Sandpits are common features in many playgrounds, and can provide hours of social and constructive play activity. A well constructed sandpit based on good design principles, will provide years of enjoyment and repay your investment many times over. Yet sadly, many sandpits in commercial playgrounds are poorly designed with adverse effects not only on playground operators, but also on the children.
Take the time to study the physical layout of your playground carefully and analyse how the children make use of their play space. Ideally your new sandpit should be located in a quite play space, preferably in a shaded area. You should ensure that the location will not interfere with open play space nor should it encroach on softfall safety zones around fixed or portable play equipment. If a shaded area is not readily available, you may need to have a shade structure erected above the sandpit. If so then ensure that the positioning of the support poles will not interfere with soft fall areas, or open play space.
Trees can can offer wonderful, natural shade, yet you should take care that your sandpit will not be located where it can be damaged by tree roots. Often playgrounds in child care centres or schools will have areas of soft fall wood chips for safe play areas. However locating your sandpit adjacent to a wood chip safe play play area will mean your sandpit will soon be overrun with wood chips. If this location is your only option, then try to come up with creative ways to counter the spillage of wood chips. For example you may create a barrier or surrounding pathway of synthetic surfacing or natural grass, or even timber decking.
In spite of your best efforts, sand will inevitably escape from the sandpit perimeter through natural play, so you should try to reduce the effect of sand spillage wherever possible. For example dry sand granules on a concrete pathway, can result in the surface becoming very slippery, and a potential OHS issue. The application of a wetpour rubber layer may be advisable to reduce this effect. Another consideration is that there should be enough distance between your sandpit and the entrance of any nearby buildings to reduce the amount of sand which could enter the building.
In assessing the best location, look for ways to incorporate your sandpit into an existing playground feature or into the natural landscaping of your playground. It may fit snugly against an existing retaining wall, or be incorporated around a rock feature, so think creatively. Remember that although a sandpit may be out of the way, it should still be clearly visible to allow easy supervision of play.
One often overlooked aspect in considering location is access. Remember that your sandpit will need to be filled up periodically, and wheelbarrowing 8 tonne of sand is hard work. If direct vehicular access is not possible, look for alternate ways to create access such as removing fence panels, or seek permission to gain access from neighbouring properties. In order to keep your sand hygienic, it will need to be topped up periodically, or replaced with fresh clean immediately in the advent of contamination by animals. Thoughtfulness at the design stage can save lots of hard work later.
Warning. If you have an existing synthetic play surface such as rubber or synthetic grass around your sandpit site, do not use an excavator or small bobcat to carry sand across it. Despite what the excavator driver may say, the machine is very likely to damage the surfacing, and repair work is difficult and costly. If this is the case in your playground, then you will have to resort to the tried and tested method of the wheelbarrow and shovel.
Step 2. Design
The surface area size of your sandpit will be dependent upon the number of users, available space and budget, as well as the range of alternative play activities. Ideally it should be a minimum of at least 500 mm deep.
Once you have chosen your location and size think about what shape design will work best in your location. Sandpits can be almost any shape including circular, kidney, oval or square.
Your design should consider ease of access for users. Preferably the sandpit walls will be sunk entirely into the ground, or be built with low entry spots to provide easy access.
Ideally, sandpits should have a flat lip around their perimeter. This may be used for seats as well as providing a flat surface for playing with toys and a shelf for building on. The lip should be clearly defined and easily seen so that it will not become a potential trip hazard. It also serves to provides an easy sweep area, for sweeping overflowing sand back.
Sandpits are usually constructed from timber, concrete, pavers or brick blocks depending on what material is best suited the site. If you use timber, be careful not to use timber which has been treated with CCA (Copper Chromium Arsenic). Ask your supplier for alternative treated timber such as ACQ or use hardwoods.
Covering the structural component of the sandpit with wet pour rubber is the ideal solution to providing safe edging, although synthetic grass may also be used. When designing your sandpit ensure that edges are rounded or at least beveled, to reduce the potential for impact injuries.
Drainage is another important factor to prevent your sandpit from becoming a swimming pool in times of heavy rain. Furthermore a well drained sandpit will mean that the sand is washed and freshened by the rain, resulting in more hygienic sandpit.
Diagram 1 shows a cross section of a well drained sandpit. Loose rocks or aggregate are used at the bottom of the sandpit to prevent water build up and an can be used to drain away the water. You will also need a barrier between the sand and the drainage rock material to prevent children digging down to the rocks. The barrier should be made of a porous material such as geo tech fabric, rubber or perforated synthetic grass.
Step 3.The Construction Process
Once you have your design, you can either build the sandpit yourself, or outsource the work to a professional trades person. Landscapers, builders, concreters, carpenters or playground specialists are the best place to start your enquiries depending on the scope of works. Ask around at other commercial playgrounds and get recommendations from operator who can recommend a trades person from a similar project. Ideally your chosen company should have a track record in similar projects.
When you are obtaining quotes, provide a plan or sketch of your design as well as a written list of your criteria. This will ensure that everybody is quoting on the same specifications. Arrange to meet the tradesman onsite and remember to ask for their feedback and ideas as well. Often a professional tradesman may be able to offer excellent ideas or practical perspectives which you may not have have thought of.
Step 4. The Sandpit Cover
Once your sandpit is completed, it is important that your sandpit is securely covered when not in use, to prevent leaves, dirt and animal contamination which can spread disease. A shade and sail maker can provide you with a sturdy, commercial grade cover, which will allow water through, yet still keep animals out.
You can have your cover professionally fitted and installed, or you can save money by installing it yourself, and having the sail maker customise it from your measurements. If your sandpit is an irregular shape, a very useful tip is to take a large piece of black plastic (available at your local hardware shop) and stretch it over the sandpit using weights to hold it in place. You can now use scissors or a marking pen to trace the required shape, thereby making an exact template of your cover. Fold this up and take it to your local shade and sail maker. This is often more accurate and simpler, than trying to measure an irregular shaped sandpit with unusual angles.
An excellent idea is to have the sail maker sew a length of chain in the hem of the cover. This will weigh the cover down and hold it securely in place when the sandpit is not in use. An alternative method is to have the sail maker sew eyelets at strategic points and to use clips and elastic rope to secure it to the sandpit sides.
Step 5. Looking After your Sandpit
A well designed sandpit will need far less maintenance than one which has been poorly designed; however some basic upkeep is still required. Raking your sandpit regularly will help to aerate the sand as well as remove leaves and other debris. Airing the sand is important as fresh air serves as a disinfectant. Disinfecting your sandpit by hand will be required when they are obviously dirty. An easy method is to use a mild detergent diluted in water in a watering can, although the best way to guarantee your sand is clean and hygienic is to remove the top layer of sand (or all of it if it is really dirty) and top it up with fresh clean sand.
Following these steps will ensure that your new sandpit will be an asset to your playground and an investment in the lives of the children you care for.
Some pictures of some sandpits built by the author can be found at .
Copyright Nick Warren 2007. This article may be used free of charge provided it is not altered in any way and the original referencing is preserved.