Babies, toddlers and young children enjoy digging and playing in sand and earth. Whānau can support language, creativity, sensory learning, coordination, and science and maths concepts when digging with tamariki in a sandpit, garden, or at the beach.

Why do it?

  • Children of all ages enjoy playing with sand, digging in the dirt and making mud pies.
  • It can be a soothing and relaxing activity, and may help children to unwind and de-stress.
  • During play, children learn new words and concepts like bigger, smaller, dry, wet, squashy and squelchy.
  • Playing with sand and earth helps to develop motor skills. Both large and small muscles can be strengthened through digging, filling, sifting and pouring.
  • Sand play can also be enjoyed with or alongside another child, giving opportunities to practise taking turns and cooperating with each other.

How to do it

You'll need:

  • a suitable play area where spills can be contained and no one is going to get too upset if sand or earth gets spilt or spread around. If the play area is indoors, an old sheet or curtain spread out can catch any spills
  • a container that’s big enough for a child to put both hands inside when it's half full — this can be a large plastic container, or even an empty shoe or cardboard box
  • containers to fill and empty, funnels, sieves, plastic bottles and some small animals or toy people for hiding and finding
  • clothes that it won’t matter if they get dirty.

Helpful tips:

  • Instead of sand or earth, small pebbles, bark chips or other similar material can be used as an alternative.
  • If you want to make a sandpit, choose a sunny well-drained place and mark off a space of ground. Use lengths of wood, logs or driftwood to ‘contain’ the area. Old paddling pools are another idea – they might leak water but could still hold sand.
  • Make a cover to keep animals out. Maybe an old shower curtain held down in the corners with some heavy rocks or tucked under the sand pit itself.

Using more te reo Māori

Te reo Māori English
Earth, soil
To dig
A shovel
A shovel
To dry
To be wet, sloshy
To be muddy, boggy
To make smaller
Tūpoki te onepū Cover the sand
Hurahia te tūpuni Remove the covering
Kei te aha te huarere i tēnei rā? What's the weather like today?
Kei te wera tēnei rā Today is hot
Horoia ō ringaringa Wash your hands