August 2019

Ready, Set, Grow! Now with two locations, The Sandbox invites all to come out and play

Author: Linda S. Hopkins | Photographer: M.Kat Photography


Children play in a shrimp boat at The Sandbox’s new location in Tanger Outlets 2.

In today’s world of electronic gadgetry, touchscreens, and digital play, a walk into The Sandbox (a non-profit interactive children’s museum) is like a trip back in time. There’s not a television in sight—no PlayStations Xbox consoles or iPads. Yet children are happily engaged in all sorts of creative play. Remember crayons, clay, dolls, puppets, and building blocks?

But that’s not all. The Sandbox is equipped with multiple “exhibits” that provide opportunities for individual and group play. It’s here where imaginations run wild, creativity is sparked, and learning occurs naturally.
“With all the technology we have today, children don’t always have the opportunity to do this [play] with an unlimited amount of time and all the resources they can imagine,” said Nancy Fish, executive director. “Through play, they learn many different skills they will need in their life.”

Old-fashioned or cutting-edge?
While the emphasis on hands-on, non-technical types of play might seem counterintuitive to some, it turns out The Sandbox is onto something big. A recent report from the American Academy of Pediatrics points out that while screen time, in moderation, is not necessarily a bad thing, it may not be the best path to learning. “What children really need is unconditional playtime and human interaction,” study authors concluded. “Simpler toys can give children more freedom to use their imagination and creativity, practice problem-solving, and learn how to interact with others,” according to the AAP. And that’s exactly what they get at The Sandbox.

The primary goal at The Sandbox is educating young children through age-appropriate, interactive activities and exhibits that enable them to play freely while exploring their creativity and discovering the world around them. “Our mission is really to provide those educational opportunities in a playful setting. We know through brain-based research that everything a child touches and manipulates builds the brain and prepares it for future learning,” Fish said.


“Simpler toys can give children more freedom to use their imagination and creativity, practice problem-solving, and learn how to interact with others.”

At the Hilton Head Island location, just off of Pope Avenue, The Sandbox provides 2,500 square-feet of approachable activities that are just right for busy toddlers and elementary school-aged children. Exhibits include The Adventurer (William Hilton’s ship of discovery, modeled after a sixteenth-century Spanish galleon), a loggerhead sandcastle, a no-fishing aquarium, a grocery corner, a puppet theater, flight deck, rhythm and hues room (for the artistically and musically inclined), Learner’s Loft (stocked with newly updated S.T.E.M. activities, art supplies, puzzles, games, etc.), Charlie’s Perfect Play Place (ideal for infants and toddlers), and so much more. Currently, the Hilton Head Island museum is appropriate for children up to age eight, with future exhibits on the way for children up to age 12 when the museum moves to the new Lowcountry Celebration Park in June 2020.

Play specialists are on the floor to guide and help, but the activities are intended to be interactive, where children can engage with their adult caregivers as well as other children. Families often stay two hours or more once they discover the learning center, cleverly designed as a place to play together—and many times the adults have as much fun as the kids, according to Fish.

Extra! Extra!
It’s estimated that since opening the doors in 2005, The Sandbox has served over 350,000 children and families, and that reach is about to expand. On July 6, The Sandbox held a grand opening for its second location at Tanger Outlets 2 (next door to H&M) in Bluffton. Fish is excited to see their service area broaden and to offer different exhibits off-island so that children can have unique experiences at each locale.

“This is an exciting time in the life of The Sandbox when we are growing, allowing us to serve more children in the community,” she said. “We will be expanding our outreach programs to service the schools here in Bluffton and our programming to meet the needs of the surrounding Beaufort county area.” As an example, the Bluffton location will be adding an infant development program for first-time moms, teaching them about the stages of development and how to play with their child.


In addition to the hands-on exhibits, both museums offer a variety of programs and special events to provide more structured learning through play: summer camps, free family fun nights, parents’ night out, and much more.

The Bluffton location serves children up to age 12. Exhibits include Lullaby Lagoon, an infant/toddler area, a shrimp boat for imaginative play, a sea turtle exhibit, an art studio, a Maker Space (where children can design, build, and tinker with recyclable materials such as cardboard, pipe cleaners, bottle caps, colored tape, paper, textiles, etc.), and more. The S.T.E.M. area includes blocks for building, a Lego wall, a magnetic wall, pneumatic lighthouse, and other resources to encourage critical thinking skills, increase science literacy, and foster creative problem solving.

According to Fish, The Sandbox in Bluffton is also implementing a new program, Museums for All, to serve families who might not be able to afford the cost of admission. If they are receiving Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) benefits, they can show their cards and get in at a reduced rate. “We’re trying to make sure that everyone has access,” she said. “In addition, we’ll have our DIG (Discover, Imagine, Grow) programs that we will expand both in Bluffton and on the island.” DIG is a kindergarten readiness program that follows the South Carolina education standards and is meant for those children who don’t attend a traditional preschool, she explained.

In addition to the hands-on exhibits, both museums offer a variety of programs and special events to provide more structured learning through play: summer camps, free family fun nights, parents’ night out, and much more. Facility rentals are also available for birthdays and other special events.

Membership (ideal for families who will visit four times or more during the year) includes unlimited access to both locations throughout the year along with other discounts and perks. Daily admission is also permitted, and out-of-town guests are encouraged to make The Sandbox a part of their family vacation experience.

“Our focus,” Fish said, “is on providing a high-quality space for children and their caregivers to learn and play together whether they live down the street or are visiting from across the world!” 

The Sandbox is located at 18A Pope Ave. on Hilton Head Island and at Tanger Outlet 2, 1414 Fording Island Rd., SuiteE180 in Bluffton. Learn more at www.thesandbox.org.

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