Each grain of sand consists of a tiny piece of a mineral, rock, coral or shell. The forces of nature create sand through the erosion and weathering of rocks.

Over time, rivers chip small pieces off rocks. Freezing and thawing can also cause bits of rock to chip off. Beach sand can also be made up of small pieces of coral, bone and shell, which are broken up by predators, such as sharks and whales, and then battered by the sea.

The composition of sand varies from place to place depending on the sources and conditions of the local rocks. The most common sand consists of particles of quartz and feldspar. Quartz sands are colorless or slightly pink, while feldspar sand has a slightly pinkish or amber color to it.

Black sands, such as those found on some beaches in Hawaii, consist of particles of obsidian, which is a volcanic glass formed by cooled lava. Coral sands are white or gray in color, while sands made of crushed shell fragments are typically light brown.

Sand has many modern uses. Woodworkers use sandpaper to smooth rough surfaces on wood. Construction workers mix sand with cement and water to make concrete. Window manufacturers need a lot of quartz sand, which is the main ingredient in glass. In some communities, road workers spread sand on icy roads in the winter to give vehicles’ tires more traction.

Sandy facts:

  • Someone who collects sand is called an “arenophile.”
  • “Singing” sand produces a tone when walked on or blown around by the wind due to the friction caused between the grains of its unique crystalline structure.
  • If you ever find yourself enjoying the beaches of Namibia in southern Africa, keep your eyes open. If you see something shiny, it could be a diamond!

 

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Have you ever wondered…

  • Why is sand scratchy?
  • What is sand made of?
  • What can sand be used for?

Wonder Gallery

Wonder #64- Sand Static ImageVimeo Video

Try It Out

The Navajo and Pueblo people of the southwestern United States make ceremonial paintings using colored sand. Today, try your hand at your own unique sand painting!

Before you begin, you’ll need some colors! This site will teach you how to make colored sand for your jar painting.

Once you’ve made colored sand, you’re ready to sand paint! Follow the directions at this site to create a sand painting in a jar.

Want to make a special gift for Mom or Dad? Make sand paintings in two large jars, such as mayonnaise jars, and your sand art can become a beautiful pair of bookends.

 

Still Wondering

Want to learn more? Here are a couple of resources you can explore.

  • Did you realize that sand can help young children learn the alphabet? Use a cookie sheet or shallow pan with a half-inch layer of sand, children use their fingers to practice writing letters of the alphabet. Another great tactile experience is having children use their fingers to trace letters outlined on sandpaper.
  • For older students, use this interactive resource from Science NetLinks to explore how the forces of nature can shape and reshape the earth.

 

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