Archived—To See the World in a Grain of Sand: The Sand Tray as Personal Exploration

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One of Sherry Lalonde's favourite activities is a variation on the sandbox theme: the sand tray. Based on sand therapy principles, the activity is one of introspection, creating a physical and mental space where children can explore their internal worlds.

The instruments

Easy-to-find materials were all Sherry needed to furnish her laboratory:

  • A plastic tray big enough for a small world. Sherry chose plastic because it is easier to keep clean than wood.
  • Miniature objects of all kinds: animals, monsters, cars, people, trees, furniture, houses. These needn't be expensive or new. Sherry raided thrift stores and dollar stores, and parents added willingly to the collection.
  • Storage for the objects. Sherry recommends see-through containers to make it easier for the children to find the objects they need.
  • Wall shelves, a bookcase or other place reserved for sand tray objects.
  • A private place or centre dedicated to the sand tray activity.
  • A camera.

The methodology

Sherry's approach to the sand tray activity is simple and one anyone could emulate:

  • The sand tray is a private space. Children occupy it one at a time, and others are not allowed in unless invited. Sherry finds that in her groups, boys tend to work alone while girls are more gregarious.
  • Children are free to play in the sand tray when the inspiration strikes them. With her smaller group, Sherry sets no time limit and will even postpone snacks by a few minutes to enable a child to finish the activity. With her larger group, she sets the computer timer to 15 minutes, so all children who wish to can have an opportunity to build their world.
  • Once a child has finished creating a world, Sherry takes a picture of it before it's time to put away the toys.
  • Sherry then sits with the child and asks him or her to describe the creation. She writes the story word for word.