Monday, May 4, 2009

Pimp My Sandbox

I crossed another nagging project off of my list today.  A year ago I found a great Little Tikes Sand Digger on Craig's list for less than $10.  I finally gave it to the boys today in celebration of fine weather and a good find.  

If you are squinting at that picture trying to figure out which sandbox we have, you're are not seeing double.  That is not one, but two of these.  That's where the "good find" comes in.  I have been looking for a second sandbox on Craig's list since last July in anticipation of this summer and finally struck gold.  $10.  In town.  

To the best of my knowledge, this particular sandbox is the largest plastic sandbox available to the masses with a fitted domed cover.  I'll warn you now that the "largest plastic sandbox available" is not all that big.  This is what it looks like with one kid sitting in the middle of it surrounded by toys:

I didn't catch any pictures recently with both boys sitting in it at once, but you can imagine that when that happens it is pretty hard for anyone to see any sand.  The large wooden ones
are pricey, and because I insist on a cover (uncovered sandbox + neighborhood cats = ringworm) they are even more expensive.  I considered making my own, but in the end fashioning a cover was too daunting for me.  I really didn't want to deal with a tarp cover with snaps or with a heavy wood cover that would be certain to warp and let the mice in to nest.  I liked how the cover on this one is domed so you can leave the toys right in the sandbox.

I hit the rummage sales last spring until I found what I wanted, one was certainly enough space last summer when they were just barely 1 and 2.5 years old.  I held off giving the boys the digger once I watched them play in the sandbox and imagined them joyfully scooping up the sand from the sandbox and....dumping it out onto the dirt.  I thought that if I could snag a second sandbox not only would it be closer to the size I had originally envisioned, but then they could productively scoop sand from one sandbox to the other.

This is what the sandboxes look like side-by-side:

By the way, if you ever wondered what the "school room" looks like from the outside, it's is that part of the house you can see in the background of the above picture that looks like a cone on top of a cylinder (just sneaking in some geometric solids for the Montessorians out there).  Now I have a little project for my husband.  I would like him to construct a little bench to lay over the middle of the two sandboxes.  This would serve three purposes:  visually making the two sandboxes look more like one, providing a more comfortable place to sit (the boys never want to sit on those pointy corner "chairs," and preventing all the sand from the sandboxes from being deposited in the gap between the sandboxes.  

Part of the reason I feel a need to "pimp their sandbox" to this extent is that I will not let them play in an unknown, outdoor sandbox (again, cats and other rodents).  This pretty much means their sandbox experience is going to be what they can get at home. Looking at these sandboxes today it occurred to me that we could probably repurpose them as raised garden beds when the boys grow out of sandboxes.  Then I wondered, do boys ever actually grow out of sandboxes?  When they finally do will they still be young enough to want to grow things with me in raised garden beds?  Probably not.  I think we'll have most likely gotten my $10 worth out of each of them by then.

In addition to imagining multiple runs to the hardware store to refill improperly dumped sand, another reason I never bothered to bring out the sand digger last summer was that I thought at 2.5 Kal-El wouldn't really be coordinated to run it.  Indeed it did seem at exactly the right difficulty level for him today which would make me right about that.  However, Me Too was nearly as capable and really gave Kal-El a run for his money.

The nice weather we have been having lately has been bringing me to a bit of a crossroads when it comes to "school."  When we began doing traditionally Montessori activities regularly it was September and where we live weather can be pretty nasty from sometime in September through pretty much this week.  It was easy to spend a couple hours three to four days a week in the school room.  Now that the weather is nice the "unschooler" is taking control a little bit.  The season for really great outdoor play is really limited here and I think it is important to take advantage.  Any day now it will start raining again and will rain just about every day for a month so I'm sure we'll get back on track for awhile.  I am predicting a little bit of a conflict of interest this summer however.  One of the main reasons I don't want to send the boys to school for a long time (if ever) is because I feel like you start going to school, then you start going to work, then you die.  I want to preserve this unscheduled time in their lives for as long as possible.  I'm positive I am going to find a way to make it work (cylinder blocks on the lawn anyone?) but it is going to take some re-tooling.

We did do some Montessori activities today, albeit outside of the classroom.  Kal-El and I worked on initial sounds and ending sound throughout the day today.  I did an informal assessment to see what gaps needed to be filled in and was surprised that he seems to know all of his initial sounds (Me: "what does 'cat' start with?" Kal-El:  "cuh-cuh-cuh...letter 'C' !") and that he was about 50% accurate on ending sounds.  

I noticed he was drawing letters on his  magnadoodle  in the car on our way to pick up the sandbox. So, for the first time we worked on drawing letters in the sand in the sandbox.  I didn't take any pictures of that because I didn't dare touch the lens cap on my husband's nice SLR camera after demonstrating drawing letters in sand.  Me Too worked with a new sand/water wheel I picked up for the sandbox while I was working with Kal-El.  

In other news, Me Too only ate sand once today.  This is a new record for him.  Maybe I can finally bring out markers again.

Because Kal-El did so well with his initial and ending sounds today, tonight before bed we pulled out  his I Spy Phonics Fun Books and started work on middle sounds.  We worked on the A/B book so I introduced him to the "a" in bat, hat, and cat as well as "b" in the middle of words like in "bubble."

Of course a new sandbox meant a trip this morning to the new hardware store in town to pick up four bags of sand.  The boys had a blast because the store has two gigantic all-glass elevators and a moving sidewalk that you can walk onto with your cart to take you from the first to the second floor.  On the second floor they have a play area (woohoo!) that the kids just loved.  It had an indoor jungle gym with a small slide, a picnic table and (best of all)  this glorious thing:

The boys spent at least 30 minutes patiently taking turns going down this at top speed.  When you reach the end the car keeps going until you run out of momentum.  They loved it and for only $90 it was really hard not to leave with the thing (that is, of course, the store's evil plan and the reason for the play area).


  1. What a wonderful sand digger! I've never seen a Little Tikes one! What a find! I have the same issue with sandboxes, which is why I still don't have one.

  2. Looks like the boys had a great time today...I hadn't noticed the play area at the hardware store, but I too enjoyed the moving sidewalk that went to the second floor. I thought the t.v.'s with commercials were a little annoying. Auntie R

  3. Auntie R,

    The boys' Daddy HATED the ridiculously loud commercials on the T.V.'s as well. He also hated that the cart become magnetically bonded to the moving sidewalk so you can't go super fast like at the airport. There are obvious safety reasons for that though, and when you are basically entertaining two little boys the length of the ride is NOT a problem. He also thinks the store is too big, but I'm beginning to think he's a bit of a complainer. My one complaint was that in that huge mega store I was still unable to buy a simple wooden bushel basket.

    We had a great time though and now that he knows about the play area Daddy plans to take the boys there often.

  4. Your back garden looks amazing. A kind of small child heaven! The school I work at (montessori age 4-11 in the uk) has a garden that incorporates some of the ideas from the classroom but bigger or more outdoorsey. For instance, we made a spindle box equilvient from 10 flower pots marked 0-9 and 45 sticks. The same pots are used but with 45 fir cones to do cards and counters. Some kids just need more movement to get the most out of their work......! Anyhow, you get the idea! I should use the good weather to do bug hunts and parts of a (real) flower etc. When I did my training we were encouraged to consider the puzzles and materials generally as the starting point rather than the only point of interest for any subject. You can be authentically Montessori without any of the materials.

    I hope you all have a great summer.

  5. What a great idea on the sand boxes! I've been thinking how we could make a big sandbox and now I don't need to! I just need to put two together.
    Love it!
    I also love craigslist! Thank you, Gigi