Remember when all you needed for a trip to the beach was a towel and a trashy paperback? Well, times have changed, haven’t they, mama? With toddlers in tow, you’re going to need to come prepared with ways to keep them busy and happy. Namely, sand toys. Buckets, sifters, molds and even trucks have been known to keep little ones engaged for hours as they scoop and dig. And entertained kids = more relaxed adults. (Of course, you’re also going to need a metric ton of snacks, water, sunscreen, an entire armload of towels, a beach tent, umbrella…)

And it’s not just the entertainment box you’re checking. Like any sensory play, sand toys offer a ton of educational benefits as well.

The educational benefits of sand toys

  • They can help kids develop their fine motor skills. When kids use sand toys, they have to use their hands, fingers and tools to scoop, pour, and mold the sand. While they play, they strengthen their muscles and improve their coordination.
  • They can help kids learn math and science concepts in a hands on way. Filling buckets and scooping sand offers little ones an age appropriate way to explore larger concepts like volume and weight. They can also learn about the different properties of sand, such as how it feels, how it flows, and how it can be used to create different structures.
  • They can help kids develop their creativity. Kids can use sand toys to build anything they can imagine, from simple sandcastles to elaborate sand sculptures. It’s an incredible way to foster their creativity and imagination and even let you in on the fun.
  • They offer opportunities to share and collaborate. With only so many toys to go around and lots of work to be done (those mega castles take team work!), beach playtime is the ultimate time to share and work together.
  • They can help kids learn about nature. From digging for crabs to inspecting whatever is pulled up in their bucket full of water, there’s so much to explore and learn about at the beach!

How to choose the right sand toys for your kids

As parents who have purchased more than our fair share of beach toys, we can tell you they’re not all created equal. When purchasing beach and sand toys for kids, here’s what you should keep in mind:

  • The age of the child. Some sand toys are designed for toddlers, while others are designed for older children. It is important to choose toys that are appropriate for the age of the child otherwise frustration (or worse-boredom!) creeps in and they’re no fun at all.
  • The durability of the toys. Between salt water, sand and sun, beach toys are put through the ringer. Add in kids that play hard and those flimsy shovels are headed for the trash can on the way out. Opt for toys that are more durable and you’ll save yourself money and frustration (as well as saving a landfill from more discarded plastic).
  • The safety of the toys. It goes without saying, but sand toys should be free of small parts that could pose a choking hazard.

Not heading to the beach? (Why? It’s so fun and easy! 😉) No problem. These awesome sand toys are also perfect for your backyard sandbox.

Our favorite sand toys for kids

B. toys Wagon & Beach Playset

B. toys

Wagon & Beach Playset

$18.95

Everything they need for a day of fun at the beach, all packed up in a wagon they want to drag along themselves? Yes, please.

Hape Beach Toy Essential Set

Hape

Beach Toy Essential Set

$18.74

If you’re looking for a one-stop shop, the Hape beach toy essential set is it. Not only does it include 11 high-quality BPA-free sand toys, but they’re all conveniently packed up in a mesh backpack that even a toddler can carry.

HABA Spilling Funnel

HABA

Spilling Funnel

$13.99

It’s oh-so-satisfying to make dribble castles with your fingers, but if they want to go pro, this is the tool to do it. Fill one part of the tool with water, the other with fine sand and let the dribbling begin! Note that it can easily get clogged with bits of shell or rocks, so it’s best if you’re headed to a beach with fine, chunk-free sand.

Blue Ginkgo Silicone Beach Toys

Blue Ginkgo

Silicone Beach Toys

$25.99

Same idea, but make it aesthetic. I mean, just look at this gorgeous set. Even better, the pieces are made from silicone which you can crush inside a suitcase if you’re taking the show on the road.

Melissa & Doug Seaside Sidekicks Sand Baking Set

Melissa & Doug

Seaside Sidekicks Sand Baking Set

$18.99

Outdoor mess-making > indoor mess-making. Let them live out their Master Chef Junior fantasies at the beach instead of the kitchen with this super-fun sand baking kit which comes with shell-shaped measuring cups, octopus whisk, crab mixing spoon, and a mixing bowl. Bonus! The turtle lid on the mixing bowl doubles as a sifter.

Hape Beach Shovel

Hape

2-in-1 Beach Rain Shovel

$4.99

If hundreds of parents take time out of their busy day to review a kids’ sand shovel, you know it’s good. Sturdier than most and with a clever sieve built into the handle, it’s not hard to see why. Many reviewers share that theirs have lasted years and even stood up to the abuse of tots who can break just about anything. Sold!

Melissa & Doug Sunny Patch Seaside Sidekicks Sand Cookie-Baking Set

Melissa & Doug

Sunny Patch Seaside Sidekicks Sand Cookie-Baking Set

$17.99

If your little baker just can’t get enough, this Melissa & Doug set has all the tools needed to make enough sand “cookies” to satiate Cookie Monster.

HABA Dinosaur Sand Glove

HABA

Dinosaur Sand Glove

$19.99

Budding paleontologists will be thrilled to dig for dino bones with the ultra-cool dinosaur sand glove from HABA. Let them scoop and explore or bury it for a big reveal.

Hape World Landmark Sand Molds

Hape

World Landmark Sand Molds

$19.99

It might be awhile before they’re traveling the world, but it’s never too early to learn about all the cool things there are to see out there. Take world architecture lessons to the beach with these fun molds of the Taj Mahal, Parthenon, Leaning Tower of Pisa, Colosseum, and Eiffel Tower.

Matty's Toy Stop Scoops

Matty's Toy Stop

Long Handle Scoops

$14.95

These sturdy scoops are great for little hands and come as a set of three, so no worries if one goes missing.

B. Toys Bazillion Buckets

B. Toys

Bazillion Buckets

$11.95

How much fun can ten buckets be? TONS, as it turns out. Not only do they fit together and build a colorful tower, but the incremental sizes make for great sandcastle building. Kids will find endless ways to play while the thick construction means they’ll last a good long while. (And when sand play season is over, they make the perfect bath toy!)

Matty's Toy Stop Shovel

Matty's Toy Stop

Heavy Duty Shovel

$24

If digging a giant hole is part of the day’s activities, they’re going to need something more than a wimpy 6 inch plastic scoop. Equip them with one of the heavy duty wooden shovels from Matty’s Toy Stop. At 31 inches long, they’re a scaled down version of what you might use for gardening but work just as hard! (Price is for a set of 2)

Spielstabil Watering Can

Spielstabil

Classic Yellow Watering Can

$15.99

Spielstabil shows up on this list a few times for good reason—their quality is unbeatable. Not only is this sweet little watering can dubbed “indestructible” but it also comes with a ten year guarantee. The two handle design is great for toddlers whether they’re playing in the sand or tending to the garden.

Joyin Foldable Pail, Scoop and Mesh Bag Set

Joyin

Foldable Buckets

$24.99

Filed under “what took so long,” these brilliant buckets collapse to make fun on-the-go easy-peasy. Made from BPA-free plastic and food-grade silicone, the space saving design is perfect for everything from sand lugging to keeping pups hydrated on adventures. It also comes with three scoops and a handy mesh bag to keep it packed up neatly!

Cat Construction Truck Set

Cat

Construction Truck Set

$29.99

Toddlers have been known to spend hours scooping, dumping and driving trucks along the sand. Give yourself that gift of peace and quiet with this engaging construction set! The parts move to mimic the real thing and they’re designed to take a beating—after all, they are CAT!

SupMLC Mesh beach Bag

SupMLC

Mesh Beach Bag

$8.99

Pro-tip: Sequester the sand toys. Mixing and mingling guarantees sandy snacks and no one likes those. This super-affordable mesh bag makes it easy to collect all their toys and treasures without contaminating everything else or bringing the beach home with you. The generous opening makes it easy to get everything in there and it conveniently folds up into its own little pocket when you’re done.

A version of this story was originally published April 1, 2021. It has been updated.