How to Set Up Sand Play Like a Day at the Beach

How can you make an everyday sandbox feel like a day at the beach? Fill the sandbox with these unique shells and colorful stones to bring on the awesome sensory play. 

 Preschool sandbox play with shells and pebbles

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 A day at the beach is not always a-day-at-the-beach. 

You might have a busy preschooler and a newborn.

You might be a lengthy car drive away from a sandy shore.

You might cringe at the thought of a pile wet sandy clothing filling up your laundry basket.

A practical solution is to set up a beach scene with play sand at home. 

The sandbox is a wonderful invitation to play. Without any introduction or direction, toddlers and preschoolers are drawn to the play area, eager to dip their hands into the sand.

  • They'll be pleasantly surprised at how cool the sand feels when wiggling fingers through it.

Kids will be inspired to dig in right away, which equals bonus independent, child-led play.

How to set up sand play at home or school

Setup for this activity is easy, but takes a little preparation.

  • Fill a plastic tub with play sand. You can buy this online or look for it at your local hardware store.

  • Place the bin on a blue drop cloth on the floor, to simulate the ocean.

  • Set out a beach hat and sun glasses. Provide a small beach bag with the sand toys.

The props and toys you add to the sand bin will contribute to the fun and learning.

This simple sand play activity uses some unique sea shells with a very cool shape.

Teach the rules of sand play. You can encourage your preschooler to keep the sand in the bin but be prepared for some mess. You can also clearly define your own rules for playing with sand, such as no throwing, no pouring out of the bin onto the floor.

Once the sensory bin is ready, add the toys and shells that take it from an ordinary tub filled with sand to a beachy experience that promotes experimentation and observation.

 Sensory bin with sand and sea shells for preschool


The secret to this sand play activity is the sea shell.

I discovered these long sea shells, Turitella or tower shells, in a craft store recently. These little shells are perfect for prompting a new experience in an ordinary sandbox.

  • They offer a unique opportunity to create designs and patterns, and they support awesome pretend play that builds imaginations.

I added a sand shovel, plastic sea creatures and a few polished stones from the craft store. I found these similar large flat pebbles online. You can add actual stones from your back yard if possible. 

Note: Stones and small items should be used under adult supervision.

You could even make a sun hat and sun glasses available to enhance the beach theme.


Sand play with seashells for preschoolers


One preschooler came up with the idea to build a fort by inserting the shells upright.

  • Create a walkway leading to the fort with the smooth stones.


Sand play for preschoolers

Can you make a starfish?

Sand and shells preschool sensory bin

This jumbo spade is an interesting addition, suitable for digging up gems buried in the sand. 

When you add an unfamiliar shape, or use a familiar object in a new way, hands-on play takes a new and creative direction. 

Note: Sand play is not limited by a theme or props. The activity can be adapted to any shells, digging tools and ocean toys you have on hand. 

The texture and coolness of the sand, and the interesting shells and toys all contribute to the sensory learning experience. 

This activity is perfect to make sand play a day at the beach, wherever you are!


Visit our Sensory Play board on Pinterest


More Sand Play!

 Preschool activities using sand



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