Sandboxes can be great places for kids to play and explore, but sand might not be the best option for safe play. Outdoor sandboxes filled with sand can be breeding grounds for bugs and mold, and sand in outdoor sandboxes can easily turn into mud. Indoor sandboxes can be fun for kids, but sand can be messy. In order to keep kids clean and safe, choose alternative sandbox fillers that are available at hardware stores, grocery stores and even office supply stores.
Soft, Drainable Round Gravel
For an outdoor sandbox, pea gravel can be a great alternative to sand, but it is important to choose gravel make up of rounded stones. Pea gravel with rounded rocks can be softer than compacted sand if a child falls, will let water drain through the sandbox to prevent mold. The rounded edges of the rocks in pea gravel are safe for preschool and older kids, although babies might be tempted to put the small stones in their mouths.
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Sanitary Crumb Rubber
While it may be a more expensive option, crumb rubber or rubber gravel is a soft and sanitary alternative to sand in a sandbox, especially an outdoor sandbox. Rubber gravel is made up of small pieces of rubber about the size of the stones in pea gravel. Crumb rubber products are used as a play surface in many public playgrounds and also as a surface for horseback riding in horse arenas. You can find crumb rubber products by searching for rubber mulch, crumb rubber or rubber arena footing. Make sure to wash crumb rubber products before use.
Styrofoam Packing Peanuts
Packing peanuts are a cheap and sanitary alternative to sand for an indoor or an outdoor sandbox. Kids love to pour and toss packing peanuts. Packing peanuts can make for easy clean-up with indoor sandboxes because they won't stain hands or clothing, and their large size makes them easy to pick up. In outdoor sandboxes, packing peanuts will resist moisture and won't break down, though outdoor sandboxes filled with packing peanuts should be covered when not in use.
Dry Foods for Indoor Boxes
For an indoor sand box, dry foods like uncooked rice and beans can be a great alternative to sand. Dry foods might not be the best choice for outdoor sandboxes because moisture will make foods soggy and mold can grow. Rice and beans make the same sounds as sand and can be poured just like sand. Kids will have fun for hours with an indoor sandbox or sand table filled with dry rice or beans.