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5 Alternatives for Sand in your Sandbox (Pros & Cons)

sandbox-pixabay
sandbox-pixabay
Credit: TJENA, Pixabay

Even those sandboxes can entertain children for hours, potential safety risks associated with sand can be particularly troublesome, especially for children with asthma and allergies. Sand alternatives may be a better option to keep your child happy and healthy while playing in their sandbox.

Sometimes, you may also be looking for alternatives for non-health reasons. For example, it’s probably best to avoid actual sand if you want your sandbox inside your home. Nobody likes a sandy home, even at the beach! Alternatives will provide your children fun without making a complete mess in your home.divider 4

Reasons to Opt for Alternatives to Sand

Traditional sand comes with several worrisome health risks and requires heavy maintenance. Many parents opt for sand alternatives for these reasons.

colored square wooden sandbox_Butus_shutterstock
Credit: Butus, Shutterstock

Tremolite

To any good parent’s horror, some sands contain tremolite, a form of asbestos fibers. If you have seen any mesothelioma commercials, you’ve likely heard of asbestos. Asbestos is a mineral that causes mesothelioma, a rare form of aggressive cancer. This fiber is only dangerous if it is inhaled, where it can lodge into the lungs and cause cancer 20 to 50 years after exposure.

Many sand types go through rigorous testing and regulations to ensure that the product is free of tremolite. Still, some manufacturers are not forced to undergo this testing, based on the classification of the sand they sell. Parents may opt for a sand alternative to ensure that their child is not exposed to tremolite.


Dust

A less serious but more common reason parents opt for sand alternatives is dust. Play sand, which is a type of sand that has undergone rigorous cleaning and regulations for safety purposes, is often ground so finely that it can create large dust clouds while your child is playing.

This potential health risk is especially worrisome for children with asthma or allergies. Even adults with these illnesses can face some serious side effects. Dust causes respiratory illnesses and symptoms, meaning that you have trouble breathing correctly.


Cuts and Scrapes

If you do not rigorously test your sand, the sand you select can cut or scrape your child. That’s because many unnatural sands are manufactured from rocks and clay, not real sand. During the manufacturing process, the materials are broken down into sand shaped particles. Despite being broken down, the edges are still jagged and can cut and scrape your child while they’re playing.

Though minor cuts are not normally serious, they can turn into a large issue if the cut gets infected. Since most sandboxes are outside, infection is more likely to occur in this environment, meaning that it is imperative to select sand options that don’t cause scrapes.


Bacteria

Sandboxes can also become riddled with bacteria, especially if water is not dried or the sand is not cleaned properly. Bacteria can cause some serious illnesses and infections. Given that many sandboxes are outside where children are more likely to get cuts, you don’t want your child playing in a bacteria-riddled box.


Requires Heavy Maintenance

To ensure that your sandbox remains clean and free of bacteria, you will need to maintain the sandbox before and after every use. This includes raking the sand, removing particles, and allowing any moisture to dry. You also need to be diligent in closing the box to prevent insects and animals from making a home inside.Divider 2

Why Sandboxes Matter

Given all of these potential health risks and extra maintenance needs, you might immediately think that a sandbox is not for you and your family. Before jumping to that conclusion, you need to know about the benefits of a sandbox, even sandboxes that utilize other alternatives to sand.

boys playing with sand in a sandbox_Len44ik_shutterstock
Credit: Len44ik, Shutterstock

Improves Motor Skills

Sandboxes are one of the best ways to ensure that your child’s motor skills develop properly. Playing with sand or an alternative material forces your child to learn how to mold and shape items. All the while, they learn patience through their mistakes.


Improves Communication Skills

Sandboxes are often a hangout for many children. As a result, children learn crucial communication and language skills around a sandbox. Not only do they get to talk about their day or interests, but they can work together and learn effective communication as they try to build bigger items.


Enhances Creativity and Imagination

Being creative is essential for a successful life. Whether you have a new project at work or want to surprise a friend with a new gift, creativity helps you think of solutions to your problems, allowing you to live the life you want. Sandboxes help to enhance your child’s creativity and imagination from a young age, giving them necessary skills that they will use throughout their entire life.


Provides Device-Free Entertainment

The most basic benefit of a sandbox is that it provides your child device-free entertainment. It gets them outdoors and excited to play in an interactive and healthy way. In the modern world, device-free options are becoming more and more a thing of the past. Not to mention, you get a little bit of much needed you-time!divider 5

5 Alternatives for Sandbox Sand

As you can see, sandbox play time is crucial in your child’s development. However, sand traditionally used in these boxes can pose some worrisome side effects. Avoid these unwanted side effects while maximizing the benefits of a sandbox by using these sand alternatives instead:

1. Round Gravel or Pebbles

pebbles-pixabay
Credit: paulbr75, Pixabay

Pea gravel or small pebbles are a great alternative to sand in an outside sandbox. So long as the rocks are completely rounded with no jagged edges, they can provide a safe and fun play environment for your children. This material will also prevent mold or bacteria growth since water will simply drain to the bottom.

You will need to be careful allowing young children to play in this alternative because they may be more tempted to swallow the rocks.

Pros
  • Does not cause cuts
  • Prevents dust
  • Prevents bacteria or mold
  • Ideal for outdoor sandboxes
Cons
  • Potential choking hazard
  • Cannot build items as easily

2. Crumb Rubber

Rubber crumb_zzphoto.ru_shutterstock
Credit: zzphoto.ru, Shutterstock

If you have a little extra money to spend, you may want to opt for crumb rubber instead of sand. Crumb rubber is made from rubber, making the product completely soft and comfortable to feel. You are probably familiar with crumb rubber since many public play areas use this on the ground.

Crumb rubber can also be a potential choking hazard to a young child. You will need to wash the crumb rubber before placing it in the sandbox to remove any residue from the surface, too.

Pros
  • Breaks falls
  • Does not cause cuts
  • Prevents dust
  • Prevents bacteria or mold
  • Ideal for outdoor sandboxes
Cons
  • Potential choking hazard
  • Cannot build items as easily
  • Expensive

3. Styrofoam Packing Peanuts

peanuts bubble foam for packaging_Ekachai Stocker_shutterstock
Credit: Ekachai Stocker, Shutterstock

Styrofoam packing peanuts are a great sand alternative for both indoor and outdoor sandboxes. They are super fun and light, ensuring that your child has fun without risking any health issues. It is also super easy to clean and will not leave any residue or dust in your home or on your child.

If you use Styrofoam packing peanuts outside, make sure that the sandbox remains closed when not in use. Also, keep in mind that children should not ingest packing peanuts. Watch children carefully when playing with this item.

Pros
  • Does not cause cuts
  • Does not make a mess
  • Great for indoor and outdoor sandboxes
  • Inexpensive
Cons
  • Cannot build items as easily
  • Should not be ingested

4. Rice

rice-pixabay
Credit: ImagePart, Pixabay

For an indoor sandbox, you can opt for rice. Rice will have a more similar look and feel to dry sand, allowing the child to pretend like they are playing in an actual sandbox. All the while, it is not too difficult to clean up.

Of course, rice is not a good option for outdoor sandboxes. Animals will likely try to eat the rice, and it can harbor a lot of mold and bacteria when exposed to water. Only use rice in indoor sandboxes. Additionally, make sure to wash out the rice before play to prevent any dust. Allow the rice to dry completely before putting it in the sandbox.

Pros
  • Does not cause cuts
  • Prevents dust (if washed)
  • Does not make a mess
  • Great for indoor sandboxes
  • Inexpensive
Cons
  • Cannot build items as easily
  • Not suitable for outdoor sandboxes

5. Beans

string-bean-pixabay
Credit: arielnunezg, Pixabay

Dry beans are another great indoor sandbox sand alternative. Dry beans are incredibly cheap, and they will provide your child tons of entertainment opportunities. Not to mention, you can use uncooked beans in other ways, such as learning how to count.

Like with the rice, dry beans are only a suitable option for indoor sandboxes. This option is also a potential choking hazard in young children. Watch young children carefully as they are playing with dry beans.

Pros
  • Does not cause cuts
  • Does not make a mess
  • Great for indoor sandboxes
  • Inexpensive
  • Can be used for learning how to count
Cons
  • Cannot build items as easily
  • Not suitable for outdoor sandboxes
  • Potential choking hazard

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Conclusion

Since sandboxes teach your child so many crucial skills, don’t throw out the sandbox just because sand has some potential health risks. Instead, opt for sand alternatives like pea gravel, crumb rubber, Styrofoam packing peanuts, rice, or beans. All of these alternatives are much safer than sand, yet they will give your child hours of playtime.


Featured image credit: TJENA, Pixabay

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