Shredded Paper Sandbox

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I was looking for a relatively clean indoor sandbox material for Veronika (meaning, easy to clean up!), and realized that a pack of shredded crinkle party paper would be lots of fun. If you don’t have some from the store on hand (available in the gift wrap section), you can also use shredded paper right out of your home’s paper shredder.

The package I had was green paper, which made me think of green grass, so I decided to add lots of little toy ponies. This had the added bonus of making it feel like springtime on a cold winter day!

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Veronika loved trotting the ponies through the “grass”…

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…or burying them and then uncovering them.

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I also added a cup on the side and she loved filling it to the brim with the green crinkles and then dumping it out.

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This particular “sandbox” was great for auditory sensory play, too, since the paper makes great crinkling sounds as you play with it.

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Eventually, she started spilling the “grass” beyond the tray I had set out, with ponies trotting to and fro, so it was nice to know that this material would be easy to clean up once she was through.

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If you do use white shredded paper, this might be fun for a sensory box with a winter or arctic theme instead!

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In sum, this was a great option for an indoor sandbox.

Salt Indoor Sandbox

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If your child is missing the beach only one week after the unofficial end of summer, this indoor hack will save the day. Make a beach-y sandbox with salt instead.

A box of coarse salt is cheap and scoops up just like sand (although you’ll want to save this particular material for toddlers who aren’t tempted to nibble, else they’ll receive a yucky surprise).

I poured the salt into a craft tray, laid down a towel to catch (most of) the overflow, and set out Veronika’s familiar toys from the beach. She was instantly delighted.

She loved scooping into her sifters that come in fun shapes like a crocodile and crab.

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And she could use the shovel to fill a beach bucket.

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The sand rake made neat tracks through the salt, just as with the sand at the beach.

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In sum, she looked just as pleased as if she was having a sunny day at the beach again!

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The Sandbox Scene

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We’ve made a lot of at-home sandboxes in miniature this summer, but today we needed the real thing! To keep things fresh, I made sure we brought along toys that would add novelty to Veronika’s sand play. Because many public sandboxes encourage at-home toys these days, it was also the perfect excuse to mix things up!

First up: empty frozen juice containers. These are great because unlike other metal cans, they have no sharp edges. They are perfect for stacking into towers.

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I also brought along construction vehicles…

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Toy figures…

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And shovels of course.

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Measuring cups are great if you want to toss in a little learning, like concepts about size or volume. If you don’t want your real kitchenware getting sandy, bring along a few cups from a set of stacking cups.

It turned out the afternoon was really hot and the sandbox was in direct sunlight… but wouldn’t you know it, all those toys were just as great in nature’s other great play space: the grass box!

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We got silly trying to stack our frozen juice containers here since the grass made things uneven.

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Then of course, there’s the option of using the biggest “sandbox” of all: the beach! Here, we have a few extra options thanks to wet sand.

We could stack up a hill and then try to dig through to each other’s hands; we could bury toys and then unearth them; and of course we could bury our feet!

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It’s also fun to dig a trench or hole, fill it with water, and watch what happens.

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Veronika was amazed with how quickly the water was absorbed.

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What’s your kids favorite thing to bring to the sandbox? Please share in the comments!

Treasure Sandboxes, Two Ways

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After digging for dinos and enjoying a pretend day at the beach, it was time to turn our homemade sandbox into a gold mine! We played around with this idea in two ways, first as a diamond mine and then panning for gold.

For the diamond mine, I gave each of my kids a paper cup with a handle to collect any treasures they unearthed.

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Ideally I would have used pipe cleaner handles, but we’re all out! Floral wire worked in a pinch; just make sure to twist any pointy ends safely away.

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I buried four “gems” from our dress-up box in our container of sand and pebbles. Each kid got a shovel, and the digging began!

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Veronika seemed unsure at first, until big brother Travis joined in. He loved searching for a glint of treasure.

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Veronika preferred rinsing off the glittering finds in a little bowl of water on the side. This was simple but good fun in the sunshine (you’ll notice we’ve moved the sandbox outside).

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For the second version, it was time to pan for gold. This time, I painted a few pebbles with gold metallic paint. Toddlers will love helping with this step!

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Let dry completely.

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In the afternoon, I buried the “gold” in the sandbox and set out sand sifters instead of shovels.

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Ours are in fun animal shapes, though it would be more realistic if you have classic circular ones. Once again, we had a dish of water on the side to rinse off any gold nuggets the kids discovered.

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Surprisingly, this didn’t hold their attention for long, but perhaps they were all mined out!

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Beach in Your Sandbox

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Although this indoor sandbox wasn’t quite as big a hit as recent ones, a make-believe beach still provided fun morning entertainment before we could head off to the real thing!

For set up, I filled a large storage bin with sand. (Note: The stray pieces of black bean were leftover from a dinosaur dig, but the kids decided that now they were “seashells”).

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Then add whatever beach-y elements you have on hand. I used blue felt for water with a few plastic sea creatures swimming on top; fabric scraps for beach towels, topped with a few Duplo figures; and a few real sea shells. If you have tiny drink umbrellas, they would be perfect as beach umbrellas!

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Veronika’s favorite part about this sandbox were the people figures. She liked walking them through the sand or lying them down to be “cozy” on their beach blankets.

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Big brother Travis liked burying them in the sand!

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The kids begged for me to add real water. In retrospect I wish I hadn’t since it made clean-up harder (wet sand is more of a pain than dry sand), but I indulged them. I made a moat along one side of the bin lined with the blue felt and poured in water.

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Now the people and sea creatures could go for a swim! It was fun to see the kids smiles when they made their toys splash about.

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Dinosaur Dig Sandbox

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Yesterday the kids were construction workers in the sand, today they were archaeologists on a dig!

For this version of an at-home sandbox, I added a few new elements to a big storage bin already filled with sand and small pebbles from outside. I added dried black beans for texture (perhaps these were fossils, or chunks of cooled lava from the dinosaurs demise!). Then I buried plastic dinosaur toys. You could also use plastic dinosaur skulls or bones, if you have toy parts like this.

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Finally, for my budding paleontologists, I added paint brushes to gently brush away the sand from their finds, and a magnifying glass.

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Both my kids loved it, each in their age-appropriate way! Veronika just loved all the sensory elements, including running the paintbrush through the sand.

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She also enjoyed the dinosaurs for play, roaring and marching them through the sand.

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“Ooh! Dinosaur!” she said, peering through the magnifying glass.

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Big brother Travis understood the imaginative element of being on a “dig” much better.

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He loved carefully using the paintbrush’s bristles to unearth dinosaurs, then named them (“This is the badabasaurus”) before moving them over to a “museum” on the side.

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The sandbox bin kept them entertained for ages!

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Cover your storage bin with the lid when you’re done and it’s ready to pull out soon for more adventures.

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Sandbox Construction Site

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I’ve put together small “construction sites” for Veronika before (and for big brother Travis, too, when he was younger), but when a huge bag of play sand arrived today, I knew we had to set up the biggest version yet!

You could do this activity outside in a real sandbox, too, if you have one at home or a neighborhood playground.

We also wanted to collect little rocks for our site and headed outside with a bucket. I poured the sand into a large storage bin and added the rocks along one side. We then added Veronika’s construction vehicles.

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The trucks were soon very busy!

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Veronika sprinkled sand into the dump truck.

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She loved using the front loader to push rocks around.

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And then there was just lots of driving trucks around and burying rocks in the sand!

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Needless to say, the rocks didn’t stay gathered along one side for long. Older toddlers may want to be more deliberate with their “building”, though, gathering rocks in one place, or building them up into structures.

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Travis definitely needed in on this one. His favorite part was burying trucks in the sand, to be unearthed in a big rescue.

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The high sides of the storage bin even meant that all the sand stayed in the box!

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And the lid meant we didn’t have to clean-up, but could simply cover the box and set it aside for next time. One thing’s for sure: We’ll be pulling this one out again soon.

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Tub of Delights


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We love to make indoor sandboxes¬†and have played with multiple variations on the idea. This one was particularly fun because we combined three materials for the “sand” base: oatmeal, cornmeal, and rice.

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The other change I made today was using a larger, deeper bin (a storage bin from under the bed). The high sides meant easier clean-up at the end, and less mess on the floor!

As I layered in each of the three ingredients, I paused to talk about its texture with Veronika. Oatmeal was soft on our fingers. The cornmeal was finer and dusty, and the rice was smooth and pointy at the edges.

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Then we added scoops and funnels! Veronika loves to scoop and pour, whether with a measuring cup…

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…or just her fingers!

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As you can see, the three ingredients didn’t stay in separate piles for long. For added fun, we then buried toys. I decided to make it a jungle theme and added wooden monkeys and a plastic giraffe and elephant. These were so fun to bury and then unearth. “Oooh, monkey!” Veronika said with true surprise each time she found one hidden under the cornmeal mix.

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I wouldn’t consider this an edible sensory bin, since the rice isn’t cooked, but at least you don’t have to worry if curious little mouths take a taste. Veronika quickly realized the texture wasn’t yummy after a little sample.

It all looked like so much fun that big brother Travis joined in!

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I loved watching them scoop and pour and imagine together. In sum, a great way to keep kids busy, and the high sides of the storage bin meant clean-up was a breeze.

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Birdseed Indoor Sandbox

Birdseed Sandbox ($)

I was looking for a good material for an indoor sandbox this morning, and remembered we had a bulk bag of birdseed. What perfect timing for the first day of spring! For a touch of spring whimsy, I added little speckled Easter eggs, a wind-up bird toy, child-sized gardening tools, and a “flower pot”.

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Of course Veronika might not have picked up on these details, but she sure loved coming over to explore!

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First she tested out the birdseed with a lot of scooping and pouring, enjoying both the spade and the cup.

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The little bird had her momentarily intrigued.

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Then while big brother was doing his home school lessons nearby, this happened:

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But that’s okay! The birdseed sweeps up like a dream, and she was so delighted at her own antics.