Sun, Sand & Science: Things to do With Kids

Sun, Sand & Science: Things to do With Kids

It’s summer — that time of year when home sandboxes are opened and sand castles begin springing up on beaches. (I bet you read “summer” in Olaf’s voice if your kids have watched “Frozen” as much as mine this winter.) Beyond the pure fun of playing in the sand, did you realize that something as simple as grains of sand could ignite STEAM curiosity in your little scientist? Check out these fun activities you and your child can do with sand.

What do sand and snowflakes have in common?

Did you know that just like snowflakes, each grain of sand is completely unique? Using a microscope (cell phone option will do) or simple magnifying glass, check out the “rainbow of colors,” shapes and sizes in just a small sample of sand, according to Natalie Rosinsky from “Dirt: The Scoop on Soil.” Make it into a game for your young detective by finding a certain color or shape to encourage engagement and learning. Mix it up with different types of sand to stoke your little geologist’s curiosity further.

How does sand even form?

Help your child learn about how the sand they saw up close started as a mountain high above the clouds or a coral deep under the sea.

A simple and fun experiment to investigate one of these processes starts with a few pieces of small rocks or gravel in a small closed container that they can shake, rattle and roll! A little water might also help the process along, as well. After some time, use your magnifying glass to compare the sand your little geologist created in their container by hitting rocks together with the sand in their sandbox. Now compare it to the rock it started out as.

How does sand get to the beach?

The simple answer is water or wind carries it there. Try pouring water directly over your sand castle and ask your children to observe what happens. Just as rocks and sediment on mountains erode, crumble and roll into rivers and streams, the same can be observed with this activity. Next try blowing on dry sand and let your little meteorologist explore how it shifts in the wind.

What keeps my sand castle upright?

Let your little architect experiment with what happens when they add different amounts of water to buckets of sand during castle construction. Too much water and the sand becomes a soupy texture; too little and the sand doesn’t stick together. Get it right and water “bridges” glue the sand grains together using surface tension. Experiment with identifying the right mix to achieve desired definition and structural support. 

Why does solid sand flow like a fluid?

Grains of sand slip and slide past one another in a phenomenon known as granular flow, just like salt or sugar. Give your little physicist different size funnels and watch them explore how sand flows through each size funnel differently. Which lets the sand flow faster or slower? Which funnel holds more sand? What if the sand is wet? 

Exploring kinetic sand

Stuck inside? No problem; grab the kinetic sand or make your own as a bonus learning opportunity for your little polymer scientist. Kinetic sand is great because it never dries out and it is easy to use. This is all thanks to a polymer added to the sand that gives it unique properties, according to the article “How Does Kinetic Sand Work?” on by Sara Miller. Allow your child to physically explore the differences in texture and feel between kinetic sand and other sand. Investigate online as a team what makes kinetic sand act differently than regular sand. Have fun making interesting creations! 

Use sand to grow math skills

Let your little mathematicians practice numbers by counting each scoop of sand as they dump it into their buckets. Scoop sand into different containers using different size spoons. How do the numbers change? Let your children explore concepts such as what it means to be empty, full, heavy, light, more than, less than or equal.

For older children, scoop sand into measuring cups and weigh the sand to explore mass and weight relationships. 

Sand as your canvas

Let your little linguist practice drawing numbers, letters, words or pictures in the sand with you. This can strengthen motor skills and word or number recognition. You can also play a game of Pictionary by using sand! Bonus lesson, use wind or waves to “erase” your work.

Make a work of art

Allow your children’s creativity to run wild as they fill any clear container with their favorite colors of sand. Not only will it grow their imagination, but these works of art are also beautiful to display and your child will take great pride in their work.

Fun Science Facts: Did You Know…

Most sand is formed from rocks that break down from weathering. This is known as erosion. The eroded rock then travels down rivers and streams until it reaches its final destination. 

Some sand can be traced back to ancient glaciers.

The famous black sands in Hawaii are made from volcanic rock. 

Scientists have traced some sand on the beaches of Florida to the Sahara desert in Africa.

Parrot Fish create tons of sand on Earth each year. These fish use their beak-like teeth to scrape and bite dead coral. Teeth in their throat break it down into fine sand…and you can guess how it is released back into the ocean.

The polymer in kinetic sand gives it “viscoelastic” properties. That means that when you make a mound of sand it holds that shape but eventually it will flow and change shape. 

Recommended books on sand:

Article sources:
Gary Greenburg, “The Secrets of Sand;” Ellen Prager, “Sand;” Ellen Lawrence, “Is Sand a Rock?” and “One Strange Rock” on Disney+.

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