Friday, January 28, 2011


In working with children and teens in therapy, we use a technique called 'sandtray'. Basically the technique involves having a large wooden box filled with soft sand in the middle of a room, and next to it are shelves lined with every miniature you can think of. There are miniature animals and people, and little versions of household items, cars, food, shapes, transportation pieces, you name it. Here is an example of a Sandtray room that I found from Dr. Bailey, MD's website (a psychiatrist in private practice):

Pretty amazing, huh? (photo from

So, what exactly does this Sandtray stuff do and what is it? Well, there is just something about the soothing properties of sand. When children see it, they can't stop running their hands through it.  Give a child a sandbox and you can bet money that they won't take their hands out of it while you are talking to them.  It stimulates the senses and is a great sensory integration activity.

When a child enters a room like the one above, they are just fascinated and can't wait to start putting their hands in the sand and they start feeling comfortable immediately.

This is when the technique really starts its magic. When we begin, we ask the child to "make a picture in the sand" using any of the toys/miniatures they see on the shelves.  You can also give them specific instructions depending on what is going on with the child, such telling them to "make a picture in the sand about how you felt at school today."

The possibilities are endless. And once they are finished making their picture in the sand, therapists ask them questions about what each figure is doing, what the figure is feeling (even if it's just a bunch of cars in there) and ask a lot of 'what if' questions to help kids problem solve.

Here's another example I found on Dr. Bailey's, MD's website of a child's completed sandtray picture:

As you can see, it can be pretty symbolic.  Sandtray gives the child a different way to express themselves instead of using their words.  There are so many ways of looking at the child's sandtray picture, that it could literally take hours to look at all the different ways their items have come to life.

What does this have to do with being a mom or a parent?

I'm not saying to go out there and get a bunch of miniatures and start doing therapy on your kids.

But, as we know how much children love sand, having a sandbox in your backyard or a small one inside with a lid is a great way for children to use their senses and to express themselves!  It is very soothing for them after a long day at school to come home and play in the sand.

One good thing a parent will love?  It can cause a child to open up like nothing else!  If you have a tough topic to tackle with your child, get out that sandbox out as you lecture them and they will feel much more at ease.  Or if you want them to talk to you and not just turn their shoulder and give you a shrug, the sandbox will relax and soothe them.

But the best thing about sandtray? It provides an amazing play experience for kids.  Instead of the regular outdoor sandbox, having one indoors that they can put toys inside can provide hours of playtime and a great way for them to express themselves.  If you don't want all of their toys in the sand, you can have a designated toy box for them to play with just for the sandtray.  This can be a special time for them, and believe me, they will constantly ask you for permission to play with their sandbox!  You'd be amazed at how creative they can be too.

Here are some places to purchase supplies:

Here is a great link to buy safe, non-toxic play sand.

If you really want to buy your own miniatures for the sand, I recommend the Counseling Toys website. You can get a set like the one below:

This site sells a lot of sand trays, and the one below is a small tray for 24.99$:

Have you ever used Moon Sand before?  It looks and acts like wet sand but it's dry when you touch it. You can basically mold, squeeze and sculpt with it.  It's a different consistency than regular sand, but it's still fun for kids to mold it.

So there you have it. The long and short of Sandplay!  I would love to hear what kinds of sand play your children enjoy!


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