Building Our First Sandbox (Rockbox)


We’ve got a small dirt patch in our back yard that has been the perfect space for plants and succulents that need indirect light as it’s mostly shaded by a large magnolia tree.

Our little guy has now discovered this area and has created his own dirt play area with no encouragement from us.


We love that he enjoys playing in the dirt but we now go through a lot more changes of clothes.

Our son loves the beach and sand but that is also very messy and we were inspired by Young House Love and their rockbox project so we decided to make one ourselves.


Two .5 cu ft of pea gravel
One cut to fit piece of redwood
DuPont weed-free fabric


Clear and Level

We first smoothed out the area and removed any stickers, rocks and dirt clumps. We didn’t have to dig deep as the sides were raised from the concrete surrounding.



Lay out the weed free fabric and cut to fit. You can stake it down but make sure nothing can be pulled up by little fingers.


Place Redwood Border

We only used the redwood on one side and we cut it and jammed it in place. It serves as a natural border for the rocks and the play area.


Wash pea gravel

We wanted to make sure the gravel was free of any extra minerals and dirt so we washed it in our wheelbarrow then waited for it to dry.


Spread gravel

We could have used three bags but two works for now. We spread the gravel as evenly as possible.


Start Playing!!!

We loaded up the rockbox with all the sandbox and dirt toys and our little guy knew what to do.

We know he’s going to outgrow this very soon and ideally we would have a top on it, but for now this is an easy solution for creating an outdoor play space.

Have you built your own sandbox or rockbox? We’d love to see it.

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  • Mercedes Kamencik
    18 Oct ’12 at 12:21 pm

    I saw the rock box that John and Sherry made over at Young House Love and thought it was a fantastic idea. Who knew that “play” sand was considered harmful and even had a warning on it! (something to remember when I finally have some little ones of my own to build a rock box for!)

    Hope your little guy enjoys it! Of course, what boy doesn’t love digging stuff up?!

  • Guest
    19 Oct ’12 at 11:20 pm

    I can’t help but giggle a little at this. Correct me if I’m wrong: your little guys was happily playing in the dirt when you thought to yourself “Hey, I can buy him better dirt!” So you bought some better dirt AND THEN YOU WASHED IT?! I hope your son realizes that not only did he go from playing with common every day dirt in an unstructured play area of his own choosing, his loving parents went the extra mile, plunked down their hard earned money, boxed him in and presented him with good clean dirt that won’t stick together for a sand castle or mud pie no matter how hard he tries. I’m a jerk for even writing this. #firstworldproblems

  • sinosoul
    21 Oct ’12 at 10:23 pm

    I’m with this guy. Remove the bacteria, remove the antigens, slow the autoimmune system build up. This is SO not a good idea.

    Pea gravel is for fishtanks, not for toddlers. Mud for the win. And true hipsters don’t let their kids play in dirt. That’s just unironic filth.

  • Built by Kids
    24 Oct ’12 at 10:12 am

    You’ve made great points here and we totally agree that playing in dirt is great but our situation is a bit different. The originally setup was hardpack with maybe a 1/4 of dirt/dust. It was not enough for a sand castle. The pea gravel was a good solution as our little guy could go outside and play and then come back inside without having to wash him down each time. We have an indoor/outdoor home so mud and dust is not an option that we want inside all the time.

    The reason we washed down the gravel was more for piece of mind as it’s not made for kids to play in and contains “crystalline silica”. Here’s the label.

    This product contains small amounts of crystalline silica, a common mineral found in natural sands and stones. Excessive inhalation of respirable silica dust may cause cancer and lung disease. Avoid breathing dust. Wear approved respirator in dusty area.

  • Built by Kids
    24 Oct ’12 at 10:13 am

    Thanks @google-bcb7fdacb83f439d9d2246c80218ba0a:disqus!

  • Cheri
    29 Sep ’13 at 12:03 pm

    Oh my god I love your reply. This is awesome and I sooooo feel the same way. I am making a gravel box for the kids I take care of and a sand box also for added sensory input. I live in the city and there is not enough nature sensory opportunities here without a car large enough to hold 2 adults and 6 kids. So I will do my best to give them as much opportunity as I can to really experience the joy of nature and the world around them which includes the dirt or ground they walk upon (play in). I cannot imagine doing that as an alternative however to real digging and mud play. So I will be keeping our garden going and the kids will help me every year and I will keep shovels out for them to use in other areas of the yard also.

    So much fear of getting dirty is something I just do not understand. I remember my mom and grand and great grandmom saying – you have to eat a ton of dirt before you die and I am sure that I ate my fair share and what I did not eat I wore into the house and spread all over the furniture and floors as I moved my play indoors or went back and forth between the two, inside outside and then in again. Getting dirty, playing fully and exploring on ones own are so crucial to learning, development and critical thinking why would we not just let our kids go and let them enjoy it. Really.

    Can we say – Nature Deficit.

    I agree with you completely and also with sinosoul below about the removal of bacteria. There is research that backs this up also. MUD, lovely MUD, OOOEY GOOOEY MUD for the gold and be Happy. Use the others in conjunction with it for added sensory input if you are in a situation where getting to these things are limited if you choose.

    Too Funny!