Men do not quit playing because they grow old; they grow old because they quit playing.
Oliver Wendell Holmes
I miss my sandbox. When I was a kid we had a big pile of sand to play in at the corner of our back yard near our swing set and jungle gym. My little brother and I spent hours there, building miniature cities of sand and water, with “paved” roads for cars and trucks, weeds stuck in the sand for trees. Though once the city was built, I often moved away to a corner, idly pushing sand around, dreaming, while my brother pushed his cars through the city. I loved to just sit on the sand and run my fingers and toes through it.
Except one of my brother’s favorite things to do was create “explosions,” crying BOOM! and tossing sand up in the air with both hands. Invariably, no matter how far away I was sitting, I would be sprinkled with sand. Once sand began landing in my hair I would retreat to the swing. My brother, oblivious, would continue his game.
In my junior year of college, when I was a dorm RA and had some responsibility for the behavior and wellbeing of the students on my floor, I suggested jokingly to friends (well, about one-third jokingly) that the dorm get a sandbox. I felt certain that a good-sized sandbox on every floor (or at least in each building) would help students ground and calm themselves. I remembered moments in my emotionally chaotic freshman and sophomore years when I craved a half hour in a sandbox. (I was delighted years later to hear about sandplay therapy.)
When our children were very young, Tom and I created a sandbox at the edge of our back yard. I think, though, that I loved being there more than the kids did. Maybe it didn’t feel big enough to them, or we didn’t have the right toys. Or the fact that they were four years apart meant they had no good playmates there (mothers probably don’t count), I don’t know. But I usually wanted to stay longer than they did.
Why did I believe I needed to be a child or play with a child to keep a sandbox?
Here in the Midwest, far from large bodies of water, a sandbox provides a fair beach substitute (Lake beaches in Minnesota often feel too crowded and noisy, or the sand too rough or dirty to satisfy this craving.). I was an adult before I discovered the beaches on Lake Superior or ever saw the sea. But once I did, I made up for lost time, digging in the soft sand and creating castles, moats, animals and sea creatures (getting the needed water here is easy!) more eagerly than many of the children I saw. Or simply sitting or lying on the warm sand, burying my toes and hands, daydreaming.
When will I move close to a beach like this?
Of course gardening, digging in the dirt, can help. And contact with dirt has been shown to have many health benefits. But gardening, wonderful as it is, is too adult I think, too purposeful, to fully satisfy. Sandplay is simple fresh air amusement, with all the joyfulness, freedom and timelessness that true play requires.
Let’s create a big sandbox in a lovely park, for adults only (kids can have their own separate one). With lots of pails, shovels, trucks, cars, little toy people, animals and other playthings. And easy access to water for creating moats and rivers.
And while we’re at it, let’s make an entire playground for adults, with some adult-sized swings and a seesaw, some climbing structures, and a large smooth wooden or paved area for drawing with colored chalk or spinning hula hoops or jumping rope. Perhaps an indoor center with some toy pianos, accordions, kazoos and ukuleles. Dress up clothes. Paper and crayons and finger paints.
Imaginative play and physical play, inner ages three to eight. A rest from adult competition and responsibility and a plunge into aimless fun.
Wanna’ set up a play date?