At least twice yearly is the minimum you should replace your play sand, but twice over the spring/summer is the ideal, if not more, since it’s an active, crazy time for kids. Imagine the juice, food crumbs, sunscreens that rub off, and everything else that’s getting into the sand on a daily basis. It adds up to a big, bad “yuck!”

Raking it In

Sifting through your sand will ensure it’s just sand — not broken glass, sharp sticks, or broken toys that can hurt kids. Dirt gets into toys and breaks them, since it’s abrasive, and it’s pretty common for sandbox toys to break faster than they should. If your kiddy is barefoot or over-eager, some of those broken parts can do some damage.

Get yourself a good bow rake, the kind with long metal tines that have a decent gap between them. Rake your sand thoroughly every couple weeks or so and you’ll be doing a great job of maintenance.

Duck and Cover

It’s not just kids that like sand — wildlife does too. It’s a popular hatchery and pooping place, so it helps to be a realist about that. Animal poop? Not ideal. Even seagull poop’s as toxic as a rat’s, and has been a known carrier of the bubonic plague. Ew.

So, yeah, a cover that fits your sandbox is sounding pretty good about now, huh? Ideally you’re looking for a solid lid that can affix and stay in place through winter storms, but breathable is a big deal too. A tarp will only serve to give you the illusion that you’re doing something to cover the sandbox, but tends to be useless over the winter months, so you can do better than that.

A happy medium that’s more affordable for those who can’t make a custom wood top are custom vinyl covers. Some companies online offer them, and they’ll often be fitted with grommets or snaps that affix to your box.

If you’re in a particularly wet area, like the rainforest that is the Pacific Northwest or you get summer monsoons, you’ll want to look for a waterproof, breathable cover so the sand stays nice and dry between playtimes.

Check it Out

The stuff kids play with in the toybox can take a beating they won’t get anywhere else. The result is — like I mentioned earlier — abrasive sand doing a number on the toys. This can mean sharp bits, broken bits, and stuff like paint flaking off, which can be bad if you’ve been buying cheaply-made dollar-store toys of questionable origin with questionable paints.

Inspect the toys periodically, give the box a good raking, and it’s likely you’ll maintain an awesome playspace for your kid to enjoy all summer long. After all, there’s no better outdoor spot, except maybe a forest, for your kid to explore their imagination.

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Steffani Cameron

Steffani Cameron is a Victoria BC-based writer on a variety of topics. Here on the BuildDirect blog, she specializes in writing about smaller, urban spaces. How do you make the most of your smaller space? How do you decorate it to suit you? And how do you wage the war against clutter and win? This is Steff’s specialty.