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1. The Classic Castle

This image, from the 2011 National Sand Sculpture Festival at Revere Beach, Massachusetts, is straight out of a fairy tale. Crisp, white sand and high-piled turrets should have you trying to build skyscrapers with your bucket and spade.

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2. The Gravity Defier

The reason we’ve stuck to predominantly castle shapes in this list is because most of the awe-inspiring sand sculpture art you see in competitions is actually held in place with spray-on glue, and hollow shapes are usually carved out of the compounded sand. Not-so-practical with a four year-old in tow, and not so green either. You may have some luck creating elevated walkways and death-defying roads by reinforcing your sand with some well-placed driftwood or your leftover popsicle sticks. This beauty was found on Copacabana Beach, Brazil, in 2008.

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3. A Classic Dome

If you have a leaning towards classic architecture, a dome could be a good experiment. It’s also easy for little hands to work on as there are fewer finicky details. The surface could then be decorated with seashells, or carved like this example from the Copenhagen Sand Sculpture Festival 2012 in Denmark.

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4. Keep it Simple but Work the Details

Maybe I’m ambitious, but this castle built in Singapore in 2008 actually looks achievable if your children are a little older or if there is a teenaged sibling to help out. The devil’s in the details with this one, but underneath it all it is really a very simple slab and bucket construction.

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5. A Castle and its Surrounds

What’s world domination without some land to rule from the lofty heights of your very own castle? Don’t let this question keep you up at night, and just as importantly, don’t limit yourself to only constructing the walls of your castle. Particularly if height is proving an issue with the texture of the sand you have to work with, if you spread out and include forests, roads and villages, you can construct a whole landscape to go with your masterpiece. This beauty is from 2007’s FIESA competition in Portugal.

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6. All the Fun of the Fair

This example is starting to blur the lines between castle and sculpture, but the basic structure and construction techniques are the same. Not surprisingly, given its fun park theme, this sculpture is from the Brighton Sand Sculpture Festival 2012.

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7. Super Mario Brothers

This might be one way to get a screen-obsessed tween away from the monitor or iThing and making something with their hands. Try to emulate a favorite gaming scenario and get a bit more connected as a family. This castle was featured in the 2013 Fulong Sand Sculpting Art Festival in Taiwan.

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8. Dr. Seuss

Dr. Seuss is enough to get anyone’s imagination fired up, and his fantastical cityscapes should give you plenty to work with. Here they’re hiding in amongst a host of other kids’ favorites, so don’t be afraid to mix things up a little. This piece was featured at Frankston’s Sand Sculpting Australia in 2012.

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9. The Mysterious Hilltop Factory

This ‘castle’ is brooding like some evil mastermind’s lair out of Batman or Wolverine. Particularly if your children are a little older, they might appreciate adding an element of mystery to your sand castle design. This would also work well with the drip technique for added creepy ooze. This sculpture is also from the Copenhagen Sand Sculpture Festival 2012, there’s castle number 3 in the background.

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10. A Steampunk Fantasy

While we are getting into complicated territory now, this castle should serve as inspiration for older urban kids and parents with a penchant for steampunk. Rivets are pretty easy to fashion with a simple carving tool such as a melon baller. This sculpture was made for Sand Sculpting Australia 2013.

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11. Teddy!

Again, complicated! And certainly not a castle anymore. But if you scale a design like this down, it’s not that different from building a novelty birthday cake. Think of all the fun you can have working on the texture of the fur. This cutie was also on show at the Brighton Sand Sculpture Festival in 2012.

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12. Classic Cartoon Characters

Dumbo, Alice in Wonderland, Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs, you name a classic cartoon character and they’ve been reproduced in sand by some clever soul. This may be a little difficult to perfect if your project manager is an enthusiastic three-year-old, but the excitement and joy will be well worth the effort.

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13. Your Own Creation

OK, this one might be more doable, but you’ve got to dream big, right? And once your child’s imagination is sparked, something like the image above is going to look a lot more like the first one on this list in their mind’s eye. Make sure to do a little beach combing before you start to build, to find all sorts of natural objects to decorate your masterpiece. Don’t forget to photograph it before you go, too, because the ephemeral nature of this artform is going to make for a whole other life lesson to discuss with your little one on the way home.

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Lead image BelayaMedvedica / Shutterstock.com — other images: 1. Dex 2. Jorge L├íscar 3. Jonas Smith 4. William Cho 6. David Bolton 7. Jimmy Yao 8. tseen 9. Leonardo Crespo 10. Greenstone Girl 11. David Bolton via Flickr; 5. Paulo Juntas via Wikimedia Commons; 12. Ravini via Pixabay