Sand and water are beautiful natural resources that children are able use freely and in an open-ended way; one that can be determined by themselves.

Sand and water play is a fully inclusive form of play as all children can play with them, no matter their age or ability. It doesn’t matter what developmental level a child is at; sand and water play will always be appropriate and fun!

Sand play is intriguing for children as there are no limits when playing with it. They can explore it using their senses and use it to build with, dig, pour and sift. They can investigate with sand and experiment without restrictions. 

Equally, playing with water is just as exciting and offers the chance to also develop many skills. Playing with water allows children to explore both its properties and structure.  It enables children to explore capacity, alongside beginning to understand the importance of making predictions and working things out through trial and error.

There are so many wonderful benefits for children to learn, develop and have fun with when playing with sand and water. Children are naturally eager to explore and discover and these resources are perfect at facilitating exploration and imaginative play in a fun way. It also provides many opportunities to learn new concepts and can help children develop their cognitive, physical and social skills too.

Sand and water play are perfect for socialisation, discussion and collaboration with others.  Children can build their resilience, which they will need as they grow and face problems in the future. Through playing with these natural resources children are able to problem solve, learn to think logically, discover scientifically, develop their vocabulary and language, as well as learning about mathematical measurements and having the freedom to be creative.

Sand and water are ideal play resources to develop fine motor skills as they allow children to develop their control and build up strength in the small muscles, particularly within their fingers, needed to grip and control a pen or pencil.  Emergent writing is supported, especially through playing with sand, as children are naturally drawn to making marks in the sand with both tools and their fingers. They also promote physical development, especially within the large muscles as they dig, transfer, carry and pour it strengthens their whole body.

Sand and water play also provides wonderful storytelling possibilities, small world imaginative play and role-play games. All that’s needed are the addition of a few resources and imagination is sparked and the fun begins to flow.

Depending on space and budget, your sand and water areas can be simple or extravagant. Consideration needs to be given as to how they will be used and whether you want them to stay put in one location or be transported for dual play opportunities both inside and out.

It is important to carefully select resources and equipment to enhance sand and water play, with thought given to not only their potential for learning but also the safety aspect of each type of play. It’s great to introduce some unusual resources as well as traditional ones. Squeezy bottles, syringes, funnels and tubing make great additions to a water area. Whilst hidden resources such as gems, stones, bones and fossils, along with having brushes and sieves available to reveal all the treasures that are buried are great additions to a sand area.

Here are some further ideas to enliven both your sand and water play area along with play recipe suggestions, resources to add and ways to set out the play invitations to maximise the learning and fun in a low cost way!

Top Low-budget Sand Play Ideas:

Loose parts - Sand

Why not try adding loose parts or props to the sand to encourage their imaginations to grow. These can be cheap and even items from around the home or garden. Make these loose parts easily accessible by storing them in open storage near the sand area. It’s also a good idea to change what’s contained in them regularly, as this then sustains interest, but not too often as this can disrupt possible ongoing play opportunities that they may want to come back to.

Here are some loose part suggestions (however there are many more possibilities)

Pebbles, logs or wood slices, pinecones and conkers, shells, branches, flowers, building blocks, funnels, or even pieces of drain pipe, pipe cleaners, straws, toy animals or characters, cars and trains (vehicles) and flags.


Inspire those little imaginations by using this wonderful malleable material to create an exciting play base.

Mix in some water to make wet sand and then add in natural resources from the garden such as leaves, twigs and stones to create a natural habitat.

A volcano can be formed by creating a mound, a tunnel or cave can be hollowed out of damp sand and roads and racing tracks can be made by creating smooth channels using the back of a spoon/spade. Create a bridge by using a piece of wood propped up on either side with pools of water underneath.

Or why not create a beautiful fairy small world scene by using petals (real or fabric) along with gems and grass or a moonscape by adding in some pebbles or gravel.

Create a small world construction site by adding in some rocks and diggers, trucks, lorries or vehicles to scoop up the sand and transport it around.

Sand Cooking

Similarly to playing in a mud kitchen how about adding some water to the sand along with out-of-date kitchen products such as lentils, dry pasta and beans or fresh herbs and grass and popping real cooking utensils such as spoons, pots, pans and cake tins out so that your child can cook up a storm! This promotes children to develop their imaginative play skills and enables them to learn to share with others as they role play.

Magnetic Treasure

You can bury magnetic objects in the sand to find using magnets, such as paperclips or magnetic chips.

Wet and Dry

Giving the opportunity to play with both wet and dry sand will provide many sensory exploration opportunities. Children will love to compare both wet and dry sand and will be able to learn different concepts from each.

Sandcastle Competition

Everyone loves building sandcastles (and knocking them down!) So why not set the challenge of creating the best sandcastle?

Mark Making

Fill a shallow tray or dish with sand and provide different mark making tools such as sticks, different size paint brushes, feathers, cotton buds, sponge dabbers or forks etc. This will provide an amazing opportunity for your child to develop those all-important fine motor skills needed for when they start writing later on. 

Illuminated Mark Making

Provide this wonderful sensory experience by pouring the sand into a tray on top of a light panel or light table and let the children enjoy! They will mark make, create patterns, draw and have lots of fun using their fingers or tools & utensils you provide.

Coloured Sand

You can mix different coloured powder paints or even ground up chalk with sand to change the colour. Let children explore mixing different colours together and see the amazement in their eyes as discover and create. You could also try adding glitter, beads or sequins to change the look and feel of ordinary sand and make it a little more magical, for some fantasy imaginative play and storytelling.

Sand Moose

Mixing shaving foam and sand together creates a wonderful moose consistency. They can then either use it to mark make or have fun exploring the new texture.

Sensory Sand Art

Provide some PVA glue, sand and a piece of cardboard and step back whilst they create a sand masterpiece!

Sand Paint

Why not mix sand with your paint to create a new and exciting texture.

Sand Play Dough

Try using sand to make an exciting batch of playdough! This is perfect for beach themed small world play! Mix flour, sand, water and oil together to create wonderful natural play dough.

Moon Dough

Create your own moon dough by adding oil to sand (baby oil is great). It makes dough that when manipulated, feels like soft sand.

Moon Mud

Mix sand water and cornflour together to create this mud consistency. You can also add food colouring too!

Children benefit from all these sensory mediums being created by mixing sand and other ingredients together as it allows their senses to be stimulated and provides opportunities for them to explore in new and exciting ways.

Top Low-budget Water Play Ideas:

Loose parts – water

Adding extra materials to water play adds that extra sparkle! It allows children to interact with it on a greater level. Add sieves, funnels, bowls, pots and pans, pieces of plastic tubing/pipes and rain guttering and plastic bottles and tubs (try adding holes in the bottom too for added fun!). You can add a water pump or even a water fountain (solar powdered ones are fab).

Here are some loose part suggestions (however there are a whole host of possibilities):

Sea animals, boats, driftwood, shells, pebbles, rocks, glass gems and pebbles, play figures, Duplo pieces, cut pieces of coloured craft foam and even natural resources found in the garden as mentioned above with sand. The children can then create play scenes and stories in an imaginative way.

Coloured and scented water play

You can add different food colourings and flavourings to your water play to bring a whole new sensory dimension! Add in some glitter too and you literally have magic!  

Water Wall

Create or buy a water wall. You can build your own using funnels, tubes, containers, pipes and buckets. Why not create a water obstacle course and then let them release loose parts such as balls down the pipes and see who’s reaches the bottom the fastest?

Themed Water Play

Other ways that excitement can be brought to water play is to tie your current theme or any current topics that are being focused on at that given time. For example, if you are learning all about winter then the water and ice to a play table to become a artic snow scene or frozen sea or lake with toys to represent all the sea life and animals that will be found in that climate, with some added laminated information words to match the theme.

Water World

You can turn the water play tray or table into a sensory small world play scene by using added resources to make it special and fit the theme. For example, you can add some soil, rocks and leaves to make a lurky swamp or glitter to create sparkly coloured water with fairies, jewels and gems to make a magical setting.

Herbal Infusions

If you have herbs growing why not encourage your little one to snip small amounts off to incorporate in their water play. You can even grow them indoors on a windowsill. Similarly, you can add herbal teabags or loose-leaf tea to add exciting new smells which will stimulate the senses. Once the water has been infused they will turn it into sensory soups and concoctions no doubt and can even be extended by introducing tongs, strainers and sieves so that they can play with the loose plant materials and tealeaves. Food colouring can be added too to make it even more fun!

Fizzy Fun

Add some fizz to your water play by adding a bath bomb to the water or some bicarbonate of soda and vinegar! This immediately amazes children and allows for so much exploration and investigation to happen.


How about adding glow sticks or other resources that glow in the dark and add them to your water play (turning off the light/in a dark room if possible) for an exhilarating sensory play experience.

Car Wash

This is a guaranteed winner & so much fun for all! Add some soap, sponges and vehicles to your water play and step back and enjoy a nice cup of hot tea!! This one will keep those little ones entertained for a good while and can be extended in so many ways by adding in further resources to clean or with and even adding in some glitter or mud too so that they can see what needs to be cleaned!!

We hope that our suggestions above inspire you and your water and sand play areas!

My favourite Sand & Water Cosy resources:

Sand moulds – numbers and operations, alphabet

Sand roller

Bamboo scoop diggers

Bamboo tubes

Sifts, stirrers, scoopers and skimmers

Counting scales – weighing, balancing, measuring sand and water

Coloured funnels

Lightbox sand play

Sand and water shed

Large lidded sandpit

Natural Measuring Set

Indestructable Sand & Water Set

Pouring Collection

By our guest blogger @the_playful_expert

We hope that you have got lots of ideas to take away from this Sand and Water post. 

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