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. This is why sandbox maintenance is so important.
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. Sandbox maintenance is needed to 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.
4 Sandbox Maintenance Musts
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!
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
This is one of the most important sanbox maintenance tips: sifting through your sand will ensure it’s just sand. You don’t want broken glass, sharp sticks, or broken toys that can hurt kids. Sand 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. You also want to make sure that neighborhood animals haven’t left any surprises.
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.
An affordable happy medium 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 Pacific Northwest rainforest, or you get summer monsoons, you’ll want to look for a waterproof, breathable cover so the sand stays nice and dry between playtimes. Keeping the box covered when not in use year round will make sandbox maintenance a breeze.
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 as a part of regular sandbox maintenance. 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.