The Power of Brief Sand Tray

Without giving too much information and breaking confidentiality, I wanted to share the difference in two back to back sand tray experiences with the same child. This truly defines the saying, “What a difference a day makes.”

The Power of Brief Sand Tray

My sessions with this child are only 15 minutes. We can call them brief, but really they are even shorter than brief. Better than nothing. I normally give this child a prompt and then let him build in the tray for 10 minutes. For the last 5, he will explain what is going on. 

This first picture was done with the prompt: Make a tray to show 3 things you would wish for. 

3 Wishes

Helicopter: To fly to Mexico with his dad. They would go to the beach and swimming pool there. 

Construction Truck: To fix the roof, so that when it rains no water will get in the house.

Car: To drive to the toy store with his dad and brother. 

Directly after his explanation, this was built:

Sand Tray Day 1

It took an incredible amount of prompting to get the answers below, but these are almost exactly how he described what was going on. I highlighted the pieces you will see again in a follow up tray. He named this tray “The Busy City.”

  1. This is a church. There is jewelry and stuff for baby Jesus. Inside is a person who was hit by a bad guy. 
  2. The army is here to get the bad guy because he hurts people.
  3. The crosses remind people to be good and nice. 
  4. That is a toy store, but it has a leak in the roof.
  5. That is the same helicopter from the 3 wishes tray. It is waiting on the dad so everyone can fly to Mexico.
  6. That is a road block that makes people angry and fixes the roof. 

After he left my room, I laughed a little because of how MUCH stuff he tried to cram into that box. When I reflected, “Wow. There is a lot going on in your box today.” His response was, “Yea, people have a lot of stuff to do like go home and eat chicken and go to the toy store.”

Later that day, he had one of the best days he’s had in a very long time. After hearing this from his teacher, I pulled him the next day. I told him that his teacher had told me what a great day he had. From there, I gave him this prompt: Make a tray to show your Grand Slam day.

Sand Tray Day 2

As he began building, I figured he had completely forgotten about my prompt considering I was waiting for him to pull out little children figurines and line them up in a classroom with a teacher. Boy was I wrong!!! Children are truly cool little things. Below I highlighted what you will notice follows up to he box from the previous day. I had not mentioned this box nor prompted him to continue working on that box. When he sat down, the sand was empty and the figurines were sitting in their containers. 

  1. Notice today how all the helicopters have their own heli-pad. They are not crammed into one small area. I asked about the blue helicopter because I knew that was the same one he used the previous day. That helicopter is excited to fly to Mexico with his dad. 
  2. You’ll notice there are a few people in this box. When I asked him to name the people, I was waiting to hear names of his classmates and instead, he named book and T.V. characters. When I asked which character was himself, he pointed to the helicopter. 
  3. The crosses today are in a clear plastic box. I said, “The crosses are inside this container.” He replied, “They are now safe from robbers.” 
  4. These jewels are still sitting here for the priest to give to baby Jesus. Earlier in the building of this tray, he had placed an ambulance and police car. I asked about them and he told me that they were just driving around to make sure everyone was safe. He assured me everyone was okay and took them both out of the box and put them away.

If you look at both boxes, you’ll also notice that the cars in this box are lined up much more orderly than the box before it. There are also no army cars. I asked him to name the box and he called it, “Everyone is safe.”

Take and reflect however you would like on this, but to me it is all just so fascinating. I won’t tell you my considerations for these boxes nor my goals for this student. Use your own reflections and see what you get. Remember, I got all of this information in two 15 minute sessions and to me this is incredible insight as to why we might be seeing some misbehaviors throughout his day. 

Happy Thursday Counselors! 

One comment

  1. Carolyn says:

    THIS is why I love sandtray! It can be challenging not to jump to conclusions until you see that keeping the reflections simple yet thoughtful and letting the kids do what they need to do really IS helpful!

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