Fun, some sun and Sand in the City

The centerpiece of Sand in the City is, of course, sand.

Today, 12 teams will build sand sculptures that will be on view during the free weekend-long event. Master sculptors will build throughout the weekend. And there’ll be piles of sand everywhere for kids to play in.

But what kids really love — and what the Hands On Children’s Museum is most excited about — is the wide array of fun and educational interactive activities the 10-year-old festival offers.

Portland’s Sand in the City, which inspired the Olympia version, is all about sand sculpting. “It’s fun to watch the sand sculpting, but just watching is not what we’re about,” said Patty Belmonte, the museum’s executive director. “Some of the things that are longtime favorites that kids look forward to every year are the touch tank, the sandboxes and the casting and splinting,” she said.

Casting and splinting is just what it sounds like. The Providence Residency Program applies casts and splints. “All these kids are walking around the event looking like they’ve broken something,” Belmonte said.

The museum hosts a make-and-take craft tent, where kids can make things like a 10th anniversary block print or the ever-popular sand-filled bracelets. The Global Village also boasts crafts, and this year the theme is sister cities, with crafts from Japan (Olympia’s sister city is Yashiro), Poland (Lacey’s is Minsk-Mazowiecki), Ireland (Yelm’s is Ferns) and Uganda (Tumwater’s is Mubende).

“We have Irish castles and catapults, and then we have Polish pottery stamping, so kids will make a paper version of Polish pottery,” said Molly Pennell, the museum’s development manager. The craft from Uganda will be a batik, and the Japanese one is a salmon-scale kite.

There will be more animals than ever at this year’s event. Besides the aquatic touch tank, there’ll be the Nature Experience bus, which offers a hands-on encounter with reptiles and birds; miniature horses and donkeys; therapy dogs who work at Providence; and more dogs accompanied by members of South Sound Hounds, a dog-park advocacy group.

All of the proceeds go to the museum’s free and reduced-price admission programs, which include Sand in the City, school visits, free Friday nights, and free memberships and visits for people in need.

“We give more free and reduced admissions than any other children’s museum in the Northwest,” Belmonte said. “This year, we’re on track to serve about 155,000 people, and about half of them will receive free admission, reduced admission or a free program.”