great barrier Reef

Today we are going to continue our series on beach science by looking at sand. Although not all beaches are sandy, if you are lucky enough to visit one you can do some interesting science activities and experiments.

1.    Where does sand come from?

Find a tough metal or heavy plastic container with a tight-fitting lid. Add some relatively clean pebbles inside (a mix of different kinds works best). Close the lid tightly and let the kids shake it for as long as they want. Even after a few minutes, if you pour the pebbles onto a white piece of paper you will begin to see chips of rock that have broken off.

Or if your child has some rocks in a rock collection that have been jumbled together, you will often see “sand” starting to build up in the bottom on the container. When rocks bang against rocks they break apart.

Now think about where rocks might tumble against each other in nature. Where might sand form?

2.    Sand grains “from an ant’s eye view.”

One of our favorite exhibits at the local Arizona Mining and Mineral Museum shows different types of sand from “an ant’s eye view,” that is magnified so the grains look like boulders. When you pack for the beach, consider taking a sturdy magnifying glass to explore the sand up close (and any creatures you might encounter).

If you don’t have a magnifying glass or microscope to study sand grains, check out
A Grain of Sand Picture Gallery. Wow! These pictures are from a book of the same title listed in the books for adults and older children below.

On the same topic, see Sand Grains: Chips Off The Old Rock

3.    Sand Magnetism

Quite by accident we discovered that if you roll a magnet through sand, you can pick up bits of particles that contain iron. Note: it is really hard to get the iron bits off again. Put your magnet in a plastic sandwich baggie and it will make clean up much easier. You’ll be amazed at what your children will pull out of the sand.

4.    Sand and Water

Sand and water play is so important for children, even older ones. All you need are a few buckets, old plastic tubs and maybe some shovels and you have the recipe for some serious study.


Hey, there’s water down there.

sand castle

Future physicist?

Sand physics links for older children:

The Physics of Sandcastles

Compression of Sand

Some relevant books (linked titles and images go to Amazon):

Jump Into Science: Sand by Ellen Prager

Ribbons of Sand: Exploring Atlantic Beaches (Children’s Books)
by Larry Points and Andrea Jauck

More beach science books at Wrapped in Foil

Adults and Older Children

A Grain of Sand: Nature’s Secret Wonder by Gary Greenberg

Sand: The Never-Ending Story by Michael Welland

Edit: To check the rest of the posts about beach science, follow these links:

Sea Horses and Other Fish

Shore Birds

Tide Pool Invertebrates

Beach Science- Boats

Beach Science Algae

Beach Science-Seawater