A few thoughts about SAND from our Evergreen and the TCDSB!
There are a lot of negative perceptions with sand but honestly the benefits outweigh them and sand play is being recognized as an important element for play based learning especially in the new FDK curriculum - that's not to say older children don't love playing in sand and learn from the experience - they do! I suggest anyone who doesn't see the learning opportunities from sand play, spend some time watching kids 'at work'! It's amazing!
This isn't to say there's not a learning curve with sand but like anything, providing students with rules on proper and improper use (with consequences) will help with some of the behavioural challenges. As for maintenance, following a protocol of shaking off as much sand from the body will help reduce this. I've known one school that keeps little brushes (think dust pan brush) handy and kids brush themselves down before going in. It's not perfect, but it does help. Visual inspections of the sand area, washing hands after play and not eating in the sandpit are all good practices that keep incidences down too. Having a rake handy can make visual inspections easy. (There's no harm in arming students with the task of sweeping sand (and mulch) back into their designated spaces too!)
Attached are some pieces about the importance of sand play and child development (as well as a link http://www.earlychildhoodnews.com/earlychildhood/article_view.aspx?ArticleID=62 ) ......now I will explain what we are doing differently that reduces the issues most people relate to sandboxes....
1) Use of washed granitic sand instead of brick sand: has no smell because it contains no silt, clay or organics therefore is less likely to attract critters (due diligence would suggest children do NOT eat snacks in the sandbox for this reason); cats don't like it because when they dig, it collapses in on itself; it doesn't require rototilling since it naturally doesn't compact or become hard; IF a child/animal does soil it, remove it and pour a 10% bleach/water mix over the spot to sterilize the sand again - this CAN'T be done with any other sand type; it has a percolation or water filtration rate greater than 30 inches per hour so it's playable almost year round; non-glaring and light in colour so it stays cooler in the sun; granitic sand is made from naturally weathered granite rock so considered ultra clean (exposure to air and sun are the only measures needed to keep sterilized).
2) Size matters - installing large sand pits rather than small sandboxes also deters animals from using them - not only does the sand collapse and is not appealing to cats, but they prefer privacy and small spaces to 'do their business'. And though I hear this concern alot, raccoons do NOT use these as washrooms - they like fence lines and very private areas...just as long as food is kept out of the pits, there is no concern with them. However, if your neighbourhood community uses your yard to let their dogs run in (or you get evening visitors), I would be making sure to visually check the sandpit as part of the routine yard inspection.
3) Are covers needed? Halton, the TDSB (and now the French board) have been installing sandpits in their kindie spaces for the past two years (using granitic sand and similar in size to yours). They DON'T cover any of them and have had no issues with animals using them. IF the school feels the need to cover (though it's not necessary), using only a thin, open mesh material is all that's recommended in order to still allow rain and sun to penetrate the sand to sterilize it. Heavier covers don't seem to work (or get used) over time - I see more of them broken/discarded than used.....the use of covers seems to be more of a response to all the perceptions about sandboxes and safety concerns.
I think the heart of the matter comes from the parents/teachers needing to be educated on the GOOD qualities of sand play and the importance of it for child development (it's actually VERY important to the new FDK curriculum) and how these good points outweigh the 'not so good' points. Focusing on the risk alone is extremely limiting and detrimental to the growth of our children. Happy, active, engaged children should be the important thing and decisions should be based on 'what's best for the children' - this gives us a clear focus.....
Here's a list of what sandplay HAS been documented to provide.......
Development of fine motor skills
Eye & hand coordination – watching and doing and coordinating these actions.
Promote creativity and imagination through role and developing stories.
Sensory- Development of the sense of touch. Feeling and manipulating objects and moulding the sand.
Language development – playing with sand is a social activity requiring speaking and listening, also developing vocabulary. Practising and experimenting with language.
- To create a shaded environment for our children that will protect them from harmful u.v exposure, while at the same time providing maximum efficiency in the school with regard to heating and cooling.
- To foster environmental awareness, conservation, education, responsibility and stewardship in St. Leo Students.
- To create a playground that fosters nature friendly learning, out of the box teaching and that creates appropriate outlets for active and spirited children.
- To promote a return to nature in the St. Leo School yard by engaging the larger Mimico community.
- To create a welcoming and nature friendly entrance to the school.
- To work with the Church in providing a space that would meet the needs of the church (parking, gathering space for outside socials after mass) and school community (seating areas, meet and greet and shade for children).
- To complete the three new mural projects.
- To create a low maintenance and properly graded garden along the East wall of the Church with shrubs and trees that provides shade, attracts birds and butterflies, and protects the vulnerable brick of the church.
- To create a natural garden of indigenous shrubs along the east garage wall of the Church.
- To plant trees to provide necessary shade for Kindergarten pickup, recess play and seating.
- To paint four square, hopscotch and basketball on the asphalt where indicated.
- Asphalt replaced in select areas that is safe, even and properly graded to move water away from Church and School.
- To plant trees along entire chain link fence and in front of kindergarten play area to provide necessary shade from intense southern exposure and create wind break from south westerly, winter winds coming off of the Lake. These trees to have mulch beneath to create optimal growing, earth seating and to encourage wildlife and birds.
- To paint four square, hopscotch, basketball and soccer lines on the asphalt
- To create a phased in, mixed use (outdoor classroom, wildlife stewardship, recess and lunch seating) Eco Zone with mulch, sand, low maintenance bushes, planters and bird houses.
- To replace asphalt where necessary that is even and safe, particularly around sewer grates.
- To plant trees on either side of the entrance to the Kindergarten area that will provide necessary shade for young children who are currently exposed to UV rays without any option for shade.
- To create an outdoor environment for play based- all day Kindergarten that reflects TCDSB’s standards and promotes inquiry, experiential and integrated learning. This will be done via a blend of hard and soft scape, music/weather wall, planters, natural seating elements and visual art.
- To replace asphalt where indicated that is safe, even and graded properly away from the school foundation.
- To plant trees along the east chain link fence and door where children line up for classes.
- To provide shaded seating
- To create a sport area that is accessible from the Gym that will provide students with recess activity but that will also be useful in all levels of the curriculum.
- To paint sport walls, nets and murals on the school walls.
- To create a mixed-use sand pit that could be used for longjump / shotput as well as free play and experiential learning.
- To paint activities such as 50 m dash, foot hockey, four square, and basketball on the replaced asphalt.
- To replace asphalt that is safe and even in indicated areas
- To work with Mimico businesses and organizations to create an environment that is sustainable, relevant, historical and specific to the Mimico community.
- To work with residential homes immediately around the school to create a more eco friendly, shade plentiful space that can have multi faceted purpose within the community
- To work with the Church community to foster community events, responsibility, stewardship, respect and appreciation for our environment.
- Please see attached for Maintenance Plan Budget
- To establish a schedule within school hours for stewardship of gardens and playground.
- To foster an awareness/excitement of environmental responsibility with respect to wildlife, plants, garbage etc...
- To incorporate fundraising initiatives into costs of maintenance.
- To plant native, hardy, low maintenance shrubs, trees and plants.
- Annual St. Leo’s Cleanup Drive which fosters environmental responsibility in our yard and the community. In pilot year of 2013, we raised $2000.00. This money could forthwith be dedicated to maintaining and building upon current and new initiatives in our school yard and with respect to environmental responsibility and stewardship.
- In the event that the Cleanup Drive does not meet the success of previous years, other fundraisers can be initiated throughout the year to top up any needed funds.
- To work with teachers to create an outdoor classroom that meets their curriculum needs, is sustainable and multi purposeful.
- To work with teachers to create artwork (4X4 exterior plywood) for the fences that reflect and support the curriculum. This will engage students, create pride for school grounds and encourage stewardship.
- To supply each teacher with a planter and dirt to create a small garden planter garden that will be put together to create the beginnings of our eco-garden. This will serve as a test ground to determine teacher and student involvement and interest.