Play sand has long been a favorite among children for its versatility and ability to spark imaginative play. However, for children with sensory issues, the question of whether or not play sand is suitable becomes crucial. In this article, we will explore the benefits and challenges of using play sand for children with sensory issues and provide insights on how to make playtime safe and enjoyable for all.

What are sensory issues?

Sensory issues refer to difficulties or challenges in processing and responding to sensory information from the environment. These issues may affect one or more of the five senses: sight, hearing, touch, taste, and smell. Children with sensory issues may have sensory sensitivities, where certain sensory experiences are overwhelming or uncomfortable, or sensory-seeking behaviours, where they actively seek out sensory stimulation. Understanding sensory issues is crucial to provide appropriate support and accommodations for children with sensory sensitivities or sensory-seeking behaviors.

Definition of sensory issues

Sensory issues, also known as sensory processing issues or sensory processing disorder (SPD), is a condition where the brain has difficulty organising and responding to information from the environment. This can manifest in different ways, such as being hypersensitive or hyposensitive to sensory input. Hypersensitivity refers to being overly sensitive to certain sensations, while hyposensitivity refers to having a diminished response to sensory input. Sensory issues can affect children’s daily functioning, attention, and overall well-being.

Types of sensory issues

There are various types of sensory issues that children may experience. These include tactile sensitivity, auditory sensitivity, olfactory sensitivity, visual sensitivity, and vestibular sensitivity. Tactile sensitivity relates to sensitivity to touch and textures, auditory sensitivity involves sensitivity to sounds, olfactory sensitivity refers to sensitivity to smells, visual sensitivity relates to sensitivity to visual stimuli, and vestibular sensitivity involves sensitivity to movement and balance. Understanding these different types of sensory issues can help in addressing specific challenges and providing appropriate support for children.

Understanding play sand

Play sand is a type of sand specifically designed for children’s play activities. It is widely used in sensory play to provide various tactile and sensory experiences. Understanding the composition and uses of play sand is essential to fully grasp its benefits for children with sensory issues.

Composition of play sand

Play sand is typically made of finely ground silica, which gives it a soft and smooth texture. It is important to choose play sand that is non-toxic and free from harmful substances. Play sand should also be free from any added scents or chemicals that may cause allergies or sensitivities in children. The composition of play sand makes it ideal for sensory play due to its pleasant texture and malleability.

Uses of play sand

Play sand can be used in various play activities to provide sensory experiences for children. It can be used for sculpting, building sandcastles, pouring, sifting, and burying objects. Play sand also offers opportunities for imaginative play, such as creating mini landscapes or using it as a base for small world play. Additionally, play sand can be incorporated into different sensory activities, such as sensory bins, sensory tables, or sensory trays. Its versatility allows for a wide range of play possibilities that can engage children’s senses and promote their development.

Benefits of play sand for sensory play

Play sand offers several benefits for sensory play, making it particularly beneficial for children with sensory issues. The tactile stimulation provided by play sand helps children explore different textures, promoting their sensory processing skills. It can also stimulate the development of fine motor skills as children manipulate and mould the sand. Additionally, play sand can provide a calming effect and help relieve stress, allowing children to relax and focus. The open-ended nature of play sand play encourages creativity and imagination, promoting cognitive development. These benefits make play sand a valuable tool in supporting children’s sensory and overall development.

Sensory benefits of play sand

The use of play sand in sensory activities has been found to have numerous sensory benefits for children, especially those with sensory issues. Here are some specific sensory benefits of play sand:

Tactile stimulation

Play sand offers a unique tactile experience that helps children develop their sense of touch. Jumping into a pile of sand, burying objects, or feeling the smooth texture of the sand can provide valuable tactile stimulation. This sensory input helps children develop a better understanding of different textures and improve their ability to process tactile information.

Motor skill development

Engaging in activities with play sand promotes the development of fine motor skills. Manipulating sand, such as scooping, pouring, and shaping, requires precise hand-eye coordination and finger movements. This helps children refine their fine motor control, which is essential for tasks such as writing, buttoning clothes, and using utensils.

Stress relief

Play sand has a soothing and calming effect on children. The soft texture and the repetitive actions involved in playing with sand can help alleviate stress and anxiety. The sensory input provided by play sand engages the brain’s relaxation response, which promotes feelings of calmness and relaxation.

Calming effect

For children with sensory issues, play sand can provide a calming effect on the sensory system. Engaging in sensory play with sand can help regulate sensory input and provide a predictable and controlled sensory experience. This can be especially beneficial for children who are hypersensitive to certain sensory stimuli.

Enhanced focus and attention

The engagement and focus required during play sand activities can help improve children’s attention and concentration. The sensory input provided by play sand creates a sensory-rich environment that captures children’s interest and encourages sustained focus. This enhanced focus can carry over into other activities and improve overall attention skills.

Considerations for children with sensory issues

While play sand can be a valuable sensory tool, it is essential to consider the specific needs and sensitivities of children with sensory issues. Here are some important considerations when using play sand with children who have sensory issues:

Individual sensitivity levels

Children with sensory issues may have different levels of sensitivity to various sensory stimuli. It is crucial to be aware of each child’s individual sensitivities and adjust the use of play sand accordingly. Some children may need more gradual exposure or may prefer alternative sensory materials depending on their specific sensory needs.

Allergies and sensitivities

Some children with sensory issues may have allergies or sensitivities to certain substances. When choosing play sand, it is important to opt for non-toxic and hypoallergenic options. Play sand should be free from allergens and irritants, such as dust, chemicals, or fragrances, which can trigger allergic reactions or sensory discomfort.

Consultation with occupational therapists

Occupational therapists specialise in sensory processing and can provide valuable guidance and suggestions for incorporating play sand into a child’s sensory routine. Consulting with an occupational therapist can help ensure that play sand activities are tailored to the specific needs and goals of the child, promoting optimal sensory integration.

Alternative sensory materials

While play sand can be an effective sensory material, it may not be suitable for all children with sensory issues. Some children may find sand too messy, rough, or overwhelming. In such cases, alternative sensory materials, such as rice, dried beans, or kinetic sand, can be used to provide similar sensory experiences. It is important to consider each child’s preferences and sensitivities when selecting sensory materials.

Choosing the right play sand

When selecting play sand for children with sensory issues, several factors should be considered to ensure a positive sensory experience. Here are some key considerations when choosing the right play sand:

Non-toxic and safe

Ensure that the play sand is non-toxic and meets safety standards. It should be free from any harmful substances, chemicals, or contaminants that could pose a risk to children’s health. Look for play sand that complies with safety regulations BSEN:1177 and is specifically labelled as safe for children.

Soft and fine texture

Choose play sand with a soft and fine texture that is pleasing to touch. The sand should be easy to mould and manipulate, allowing children to engage in various sensory play activities. Avoid play sand that is rough or abrasive, as it may cause discomfort or irritation for children with sensory sensitivities.

Free from additives or scents

Play sand should be free from any added fragrances, colorants, or chemicals. These additives can trigger allergies or sensitivities and may interfere with the sensory experience. Opt for unscented play sand that is purely natural and does not contain any additional substances.

Easy to clean

Consider the ease of cleaning when selecting play sand. As children play with sand, it can become messy and may require periodic cleaning. Choose play sand that is easy to clean or can be easily contained within a sensory play area to minimise mess and make clean-up more manageable.

Natural vs synthetic play sand

Decide between natural or synthetic play sand based on individual preferences and needs. Natural play sand is made from real sand particles and has a more authentic feel. Synthetic play sand, such as kinetic sand, is specially formulated to have certain tactile properties and may offer a different sensory experience. Experiment with both types to determine which suits the child’s sensory needs and preferences best.

Benefits of play sand for different sensory issues

Play sand can provide specific benefits for children with different sensory issues. Here are some ways play sand can benefit children with different sensory sensitivities:

Sensitivity to touch or textures

For children who are hypersensitive to touch or textures, play sand provides a safe and controlled environment to gradually expose them to different tactile sensations. Engaging with play sand can help desensitise their tactile system and increase tolerance to various textures.

Sensitivity to sounds

Play sand can be used to create a quiet and calming sensory experience for children who are sensitive to sounds. Children can engage in sand play in a quiet space, reducing auditory input and promoting relaxation. Soft sounds produced by sand manipulation can also help children focus their attention and filter out other distracting noises.

Sensitivity to smells

Play sand, especially when unscented, can provide a neutral sensory experience for children who are sensitive to smells. By using scent-free play sand, children can engage in sensory play without the added sensory input of fragrances or odours.

Sensitivity to visual stimuli

Play sand offers a visually simple and non-distracting sensory experience for children who are sensitive to visual stimuli. Its neutral colour and uniform texture can help reduce visual overload, allowing children to focus on the tactile and sensory aspects of play.

Sensitivity to movement or balance

Play sand can be used to address sensitivity to movement or balance. Incorporating sand play into activities that involve movement, such as pouring or burying objects, can help children gradually overcome their fear or discomfort related to movement or balance. The stability of the sand provides a controlled and predictable environment for exploring and practicing movement skills.

Precautions and supervision

While play sand can provide valuable sensory experiences, it is important to take appropriate precautions and provide adequate supervision to ensure safety. Here are some precautions to consider when using play sand with children:

Supervising playtime

Always supervise children during play sand activities to minimise the risk of accidents or misuse. Ensure that children are using the play sand appropriately and are not engaging in behaviours that could be potentially harmful.

Avoiding ingestion

Children, especially younger ones, may be tempted to taste or eat play sand. To prevent ingestion, it is crucial to educate children about the importance of not putting play sand in their mouths. Consider using sand play in a controlled environment, such as a sensory table, to minimise the risk of accidental ingestion.

Maintaining hygiene

Regularly clean and maintain the play sand to ensure optimal hygiene. Remove any debris or foreign objects and inspect the sand for signs of contamination. If the sand becomes wet or soiled, replace it with fresh, clean sand to prevent the spread of germs or bacteria.

Regularly checking for safety

Regularly inspect the play sand for any signs of wear, damage, or contamination. Check for sharp objects, glass, or other hazardous materials that may have been inadvertently mixed with the sand. Dispose of any contaminated or unsafe sand immediately and replace it with new, clean sand.

Introducing play sand to children with sensory issues

Introducing play sand to children with sensory issues requires sensitivity and tailored approaches to accommodate individual needs. Here are some strategies for introducing play sand to children with sensory issues:

Gradual exposure to play sand

For children who are new to play sand or have sensory sensitivities, it is important to introduce the material gradually. Start with short periods of exposure, allowing them to slowly get accustomed to the sensory experience. Gradually increase the duration and intensity of play as the child becomes more comfortable and relaxed with the sand.

Accommodating individual needs

Adapt the use of play sand to accommodate the individual needs and sensitivities of each child. Some children may prefer dry or wet sand, while others may have preferences for different textures or temperatures. Tailor the play sand experience to align with the child’s specific sensory preferences and goals.

Incorporating play sand into sensory activities

Integrate play sand into a wide range of sensory activities to provide diverse sensory input. Combine it with other sensory materials, such as water, natural elements, or small toys, to create multi-sensory experiences. Vary the activities to keep children engaged and interested while targeting specific sensory goals.

Positive reinforcement and encouragement

Provide positive reinforcement and encouragement to children during play sand activities. Praise their efforts, creativity, and problem-solving skills. This positive support helps build confidence, enhances motivation, and creates a safe and enjoyable environment for sensory exploration.

Testimonials and success stories

Numerous parents and therapists have experienced the positive effects of play sand on children with sensory issues. Here are some testimonials and success stories regarding the use of play sand:

Parents’ experiences with play sand

Many parents have reported improvements in their children’s sensory processing skills, attention, and overall well-being through play sand activities. Parents have noted that their children have become more engaged, relaxed, and focused during play sand sessions. Some parents have also observed increased fine motor control and tactile tolerance in their children after consistent play sand exposure.

Therapists’ perspectives

Occupational therapists and other professionals working with children with sensory issues have recognised the benefits of play sand in facilitating sensory integration and development. Therapists often incorporate play sand into their therapy sessions to address specific sensory goals and provide children with a safe and enjoyable sensory experience. They have witnessed progress in children’s sensory regulation, motor skills, and overall sensory processing abilities through the use of play sand.

Case studies

Case studies conducted on children with sensory issues have reported positive outcomes when play sand was incorporated into their therapy or home environment. These studies have shown improvements in sensory modulation, attention, and social engagement in children using play sand regularly. The results highlight the potential of play sand as an effective sensory tool for supporting children with sensory issues.


Play sand can be a valuable resource for children with sensory issues, providing various sensory experiences and developmental benefits. By understanding the composition, uses, and sensory benefits of play sand, parents, educators, and therapists can effectively harness its potential to support sensory development and provide a positive sensory experience for children. It is important to consider individual sensitivities, choose the right play sand, and take necessary precautions to ensure safety and optimal benefits. With proper guidance and accommodations, play sand can play a significant role in improving sensory processing, motor skills, and well-being for children with sensory issues.