Why Is This Thing in Every Preschool?

Hi Readers — This guest post really got to me. Maybe because I’m an American Studies major from way back, I love thinking about what our modern day artifacts say about our culture and psyche. Today’s author, Mary O’Connell, is the director of LifeWays, an early childhood center in Milwaukee, and she noticed a new item that has become a must-have in preschools and wondered: Why this? Why now?

Before I present her essay, let me add that she and Cynthia Aldinger wrote a new book, irkbksdrrf
Home Away From Home: LifeWays Care of Children and Families,
all about bringing a little relaxation, nature and normalcy into day care (or at least, that’s how I read it). To order the book or find out more about LifeWays, which offers training and support for childcare providers in the form of newsletters, consulting, workshops and child development trainings, please visit www.lifewaysnorthamerica.org.  And now — on to the essay!

A GRAIN OF TRUTH by Mary O’Connell

I have recently been scratching my head over what has become a compulsory item in the modern preschool classroom: the Sand Table, an indoor table filled with sand that children can pour, dump and run their trucks through.  It seems that what began as a novel concept some 20 years ago has become a necessity in a quality preschool program.  When early childhood colleagues from conventional childcare settings come to visit LifeWays, the early childhood program in which I work, they ask, “Where’s your sand table?” as if the absence of one is a red flag that we’re not providing our young apprentices with all of the vital experiences they need.

Now, as a caregiver of small children, I love sand play. But as a caretaker of the space the children inhabit, I’m not sure who thought it was a great idea to provide it indoors.  After all, how many homes do you know that have a sandbox in the living room?

Here’s the question that seems reasonable to ask: Can’t children play with their sand outside, the way they’ve done for generations, along with the sticks, mud, puddles, ice, and other great tactile experiences that Mother Nature provides for them?  I’ve come to the conclusion that a sand table, however incongruent with a clean and tidy living space, has become a requirement in the early childhood classroom because it’s the only experience many children have with the natural world. Sadly, most children do not experience daily outdoor play in nature.

If it’s drizzling, chilly, or anything less “desirable” than 75 degrees-and-sunny, most preschool programs keep children indoors, opting for the sand table and the other modern miracle of childcare, the “Gross Motor Room” — a cavernous space with padded walls, riding toys and an overwhelming din, as children expend their energy in a frenetic McDonald’s playland fashion.

When I was young and my friends and I began running around with this level of energy, my parents promptly sent us outdoors to play, where our shouts, cries and adventures were met with wide open spaces, and where our play often became more purposeful and less frenzied.  The natural environment invited us to do more than run around like chickens with our heads cut off. We made mud pies and potions, created games, poked around in the creek with sticks, climbed trees and took physical risks that taught us a lot about our own strengths and limitations.

How unfortunate that we have so removed children from their roots they are being raised under “house arrest.”  How sad that we feel we need to provide every possible experience in a manufactured, synthetic way because we’re too afraid, too controlling, or just too lazy to bring them out into nature.

I am so grateful for LifeWays, a group of childcare centers and homes across the country where children play in nature on a daily basis for long periods of time because it’s considered as vital to their development as a healthy diet and enriching learning activities.  We go out even when it’s raining or snowing or hot or cold or anything else less that “perfect.”  The benefits are immediately visible, as the children at our centers are often more coordinated, independent, verbal and imaginative — and less hyperactive — than their Sand Table/Gross Motor Room counterparts.

My dream is that we’ll come to a place in parenting and early childhood education where we’ll all realize the virtual world we’ve created indoors is a poor substitute for the natural world right outside our homes and classrooms.  In my dream world, early childhood colleagues and prospective clients will enter a preschool classroom and inquire, “Why aren’t the children playing outdoors?” – M.O.

What's right with this picture?

114 Responses to Why Is This Thing in Every Preschool?

  1. Stephanie - Home with the Kids July 17, 2010 at 6:48 am #

    I love it. I can’t imagine keeping a sand table indoors. Sand belongs outside, whether at home or in the preschool.

  2. This girl loves to Talk July 17, 2010 at 7:15 am #

    one of the best preschools i have seen online is at Teacher Tom’s blog. Im in love with that school. what those kids get to do is amazing. play with electical tools (like sanders etc) use saws, play in mud, make zip lines .. build with branches etc. lucky kids


  3. hillary July 17, 2010 at 7:19 am #

    In our area it is not the sand table, it’s the sensory table in every preschool. They are filled with all kinds of things, from rice to unpopped popcorn to cornmeal. I suppose sand might be appropriate too, if the school didn’t have a sandbox outside (ours does). Anyway, sensory play is really great for brain development and I don’t see why we should scoff at a plaything just because it wasn’t around when we were in preschool. Our preschool is play-based and but the activities and toys also have a learning value too, whether it’s developing fine motor skills or learning how to interact with their peers. The outside space is an important part of that but it’s not the only part. I like the my child has the opportunity to, say, interact with sensory materials in a small group setting at the sensory table, instead of in the mass chaos that is usually the sandbox. In any case, I think we’re quibbling here. Sensory tables are not substituting for outside play time at preschools. I’m sure the particular nature-based preschool philosophy espoused in the article is great, but there’s no need to knock “regular” preschools in the process by criticizing a really fun and useful toy.

  4. Rich Wilson July 17, 2010 at 7:23 am #


    No sandtable, just a MOUNTAIN of sand outside. And hoses. Although I can say from the personal experience a LOT of that sand ends up inside.

  5. gramomster July 17, 2010 at 7:26 am #

    I love my grandson’s preschool. They too go outside in all weather, unless it’s really cold, like I think below 20 they stay in. They grow a garden, they do lots and lots and lots of sensory stuff, without the need for a special table. They go to the playground across the street for climbing and sand play, and every single day they take a walk around the neighborhood, sometimes to the library, sometimes to a different playground, sometimes to the university. And once they’re out of the toddler room, they walk. There are a couple wagons, but everybody gets to ride a little, and everybody walks a lot. It’s a child-led philosophy, where the teachers watch and document what the kids create out of their environment, and then support and investigate that. It’s amazing, and I feel so fortunate and grateful that we’ve been able to have him there. What a wonderful group of teachers, and a wonderful, holistic philosophy that acknowledges kids as autonomous, thinking individuals and supports exploration and natural growth in the natural world.

  6. Silver Fang July 17, 2010 at 7:54 am #

    I think little kids should spend as much time as possible outside. They’ll be glued to a screen soon enough.

  7. Cara July 17, 2010 at 8:03 am #

    Honestly, the sand table is the only thing I remember about kindergarten (which was for me 20 years ago). I loved that thing so much!

  8. JeninCanada July 17, 2010 at 8:06 am #

    21-22 years ago, I was in kindergarten and we had both a dry and a wet-sand table, as well as a water station, free play area with a ‘house’, a small climbing apparatus, crafts area, reading and writing station and painting station. Sand tables are AWESOME tools for kids who don’t have a sandbox outside to play in at home. Many children coming from disadvantaged homes and/or neighborhoods have schoolgrounds that are all concrete and count themselves lucky to have a sand-table somewhere.

  9. Cara July 17, 2010 at 8:06 am #

    We were given a sand table as a gift and never used it, we already have an outside sandbox. I’d never thought about this before but I’m happy to say that my daughter’s preschool doesn’t have a sand table. They have a big sandbox outside and in the winter we left an extra snowsuit at school because the kids went out everyday (unless it got dangerously cold). I’m also proud to say that I am a strong believer in send the kids outside and if it’s really hot they can play with the hose (we have no creeks nearby).
    That being said, during the fall they had a corn table set up with ears of corn that you could pop the dried kernels off of. My daughter and I both loved that table, such a fun idea.

  10. Jane July 17, 2010 at 8:07 am #

    I don’t think this is necessarily a new trend. My mother had a lot of trouble finding a preschool for me that let the kids go outside in winter. I was born in 1979.

    We lived in North Carolina- not exactly Harsh Winter Central.

  11. michelle July 17, 2010 at 8:35 am #

    my son’s preschool has an ever changing sensory table…..one day it was potting soil and worms, another day it was beads with funnels……they play outside every day, rain, wind, sun, snow or hail…..and in non-snowy weather they have a willow hut area with a creek and sand and dirt and bugs and rocks and the kids love playing there…..sadly we get alot of snow so from about october to march they are sledding, shoveling snow and making forts and snowmen…….at home our son just plays with the dirt in the yard and loves building roads for his trucks!

    I thought I was depriving him by not ever getting him a sand box….but we had a dog and I feared her deposits!!!

  12. Renata Bowers July 17, 2010 at 8:49 am #

    I spend half of my life keeping sand OUT of my house – who thinks of these things!?

    By the way, I’m with @Jane on going outside during winter. We always went outside when I was in elementary school – always. My have things changed! I live in a state with much milder winters, and the kids are kept indoors even on a brisk mid-50’s day, for pete’s sake.

  13. michelle July 17, 2010 at 8:50 am #

    When my kids were little my husband built them a wonderful 12’x12′ sandbox. They hardly ever used it. So one year he tore it down and used the sand to fill in a hole that was under an old deck that he also had torn down. With the sand in a big mound in a different spot it suddenly became my son’s favorite play spot. Go figure. Kids need that “unstructured” thing and a sand table is even worse than an outside “box” of sand. I suppose it’s better than nothing but I bet it doesn’t get used all that much.

  14. Liam July 17, 2010 at 8:58 am #

    A sand table is definitely not a new thing. On Marlo Thomas’ “Free to Be … You and Me”, Dudley Pippin has to stay after school for knocking over the sand table, and that was recorded in 1972. I remember one in my nursery school in the late 70s.

    At any rate my son’s child care has a sensory table for all sorts of things that they put in there each day AND they spend a lot of time outdoors, so these things are not mutually exclusive.

  15. Jess L. July 17, 2010 at 9:01 am #

    I will say that sand/sensory tables can be awesome! But it’s just plain sad if a school is using it (and other indoor activities) as an excuse to avoid going outside.

    That being said, I have two relevant quotations from Maria Montessori’s “The Discovery of the Child” (published in 1948[!!]):

    “We even think that a tray full of sand from the se

  16. Jess L. July 17, 2010 at 9:02 am #

    uh… not sure what happened to my comment there. The full quotations are as follows:

    “We even think that a tray full of sand from the sea should be a great help to a child. The seashore is often thought to be educational because because it has sand like that in a child’s box. Imprisoned as we are in such a confused world, it is no wonder that we come to some absurd conclusions.”


    “Actually, nature frightens most people. They fear the air and the sun as if they were mortal enemies. They fear the frost at night as if it were a snake hidden in the grass. They fear the rains as if it were fire. Civilized man is a kind of contented prisoner, and if now he is warned that he should enjoy nature for his own health, he does so timidly and with his eyes on the alert for any danger. To sleep in the open, to expose oneself to the winds and to the rains, to defy the sun, and to take a dip in the water are all thinks about which one can talk but which one does not always put into practice.”

    She was so far ahead of her time.

  17. Kate July 17, 2010 at 9:17 am #

    Lifeways also sounds rather Charlotte Mason-ish:

    It would be well if we all persons in authority, parents and all who act for parents, could make up our minds that there is no sort of knowledge to be got in these early years so valuable to children as that which they get for themselves of the world they live in. Let them once get touch with Nature, and a habit is formed which will be a source of delight through life. We were all meant to be naturalists, each in his degree, and it is inexcusable to live in a world so full of the marvels of plant and animal life and to care for none of these things.”
    (Charlotte Mason; Vol 1, II, Out-Of-Door Life For The Children, p.61)”

  18. Sarah @ BellaLunaToys July 17, 2010 at 9:33 am #

    You’re right, Kate. LifeWays could be considered Charlotte Mason-ish. LifeWays is inspired by Waldorf education, and Waldorf philosophy has much in common with Charlotte Mason’s ideas. Not only am I a Waldorf teacher (and I serve on the LifeWays Board with Mary), but I’m also a former homeschooler who incorporated both Waldorf and Charlotte Mason into our treasured days.

    Great post, Mary, and great blog, Lenore! I’ve been lovin’ it!

  19. Hickepedia July 17, 2010 at 9:42 am #

    To be completely fair, my daughter doesn’t play in the big sandbox at the park any more, after all 3 nephews came down with pinworms after playing in it once.

    An indoor sand table does keep the neighborhood animals from leaving…presents behind.

  20. Sarah July 17, 2010 at 9:52 am #

    I have a feeling that many of the things that have ended up in mainstream schools got popular as therapy tools. Or, maybe I’m biased since that’s where I’m coming from. Sensory boxes (these may have started in a Montessori type school system, not sure), padded swing/gross motor rooms, etc. are awesome for kids with different kinds of developmental issues. Maybe preschools/school look at the research lit or at the therapists classrooms and think it’s good for everyone?

    Also in line with this is the fact that parents think they need to be a therapist to their kid-in terms of education, I mean. Normally developing kids will develop FINE with normal real-world activities-you know, the kind outside with real people (not TV all day)? They don’t need all this crap with high contrast mobiles (seriously-that one drives me nuts), flash cards, language aids. GAH. If you think there’s a problem, trust your instincts and get a referral. Otherwise, trust your kid (and yourself)!

  21. nicole July 17, 2010 at 10:37 am #

    To be honest, I don’t see what the big deal is. Many preschools, especially in urban, densely populated areas do not have their own dedicated outdoor space. One where I worked did not and so we used the nearby public playground every day. But it did not have a sandbox. So, we had a sand table in the classroom and a water table, too. Our kids were still getting plenty of outdoor time – they just didn’t have access to an old-fashioned outdoor sandbox.

  22. jenny @ let the children play July 17, 2010 at 10:40 am #

    Kids need a sandpit outside – they need the space to really get into the play with or alongside other children. Oh, and from a preschool teacher’s point of view a sand table indoors would do my head in – having to sweep up sand off the floor everyday!

  23. Sherry and Donna July 17, 2010 at 11:12 am #

    In an ideal world children would be playing outside come rain, hail or shine but sadly the fact is some early childhood settings DO NOT send their children outside every day and in this case I would seriously hope they DID provide sand, mud and water play inside, not as a substitute but as a valid learning experience!
    Donna 🙂 🙂

  24. SKL July 17, 2010 at 11:12 am #

    My kids’ preschool class has a “sensory table.” But they also play outside a couple times every day, except when it’s too cold or rainy (and we’re in the northern Midwest, so I’m talking really yucky). They have some of their classes outside and “sprinkler day” once a week, too.

    It kinda disturbs me that these “sensory tables” are considered appropriate for, not actual babies and toddlers, but preschoolers. My kids are 3 and I don’t get why they need this. It reminds me of finger painting (smearing), which was originally invented to give disturbed children a better alternative to smearing feces. There is nothing “real world” about these things, particularly at such an age. I think sometimes the preschools do it just so they have “something to show” for the day’s work. When my kids were first asked to smear paint at age 2.5, they both reacted like “what? Really? Do I have to?” So now they are willing to do it and their teachers probably think that’s an achievement or something. It just doesn’t seem age-appropriate to me.

  25. Jen C. July 17, 2010 at 11:38 am #

    What a great article! And so ironic, as just the other day I caught my girls playing outside in the drizzling rain, covering their hands and feet with mud! Instead of rushing out and scolding them for making a mess, I grabbed my camera and they had fun showing me how much muddier they could get themselves. 🙂

    Links to a few of the pics:




  26. Carrie July 17, 2010 at 11:44 am #

    As a teacher, I love the sand table. Ours has sand in it sometimes but we puts lots of other stuff in it as well. Beans, rice, thematic items, I even hauled in snow one day last winter to let the kids play with that (note to self, hauling it OUT was much harder LOL). The kids love it too. They constantly beg to play with it.

    And in all honesty, I hate outdoor sand boxes. They are gross and dirty and generally nothing but a giant litter box for all the neighborhood cats. Most stuff, I don’t get too bent out of shape about, telling my kids “what doesn’t kill you, only makes you stronger” but I draw the line at sandboxes!

    PS, I did have one in my house for a while. I bought it used from a private school that went out of business. The kids thought it was awesome.

  27. Uly July 17, 2010 at 12:02 pm #

    There is nothing “real world” about these things, particularly at such an age.

    Google finds me a lot of ideas teachers use with sensory tables, most of which sound INCREDIBLY real world:

    Use to practice washing dishes

    Use to string straws onto yarn – a skill that helps improve the pincer grip, that is, helps improve how kids hold pencils (aka “not in their fists, PLEASE”)

    Use with tongs or chopsticks (more pincer grip, not to mention that chopsticks are a life skill in and of themselves!) to practice sorting objects by shape or size (beginning to learn categories, a huge step for scientific thinking)

    Measuring out things with different sizes of containers – helps kids figure out that you don’t increase the amount of rice or sand or water just because you pour it into a taller container. (Kids actually have to learn this. But until they do, you can do stuff like break one cookie in half and claim they have two, allowing you to snarf down two without being told you’re unfair!) Plus, helps them learn to pour and scoop things, which they do need to practice.

    Practice picking things up with tweezers and counting them.

    Use mardi gras beads, have the kids practice sorting by shape, color, or size of beads; have them practice measuring the strings; allow them to cut the necklaces. I didn’t learn to measure anything until I was six or seven, so getting practice in at three or four sounds remarkable to me.

    Use with water to discover which things float and sink. The particularly ambitious can even teach how to conduct a proper experiment! (This is probably more real-world for scientists than most of us, yes, but scientific thinking is still something that has to be taught.)

    Use with sand or shaving cream to have the kids practice making letters. I’ll tell you, my older niece picked up her cursive I taught her at home a lot faster if she could practice in kosher salt or with a ribbon wand before trying to translate it into pencil and paper. I don’t know why, but I’d imagine that works for younger kids too.

    Most of this can probably be taught through other ways, I’m sure. But sometimes it’s more useful to learn the same skill in a few different ways, and there’s no reason you can’t learn something in a fun way if it works.

    And then, yeah, there are a lot of things Google’s pulling up which I can’t see the merit of besides “I bet the kids have fun”. But at three or four years old, I don’t see that they should spend all day doing things With A Purpose. Even in school, I think it’s okay for them to do some things that are just for fun, with no reason behind it.

    As far as fingerpaints, it’s no more messy than, oh, say, throwing pots. And I doubt it harms kids to fingerpaint, so why not go with it?

    What’s really funny about all this is the historical context. I have this book, Dream Babies. (I have the 1980 edition, but apparently it’s been reprinted since then.) It’s FULL of historical advice to parents (mothers, mostly) for the past several hundred years. I mean, that’s the whole point.

    Apparently, when sandboxes first came out, some people complained about them because they weren’t the same as playing in the mud making mudpies. And now here we are talking about indoor sandboxes making the same complaint – it’s not the same as a REAL activity : )

    The book is fascinating, actually – it’s amazing to see some of the arguments from, say, 1910 being replicated today. Or, alternatively, to gasp in amazement at how wrong-headed they were in 1850. (I’m picking these dates at random.)

  28. baby-paramedic July 17, 2010 at 12:22 pm #

    When it was time to look at pre-schools – 7 years ago mind- we came across a problem.

    As soon as you entered the doors you were bombarded with “pre-reading this” and “pre-writing that”. So, when do the children actually get to play? “Oh, during carefully structured recreational time in the afternoons.”
    Yeah, bugger that. The idea of pre-school for a three year old is to get them to play together without whacking another child over the head.
    Pre-writing and pre-reading have their place (I recall doing them in pre-school 20years ago) but NOT at the expense of free-form PLAY (not this carefully structured bullshit).

    So, every single pre-school in my area was investigated.
    And you know what? Only one was happy for the kids to spend the year “playing in the sandpit”.
    The second year (four year olds) they would start prepping them for entry into school. But, that first year the focus was on developing the child socially.
    In the case of my brother it was important, he had only teenaged siblings, so needed to learn how to interact with people his own age.

  29. SgtMom July 17, 2010 at 12:29 pm #

    I’m dating myself here, but in the ’70s there was a horror movie titled “Soilent Green”, where shortly before ushered to one’s death you were allowed to view a movie of Earth as it once was: mountains majesty, clear blue skies, birds chirping in tree branches…

    The movie was such a powerful horror film because – at the time – we thought such things ‘might’ be true oneday…a long time off…

    This ‘sand table’ sound like Soilent Green has arrived.

  30. SKL July 17, 2010 at 12:35 pm #

    Heh heh, funny you should mention about Soilent Green arriving . . . what with the talk about “death panels” and related issues with the healthcare policy . . . of course, that has nothing to do with this thread but I couldn’t resist . . . .

    But more seriously and on point, when I grew up in the “big city,” it was many years before I had a lot of hands-on earthy experiences such as being in close contact with farm animals / crops, being at an actual beach, and many others. I had to learn of those things from books and TV. Luckily, my dad at least took us fishing and “primitive camping” when we were little. That was 40 years ago, so this is not really a recent phenomenon.

  31. Uly July 17, 2010 at 12:40 pm #

    That’s actually “Soylent” Green. The book it’s based upon, Make Room, Make Room has soylent green as a new food, a combination of soy and lentils. (The, uh, “surprise” ending of the film is not in the book at all.)

    That was 40 years ago, so this is not really a recent phenomenon.

    With increased transportation options, it might actually be easier to get kids out of the city now than 100 or 200 years in the past.

  32. Sherri July 17, 2010 at 12:44 pm #

    Isn’t there value in having outside and inside experiences? I have fond memories of collecting leaves to press inside at my Montessori school. I find waterplay indoors extremely fun; my kids wear their swim goggles in the bathtub – I join them in the waterplay at our local children’s museum. I was a gymnast and trained hard in what was basically an advanced large muscle room. I also ran barefoot and hiked and played in the mud outside, but… I wouldn’t trade my experience inside for anything. Why put restrictions on “free range”. Why deem one activity OK and another not OK? Just my two cents… I don’t think we should be so guarded, and I think we need to be careful not to tell our kids what is appropriately “free range” and what is not (i.e. steer clear of saying what you SHOULD be doing….).

  33. Mike July 17, 2010 at 12:48 pm #

    I have to disagree with the emphasis of this post. My daughter’s daycare uses a sand table. But they also send the kids out if it’s between 25 and 100 degrees where they garden and have a sandbox and run around. This is not unique at all. We interviewed at several daycare centers that all did the same thing. I did not find at all that “if it’s drizzling, chilly, or anything less “desirable” than 75 degrees-and-sunny, most preschool programs keep children indoors”.

  34. wendy walker July 17, 2010 at 1:18 pm #

    We once attended a “Science museum in the park” event where I found the best “sand table” I’ve ever seen. It was a long narrow table, loaded with real creek sand, and set at a slight angle. The top end had running water that flowed downhill to the bottom where it was collected and pumped back to the other end. Kids could build dams, and form river channels, and watch how the water affected them. My kids, ages 4 & 11 at the time, both had to eventually be dragged away from it. When I was a kid, playing on the sandbars of creeks in exactly this fashion was one of my favorite activities, but my kids have rarely had an available creek.

  35. SgtMom July 17, 2010 at 1:20 pm #

    You are right. Soilent Green is a grindcore and sludge band formed in 1988 that hails from New Orleans.

    My bad for misspelling a movie title I saw in 1973.

  36. Uly July 17, 2010 at 1:27 pm #

    My bad for misspelling a movie title I saw in 1973.

    An extremely widely-known and influential movie that is referenced often by many different people.

    Actually, I guess your bad is reacting badly to a “Hey, this is how it’s spelled and why”. People make mistakes, but they don’t all prefer to be wrong than to be corrected.

  37. SKL July 17, 2010 at 1:58 pm #

    LOL, we did have a car 40 years ago . . . it was more a matter of Dad having no vacation and a bunch of kids. Or maybe the fact that Mom was usually potty training, breastfeeding, and/or “big pregnant” as she would say. We didn’t get out much as a family.

    I too thought maybe it’s easier now . . . it’s easier for me, but then, I am in a different economic class than my parents were. So I really don’t know.

  38. MaeMae July 17, 2010 at 2:39 pm #

    We had a sandbox in the backyard but we also had a sand table inside that we used during the winter. In NY, winter is almost 5 months of our year. You can only play outside in freezing weather for so long. The wet and dry sand table provided endless hours of play and creativity for my toddlers. They also used to rollerlade around on our hardwood floors all winter. I don’t think it’s a bad thing to occassionally bring outdoor stuff inside.

  39. Wendy July 17, 2010 at 3:24 pm #

    There were sand trays in schools in uk over 50 years ago when I was at infants. We still have them and a water play ones too.

    Although there has been a fairly recent trend to get children out side in all weathers sand and water still feature as inside activities

  40. Juliet Robertson July 17, 2010 at 3:54 pm #

    Sandboxes have their place indoors…but the experience of sand outdoors can be so much bigger and better.

    As an outdoor learning consultant I’m on the geeky side when it comes to sand. In fact (blush) so that ANYONE can get advice and info, I’ve created a Facebook page with lots of photos to help parents, playworkers, teachers and pre-school staff realise the potential of this amazing stuff. Have a look http://www.facebook.com/album.php?aid=168387&id=78456423208

    I’d also like to suggest that simply providing a sandbox outside is not a huge difference from the indoor experience. It’s a start in that you can move it around your backyard or playspace to experiment with where a real sandpit should go, but it’s no substitute for a pit where children can walk into, roll about, crawl and be sociable with friend. I’m a big fan of having rocks or logs at the side for standing on and jumping off into the sand, etc.

    Oh yes – for health and safety aspects of looking after sandpit, please get in touch. There’s lots of free advice sheets. Basically, sandpits need a little drainage and a lot of air.

  41. MikeB July 17, 2010 at 8:00 pm #

    O’Connell makes the assumption that the sand table is serving as a substitute for outdoor play. Perhaps that’s the case in some schools and nurseries, but I doubt that there are many schools in which the thinking is “by providing this clean box of sand we no longer have to let the kids play outside.”

    I prefer to think of a sand table as a versatile and -familiar- medium for kids. Kids love to play in sand. By bringing it into the classroom, a teacher has a means by which to provide educational, guided material in a way that is fun. Given the choice of learning out of a text book or by creating scenes in a sand table, which would -you- choose?

  42. Erin July 17, 2010 at 8:47 pm #

    As a preschool teacher for children with special needs in a public elementary school, I have to weigh in here. Sensory play is necessary for development-regardless of whether children have special needs or not. Preschoolers don’t just decide that at 3 years of age, fingerpainting and sensory table play is not fun anymore. As a matter of fact, these activities are often the most popular centers….WHY? Because in this day and age too many parents are not willing to have messy play in their homes or if they do take them to a place where messy play is okay (i.e. parks, art area at children’s museum) they still impose their rules on their children. Case in point-at the children’s museum the other day, I watched a parent tell her child “no” when he asked if he could paint her hand to make handprints on the paper with him. Her response “I don’t do that-it’s too messy.” Then she proceeded to freak out when he was done and tried to steer him to the sink because he might get paint on her. Okay, nobody told her to wear WHITE from head to toe to a children’s museum for crying out loud. The next day at the park while I was watching a bunch of preschoolers (my toddler included) use sticks to play in a mud puddle, I heard another parent say “NO, we do not play with sticks at the playground”. Okay, well where exactly do you play with sticks then?

    As a preschool teacher, I expect to come home with paint on me, sand in my shoes, shaving cream spots on my shirt. Heck, on day my assistant ended up with magic soap in her hair-why you ask? Because the kids were playing beauty parlor and one of the kids got so into the play she used it as “product” for her hair. (Magic soap is the gel hand sanitizer-magic because you don’t need water). Messy play is a successful day in my world and I consider myself lucky that I get to join in with them.

    As for the blogger who stated that fingerpainting was invented to prevent fecal smearing for “disturbed children”, please try to be more sensitive when referring to children with special needs. The word “disturbed” indicates that they engage in this behavior with malicious intent (i.e willful defiance) and I can assure you, as a SPED teacher who has had students with this behavior, this is not the case.

  43. Donna July 17, 2010 at 9:05 pm #

    Okay for probably the first time I 100% disagree with Lenore. The very wrong assumption here being that if there is a sand table then there isn’t a sandbox and kids don’t play outside. My kid’s preschool has a sensory table, that is occasionally filled with sand, and a sandbox outside that is available everyday. She plays outside twice a day, every day, unless it is raining, too cold (a rarity here) or too hot (summer in Georgia, it happens). They even have water play one day a week in the summer (5 months of it here) where they play in what looks like a very elaborate sprinkler system.

    There is a place in preschool for both sand tables AND sandboxes. Kid’s need different activities. Sand inside doesn’t preclude going outside. We don’t need to hate on or dismiss things just because we didn’t have them when we were kids. Personally, I wouldn’t have a sand table in my house because of the mess but I don’t have to clean my child’s preschool so I’m okay with it there.

  44. Donna July 17, 2010 at 9:21 pm #

    “In an ideal world children would be playing outside come rain, hail or shine”

    Not in my or my child’s ideal world. I wonder how many here who are espousing the virtue of children playing outside in any weather actually play outside in any weather themselves. Personally, I don’t want to spend much time out playing in the rain, hail, below zero temperatures or through the roof heat and humidity (unless at the pool). Why should my child find this fun? She gets plenty of exercise and outside time but, really I’m okay with her staying in when it’s raining, hailing, freezing or too humid to breathe… just like I did when I was a kid.

  45. Taylor July 17, 2010 at 10:00 pm #

    “The benefits are immediately visible, as the children at our centers are often more coordinated, independent, verbal and imaginative — and less hyperactive — than their Sand Table/Gross Motor Room counterparts.”

    Does LifeWays have peer-reviewed studies on this shameless plug for sandtable-free preschools?

    Plenty of kids, like mine, have lived in apartments all their lives. We can’t have a sandbox at home and I have yet to see a sandbox in a public playground in the major city in which we live, as it would become an ash-tray/trash bin in a hurry. While we do go to the beach it’s not often.

    While my oldest didn’t have sandtables at her preschool, I just don’t see sandtables as a viable competitor (and hence a stealth threat to child development and hence a stealth threat to Swarthmore admission) to the outdoors and I don’t think see any data in this essay that suggests that other people see them as competition either, except for the author.

    As to mess it seems that a full sandbox will result in larger quantities of sand carried inside since the kid’s whole body goes in, though with higher dispersion. This would help make things look cleaner than they are. Sandtable – lower amounts total (although potentially much higher) and much lower dispersion. Easier to get really clean. So says my at-times-faulty intuition.

  46. Donna July 17, 2010 at 10:20 pm #

    @ SKL – Lighten up a little and maybe the kiddos will find sensory tables and fingerpainting fun like all other 3 year olds on the planet. Both are very age-appropriate for 3. Hell, my 40 year old, highly intelligent and educated self likes the sensory table (it feels cool to sink your hands into some substance that you don’t usually sink your hands into) and has been known to do some fingerpainting artwork with the kid.

  47. carriem July 18, 2010 at 12:29 am #

    I just have to sing the praises of the preschool to which I went, and from which my children just graduated. The kids went outside every day, and there were sandboxes under covered porches so even in real rain, they could have some fresh air and outside time. Our preschool director is old school, in the best possible way, and knows that kids bodies need to be out of doors, even in rainy oregon!

  48. Dragonwolf July 18, 2010 at 12:32 am #

    I remember having a sand table in kindergarten.

    While I don’t think it has to be in every school, I don’t think it’s a bad idea. School is in session during the winter months, and around here the weather can get too bad for it to even be safe even for adults to go outside. Winter also isn’t that conducive to sand castles. Indoor sandboxes, in my opinion, help bring a little summer to the dreary winter days, or a little beach to places that are landlocked.

  49. pentamom July 18, 2010 at 1:16 am #

    As for the argument that winter isn’t conducive to sandcastles, that’s true. But then in most places you have stuff called “snow” that can be played in, which is a different sensory experience entirely.

    Still, I think I’m in agreement with most commenters — it doesn’t sound like a bad idea *unless* it’s there as a substitute for outdoor play, and I share the suspicion that that probably happens too often. But outdoor play has limits too, being dependent on weather and space. I agree that kids can play outside in less than perfect weather conditions, but I don’t expect them to be out playing in conditions I resist going out in for necessary activities.

  50. Uly July 18, 2010 at 1:29 am #

    I’d also like to suggest that simply providing a sandbox outside is not a huge difference from the indoor experience. It’s a start in that you can move it around your backyard or playspace to experiment with where a real sandpit should go, but it’s no substitute for a pit where children can walk into, roll about, crawl and be sociable with friend. I’m a big fan of having rocks or logs at the side for standing on and jumping off into the sand, etc.

    1. In the US, we don’t say “sandpit”. If it’s sand on the ground, and it’s not a beach, we call it a “sandbox”. Even if there’s no box! Sandboxes don’t get moved around unless they’re the dinky plastic type for home use, and even then they don’t get moved that much. Where they’re placed is where they stay.

    2. The major advantage of elevated sandtables over on-the-ground structures is that they are wheelchair accessible, allowing disabled children to participate instead of being totally excluded. By saying this, I don’t mean “You should never have ground-level sandboxes!”, but I do absolutely mean that in public playgrounds, you should have a sandtable in addition to the other kind. They don’t have to take up much space, and it’s a very very easy way to make your playground accessible. Or, if you don’t have room for the other kind, you might still want a sandtable – they’re easier to cover, which means less cats. Ew.

    2a. And no, that doesn’t mean I think you should run out and insist your playground do this RIGHT NOW, unless this is your particular fight (say, because your kid uses a wheelchair). It’s just something to suggest next time your playground comes up for renovation.

  51. Uly July 18, 2010 at 1:31 am #

    Oh, and incidentally – one of my favorite playgrounds DOES have sandtables as well as a sandbox. The non-disabled kids use the tables just as much as the box, and for some innovative purposes. For example, they like climbing in, running to the end, and jumping off! Accessible doesn’t have to mean “boring for everybody else” either.

  52. baby-paramedic July 18, 2010 at 1:43 am #

    This forum is not just accessible by Americans.
    Although I personally moderate my English in the hope to make it more universal, terminology such as “sandpit” is going to creep in. I just do not know that in the US you call it something different (well, I do now, learn new things every day).

  53. Uly July 18, 2010 at 1:50 am #

    This forum is not just accessible by Americans.

    I know it’s not.

    Although I personally moderate my English in the hope to make it more universal, terminology such as “sandpit” is going to creep in.

    I know it will. Duh. That is why I told you what we were talking about. If I hadn’t, you still wouldn’t know what we were saying, would you? You’d have this image in your head of us lugging boxes around outside for no apparent reason – and those of us who don’t know what the heck a sandpit is would think you were really weird and stupid for not getting it.

    I don’t know, I have this idea that it’s kinder to point out “Whoops, let’s clear up this cross-cultural misunderstanding before it gets out of hand!” than to let everybody flounder, but maybe some people like to be ignorant?

  54. Uly July 18, 2010 at 1:52 am #

    To sum up:

    1. I wasn’t being rude in my first comment. I was trying to help you out here.

    2. I don’t care how you speak, but I think it’s a good idea if a. the Americans know what you mean and b. you know what WE mean.

    3. Now, NOW I think you’re a dolt for freaking out at being told something new.

  55. SKL July 18, 2010 at 2:04 am #

    Erin, your definition of “disturbed” is different from mine. In fact, I use “disturbed” to describe myself at times (like when I find something disturbing, as mentioned above). If you look up the actual meaning of the root, you will understand it has absolutely nothing to do with mal intent or evil. My point was that a therapy developed for a disturbed child (or insert your preferred euphemism) does not necessarily benefit a “typical” child. Nothing personal, but I am SO TIRED of having to worry about EVERY word I say, because somebody somewhere might have a reaction to it. I have a severely autistic but beloved cousin who has done lots of things besides smear poo; can we give people the benefit of the doubt that they generally don’t intend to insult anyone? Am I the only person who thinks it’s sad that so much time is spent by Americans explaining “that’s not what I meant”?

    And Donna, I don’t mind kids using their fingers and paint to create. My kids have been doing that for years. What the preschool asked them to do was dip their hands in one color (of the teacher’s choosing) and literally smear. No encouraging creative application such as making their own texture or pattern or mixing colors. No discussion about whatever phenomena can be observed on a paper smeared with purple finger paint. Just smearing. “OK, good job, now let’s wash hands.” If infantilizing is a word, that’s what is going on when a preschooler is required to do that. (It’s different if the child actually comes up with the idea and wants to do it.)

    When I was in adoption classes, I read recommendations that even if you bring home a tot who is potty-trained, you should put them back in diapers so they can learn to depend on you for all their care. Somehow being forced to soil oneself and have your new mom wipe the poo off is a bonding experience. This is among many practices that while well-meant are actually disrespectful (if not abusive) to the child and, yes, disturbing.

    It seems to me these reflect a trend toward encouraging helplessness and babyishness, as if that were good for the child. How many times have I heard “let babies be babies” even though historically, kids of that age were proudly capable of so much more. I could make a list and go on a rant, but this site has covered many other examples of this.

    My kids planted, watered, picked, washed, and ate their own carrots at age 2, and so could most kids. But for kids who are rarely allowed to touch anything that might get under their fingernails, OK, maybe they need this stimulation. And maybe for them, smearing, etc. is developmental-age-appropriate. But to me, that is sad.

  56. MaeMae July 18, 2010 at 2:04 am #

    Uly, maybe we should all e-mail our posts to you for editing before we post them. Heaven forbid someone should spell a word incorrectly or use different terminology than you. Having been on the receiving end of your criticism in the past, I do not think it is kinder for a stranger to point out my mistakes for everybody to see. Sometimes, the kind thing to do is let it go. Besides, I’m an American and I wasn’t confused at all by the term “sandpit”.

  57. SKL July 18, 2010 at 2:11 am #

    Uly, not to jump into the “pit” so to speak, but some of us in the USA do say “sandpit.” Kinda like “sliding board” and other unbelievable terms.

    My kids play at a park with a “sandpit.” I think outdoor sand-anythings (especially uncovered) are disgusting because critters have access to them. But, I let my kids play in the local “sandpit” because they like to and because otherwise they would be the only kids in the USA (apparently) who had not played in the sand.

  58. gramomster July 18, 2010 at 2:19 am #

    I love to play in the rain! It’s one of the most fun things about summer here in the midwest as far as I’m concerned! Snow is awesome as well. And mud! Man oh man, do I love to play in the mud! Humid…. that you can keep. We do spend plenty of time inside in super humid weather, like we’ve been having the last week or so here in MI. But we do also try to get to water on these days, whether at a spray park, or filling the pool.

  59. Juliet Robertson July 18, 2010 at 2:47 am #

    Wow! I’m quite bowled over that my use of specific words should be of such debate. Apologies to anyone who is confused between sandpits, sandboxes and sand tables!

    And I’m so so sorry to anyone who doesn’t feel that sand and its container(s) can’t be moved around, indoors or out. My oh my – is it our thinking that is “boxed in” here? Hmm…

    Basically the important stuff is the sand.

    It’s accessibility to children is important like any other feature in a pre-school or play setting. So yes, feel free to elevate the sand, get kids out of wheelchairs and moving around (or not) in their own way. Ask children what they like doing with sand. Watch how they use it and develop a sand “area” appropriate to their interests and needs.

    Above all let the children play and have fun – on their terms and in their way with sand.

    Oh yes – this winter I managed to go sledging on sand dunes. It was an amazing experience as the snow was so dry and cold it didn’t melt into the sand.

  60. Sherri July 18, 2010 at 2:54 am #

    I say “sandpit” too. Am wondering why all the fuss over semantics and spelling. And… I do remember Soilent Green from the ’80’s. Another ex-punk on here? But we’re all digressing, aren’t we? Messy play is fun whether it is inside or outside. And… not all kids enjoy messy play. And… many kids find it more interesting to pretend play (I’m at a beach – my dolls or transformers are at a beach, etc.) when they can stand and manipulate and move around and use only their hands to create something as opposed to having to manipulate wet sand, crawl around on their knees, etc. (sandbox or pit vs. table). AND … why are we also down on finger painting all of a sudden? Seriously. Why? Has part of free range become restricting our kids or telling them what is fun as opposed to letting them explore everything? Rain, mud, painting inside, painting outside, using an outdoor water table, playing in a puddle….. ALL fun – ALL productive, happy learning experiences. I think some people (Uly) should dispose of the hostility, btw.

  61. SKL July 18, 2010 at 3:00 am #

    The finger painting complaint is my thing and mine alone. I am the sole culprit.

    Please note that I am not against painting with fingers. I just don’t like the way the teachers regress to “smearing” with kids who are big enough to write their names. The instruction was to smear as directed by the teacher, not an invitation to use paints to do something fun and creative. Maybe this particular teacher/preschool is the only one doing it this way, and if so, that’s wonderful.

  62. dahozho July 18, 2010 at 4:23 am #

    Wow. I’d never even heard of this. My own small fry will be starting his second year of nursery school– not a “sand table” in sight. These kids DO get outside to do their dirt play (actually, our school doesn’t have a sand pit– just fine by me). They do have woodchips– a great substitute for the sandbox, it seems, if you’re 18 months through 3 years of age.

    I really like my kid’s finger paintings, but he is a mess on the days they do that particular art project. Right now the “hot” thing for the kids is STICKERS! Sigh.

  63. DMT July 18, 2010 at 4:55 am #

    “If it’s drizzling, chilly, or anything less “desirable” than 75 degrees-and-sunny, most preschool programs keep children indoors, opting for the sand table and the other modern miracle of childcare, the “Gross Motor Room” — a cavernous space with padded walls, riding toys and an overwhelming din, as children expend their energy in a frenetic McDonald’s playland fashion.”

    I live in Wisconsin (as does Mary McConnell), and I have a child in daycare/preschool. So this is something I know a little bit about.

    Wisconsin law states that EVERY day preschool children must spend a certain amount of time outdoors. However, and also according to WI law, there are weather restrictions that prohibit children from going outdoors. For example, and according to WI law, if the temperature (including wind chill) dips below 20 degrees, children cannot be outdoors.
    I think there are also summer temperature and rain restrictions as well (but I admit I do not know what those are). Therefore, I’m really surprised Ms. McConnell made the above statement that I pasted in my response. I would think that as a director of an early childhood center in a city in Wisconsin, Ms. McConnell would be aware of the same law I am.

    While I do agree spending time outdoors is important, I’m also surprised that she wrote this essay considering she lives in Wisconsin and should be aware of our capricious weather. For example, today it is sunny, 90 degrees, and humid as hell (as it has been for most of the week). As a result, my son has spent a majority of time indoors this week, and I make no apology for it. I would prefer he not get overheated, and since he has also inherited my Celtic skin, I’m worried about the sun’s affects. Yes, I lather him with sunscreen, but he tends to react to whatever I put on him (eczema) so I need to limit his time outdoors. Ditto for bug spray, which again this being Wisconsin – and thanks to the boatload of rain, the mosquitos are horrendous – is sorely needed even during the day.

    My son’s preschool happens to have a sensory table AND a gross motor room, and frankly I’m thankful they do because there are just too many days in our state that kids CAN’T go outside, both in winter AND summer. (Although I feel bad for the teachers who have to clean up the sand after. Yuck.)

    I’m not totally disagreeing with Ms. McConnell’s essay. I just think there are very good reasons to keep kids indoors sometimes.

  64. Gary July 18, 2010 at 5:38 am #

    Living in an apartment growing up a sand table would have been amazing fun (as a kid, not a parent having to clean it). I cannot imagine having it for my kids tho. We have cats…..eeeeewwwww!

  65. Uly July 18, 2010 at 5:56 am #

    MaeMae and others, I didn’t think the guy made a mistake in saying “sandpit” instead of “sandbox”. I thought – and still think – that his comment showed evidence of not understanding what we were talking about. If I don’t understand what people are talking about, I want to be told.

    I also didn’t – and don’t – believe I started off being rude. When I am wrong, I like to be told. In this way I can prevent myself from looking ignorant and stupid in the future. Similarly, if I have a big ol’ stain on the butt of my dress, I want people to tell me so I’m not walking around looking a mess. (On that note – really, SKL? I never heard anybody use that term in the US before, and it comes up on US-UK terminology lists all the time! That’s pretty cool.)

    When the day comes that I go “Haha, you misspelled that, you’re so stupid!” you can all call me rude. A simple comment “Hey, just fyi, when we say ‘Sandbox’ we’re not saying what you think we’re saying!” or “Wow, just on a tangent, soylent green has this origin, a lot of people don’t know that!” isn’t exactly *rude*.

    If I want to be rude, if I want to insult you, I’m not going to beat around the bush. I’m just going to call you stupid, crazy, irrational, bigoted, or whatever else I think you are. (And then I’m not going to apologize either, most likely. Why should I change my behavior for people who don’t like me when the feeling is mutual?)

    Mostly, though, for most of you, I’m not thinking every time you post “My god, how can that person always miss the point, how can they be SO. FRIGGIN’. STUPID!!!! ALL THE TIME!!!!” (If you’re somehow just *dying* to know if you’re in the shortlist, you can leave a comment on my journal.) I’m thinking “Oh, there’s an interesting post from so-and-so” or occasionally “Wow, I don’t usually agree with that person, that’s a surprise” or maybe “Wow, I don’t know how they’re missing the boat this time, this person usually seems sensible, but whatever, we can’t all agree all the time.”

    On a final note, this has come up before in other areas of my life. If you think you’re going to take this opportunity to start commenting on my journal every time you think I misspelled a word here or elsewhere, please don’t. I mean, you can, but in my experience people who do that just get really mad when I thank them for it. I don’t mind the correction, but I can’t stand the fallout.

    And now that we’re absolutely done talking about me – SKL, you’re right about the uncovered sandboxes. I find them a little squicky myself.

    So yes, feel free to elevate the sand, get kids out of wheelchairs and moving around (or not) in their own way.

    Well, of course, if you take a child out of a wheelchair, and they NEED that wheelchair, you’re keeping them from moving around.

  66. Uly July 18, 2010 at 5:59 am #

    Edit: “Commenting on my journal” is shorthand for “contacting me in whatever way you think best”.

  67. Juliet Robertson July 18, 2010 at 6:01 am #

    Uly – your comments have enriched this blog posting.

    Along with everyone else, they have encouraged me to blog about outdoor sandpits. 🙂


  68. Kai July 18, 2010 at 8:08 am #

    I don’t see anything wrong with a sand table. when I was in kindergarted some 20 years ago, we had a sand table, and a water table. It’s not practical everywhere to have an outdoor sandbox. They can be difficult to keep clean (cats tend to love them), and where I live, seven out of the ten months that school is in session, the sand outside would be frozen solid.
    I see nothing wrong with bringing some things inside for kids that won’t always have a chance to go outside. We definitely did our share of playing with snow, but to play with anything else, it must have been in the classroom.

    As for fingerpainting, I think that’s great fun, and while I wouldn’t force any kid, I can’t see any downside. 😀

  69. netc23 July 18, 2010 at 8:21 am #

    funny. I do have a little drawer with sand for my son inside. honestly it provided hours of fun over the winter and I love it as he does. I put new animals and cars in it. every child that comes over to play has loved it.

    and a big pile of it outside. it was in a pool but the pool deflated. today I wet it for him and let him tromp all over and it will now have to replenished.

    we recently got a puppy and though we are in the dog days of summer – 102 yesterday – we spend hours outside. and we walk to the dog everyday. and he is “exploring” as he tells me. getting behind the trees and bushes in our yard and well, exploring. he gets scractched and bruised and loves it. at first I thought it would be too hot to be out much but the more we are out, the better he tolerates it. and we drink water. all day. i do carry a bucket and shovel in my trunk that he takes out everytime we go to any park, whether there is sand or not – boys sure know how to find items to pile in a bucket!

    I don’t think its a bad thing. and I’d prefer he not have heat stroke, excessive sunburn or frostbite, all things my sisters and I experienced growing up. but I am glad we are getting out more than we were.

  70. Beth July 18, 2010 at 8:33 am #

    Off topic a bit, but thank you SKL for mentioning the seemingly American requirement to watch every single word one utters, to make sure that the utmost perfect wordsare chosen and no one will be ofeended. It’s exhausting, not to mention that most of the time being offensive isn’t the goal of the conversation (or writing).

    I once wrote a book review on Amazon. One of the leading characters was handicapped, and I used the word handicapped, in what I believed to be a non-threatening non-judgemental non-snarky way. Someone commented on my review, multiple paragraphs of how I shouldn’t have used that word, including links to google searches and websites regarding “person first” language, or something like that.

    I thought “Really? I have to be*this* careful in writing an anonymous book review? Who knew!”

  71. pentamom July 18, 2010 at 8:46 am #

    Maybe the issue isn’t that there *are* sand tables, maybe it’s that EVERY preschool has to have one — which implies (not absolutely strictly, but practically and reasonably) that few have outdoor sand play areas.

    IOW, to assume that a sand table is *necessary* equipment to a preschool is to eliminate outdoor sand play areas as any sort of expectation. Unless, of course, you think that children need to play in sand all year round, rather than thinking that it might be possible to play in sand more in good weather, and do other things more in less good weather.

  72. Jane July 18, 2010 at 9:03 am #

    I taught preschool for a number of years and had a sensory table in my room that I filled with a variety of different items, but never sand because we had an outdoor sandbox. Well, more of a pit actually. The kids & I loved the sensory table…it was really relaxing for many and a great place to engage them in quiet conversation away from the busier classroom at large.

    Honestly, I got tons of criticism from parents for allowing their children regular access to the sandbox on the playground. Why? Sand in their shoes. They didn’t want the sand to get in their cars or inside their homes. I would imagine a sand table prevents this mess because if they can’t sit inside it, the sand will only get in their shoes if they dump sand on their feet, right?

    I never understood it. When my kids came home from preschool, we’d simply take shoes off outside the door and dump the sand out. I mean, I always figured one of the perks of preschool was they got to make so many of those lovely messes there, where I didn’t have to clean them! I don’t get parents opposing sandboxes at preschool.

  73. Carrie July 18, 2010 at 9:10 am #

    @Jane when my oldest was 2, he went to a daycare that had a sand base on their playground. My husband would pick him up right after lunch and he had to come home and have a bath every single day before he could nap because he would be absolutely covered in sand. Literally, head to toe, including piled in his hair, caked in his diaper and his shoes full. It is one thing to dump shoes, it is something different to require a bath every afternoon.

    We would have much rather had a sand table, and let them keep some of their sand.

  74. Jane July 18, 2010 at 9:35 am #

    @Carrie, well, they have to be bathed some time and after playing really hard and getting really dirty always seems like a good time to me. 🙂

    I have to wonder if the people all in a dither about the sand tables would have a different attitude if someone said, “We have this great station in the room where kids can investigate mathematics, science, and measurement…it’s this table that we can fill with various items like sand or water…” or if they said, “We have this cool station where they can practice writing letters or shapes if they’d like to without the frustration of trying to hold a pencil before their fine motor skills are fully developed…it’s this small table filled with sand or cornmeal…”

    This post is all anecdotal. I’d love to see Ms O’Connell’s stats on the true numbers of these preschools in the US who refuse to allow children to see the outdoors. Having had experiences with several preschools in each of several different states, I have a hard time believing they are in the majority (or I’m incredibly apt at randomly sampling the outliers). As another poster said, many states have legal requirements regarding the amount of time children must be outside for a school or daycare to be certified and non-certified schools often follow the community standard on these kinds of things in order to be financially viable.

  75. DMT July 18, 2010 at 10:06 am #

    “I’d love to see Ms O’Connell’s stats on the true numbers of these preschools in the US who refuse to allow children to see the outdoors.”

    Jane, I think that’s what kind of irked me about this essay. It is the implication that all preschools want to do is shut kids indoors all day because that’s more convenient. That’s not true, and as both of us have said, there are legal weather restrictions that preschools often have to follow.

    Sensory tables and the gross motor room are great for kids when they CAN’T get outdoors. I’m happy that my son’s preschool has these because these are toys and experiences he typically doesn’t get at home. As I said, there are very valid reasons to keep kids indoors sometimes. Ms. McConnell’s “essay” reads more like marketing copy for Lifeways.

  76. Vince L July 18, 2010 at 10:17 am #

    Interesting tale. Funny how at the beach I am the one who gets going in the sand first. My kids didn’t have on in thier pre-school (don’t worry – I already called the SandTable Police) and really never had access to one outdoors. Cats. That is the reason, at least in our neighborhood for no outdoor sandboxes.

    As far as going outside, both my kids had the BEST preshool. Rain, snow, or shine they were outside every day. We always had to send a spare set of clothing but it was worth it. My kids, to this day, don’t let weather bother them. Funny to see them interact with friends when the weather is less than perfect outside and it doesn’t seem to phase my kids.

    Lots of interesting commens in this thread too. Beats what’s on TV.

  77. SgtMom July 18, 2010 at 12:23 pm #

    Uly: “Actually, I guess your bad is reacting badly to a “Hey, this is how it’s spelled and why”. People make mistakes, but they don’t all prefer to be wrong than to be corrected.”

    Reacting badly? Prefer to be wrong?

    Where do you get this stuff?

    Uly dear, it was a cheezy “b” drive-in movie. Hardly anything BIG or “influential”.

    I hadn’t seen or heard of Soilent Green until a kid at work was wearing a Soilent Green T-shirt, and looked at me like I had horns growing out of my nose when I started discussing this BIG influential movie he’d never heard of.

    Someone tell Uly to stop throwing sand in the sandPIT!

  78. KarenElissa July 18, 2010 at 12:30 pm #

    The thing that bothers me most about the sand table is the implication by many people (not necessarily here, but in preschool standards and such) that unless you have one, you are not providing kids everything they need to grow. It is the same with a lot of the things that someone has decided you HAVE to have or your aren’t a good preschool.

    It seems to me that one of the best ways to help kids be creative is not to provide them with all the little details they need to play house, or build a city, or make a picture, but to allow them to use the every day things around them to pretend to do all these things.

    Sure, having things like sand tables or a kitchen set are nice, but does it really make it a “bad” preschool if the kids are sent outside or given a big box to pretend with instead?

  79. Kimberly July 18, 2010 at 2:26 pm #

    DMT – about the sunscreen be on the look out for Lanolin in sunscreen it can irritate those of us with eczema. For me the alveeno sunscreen is the least irritating.

  80. side effects breastfeeding July 18, 2010 at 3:54 pm #

    I cant imagine indoor sandtables

  81. Patti July 18, 2010 at 10:03 pm #

    As a preschool teacher, I am just floored by this posting. Really? Since when does having a sand table prevent kids from going outside? As at least one other commenter has said, at our school it’s called a sensory table and it’s filled with all kinds of different things. We change it out at least once a week. In that table important things happen, like science, language, math, and socialization. Many kids don’t get to feel varied things in their lives (unless it’s a remote control), and if you don’t know how to feel things you certainly will have trouble making your hand learn to write later on on down the road. The sensory table can often calm and upset child down or engage an otherwise disinterested child. We have many choices in the classroom, but sometimes there just nothing like sticking your hand in a mound of something to make you feel ok.

    At most preschools around here kids go outside everyday. Our school has three sand piles, lots of mulch, wood, dirt for gardening, flowers, and all kinds of other things. We are not unique. We also have a gross motor room, but most classes use it when going outside is impossible (we also have the under 20F rule) rather than as a substitute for outdoor play. Our classrooms are just too small some days for some of the kids, and the gross motor room has a climbing wall (no harnesses! eek!), which is helpful for all that energy. Upset children find the outdoors to be very centering, particularly with a caring adult nearby. I daresay that no one working with young children on a regular basis would be in their right mind to restrict access to the outdoors. Again, we aren’t unique here.

    We find that a lot of our parents are thankful that we give their kids messy things indoors and out because they don’t want to do those things themselves. These days, when it’s “not safe” to let your kid walk out of your door without direct supervision, parents are too tired and busy to invest time into letting kids run crazy outside or make a mess experimenting inside (I’m not saying this is good, just that it’s how it is for many families). At preschool, kids get to do those things and we enjoy the journey with them. Parents are often shocked when I really do take their kids out in the rain as I promised I would (which the children usually love) but they get used to it. Older children at the school are often given the choice of where they’d like to play, and no matter the weather someone usually wants to play outside. After all, going down the slide in the rain is a whole different ball of wax than going down a dry slide. The kids all bring appropriate weather gear so that they can go outside, whatever the weather. Again, our program is not unique in this.

    I’m sorry to say that this posting felt more like an advertisement than anything else to me. I normally love coming here to read things and the comments make me think. If this woman has stats on the evils of the sensory table, I’d love to see them. Otherwise, I just don’t buy it.

  82. Donna July 18, 2010 at 10:14 pm #

    @ SKL – In my opinion, there is a substantial infantilizing of childhood from some segments of the population. However, I don’t believe that the appropriate response should be to force a precocious adulthood on children. What’s the hurry to grow up?

    Babies should be babies. Kids should be kids. I don’t believe that my daughter needs to know how to do all the housework at age 4. Is she capable of learning how to do all of it? Most likely. But why does she need to at this point? The same with intellectual pursuits. I don’t need her to be living up to her full potential 24/7. It’s really okay if sometimes she just wants to smear paint or play in the sensory table because she finds it FUN. She’s a bright, curious little girl who will get to where she is supposed to be without me force-feeding her Shakespeare and making sure every waking moment of every day functions at high intellectual level. It’s about balance. Encouraging them to learn but not pushing them to give up childish things that they enjoy because you find them too babyish and below their capabilities. Sometimes it can just be about FUN. And they feed off of us. So if we view something with derision, they will shun it as well, even if it’s something that they would enjoy (something I really have to work on daily since my girl is a super girly, girly and I find most things she’s interested in ridiculous).

    I do find it interesting that many times the same people both infantilize and adultize (now we’re really making up words) their children. You can’t cross the street by yourself but you must read Shakespeare by 7. Again, what’s the hurry?

  83. Lauren July 18, 2010 at 10:27 pm #

    Not sure the big deal about having a sand table if the the kids ALSO play outside much of the time. My son’s preschool has a “touch” table – the contents vary from sand, to shredded paper, to water and other things. However, they spend nearly 1/2 their time outside as well. I know my son spends much of this time in the outdoor, old-fashioned sand box. FWIW it is without a cover in the evening.

    The touch table is just one thing for them to do indoors besides blocks and painting and reading and dress up.

    I think the bigger problem is lack of outdoor time, not the sand table itself.

  84. DMT July 18, 2010 at 11:10 pm #

    @ Kimberly, thanks for the tip. I just checked my son’s sunscreen (Coppertone Water Babies) and didn’t see lanolin listed as an ingredient. Maybe there is something else in there his skin doesn’t like.

    Normally his eczema is almost non-existent in summer, but this year it’s been off and on. I’ll have to check out the Aveeno one. I use the Aveeno wash for his bath and really like the product.

  85. SKL July 18, 2010 at 11:30 pm #

    OK, I have failed utterly to communicate my attitude about finger painting. Let me just tell you what my kids’ teacher was doing (I think that now in the “older 3s” they don’t do it quite like this any more). Teacher lays out papers on the table and calls the children to the table. Teacher pours one color of finger paint (not chosen by the child) onto each paper. Teacher tells children to put their hands in the paint and move it around. Children comply. Nobody is smiling or happy or coming up with their own ideas, but merely obeying their teacher. After all kids have smeared enough to satisfy teacher, teacher washes hands. After the paint dries, teacher cuts the paper into a shape and sends it home with the kid’s name on it.

    If the kids were maybe 1yr old, I could see mere smearing of a color on a paper being interesting. But the minimum age for this class was 2.5, and most of the kids had previous daycare experience, so it wasn’t their first encounter with paint.

    I am a strong proponent of art education and I have taken classes in it. I pay an artist to come to our hose on Saturday mornings to give my kids art experiences, among other things. I know that it’s key to play around with materials first, explore, etc., and it takes years before the child is actually making something you can “recognize,” assuming that ever happens. But it should be age-appropriate, and I don’t think the activity I described above is age-appropriate for pre-school.

    I also feel the teacher was doing this so she could “have something to show” for the day’s work. Or to check it off the list. “Do the children finger-paint?” “Yes!”

    Maybe my dismay was greater because at home, my kids had shown an interest in art and had come up with some work that showed the beginnngs of creative expression. I felt that if their teacher was going to bring it down to the level of mindless smearing, they would get the wrong idea about what art is. It is like the “singing” they do for the Christmas program. All the grades up to KG are instructed to holler loudly, at the expense of any possibility of singing in tune or being understood by the listeners. Yes, I could “hear” them, for what it was worth.

    This same preschool also teaches academics. The same day the kids had their first “finger painting” experience, they were given a worksheet of letters to trace. So it’s not like they are just big into giving kids time to hone their fine motor skills.

    I think preschool is the time to introduce materials and let kids create, to the extent they are ready and motivated to do so. If one kid wants to decide to smear, great, but for those children who are ready for more advanced explorations, forcing them backward seems strange to me. You wouldn’t force a weaned child to drink from a bottle, would you? Or am I the only person who thinks that smearing goo isn’t the ultimate fantasy of every 3-year-old?

  86. singlemom July 19, 2010 at 12:03 am #

    Here in upstate NY, when my son was in pre-K, the kids went out in all kinds of weather and most definitely also in the winter, which is COLD. Who would want to miss out on snowmen, sledding, snow angels, etc… It seems to me that the warmer the climate, the more perfect the weather has to be for the kids to be allowed outside. Up here, if we waited for a perfect day, we’d never go out LOL! Re the sand/water tables, I loved those at my son’s schools when he was little. I loved the fact that he could get super messy at pre-K/daycare instead of wanting to do that sort of thing indoors at home! The schools were definitely better equipped with formica floors and open areas for easier cleanup.

  87. Michele July 19, 2010 at 3:55 am #

    I did daycare out of my home for a brief stint. I tried having a “corn table” instead. Same idea, but just filled with corn from my local farmers coop. Oh what a mess. Same with the ‘water tables.” Best just done outside, if needed at all. The hose, a walk through the woods with a brown paper bag to collect goodies is just as fun!

    Wonderful documentary to see: “Where do the Children Play?”

  88. pentamom July 19, 2010 at 3:56 am #

    SKL, I think I get what you’re saying. It’s not that finger-painting is bad, and it’s not that kids should be imitating Vermeer at 3-1/2.

    It’s that kids shouldn’t be directed to do baby-activities if they’re not babies. If they’re capable of more, encourage/allow them to do more, but that doesn’t mean you have to push, push, push. Maybe just, I dunno, let 3 year olds do typical 3 year old things, not 1 year old things, and those who aren’t up to speed for some reason, aren’t pushed to equal the others?

  89. Donna July 19, 2010 at 5:27 am #

    SKL, I understand what you are saying and agree. It does sound like that activity if done all the time is under the age level for 2.5. But there seems to also be a derision on your part for just spreading goo if your particular children feel like spreading goo that day instead of doing “advanced explorations.” Like as if they are not living up to their full potential all the time, they are missing something. My kid can actually make things that occasionally look like things now. And sometimes she just spreads goo because she likes the way it feels on her hands. Whatever floats her boat at the time. She’s allowed to do something just because she enjoys doing it regardless as to whether it is below her developmental level or not.

    You also have to consider the group aspect of daycare. They can’t have 20 kids all doing what they want to do when they want to do it all the time. Sometimes the art activity is totally free form – here are paints, do what you want. Sometimes the art activity is more structured – here are red, white and blue paints, paint an american flag. There’s a time for both and that is pretty standard. My father was an art professor for many years. Some of his classes involved draw this vase and some involved draw me something with a blue pencil.

  90. SKL July 19, 2010 at 6:27 am #

    Donna, I think you pretty much get me. I have nothing against free play, including occasional smearing when the facility is set up for that. (My kids were NOT into that at 2.5, and had to be cajoled to do it, but had it been fun for them, I wouldn’t have a problem with that.)

    Art for young kids should not be an end unto itself, but a medium for exploration and self-discovery. If a teacher isn’t using it for that, the time might be better spent on something else.

    BTW, my kids’ class at that level only had 7 students, and they weren’t all at the table at the same time. I understand “the sky’s the limit” doesn’t work logistically at that age, but again, if the schedule or classroom structure doesn’t allow for an age-appropriate art activity every day, better to find an age-appropriate alternative or tweak the schedule.

    I think here is where I relate to Lenore’s post. There’s nothing “wrong” with a sensory table, but why does it “have” to be on the checklist, along with various other things people expect in a preschool? Just because it’s there doesn’t mean anyone is using it an age-appropriate and effective way. The school’s and teacher’s philosophy and actual actions are more important than what equipment is in their facility, and what activities are listed in their curriculum.

  91. Maggie July 19, 2010 at 7:40 am #

    When my daughter was 2 1/2 to 5 she went to an amazing Montessori preschool in Davis, Ca on the campus of UCD. During the warm month (which in Davis can be 6 months!) they would play a game called Mushy Gushy – kids in their swimsuits, sand, and a hose full of water constantly running. She loved it and will never forget the great fun she had there (that and pizza Friday). When I picked her up she was cleaned up but with a little sand here and there. She was happy and tired and I loved that she was having such fun.

  92. Sarah @ BellaLunaToys July 19, 2010 at 8:51 am #

    I’ve been surprised to read so many posts with such strong and heated feelings about Mary’s sand table essay.

    I am a Waldorf early childhood teacher. My take on the essay was not that Mary was condemning the sand table as detrimental for children, but that rather she was trying to raise our consciousness by asking us if we are replacing children’s outside play time in nature, by attempting to bring those experiences indoors.

    Sand tables seem to have become de rigueur pieces of equipment in early childhood classrooms in recent decades. I’ve used them at times, sometimes filled with sand, sometimes with beans. There is nothing inherently wrong with a sand table. But I think Mary’s point is that they shouldn’t become a substitute for the real thing. Children who are lucky enough to have lots of time for outdoor play in nature will get all the sensory experiences they need in order to develop healthy brains and bodies — by digging in dirt, playing in sandboxes, wading in water or climbing trees.

    Some of us may teach in urban areas with no outdoor play space (but I wonder how many of us don’t even have a concrete playground with room for a covered sandbox). Some of us may live in apartment high-rises with only a concrete patio for outdoors space. If there is not even a park in your neighborhood where your child/ren can play outdoors, then a sand table could be considered a necessity. One might also want to have a sand table indoors during the cold winter months when the sandbox is frozen. But, in my opinion, sand table play is no substitute for being outside, digging and making tunnels and mud pies in real dirt.

    And as to the animal feces argument against sandbox play, it is so easy to cover a sandbox with a tarp at the end of playtime. The children in my class would help with this everyday. There are also covered sandboxes available. (I happen to sell very nice wooden ones.)

    Just my two cents in defense of Mary’s argument.

  93. Sophie July 19, 2010 at 6:44 pm #

    Regards children spending so much time indoors, this is one reason why I love our daughter’s childminders. There have been many drizzly days when I’ve sat in my office wondering how they deal with a bundle of kids kept indoors, only to pick DD up and hear that they’ve been out to the countryside or beach anyway. It takes a fair bit of bad whether to keep that gaggle indoors, and I love it – thankfully so do DD and her friends 🙂

    The lack of outdoor play for many children at nurseries and preschools does make me feel sorry for them, as does the lack of adventure and new places to discover I don’t doubt that most daycare staff love their work (almost essential in such a poorly paid profession!), but some here have only a fenced off bit of car park to play outdoors on and no trips to the nearest public playground. While ours could spend one day at the petting farm, one at the beach, another at a playgroup (run by a network of childminders), then the country park and so on.

    Oh, and DD’s childminders do have a sandpit. It’s in the garden and is covered when not in use. Simples.

  94. HappyNat July 19, 2010 at 8:38 pm #

    Regarding the comment way up there about playing in the rain. I LOVE to play in the rain and use my kids an an excuse to run out in the raindrops and splash in puddles. But I’ve never minded rain, rarely use an umbrella unless I need to look presentable, and like to take walks and feel the rain on my face, so maybe I’m odd like that.

    Yesterday a big storm hit while we were shopping. We saw it through the windows but it was over by the time we were done. I held my daughters hand crossing the main drive outside the store, but let go as we approached some huge puddles and my girl jumped in with two feet. I only had to stop her as a mother who was clutching her 4-5 year old daughter walked by telling her “watch out for that puddle”. They zig zagged all down the aisle to avoid anything that resembled a drop of water. The look on my girls face was priceless when after stopping her jumping for a second I told her, “Some people don’t like to get wet.” It only confused her for a second as they were past and we could continue splashing in the puddles.

  95. rae July 19, 2010 at 9:13 pm #

    wonderful post! we actually had a sand table when we first started our classroom. it was a lovely wooden table and was already in the room from previous occupants, so we thought we’d give it a try. not to replace the outdoor experience, but to offer that sensory experience inside as well.

    it did not last long! what a terrible mess! no matter how hard we worked to keep it tidy, sand strayed all over the room to every possible corner and it was ruining the finish on our floor.

    though the children loved having the sand table as an option for their play and i witnessed some very creative moments with its use, it is not missed at all.

    as for outdoor play time, we love it! we adopted the motto *we weather the weather whatever the weather, whether we like it or not.* there are very few days that the weather actually prevents us from playing outdoors. it is so vital to their well being.

    now, my concern with the sand is the safety of the actual sand itself. 😉 i have read many things about inhaled particles and potential carcinogens. yikes.

  96. coffeegod July 19, 2010 at 11:33 pm #

    My son’s daycare/preschools all had outdoor areas that were used on all but the wettest of days. Because of this, he consumed his fair share of dirt and sunshine.

  97. Jenne July 20, 2010 at 1:29 am #

    My grandmother, living in the Cold and Windy Lake Effect area of New York, had a big tub of sand out on the closed-in front porch for her grandchildren (with a wide selection of kitchen implements and toys) as long as I could remember. That was free-range sand, too– my grandfather brought it home from the Lake shore. Almost all of her grandchildren had outdoor sandboxes also.

    As much as I would like to replicate the indoor sandbox, my son has only an outside sandbox,—because we have two messy cats inside– and at 17 months he is really almost too big for it– once you put any toys in it, it feels full. I don’t know what we’re going to do; we rent, and need a sandbox with a cover, because there are outdoor cats (among other things) in the neighborhood.

    He also loves to play in the garden fountain when we turn it on, as well as in his pool (though the pool is apparently sometimes too cold for him, and he’ll go to the fountain instead, for standing up and splashing play!)

    35 years ago, when I was in kindergarten, the cool classrooms had sand and water tables, so you could build things and play with water inside *too*. I keep hoping I’ll find a sand, water, or sand/water table on Freecycle– I kick myself that when he was tiny I saw one put out for “free” next door and didn’t pick it up.

    This whole discussion reminds me so much of the complaints about the conversion of boring, swing & slide only playgrounds into “adventure playsets”, where kids can swing and run and slide on all kinds of castle-like structures. Yes, some of the ‘dangerous’ stuff is gone, but kids can find something dangerous to do even on the tamest playset, and there’s more varied play value in those structures than the boring stuff I remember from my childhood. (However, I hate the wood mulch and hope my son doesn’t inherit my tendency to break out from contact with it; as a result, I much prefer playgrounds with the cool rubber paving or shredded tires– fascinating– as a mulch.)

  98. SKL July 20, 2010 at 1:36 am #

    I begin to wonder why sand is, apparently, considered a universal childhood need? I think children can grow up just fine without sand, and many have. Many of the comments seem to imply that while indoor sand is optional, outdoor sand is a requirement.

    There is no universal checklist of what “things” or specific “activities” kids need to grow up well. The focus should be on what their brains and bodies need to do, and how we can use whatever resources we happen to have to facilitate (or, merely allow) that.

  99. Wendy July 20, 2010 at 6:34 am #

    What a great post! I especially love Mary’s last paragraph. But, I admit that it’s not too big of a problem to have a sand table as long as the kids are allowed to play outside also.

  100. MikeB July 20, 2010 at 6:51 am #

    @SKL, that finger-painting class sounds horrid, and I’ve seen such things before. When living in the San Fran area, my wife and I visited the neighborhood elementary school in advance of our boy starting kindergarten. The admin person showed us a very nice classroom, all neat and with lots of kids’ art on the walls. What struck us was that all the art was the same. The kids had apparently been told, or shown, to draw an outdoor scene with a house on the right and a lollypop-style tree on the left. The colors varied among the 25 copies of this scene, but nothing else. We thought that was a bit disturbing, and it was one (of several) factor that caused us to investigate the charter school a bit farther from our house.

    My son attended a GSA-sponsored preschool that had a great philosophy and practice about creativity and art. They used the Reggio Emilia approach, which involved surrounding the kids with a rich and broad selection of high-quality art materials and encouraging them to explore and create. That took more expense and attention than simply telling the kids to draw a lollypop tree (or move their fingers in finger paint), but wow, so so much better.

  101. BethanyBob July 20, 2010 at 7:00 am #

    So long as kids are happy — indoors, outdoors, with sand, with water — why are we quibbling over the manner in which it’s presented?

  102. beckys July 21, 2010 at 1:04 am #

    Mind you, I have no problem with sand tables. But I was sitting here, remembering the many happy hours my sisters and I spent in the many, many sandboxes my dad built us over the years. And, I’m happy to say, my four-year-old granddaughter has one in her backyard, built by her daddy, my son. With a handy lid to cover it when not in use, to keep the cats out!

  103. LBC July 21, 2010 at 4:53 am #

    When searching for a good preschool, I rejected one whose director told me the kids didn’t go outside during the winter because it takes too long to get their coats on and off. Wow! So I settled on a different (lesser of evils) preschool. When I offered to make homemade play-doh for the class, I was told it was not allowed because it gets salt on the kids’ hands. Sigh.

  104. Sarah Baldwin, M.S.Ed. July 21, 2010 at 5:58 am #

    While I was teaching Waldorf nursery and kindergarten classes, the only thing that would keep us indoors would be sub-zero weather with a danger of frostbite. Some of our local preschools and kindergartens don’t go outside if it’s below 32F. Here in Maine, that would keep children inside for at least three months out of the year!

    Soon after moving to Maine, and spending at least an hour outside with the children every day, I really learned how to dress for the weather—wool long-johns and undershirt, lots of layers, a long down coat, wool hat, warm mittens and shearling lined boots—which allowed me to enjoy many joyful hours outdoors in mid-winter with the children. The children rarely complained about the cold, and when they did, it was usually only those who were under-dressed. Once we put an extra layer or hat or warm mittens on them, they would return happily to outdoor winter play.

    If we are providing children sand tables at school to give them sensory experiences (which we know are important), then I ask: What better way to nourish their senses than to let them dig in dirt, climb a tree, make snow angels, or splash in cool water on a hot day? To experience all the elements with their whole bodies. We can never hope to replicate those experiences indoors.

  105. LS July 21, 2010 at 7:31 am #

    I will chime in with the other Waldorf folks here-the kids at our school (2.5-grade 12) go outside every day-no matter the weather. Nursery through grade 8 is required to bring a raincoat, rain pants and boots to school the first day and leave them there the whole year, and believe me, if your child is not dressed appropriately for cold weather, the teacher WILL talk to you about that as a basic expectation. My seven year old had 90 minutes of recess every day as a Waldorf first grader-broken into two 45-minute segments. People that are moving around do not get cold; if anything the kids want to take their coats OFF. It is us, the adults, that see weather as an irritant, as something to be avoided, or something that is inherently uncomfortable.

  106. sonya July 21, 2010 at 9:41 pm #

    I’m glad to say that my kids have always played in outdoor sandboxes, at home and at pre-school/school. And mud in the stream and plain old dirt in the playground. It’s easy to keep critters out of sandboxes with a lid. At pre-school they had sensory work, but that didn’t include much sand. Instead they had peas and beads for pouring/stirring, because the kids were responsible for all cleanup themselves.

  107. BXO July 22, 2010 at 4:57 am #

    This has not been my experience at all:

    “If it’s drizzling, chilly, or anything less “desirable” than 75 degrees-and-sunny, most preschool programs keep children indoors”

    Kids in daycare are outside if it is over 40 or under 90 degrees and there are signs posted that say so. I’ve seen this in multiple daycares.

    There’s no need to exagerrate or give facts that are unsupported to make the points that are made in the articles found on this website.

  108. Mary July 22, 2010 at 5:49 am #

    For those readers who stated that licnesing requires children to go outside, and there are signs posted that they do, you are correct. Your failed assumption is that most childcare centers actually do take the children out every day in every weather. They do not.

  109. kherbert July 22, 2010 at 7:51 am #

    Also the temperatures/conditions depend on the region.

    If I had to wait till it was below 90 my students wouldn’t get to have recess till late September/Early October. I’m in Houston.

    I don’t take my kids out if there is any type of steady rain. In part because steady rain here pretty much = thunder and lightning.

    Most of my students only have cotton hoodies, so on the rare times it is below 50 mid day we don’t go outside. The students don’t have proper coats, and aren’t used to colder weather. Most of them would be dressed in shorts/short sleeves

  110. Hege July 24, 2010 at 1:12 am #

    It’s funny how the perception of bad weather varies between cultures, and how that has impact on how and where children are allowed to play. Growing up in Norway, about 280 days a year would fall into the category of bad weather, but still the rule was that children needed to be outside every day, rain, frost, snow or shine. My own daughters attended kindergarten in both Norway and Italy, and while the weather was much “better” in Italy for outdoor play, the temperature range that was considered “healthy” for outdoor play was much narrower. The end result was that they spent much more time indoors in Italy than they did in Norway.
    However, outdoor play in any kind of weather means you need to emply more personnel. Getting all that rain gear without help is impossible for a 2-3-4-5 year-old. In Norway nurseries (1-3 year-olds) had 9 kids per 3 adults, and kindergartens (4-6 year-olds) had 18 kids per 3 adults, which is part of what enables kids to go outside every day.

  111. baby-paramedic July 27, 2010 at 11:44 pm #

    SKL, that fingerpainting sounds dreadfully boring.
    I recall my early childhood… I never made “mud-pies” or did anything that involves touching “slimey” things.
    Even now I do NOT like slimey things on my bare hands.
    Gloves? Yep, show me the nearest body cavity.
    But I’m not sticking my hands on anything slimey without something covering them first.

    Apparently I had a teacher who thought there was something wrong with me because of this.
    No, I just really don’t like slimey things!

  112. Stephanie Lynn August 17, 2010 at 5:33 am #

    Now that I have a daughter of my own, I know I will be encouraging her to play outside as much as possible. As kids, we spent alot of our time outdoors – climbing fences, exploring neighbors backyards, playing cowboys or detectives or explorers – and those were some of the best times I can remember. When I look at kids activities today, I don’t see anything that I would count as fun or memorable.
    It’s kind of sad actually, reading this has made me long for the days when I could go outside and just climb a tree or lay in the grass or something. As adults we are only expected to be outside if we are “doing something constructive” like mowing the lawn or jogging. We don’t really have the time or the motivation to just “play”.

  113. Derek McCrea September 5, 2010 at 11:16 pm #

    This is so true, thanks for sharing.


  1. Sand Play: Who Knew It Could Be So Controversial? | Moon Child | Waldorf Toys | Natural Parenting - July 19, 2010

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