When Tokyo-based toy company Bornelund Inc. surveyed about 500 mothers in May, it found that while most Japanese parents want to let their young children play in sandboxes outdoors, many tend to avoid doing so due to concerns about cleanliness and radioactive contamination.
This summer, Bornelund is introducing a new product that could be an alternative for these parents — sand kits specifically designed for indoor use.
While some may argue that playing with sand at home defeats the purpose of letting children learn social skills by interacting with others at park sandboxes, others believe an indoor option would benefit kids who, for various reasons, cannot play outside.
Bornelund’s Dancing Sand kit, priced at ¥3,990, consists of 2.5 kg of sand and simple play tools. The sand is imported from Sweden and treated with resin so it does not scatter easily.
With a slightly moist texture, it is easier to play with than dry sand.
At a mid-June promotional event in Tokyo’s upmarket Daikanyama district, children were seen playing happily with the indoor sand. “See, I’ve made an ice cream cone!” said one, while another added, “Here, I’ve also made a rice ball.”
“I’m not concerned about him getting all dirty (when playing in the sandboxes), but this (indoor sand kit) might be a good option for stress relief on rainy days when we can’t go outside,” a 41-year-old mother who attended the event with her 2-year-old son said. “Playing outdoors for long hours with a boy is too taxing for me.”
Bornelund plans to begin selling the indoor sand kit next month. A representative said the company believes parents and children can “enjoy the fun of playing with sand without having to worry about the weather or hygienic concerns.”
In the past, other indoor sand products have been marketed in Japan, but most failed to catch on due to difficulties in keeping the sand from scattering and in controlling moisture content.
Hiroyuki Kasama, an early childhood education professor at Doshisha Women’s College of Liberal Arts and author of a book on the impact of sandboxes on children, said playing with sand or standing on it can help young children polish their senses and build their sense of balance.
Playing with sand also provides a good opportunity for small children to learn to use tools as well as nurture their creativity, Kasama said.
In the Bornelund survey, conducted via the Internet and involving about 500 mothers with children aged 1 to 5, 71.5 percent of the respondents said they “want” to let their children play with sand. In reality, however, 31.5 percent said they take their children to sandboxes only “about one to three times a week,” 15.3 percent said they “rarely” do, and 8.3 percent said they “never” do.
A large number of respondents said they are concerned about sanitary issues and that their children will get their hands and feet dirty in the sand. Many also said they avoid letting their children play in sandboxes due to concerns about radioactive contamination from Tokyo Electric Power Co.’s meltdown-stricken Fukushima No. 1 plant.
Given the spread of such thinking among parents in recent years, children in Japan are having fewer and fewer opportunities to play with sand, Bornelund said. There is also a growing trend at day care centers and nurseries to do away with their sandboxes.
“There are of course children who, for various reasons, cannot go outside to play, and it is just natural for parents, out of loving concern for their children, to desire safety,” said Naoki Ogi, a popular critic familiar with educational issues here.
“At the same time, figuring out how to handle situations when playing in outdoor sandboxes, such as shedding a tear or two when an unruly kid destroys the tunnel you built, or carelessly having touched something dirty in the sand, are also important experiences (for young children),” Ogi added.
“I believe parents need not be overly worried. It will be fine as long as they can strike a balance between playtime indoors and outdoors.”