I have a love-hate relationship with sand. Growing up at the beach, I have no problem taking my shoes off right away when I get to the beach and even if I’m feeling particularly playful, rolling a bit in the warm sand after coming out of the ocean on a hot summer day. But when it comes to playground sand, it’s a different story altogether. I cringe as I see the sand spilling out of the sandbox onto the blacktop or, worse yet, the wet sand caked in the holes of the sifting contraption on the Kindergarten playground. Honestly, I feel the same way about sand as I do glitter – I love how it looks when I receive a card from a student with globs of still-wet glue dripping down the page and mounds of sparkly glitter; I just don’t want that glitter to end up in my hair or all over my desk. 

As an educator who loves working with young children, I always feel somewhat guilty admitting my personal aversion to things that are so rooted in childhood. While I relish witnessing a child express themselves creatively or explore imaginative play at recess, I just don’t love the mess it makes. So you can imagine the mix of emotions I felt when JTD’s Lower School Head excitedly announced at the end of last summer that she and our Director of Finance and Operations had identified an area where we could add some extra sand play for students in Grades 1-3. Resigned to the fact that this project was already underway and yet secretly horrified that I would have to pass by the overflowing sandpit on my daily walk to and from school, I simply nodded along and told them how thrilled I thought the children would be.

Fast forward to just the other day at lunch recess: a first grader was sitting waist deep in a sand pit with two friends pouring sand on her head. Rather than run the other way, I asked them how they liked having the sandpit at recess. In response they said, “Join us, Ms. Helm!” As I bent down and picked up a shovel, their faces lit up with unbridled joy…and the sand started flying. Sure, I had to shake my shoes out when I got back to my office. And yes, I might pick a different route tomorrow that circumvents the sandbox. But today, I am grateful for the sandplay area, as it reminds me of all the simple ways we can honor childhood, even if it means getting a little messy sometimes.

Rose Helm
Head of School
The John Thomas Dye School
Los Angeles, CA