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April 16, 2009

Sandbox Safety

The time for outside play is here and one of the most popular additions to the collection of outside toys is the sandbox. I already have two friends who I know have one and I am planning on getting one for Willow this year. I think the cool sand will be a nice retreat in the hot Houston summer.

According to BabyCenter, sand play is a great way for your child develop arm and hand motor skills, explore textures and consistency, and begin learning concepts like full and empty. Sandboxes in public parks can also give your child a chance to practice playing and sharing with others.

So, you purchase a sandbox and some sand and set it out in your yard. Done, done and done, right? Nope...

Like most things in life, the easy part is getting the toy and making it available for play. The hard part is saving your children from themselves when it comes to maintaining it and using it. And if you're not really careful that sandbox will become the place that all the stray cats (and other animals) in the neighborhood use to relieve themselves. And then you have your kids playing in feces filled with disease. Not good.

So, what can you do to make a safe play environment for your children? Well, here are some tips:

For the Sandbox:
  1. Make sure the sandbox is placed away from other play areas like slides and swings.

  2. Keep the sandbox covered when not in use. Most of the pre-made sandboxes that you can buy from Toys R Us or Wal Mart come with a cover in place. But, if you are one of those parents who likes to "do it yourself" and decide that building a sandbox is the way to go, you need to make sure you remember a cover.

    • The cover should be secured to prevent animals from getting into the sandbox. Bungee cords are great for this purpose.

    • The cover should be stored in a safe place when not in use. It's not a good idea to let your children play with the cover because if it gets damaged it may effect it's ability to keep out animals.

  3. Sandboxes must be inspected for signs of contamination and safety hazards such as cat feces, insects, sharp objects, etc. before each use.

    • It is important to use a rake to inspect the sand under the surface, instead of just looking at the top of the sand. Hazards are easily concealed in sand.

    • Remove sand contaminated with urine, feces, or other toxic substances, sanitize container and replace with fresh sand.

    • Treatment of sand with chemicals to attempt to sterilize it within the sandbox is not recommended. Sand, already installed in play areas, cannot be safely cleaned without leaving residues that could harm children.

  4. Replace sand as needed, at least every two years.
For the Sand:
  1. Finding the right type of sand and then making sure it remains free of contaminants is important.

  2. Purchase new, sterilized "natural sand" from a hardware, gardening, or toy store.

    • This coarse sand, which is culled from beneath ponds and then sterilized, should be labeled for use in children's sandboxes and should be a light tan color.

    • However, keep in mind that such coarse sand, often used as a safe surface underneath playground equipment, will not stick together when dampened with water.

  3. Play sand, which also should be labeled for use in sandboxes, should stick together when dampened and will make the perfect medium for mold use and sandcastle building.

  4. Stay away from white or light powdery artificial sand because it may contain rocks, chunks, and materials made of asbestos, a material that is poisonous to both children and adults.
For the Kids:
  1. Make sure you supervise your child(ren) during sandbox play.

  2. Hand washing before AND after is a MUST.

  3. Try to prevent children from putting their sand-covered hands in their mouths or on their faces.

  4. Try to avoid small toys a child could choke on.

  5. If you're at a playground (public) sandbox, anti-bacterial wipes or Purel are a good thing to carry around. (Just FYI - According to Dr. Sears, playing in a public sandbox isn't safe for your children but I think it's up to you and your discretion since you are more aware of your particular neighborhood.)

  6. After outdoor sand play, use a soft brush to remove any sand particles from children's clothes before they go back inside.

First aid for sand in eyes
- Have child lie down, head to the side, and place a clean diaper (if available) next to head to catch water. Use clean cup to pour cool water over the child‛s eye. Continue to irrigate until the particles of sand are gone. Encourage the child to blink, but do not allow the child to rub his/her eye. Rubbing damages the eye. If irrigating does not work, cover the eyes and seek medical attention as soon as possible.

More Information:
Safe Sand - takes the worry out of choosing the right sand.
Build a Sandbox - Handyman USA
Build a Simple Sandbox - Bob Villa
Outdoor Home Playground Safety Handbook from the Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC).

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