Beach Fun: How to Build Sand Structures With Your Kids

Do your kids love to dig and play in the sand at the beach?

Looking for something new to do next time you go to the shore?

With nothing more than a shovel, a ball and a bucket of water, your kids will have a blast at the beach all day long.

In this article, I’ll show you how to make three sand structures you may not have seen before; three projects that go far beyond the standard sand-pail castle.

Sand projects: how to make three sand structures you may not have seen before that go far beyond the standard sand-pail castle.

Why Make Sand Structures?

A trip to the beach is the one time that parents actually encourage their kids to jump in the puddles and play in the dirt (otherwise known as sand). And kids LOVE it—digging, building, experimenting with all of the things that sand plus water can do.

I thought up some unique activities to do in the sand and tested them out with my own family so that I could share the best ones with you.

I have four kids, ranging in age from 1 to 11. It’s a challenge to find activities that will keep everybody happy. But the three games below include elements of fun for the little ones, the older ones and even their grandfather, who joined us for the day.

I hope you’ll find something for everyone in your family to enjoy next time you go to the beach.

You Will Need

  • Shovel(s)—Small sand shovels are ok, but real garden shovels work best, especially for the older kids who love to dig, and dig BIG.
  • Beach pail(s)
  • Tennis ball, golf ball or other small ball
  • Sand
  • Water

Preparation Time

5 minutes to load shovels, pail and ball in your car on beach day

Activity Time

All afternoon long


A beach near you

The beach offers a lot of entertainment all on its own. Running around on the sand, swimming, bodysurfing, jumping waves, burying your feet in the sand and more can all be done without any equipment. There are lots of fun games that you can play.

Add a shovel, a bucket of water and a ball and a great day at the beach becomes even more fun.

#1: Wading Pool

When my kids got together with their cousins, they dug a deep pit near the water and added trenches that went all the way to the waves.

With each wave, water poured down the trenches into the pit, creating a great wading pool for my younger kids.

Building the wading pool was super-fun for the older kids and the younger kids felt included too because the older kids were making something special for them.

wading pool

Everyone loves a wading pool. Older kids like to make it. Younger kids like to play in it.

Here’s how your family can make a wading pool, too:

Let older kids use a full-sized garden shovel to dig a really big hole near the water.

With smaller sand shovels or hands, carve a couple of trenches from the edge of the hole to the water.

When the waves come up, water will be channeled through the trenches to fill the pit and turn it into a shallow wading pool. Kids can also fill pails with water, pour it in the trench and watch it stream down the channel to fill the pool.

Help younger kids down into the hole to splash and play in their own pool.

#2: Ball Run

It’s always fun to have a ball to play with at the beach. I recommend that you bring a small ball like a tennis ball or golf ball, or a medium-sized rubber ball. A ping-pong ball can work, but I prefer balls with a little weight to them so they don’t fly away if the wind kicks up.

Note: Be aware that the ball will probably get wet at some point. Don’t bring something you don’t want ending up in the water.

A ball can be used for a variety of games and activities while you’re on the beach. One of our favorites is to make a ball run.

These ball runs made at the beach are very impressive.

When you create a ball run at the beach, it will probably be significantly simpler than these, but no less fun to make!

Here’s how to get started:

After digging the big pit for the wading pool, you’ll have a pile of nice wet sand that came out of it. Use the discarded sand to make your ball run.

Make a small mountain of sand with a distinct peak at the top. Pack it together and smooth it out.

ball run

Ball runs are great for children young and old. Here you see Grandpa working alongside the kids.

Run the ball around the mountain in a spiral path, pressing down just hard enough to give yourself a guideline.

Using the guideline, dig a groove or pathway that’s wide enough to hold the ball.

ball run path

Create a path for the ball to roll down and around the mountain.

Try rolling the ball down the pathway. If it isn’t working, hold the ball and roll it gently back and forth along the groove to smooth down any section where it gets stuck.

You may have to repeat this step several times until the ball can roll freely all the way to the end of its path.

ball run finish

Make your ball run as simple or as elaborate as you want.

Once you’ve got the basic ball run working, you can make it more elaborate.

Be creative! Make your ball go across a bridge, end up in a pit, go through a tunnel or whatever else you imagine. You’re only limited by the amount of time you spend and the creative ideas you can think of together.

#3: Drip Castles

The third activity we did on our beach vacation was to build drip castles. These are a fun and unique-looking variation on traditional sand castles.

To make drip castles, all you need is water and sand. Drip castles are very easy—a good project for preschool and school-aged kids.

Here’s how:

Make sure you keep a steady supply of very wet sand nearby. We got a bucket full of water and added a bunch of sand. By bringing a bucket of water up higher on the beach, we didn’t have to worry about the ocean washing away our creations too quickly.

Grab a handful of wet sand.

Stick out one or two fingers and let the wet sand drip down your fingers onto the drier sand. Alternatively, you can let the wet sand drip through a gap between your fingers.

drip castle

The dripping sand makes some really cool shapes and designs.

After you have a foundation, you can build towers by drizzling the sand into higher peaks wherever suits your fancy.

unique drip castle

Each drip castle looks distinctly different, but they all look magical.

You can decorate your drip castle and the surrounding area with seaweed, shells, rocks and sticks if you like.

Be sure to take a photo of your final creation, because it’s a piece of ephemeral art. It will only last until the ocean comes to reclaim it.

Some Final Thoughts

We love visiting the beach in the summer and finding new beaches when we travel. Playing in the sand is a great activity for everyone of all ages in my family, from my 1-year-old on up to my parents.

I hope you’ve found a sand structure here that you’ll enjoy building with your kids next time your family goes to the beach.

What do you think? What does your family like to do at the beach? Have you built any interesting sand structures before? Let me know in the comments below and post a picture if you’ve got one.

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About the Author, Holly Chessman

Holly (@HollyChessman) is the co-founder of bozmyn, the secure, private, family-friendly social sharing site that lets you share what you want with who you want – and only who you want. Other posts by »


  1. Thanks, Holly. That ball run thing is so cool! Perfect timing for a Labor Day beach outing. Can’t wait to try it.

  2. Holly Chessman says:

    I have so many great memories of going to the beach as a kid and as an adult. It’s the perfect playground! We used to make hugely elaborate ball runs when I was a kid – sometimes we even brought props like tubes and interesting recyclables to add to our structure. Good fun!

  3. EmilyQuestions says:

    For some, these ideas provide last minute summer fun. Living in California, we can make the ‘ball run’ all year round! Will have to try that one, it has a bit of a Rube Goldberg-esque air about it! Thanks for sharing Holly!

  4. Momo4boys says:

    Love these. Wish we are on the beach now.

  5. Holly Chessman says:

    Glad you like it! Although we can’t make ball runs in the sand year-round in MA, we can make them in the snow! :)

  6. Holly Chessman says:

    I’m so pleased you like these ideas! The beach is such a great place, especially when you have a lot of kids. It really doesn’t matter what age you are – there is fun to be had by all!

  7. Clearwater BeachClub says:

    Wonderful ideas, Holly! I’d love to mention your tips to our guests. :) I’m sure everybody would to get down and dirty with these fun ideas. Thanks for sharing.

  8. Holly Chessman says:

    Thanks so much! Glad you enjoyed it!

  9. Karen C. says:

    When I was a kid we used to make the spiral ball run you described, but it was so neat to see in the video here how complex a ball run can get. Can’t wait to have my family try it with multiple balls next time!

  10. Holly Chessman says:

    If you get a chance, take a picture and share it with me! I’d love to see what you come up with!

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