Monday, 7 May 2012

A Natural Connection to Water ..... and Sand.

Play in the sand; splash in the water; get dirty; get wet. The beach is the only place my mom doesn’t get mad about me doing that stuff. Of course I love the beach!” Dixie Dykens (age 5)

There is something magical about water, I have a definite attraction and connection as I love beaches, rivers, ponds, lochs, dams, creeks, water drops and of course puddles!

When I am feeling stressed or just wanting to get out I often choose to spend time on our local beach, I am so fortunate to again have such an amazing facility near me and have always dreamt of having a rustic little beach hut, maybe sharing it with a good friend who has the same interests and emotional attachment to water. Maybe one day that dream will come true and I will have a little bit of beach paradise!

What is it about the ocean in particular? A beach walk is a sensory experience; the gentle rhythmic drone of the waves, the heat of the sunshine, the space and freedom both mentally and physically. The unpredictable find of sea-shells, seaweed and other ocean treasures, the daily changes in the environment created by the forces of nature as well as the manipulation by man. Do other adults feel that same connection, do children?

The variety of sand structures on the beach have always fascinated me and I decided to photograph the ones I came across this week ....”sandcastles” they were called when I was a child although some would not traditionally be classified as such!

Why do children (and adults) have this urge to dig, build sandcastles when there is a large expanse of sand? I have a number of theories but am sure there are many more!
  • Freedom to be really creative, there is no right and wrong way and there is no mess to be tidied.
  • Space to use your whole body or just your fingers, movement; running, jumping, cartwheels (wish I could!), rolling.
  • Sand and water are freely available and loose parts such as seashells, seaweed and driftwood can be found and added – each child sees a treasure in what they have found. There is no waste.
  • Adults are relaxed, maybe because they can see their child and are therefore not fearful of perceived risks.
  • Time is usually plentiful – adults tend to come to the beach for longer periods of time allowing children to really get engaged in an activity.   
  • Children do not feel judged and feel free to experiment without adult interference - unless the adult insists on helping because they might feel that it looks a bit sad to be seen building their own structures! 
  • A social experience, children can choose to work together. Observing children's play behaviours it is interesting to note how often children who have never met before will jointly tackle a sandcastle, working cooperatively and often without verbal instructions to each other, each child contributing what they feel is appropriate. 
  • Children instinctively choose to build near the water’s edge knowing that the water to sand ratio is vital and I believe that they also know that at the end of the exercise their hard work will be reclaimed by the incoming tide. Even very young children know that they cannot take their creation home – I have never seen a child having a temper tantrum because it has to stay there only upset children who have to leave the beach when they wanted to stay longer!


There is often no evidence of plastic castle mould shapes or buckets, in fact the castles I have seen children build have been built by hand, no spades, no buckets, only what nature provides – large shells and sticks for digging, hands for moulding. Parents offering the plastic bucket or spade often have that rejected as if children are seeking that added challenge and sensory opportunity of using only their hands or what they find in nature.

Too often I see small amounts of sand in an indoor sand tray, usually filled with so many brightly coloured plastic moulds, spades and buckets that the sand is not even visible. I found a piece of plastic litter on the beach and found the bright pink colour visually very intrusive. Then there is also often the rule “ do not mix the sand and the water” WHY not …….that’s the best bit! As not every child has access to beaches, how can we offer these experiences to those children too? Can we have a large sandpit outdoors, a sand-shed or a large tray and allow combined sand and water play? Can we remove some of the plastic man made resources and offer children natural materials such as shells, stones, seedpods, sticks, baskets, wooden and metal spoons, metal buckets, wooden bowls for sand play? I hope so!








What learning is happening?

LOTS!! Here a very random collection as they came to me…….Science, maths, problem solving, social development, fine and gross motor co-ordination, emotional development, language and communication both verbal and non verbal, proprioception (an awareness of where the body is), creativity, perseverance, inventions, knowledge and understanding of the world, realising the reward of epistemic play, realising the value of the intrinsic rewards as well as verbal praise from adults and peers, dealing with adversity, different sensory experiences, capacity and volume, shape, light and shadow, colour………………..    

“Children don’t make mistakes, they are discovering how things work and how to do it differently”

“We ourselves feel that what we are doing is just a drop in the ocean.

But the ocean would be less because of that missing drop.” Mother Teresa


  1. This is really beautiful. Shared it on my page. Thank you for the ideas and for pointing out how it's a learning experience, we are unschoolers. And thank you for the beautiful quotes at the end.
    -Kimberley @ The Single Crunch

  2. Thank you Kimberley, I believe everything children do themselves is a learning experience but they need the right environment - time, freedom, supportive adult, appropriate range of resources....etc

  3. These are some powerful images. Thank you for the reminder of what children are capable of when entrusted to play using their minds and hands.

    1. Thank you - it is really about children's freedom and valueing what they are doing!

  4. Thanks for your inspiring page. Really enjoyed the images and the thoughts....beautifully presented.

    1. Thank you for your feedback, there are so many beautiful things to photograph especially when children and nature come together.

  5. Hi Niki,
    I have been following your blog since the beginning of the year as part of my Uni course. I now discovered that you miht be in Perth next week and I might actauly be able to go to your workshops. Looking forward to meeting you if it all works out.