Children playing in a sandbox is one of those stereotypical images of childhood. A basic enclosure filled with sand is a simple way to introduce amusement and play activities for a small child. Once the box is in place, sand is added to provide the play medium. Different types of sand have different characteristics that need consideration when choosing the play medium for your child's sandbox.
A type of marketed sand usually called "play sand" is generally available at home improvement warehouse shops such as B & Q. This type of sand is also available at hardware shops and may be found at lawn and garden centres. Play sand is silica sand or silica quartz and is a natural product. It is usually washed river sand that is relatively fine in texture.
Fine sand considerations
Consider what type of play your child will engage in while playing in the sandbox. Building sandcastles can be done with fine texture play sand because the sand will pack, but that quality may not make it suitable in your application. If the fine texture sand gets wet, it will pack hard in the sandbox and can make play sessions less enjoyable. Throwing the sand or otherwise vigorous play in the sandbox can cause the sand to become airborne. A fine texture sand is more likely to be inhaled or get into the child's eyes and introduce an unpleasant irritant to the eyes or lungs. Likewise, the fine texture sand will find its way to the child's face by clinging to his hands.
Coarser-grade sand can be used if the child's play will not include packing and building with the sand. Silica construction sand can be used, which is a slightly larger granule than play sand. This larger grain will make the sand less likely to remain airborne where it can be inhaled and blow into your child's eyes. The larger grain also makes it less likely to cling to your child's hands and be transferred to his face. A more coarse grain will also be easier to brush out of the child's clothes than the finer texture of play sand. Construction sand is generally available at the same shops mentioned for play sand. Construction sand should not be collected from construction sites or scavenged from any locations. Purchase new, bagged sand from a reputable source.
A small pea gravel can be used as a sand alternative. The gravel is smooth and of a grain size that is like very coarse sand. The pea gravel will remain a loose, flowing medium in which your child can play, and it won't pack.
Concern has been raised about the safety of silica sand or silica quartz. According to a statement on the health effects of inhaled crystalline silica by the Environmental Protection Agency, crystalline silica is widely used in industry and has long been recognized as a major occupational hazard, causing disability and deaths among workers in several industries. The health concerns surrounding silica, however, are generally confined to occupational exposures, which are much higher and for prolonged periods compared to what a child will be exposed to playing in a sandbox. The dangers concerning play sand as an irritant are the same as for any other natural particulate small enough to be inhaled.