September 22, 2008 at 12:45PM
by Alexandra Zissu
When my daughter was very young, I didn't let her in the sandbox at our closest local playground. Sometimes she would come home from a grandparent-initiated visit to said playground with telltale grains in her shoes and I'd try to grin and bear it. (My own mother would get an earful!) But my gut feeling was the thing was a cesspool of germs, roundworm eggs, pesticide and car-exhaust residue, lead dust, general city filth, old Band-Aids, rat shit, and worse. Why oh why would I willingly allow my kid to dig into that, then stick her filthy little adorable fingers in her mouth!? I get that sand play can help intellectual development, but, um, I'm pretty good about making up for what she might lose out on in the sand. I remember an article in The New Yorker that came out right when I was in the not-allowed-in-the-box phase that helped put me off. I cringe when I see very young children in the sandbox, or kids romping around in there with their shoes off - who knows what sharp matter is buried in there?
As my daughter has gotten older, it has been harder to keep her out of the sandpit. Especially if we're on a playdate and her friends are hopping in. The powers that be recently put new sand in my local box and so that made me feel better for about 24 full hours. In general, I still avoid it like the plague (maybe there's plague in there?) without really resisting it out loud for fear she will (oppositionally) fall madly in love with it. But from time to time she goes in. So when someone asked me recently if sandboxes are safe, I relished the opportunity to research my gut feeling.
Turns out I'm in good company when it comes to telling parents to keep the kids out of the box. All of the above can be true and more. None other than the noted pediatrician Dr. Sears states the following on his website:
"Since your children's sandbox can quickly and easily be turned into the neighborhood litter box, take these precautions to make it safe:
* Keep your sandbox covered and pet-free. Instruct your children not to let family pets play with them in the sandbox. Once they understand that pets will turn the sandbox into a litter box, they will be motivated to keep their sandbox covered and pet-free. A sandbox that is properly cared for can be fun and safe for children.
* Don't let your child play in unsafe sandboxes. Neighborhood sandboxes that are left uncovered are not safe for children to play in. This goes for public playgrounds as well."
Not only is my public playground left uncovered, but it's also in the middle of a traffic intersection in New York City. Sigh.
I've been talking about what is in the sand, but here's some interesting info on the sand itself. A company that says they sell safe sand
has some pretty compelling information re what the state of California (always ahead of the rest of us) has to say about sandbox sand:
"California requires [a] warning label on play sand containing crystalline silica. That is because much of the playsand found in today's stores is not natural sand, but actually derived from quarried quartz rocks. Children, who have developing lungs, breathe in crystalline silica dust as they play in the sand. Frequent sandbox play creates continued exposure to this known carcinogen."
All of the above is more than enough to make me reconsider my ban, and certainly enough to recommend that all parents of children young enough that they don't keep their hands out of their mouths as they play shouldn't be allowing their tots in the sandbox. If you have a box in your own backyard you can seal overnight, as Dr. Sears suggests, by all means. But I suspect most parents don't have access to this sort of safety measure(s). The only clear alternative is avoidance. It might make me unpopular in my household, but thankfully there are plenty of playgrounds near us that don't have sandboxes. I just hope the Parks Department quits building playgrounds with boxes in them. Us parents could use their help. Meanwhile, if your kid's a sandbox junkie, scrub their hands post play, especially before a meal.