Open-Ended Sandplay in the Classroom

Sandplay is a fascinating therapeutic approach that can really connect well with some children and adults. With wet or dry sand trays and figures it is a platform for sand players to tell their stories and facilitate a natural manner for healing. Knowing that our population of learners has an increased amount of mental health and anxiety issues in their lives, my DECE partner and I were looking for ways to assist and equip the children in our care with different ways of exploring their thoughts and feelings. We wondered if we could recreate a similar area that Sandplay therapists have in our classroom.


IMG_4083So, we began by collecting lots of figures, houses, loose parts etc. We changed the material in the tubs regularly. We didn’t just use wet and dry sand. We tried rice, oats, moon dough, etc. We also set out tubs with a variety of measuring cups and spoons, many utensils, and containers. We decided we would set-up the provocation so children could choose materials for each sensory bin. We wondered if we allowed our early learners to self-select their materials and learning focus, they might connect with their inner world, have rich oral language opportunities, and/or have more opportunities to be more creative.


IMG_4013In fact this is exactly what we experienced. We noticed some energies that were released through Sandplay. We observed them take more ownership of their learning and saw their sensory experiences become richer. We noticed once again how when left alone children often intrinsically know what they need and how they best go about learning such things. Children are curious and experimental. They do not need a prescribed form of play. How about allowing them to choose if their focus is numeracy with measurement tools used to fill and weigh or literacy-based with figures and stories? How about seeing where their play takes them (even in sensory play) and being responsive to this emergent learning as it unfolds?


IMG_2245Our early learners enjoyed not being limited in their material selection and type of play. It became open-ended sensory play. We also took time to model sensory play. We modelled story-telling with a focus on character feelings and retelling. We ensured that they were not limited to any modelling, but that it was just a starting place. We also found Sandplay useful with social stories as a way to help individuals create coping strategies to achieve more success managing their day.
IMG_0986We recognize that we, as educators, are not trained to interpret Sandplay, or can offer therapy dialogue. However, we observed that many children are able to sort out their feelings through play. At times the sensory bins did not look the way I would think they should. Sometimes they appeared messy, mismatched and not like a typical beautiful sensory bin should look. However, in slowing down we were able to appreciate the process, the thinking behind the child’s selection in materials, the imagination and creativity. Maybe, if we were really listening, we might hear some opportunities for healing.


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