Guest Blogger: JE Ince
Where do you think you child comes into contact with the most germs? Maybe the school bathrooms? Or a public park swing? How about a school bus seat? As part of the National Sanitation Foundation International’s ongoing NSF Scrub Club Study, microbiologists swabbed 26 different public places looking for bacteria. Their studies found that the location with the highest ratio of bacteria was the playground sandbox. I am not a germaphobe. I’ve survived two brothers and two sons and I don’t’ think I have a “gross-out” meter left to peg. But, I will admit, I have never been a fan of sandboxes. So, the $64,000 question is . . . how do we create a safe and enjoyable experience for our kids in the petri dish that is a sandbox?
The Structure. The American Academy of Pediatrics’ recommendations focus on sandbox structure, the type of sand used and maintenance. They warn against the use of old railroad ties for sandbox frames. Although inexpensive, the wood may splinter and in many cases has been treated with creosote, a known carcinogen. The use of non-wood materials or nontoxic landscaping timbers is recommended.
The Sand. It’s important to use safe play sand. You’ll want to look for either natural river sand or beach sand. The AAP warns parents to avoid sands made of crushed limestone or marble, which may contain tremolite, a known carcinogen with effects similar to asbestos exposure. An excellent article from goodhousekeeping.com recommends avoiding any play sand containing crystalline silica, yet another carcinogen. Just check the label and don’t buy play sand that is not specifically marked “crystalline-silica-free”.
Sandbox Maintenance. A sandbox should always be covered when not in use. A tight cover is essential to keep the sand dry, free from contamination and keep out unwanted visitors. Wet sand can harbor bacteria, so healthychildren.org recommends that you always allow the sand to dry before covering at night. Before use always check for debris, clumps or other foreign material. If you find anything, use a garden rake to inspect and remove it. If there are any animal feces present, replace the sand completely and do not attempt to clean the sand. After emptying the sand, if the box is made of plastic, a mild bleach solution can be used to sanitize the box. Let it dry thoroughly before replacing the sand.
Rainy Day Options. If you have little ones who are still too young to follow safe sandbox play rules or as just an alternative on cold wet days, Naomi de la Torre of sheknows.com, suggests a small indoor sandbox using dried rice, where you can bury toys and treasures for them to find or give them different sized funnels.
Does all this information scare you away from letting your kids anywhere near a sandbox? Take heart, according to the Stanford School of Medicine Immunity Report, it’s okay for kids to be exposed to (and on occasion even eat a little) dirt, as it helps them develop their immune system responses.
Also on point is a clever NY Times Article that may give you a bit of comfort regarding kids and dirt, entitled A Little Dirt is Good for You!
The bottom line is, with a little extra effort, a sandbox can be a fun and safe play environment.
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