Exterior & Garden The Victorian House

Choosing a Sandbox

So… the kids have been really into digging in the dirt. Between them and the dog, a lot of plants have been destroyed, and we’ve been working on the yard to make it more kid-friendly.

We got a bunch of flagstone from a neighbor recently and I immediately started thinking about where we could add a small patio space. After reading a million garden design books, I’ve slowed down on my initial plans. I’m taking my time, gathering inspiration and dreaming about some big changes to make in the future, and the secondary flagstone patio plans are on hold.

We are creating a bit of a kid-zone though! Each summer is such a short window, and we don’t want to wait any longer to make it a space the kids can have fun with. The area nearest the back door, across from their clubhouse is getting an overhaul. I’d still like some grass out there for them (and for the dog), and that side of the yard gets the most sun so it seems like the best bet for giving it a go. We also want to add a sandbox*, and I gave the kids three options — each with a different type of cover.


  1. a large, simple sandbox with built-in corner seats

  2. a sandbox with a pulley-operated roof

  3. a sandbox with rollaway fort

They chose number three, which I had secretly hoped they would pick because it was my favorite of the bunch. It’s a sandbox! It’s a little fort! It’s cute! And I’m thinking it would be even more cute with a striped awning, flower boxes, a kid-sized chair… you know. The usual snowballing of projects.

Do you have a suggestion for the best material surrounding the sandbox though? Here are my thoughts.

  • Grass: If we already had a patch of lawn here, I’d just plunk the sandbox down. The entire back yard is filled with hostas and other plants though, mostly beneath the shade of two mature trees. Establishing grass will be already be tricky enough without the kids potentially throwing sand all around the area.

  • Pea Gravel: A rock garden type of thing? Could be a good companion to the sand — kind of a dinosaur dig / construction site vibe. We’d have to dig out a layer of dirt though, so there’s some work involved and it’s a more permanent change.

  • Mulch: Easy. Cover up that dirt with mulch, and done. The biggest drawback is that mulch doesn’t feel so nice on bare feet.

  • Something else? Use some of the flagstone? Who knows!? (Really. Who knows?)

The kids are pretty excited and we’re hoping to build the sandbox as soon as we can. What do you think it the best option to surround it?

*FYI: the cheap “play sand” that most of us think of for sandboxes is now thought to be a potential health hazard. An alternative is “safe sand” with no asbestos or silica, but it’s 10x the cost. The information out there is conflicting, but it’s something to be aware of and research.

Sources & Paint ColorsNeed design help? Let's work together.

You Might Also Like...

  • Chelsea T
    July 18, 2016 at 4:21 pm

    Whichever you decide to do, make sure you have a tight-fitting cover for the sandbox for when the kids aren’t playing in it. Otherwise, it’s just a big litterbox wandering kitties!

    • Making it Lovely
      July 18, 2016 at 5:15 pm

      Definitely. All three options that I showed the kids have lids.

  • Jessica M. Tomaselli
    July 18, 2016 at 4:30 pm

    Going by what happened to my sandbox as a kid, I say pick whatever material you are most comfortable getting covered by sand… and then also getting into the sandbox. Personally I think I’d go with the pea gravel – escapee sand would sift to the bottom, and pea gravel getting mixed into a sandbox isn’t a terrible thing at all (in fact, it sounds like a fun thing for a kid to sift out!).

    • Making it Lovely
      July 18, 2016 at 5:14 pm

      Yep, I expect it will get around. And that was my thinking on the pea gravel, too!

  • Rachel
    July 18, 2016 at 5:12 pm

    What about rubber mulch for the surround of the box? It’s not cheap, to be sure. But might make a nice alternative to the pea gravel, and would definitely be softer than regular mulch.

    • Making it Lovely
      July 18, 2016 at 5:14 pm

      Didn’t think of it. Does it get hot?

      • Monica
        July 19, 2016 at 12:18 am

        That was my thought exactly! Have been on playgrounds with the stuff, and it seems great.

    • DazzLynn
      July 20, 2016 at 3:47 pm

      personally i can’t stand the smell of it, and would be curious about potential hazard of breathing it.

  • Sue Fromm
    July 18, 2016 at 6:00 pm

    Have you considered a solid surface like outdoor carpet , astroturf mats
    or heavy foam tile squares ? Easy to sweep and no weeding. Plus when the sandbox is outgrown would be easier to reestablish grass.

  • Vanessa D.
    July 18, 2016 at 6:22 pm

    When my guys were little our sandbox was the neighborhood hangout. There would be 10 kids playing in that little 4 x 4 sandbox all the time! My dad made a lid that was just a frame and chicken wire across. The chicken wire kept cats from doing what they do and it was light. I would definitely go pea gravel around the sandbox – dinky cars going through the lawnmower don’t sound pretty.

    • Making it Lovely
      July 20, 2016 at 4:32 pm

      The kids and their friends end up in our yard a lot already, and they’re pretty excited about the new sandbox! We don’t have a lawn at all back there, so the lawnmower aspect isn’t a concern. I think pea gravel will be fun to play with too though, in addition to the sand.

  • Amy Mason
    July 18, 2016 at 9:16 pm

    We had fake grass put in at our lake house a few years ago, and I WISH WE HAD DONE IT IN THE VERY FIRST PLACE!!!!! It was quite a bit of investment, but no water, no feeding/fertilizing/weed killing EVER. I will NEVER put in real grass again… Check it out before you decide!

    • Making it Lovely
      July 20, 2016 at 4:33 pm

      Do you have a dog? I’ve seen some “pet” turf that supposed to be permeable for pee, but um, if the dog poops then what?

      • carpie
        July 21, 2016 at 2:04 pm

        I have a pup and fake grass and love it. You simply pick up the dog poop and if its gross you wash it off with the sprayer. Its solid.

      • Amy Mason
        July 26, 2016 at 9:25 am

        yes, we have 2 dogs, a shih-tzu and a pug, and my parents mutt uses it too. Pick up the poop just like you would on regular grass. If it’s really gross hose off the remainders… Here is the brand we have http://www.foreverlawn.com/select/?gclid=CN26iLiqkc4CFdKGfgodmv0EfQ I can’t stress enough how much we LOVE it!!!!!

  • Jessika Kaiser
    July 18, 2016 at 10:12 pm

    I recommend one of the following:

    Wood chips that are big and sliver-free (not really, but SO much better than the mulch with the slivers). They last forever, and they are pretty good on feet. It’s what you see frequently in playgrounds.

    OR (my preference), quarry rock! It’s easy on the feet, but it packs nice and hard. It means that the kids won’t be adding a ton to their sandbox because it packs nicely and is harder to dig. It also won’t track much into your house. It’s frequently used under paver pathways and driveways so that things can nestle and then set. It also won’t wash away easily, and it will provide a nice easy path to roll the cover.

    I would not use that rubber mulch crud. It gets everywhere and it never biodegrades. Bleh.

    • Making it Lovely
      July 20, 2016 at 4:35 pm

      I’m skipping the rubber mulch. I don’t like the idea of it kicking around forever in our yard. I saw some options for rock at the stone yard yesterday and ended up with pea gravel because the other stuff seemed a bit rough for bare feet.

  • Jessika Kaiser
    July 18, 2016 at 10:12 pm

    To clarify: CRUSHED quarry rock. It almost looks like sand, but it’s not.

    • Making it Lovely
      July 20, 2016 at 4:35 pm

      Ah, maybe they didn’t have that where I went?

  • Catherine
    July 18, 2016 at 10:15 pm

    My boys hate the feel of sand on their feet (weird right?!) so we filled our sandbox with pea gravel and mixed in some larger river stones. They absolutely love to use all their construction trucks to dig up the rocks, made even better when the rocks are mega sized for the truck that’s hauling it. So the sand box doesn’t have to be filled with sand at all- Just a though! I feel like it’s cleaner since I can rinse the entire thing down and not have to worry about the rocks drifting away with the water (mostly to get the pollen off- we live in GA). Our box is surrounded by pine straw because it’s soft, though I don’t think many places use that as a ground cover outside the Southeast. Can’t wait to see yours!

    • Katie
      July 19, 2016 at 10:43 am

      My kids also prefer peagravel to actual sand. And I prefer not having sand all in my house!

      • Making it Lovely
        July 20, 2016 at 4:37 pm

        I’m going to do pea gravel around the sandbox, so I figure we’ll get the best of both. Hopefully! We don’t have a pollen problem here, though my kids already track dirt in the house and I make them take off their shoes at the back door when they come in from playing. If it’s been a long day outside, they come in and go straight to take a bath or shower — a quick cleanup job is kind of impossible otherwise with them sometimes!

  • jenw
    July 19, 2016 at 7:20 am

    Regarding the safety of the sand…we’ve had a LARGE sand box for 5 years now…I don’t think he’s every played in it without the hose going, even when it’s cold. That sand is wet all. the. time. If not kicking up dust in dry sand I would think the potential hazard is significantly less.

    P.S. another vote for pea gravel around the box. We have grass and it’s been okay, but right at the edges the grass is looking a little patchy. I’ll have to think of edging out the sandbox…I’ve never considered it! Now I’m envisioning cute pots overflowing with petunias sitting on a gravel border to the sandbox!!

    • amelnychuk
      July 19, 2016 at 1:17 pm

      Oh, that sounds lovely! We built the kid a pirate ship sandbox, with a water table as the aftcastle, and already the scorched grass is getting covered. But pea gravel with petunias or other annuals will pretty it up a little.

      • Making it Lovely
        July 20, 2016 at 4:38 pm

        A pirate ship sandbox sounds fantastic!

    • Making it Lovely
      July 20, 2016 at 4:38 pm

      Thanks, that’s reassuring. And I’m going with pea gravel!

  • Judith
    July 19, 2016 at 5:34 pm

    I’d probably go with grass, but use roll-out sod. That way, it’s only actual grown plants needing to take root that can be walked on (I think) almost right away, not tiny ones that need to grow from seeds and can’t be walked on for several weeks. I love the feel of grass on bare feet, and there wouldn’t be anything to track into the house, either. It also doesn’t get hot to walk on when the sun is going full strength, and any sand-overflow falls between it (unless the kids decide to dump half the content of the sandbox, but that would be an issue no matter what surrounds the box).

    You would have to mow though… but it sounds like you’re not going for a huge area, so that could be accomplished with one of those push-mowers that work just with rotating blades, no electricity or fuel involved.

    I’m not sure I’d want rubber mulch around kids, especially ones that are young enough to put it in their mouth, or might be handling it and then taking their fingers in their mouths. If you’re already wondering about the safety of the sand, that’s something I’d read up on first. A quick turn to google led me to this:

    Apart from the fact that a huge amount of loose bits of a non-biodegradable material sound like a headache to deal with once you want to do something else with that area and have to remove/recycle it.

  • Nichole K
    July 19, 2016 at 6:02 pm

    Young House Love did a rock box instead of a sandbox several years ago. With a sandbox on pea gravel, I’m envisioning gravel getting dumped into the box and sand getting dumped into the gravel….what if they were both gravel?! No worries about “cross contamination”!

  • Lindsey
    July 19, 2016 at 6:04 pm

    Having ‘done’ sandboxes in the past…my kiddies are now 30! I would suggest some of the flagstones. Gravel gets everywhere in the hands of kids and if you have a patch of grass nearby which you mow you don’t want to be throwing up even the smallest ‘rock’ to take out an eye (yours) or embed in ankles (likely yours again!).

  • stidmama
    July 19, 2016 at 9:25 pm

    The school I teach in uses pea gravel. It tracks into our classroom, easily 200 feet from the graveled area. It messes up vacuums, feels awful on bare feet inside, and if it rolls underfoot has turned ankles. I think you could go with something like astroturf, or even an outdoor “carpet” material that would be easy to clean with a broom and a hose, and would both be easily removed and not missed when the kids outgrow the area. When our children were little we built a fort in the backyard and put sand in the square base (no worries about anything tracking anywhere in our 1 acre yard), and they loved it. So glad you found the space for something like this!

  • brieholst
    July 20, 2016 at 6:02 am

    I use the rubber mulch in my flower beds. It gets warm, but not hot. And it’s nice and squishy when I walk on it, so would be good for little kids tumbling. Also, easy to pick up the pieces or rake them back into the bed before mowing if they get spread out as they might with kids playing.

  • Vicki W.
    July 20, 2016 at 10:01 am

    Hmmm. I don’t think I’d pick the gravel, although it looks pretty (and sounds pretty when you walk on it, right? Don’t you love that crunch crunch?). We have it in just two planters in our big yard, and it ends up EVERYWHERE! It is irresistible to kids! It won’t just be in the sandbox– it’ll be in your flowers, and your future lawn, and in the playhouse, and in your kids’ pockets, and in the floor of your minivan …

  • Christina
    July 20, 2016 at 5:09 pm

    Mulch=splinters. My kids have it in their playground at school and I’m constantly removing splinters from their fingers and feet when they get home. Lots of tears and bandaids. Plus, I have to pick more splinters out of their socks when we do laundry which is tedious. If I miss a splinter, they often don’t wash out and my kids will certainly feel it when they wear the socks again. I highly recommend you avoid it. We haven’t tried the rubber mulch, so maybe that’s better.

    Even if you had grass, you’d probably get a dead area around the box, depending on the type of grass and how much your kids walked on it.

    Pea gravel works great, but just be aware that it WILL make it’s way into the sandbox. And probably other areas, depending on how rambunctious your kids are while playing. Which isn’t terrible, IMO, but something to know if you want to avoid that. A wide border of, say, flagstone helps keep it more local. Regardless, you may need to replenish areas of it after a year or two due to migration. It’s still my favorite material for play areas with small kids (after the shoving-things-up-the-nose phase, anyhow).

  • Liz
    July 21, 2016 at 11:15 pm

    Our sandbox isn’t huge, but we bought sand from the Safe Sand Company in San Francisco. It was expensive, but we feel good about it, and they were a good company to deal with. The sand has a more powdery texture – FYI.

  • Anja Kaiser
    July 25, 2016 at 10:53 am

    Why not surround the sandbox with wooden terrace planks like a kind of sand box patio, wooden terrace around it like here:http://www.houzz.de/photos/2378395/london-courtyard-garden-modern-patio-london

    There are lots of other good ideas http://www.houzz.de/photos/query/build-a-sandbox/nqrw/p/8
    Greetings from Germany, Ania