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Sand Tray Therapy in Schools
I started using sand tray therapy with my students when I was interning in college and I absolutely loved it!! I look at sand tray therapy as a tool to help students communicate about difficult topics. The counselor provides the student with a prompt and allows the student to express themselves using miniature toys/models in a sand tray. Once the student has built their sand tray, then you allow them to explain the scene they created and use it as a discussion starter in your session. I absolutely love the conversations and topics that come up when using sand tray therapy.
Technically you don’t need to go to a training, but I recommend finding a seminar at a conference that covers the basics of sand tray therapy. I went to an hour long session at the Texas State School Counselors Conference, which provided enough information for me to get started.
If you can’t find any seminars to attend, then I recommend purchasing the Sand Tray Practice Manual. I’ve attended 2 different seminars on sand tray therapy and both recommended I purchase the Sand Tray Practice Manual. I’ll be honest, I haven’t finished reading it. I’ve more skimmed the topics I wanted to learn about, but reading the entire manual is on my “to do list”.
After a few months of using your sand tray if you decide you love it and want to learn more, then I recommend looking at becoming a certified Sand Tray Therapist. While I personally don’t think it’s necessary, I think you would learn a lot of helpful techniques and resources in the required trainings and supervision.
Sand Tray Prompts
I recommend having a list of prompts readily available. You can post them on a poster on the wall above your sand tray or laminate a small page that sits on top of your sand tray. I laminated my student prompts on one side and on the back are counselor tips (help refresh my brain every once and a while). Sometimes I’ll ask students to build a certain prompt for me, other times I let them choose their prompt.
You can find prompts all over!! Personally I’ve found that you only want to provide students with about 10 prompts. More than 10 prompts can be overwhelming for the student and less than 10 can feel forced (less of a choice on the student’s part). I’ve put together my top 10 sand tray prompts for you here on my TPT website. I’ve also provided my counselor tips and counselor processing prompts (questions to help the student process their completed sand tray).
Types of Miniatures for Sand Tray
You’ll need a variety of miniatures for your sand tray set up, here are some of my recommendations as you begin:
- Everyday Hero’s
- Laptop/Cell Phone
You don’t need all of these items to get started. Get a few pieces and then collect the rest over time. If you’re just starting off, I highly recommend this sand tray starter kit. I invested in the same kit when I first got started because it was so much easier than me trying to find everything.
Diverse Miniatures for Sand Tray
I want all of my students to feel included and represented in their sand tray sessions. It’s easy to find white dolls and figurines, but it’s a lot harder to find figurines from diverse cultures/backgrounds. Luckily, I found a set of Hispanic figurines at a local thrift store and was super excited!! I also found a few pieces in the Target Dollar Spot, so maybe in a few years it’ll be easier to find some of these diverse figurines. I also look for miniatures representing different religions, countries, holidays, and abilities. If you’re having problems finding diverse figurines, check these out on Amazon:
- Diverse Abilities Figure Set
- African American Family Doll Set
- Hispanic Family Doll Set
- Asian Family Doll Set
A budget friendly option is to not have any races represented in your figurines. You could just use plain peg dolls or these Family Counter Pieces to represent people. Also a lot of my students use animals or happy meal characters to represent people in their sand tray. When a student selects a dragon over superman to represent their dad, you learn a lot about how they view that person.
Where to Find Sand Tray Miniatures
The best part about working in a school system is your community support. Reach out to your PTA, post on Facebook, email parents, email staff, add a message in the parent newsletter, etc. that you are looking for small toy donations. I included a few sentences explaining how I would put their old toys to good use in my counseling office. I waited a few weeks and what do you know, parents and staff started showing up with bags of old toys!! So reach out to your community today and see what items you can get for free!!
A majority of my miniatures came from my coworkers bringing in their old toys for me to use. However, I still needed some more items for my sand tray collection. Here’s where I got some of my other miniatures:
- Target Dollar Spot
- Dollar Tree (toy section and holiday decor)
- Kid Meal Toys (ask for donations, take a business card and talk to a manager)
- Christmas Ornaments (just cut off the string and it’s the perfect miniature)
- Thrift Stores (sell small toys in bags for cheap)
- Facebook Marketplace
You can also buy miniatures online, which I recommend for certain “hard to find” pieces. I love PlayTherapySupply.com for specific pieces. I also get a lot of great ideas from Play Therapy Supply.
Sand & Tray Options
Technically your tray should have a blue base which is meant to represent water (if needed). However, I recommend you just find a tray that works for your space and budget. I was planning on buying a cheap storage container from Dollar General but then our department received some extra funds so I decided to invest in a small portable sand tray.
I love using kinetic sand but again work with what you’ve got and your budget. You can use play sand, kinetic sand, or just cheap sand leftover from a home project. My college supervisor used beans instead of sand and it was amazing!! The beans were cheap and kept her office clean (she didn’t have sand everywhere)!!
Sand Tray Organization
You’ll find a lot of ideas online for sand tray organization, but they aren’t all practical for a small counseling office. I finally decided to invest in a storage cart to organize my sand tray miniatures. The sand tray sits on top of the cart and I roll it over to my desk whenever I want to use it with students.
If you don’t have room for the storage cart, then I would consider a few of these drawers. Place them on a bookshelf that students can access. I’m guessing you’d need 1-2 rows of your bookshelf to make this work (depending on how big your bookshelf is).
I also love the idea of a large rolling toolbox for school counselors. I know a lot of school counselors are assigned to multiple campuses, which makes a portable sand tray box super helpful!
Whatever method you use, be sure to label and categorize your figurines so students can easily access everything.
I hope this post encourages you to get started on your sand tray station today! You don’t need to have years of experience or a ton of figurines to start sand tray!! Grab a storage container, some leftover sand, a few old toys, and get started.