It’s that time of year when the kids are out of school and all of the possibilities that they ever dreamed of are at their fingertips, and yet what do you hear when you unleash them into the wilderness of your yard, “I’M BORED!” Well, thankfully, we rarely hear our kids say that over the summer, and having this sandbox is part of the reason why. Between this, our stock tank pool, mudpit, stepping stumps, tepee, and trampoline we are all set.
Neither my husband or I are really very “handy” people and this was really one of the first building projects we ever took on together. But overall, it was a fairly simple and straightforward process that has yielded a tremendous amount of fun for the children. If you have even a bit of land, I would highly recommend building a sandbox for your little ones. Not only will it provide endless hours of fun, but it will also provide them an opportunity to play barefoot in the earth which is an excellent source of antioxidants.
- Four 4″ x 4″ x 1′ Posts – for the corners
- Four 2″ x 10″ x 8′ Boards – for the edges (We used 8 foot long boards, but you could also use 10 foot long boards if you want a bigger sandbox.)
- Wood Screws – a whole bunch 🙂
- Power Drill – cordless is best
- Weed Blocker – absolutely essential for keeping weeds out
- Wood Stain – for waterproofing the boards
- River Sand (100 cubic feet for a 8′ x 8′ sandbox was more than enough!) – We got ours from a local gravel company for $100.
- Pressure Treated Wood: By 2013, all CCA (chromated copper arsenate) was phased out of use in pressure treated wood and replaced with AC (alkaline copper) and ACQ (quaternary ammonium compounds). These pesticides (which are meant to prevent rotting from insects and fungus) still pose some health risks, but are not the cancer causing hazard of CCA. The 4″ x 4″s we purchased were pressure treated, but the rest of the wood we got was not. If you purchased some wood and you’re concerned about the risks, you can always just paint over it with a sealer, which I recommend doing anyways.
- Safe Sand:Don’t buy sand made with crystalline silica because it is a carcinogen that can cause damage to the lungs when breathed in (something your little ones will be doing a lot of in the sandbox). Much of the play sand found in stores today is not natural sand, but derived from quarried quartz rocks. The state of CA actually requires a warning label to be put on this sand to warn of the dangers. Some people have opted for using pea gravel or other substances instead of sand, but we just contacted a local gravel company and purchased some river bed sand.
- Location: Find a place that has some shade (something we didn’t do that I wish we had), good drainage (not at the bottom of a hill or a place that can be swampy), and is in a good location for you to keep an eye on your little ones while you putz around the yard.
- Measure and Mark: Measure out how big you want your sandbox and mark your corners. We made ours 8′ x 8′, and I feel like it is the perfect size. You’ll want to dig a few inches outside of where you want the sandbox. Better to dig too much than not enough!
- Dig the Corners: Take your time to make sure the corners line up and everything makes a nice looking square. You’ll want your corners to be a few inches deeper than the rest of the sandbox for your posts to go in.
- Dig the Sod: The toughest part of all of this was digging up the sod. We have a lot of rocks in our yard, and that made it extra tough. Plus, it was barely spring and the ground was still frozen when we started. (Yes, we were itchin’ for warmer weather!) You could also use a rototiller (which in hindsight would have been much easier) if you don’t care to repurpose the sod.
- Use That Sod: We actually used all of the sod and dirt we dug up to make a little hill in our yard. Over time, the sod pieces all came together, and now we have a nice little grassy hill that our kids (our toddler especially) love climbing on.
- Dig Down (if you want): Our ground was too rocky and still slightly frozen, so we did not. But if you could, I think it would be good to dig down another 6 to 12 inches to allow more room for the sand.
- Level the Ground: Try to get the ground as level as you can. You can just eyeball it or use a rake to really even it out.
- Weed Blocker: We went to our local lumber store and got something like this. I like it because it prevents the weeds from growing through the sand, but it also allows for drainage (which you will need if your kids want to make castles with moats and flood the sandbox as ours frequently do). I know that some people lay down plastic and poke holes in it, but I’m not sure that would provide enough drainage.
- Stain the Wood: We stained our wood with an exterior stain like this. These saw horses came in really handy for laying out the wood. We were worried about the rain, so we wanted to keep the wood under our overhang, but to this day (one year later) we still have drips of stain on our concrete. For this reason, I wish we would have done it in the grass.
- Make the Sandbox Frame: We are not really handy people, and this was the first thing we ever really built together. We made a few mistakes, but overall, it was still a pretty simple procedure that turned out rather well. First, we cut the four posts to be 12′ long using a circular saw. Next, we used our power drill and some wood screws to attach the 10″ planks to the posts. We made the mistake of not attaching the planks to the posts in an even pattern all the way around. Scott drew a quick little sketch to show the wrong way and the right way. 🙂
- Put the Frame in Place: When you lay the frame down, you want it to lay over the weed blocker. There should be a small gap inbetween the frame and the dirt that you will fill in later with loose dirt. Step on all of the posts to push them into the ground as much as you can. Then, fill in all around the frame with dirt until it is secure.
- Fill with Sand: When we moved into this house, we knew that we wanted a sandbox and a fence to be put in. We were smart to put the sandbox in before the fence because I’m not sure that this truck would have fit through our gate! Anyways, we just contacted a local gravel company and had our sandbox filled for $100. He said he was fine giving us as much as we wanted for that $100, so I told him “when” when I thought we had quite enough sand!
- Extra Sand: We loaded up the wheelbarrow and put one load of extra sand where we wanted to put our stock tank pool and another extra load where we wanted to create a mini sandbox.
- Make a Cover (Optional): Every blog that I read about building a sandbox included directions for making a cover. We researched many different options and decided to attach a cover that folded out. We had every intention of actually attaching our cover in order to keep out our cats and any other critters, but it just never worked out and we never did attach the darn thing. I didn’t like how we would have had to take out all of our sandbox toys in order to close the cover. Plus, I didn’t want to kill the grass on either side if the cover were to be left open. We just keep an eye on our cats to keep them from using it as a litter box, and even though, yes, we find a turd in there from time to time, I’m glad we didn’t go with the cover.
Time to Play: We have had our sandbox for over a year now, and our kids have played in it every single time we have gone outside. It provides endless hours of imaginative play, and the kids absolutely love it!
Tips and Tricks: Here are a few things that have helped us to enjoy our sandbox even more.
- No Throwing Sand: Right away, we made a rule about not throwing the sand out of the sandbox, and that is why one year later we still have plenty of sand. We have never been super strict about this rule and encourage the children to dump globs of sand into our little pools if they so desire, but we also encourage them to not go overboard with it.
- Play with Them: At first, we played with them in the sandbox a lot to help give them ideas for how to use it. We showed them how to make sandcastles, how to bury treasures and find them, how to play imagination games, how to dig moats and make rivers, and how to play with the sandbox toys. We still get in there and play with them from time to time because, hey, it’s fun!
- Sand and Water: If you want to take your sandbox fun to the next level, just introduce a hose into the mix. You can show kids how to carve out moats and rivers or just let them bury the nozzle of the hose and watch the water bubble out. We also like putting our mini pools near the sandbox so the kids always have access to some sort of water.
If you could only add one thing to your yard to entertain young children, I would say make it a sandbox! Every time we play outdoors, the kids spend time playing in it. It entertains them for hours and hours, and they absolutely love it. If you’re looking for another fun summer project, I would also highly recommend making a stock tank swimming pool. Between this and the sandbox, our kids are very entertained. They also enjoy our stepping stumps, teepee, and backyard obstacle course. The summer is such a fun time to do outdoor projects that encourage kids to have fun and play outside, so make the most of it! Check out my blog: DIY Backyard Ideas for Summer Fun with Young Children for even more ideas.