Sandtray Play at Scoala Gimnaziala nr 156

The Impact of Sandplay and Storytelling on Children‘s Learning and Emotional-Behavioral Development

by Daniela Androsca


Over the two years of the project, as a member of the Romanian project team, I have done over 20 sandtray activities with primary students of the School no. 156 in Bucharest, Romania. The sandtray activities have been a challenge for me as a psychologist and helped me in my activity as a school counsellor in the institution where I am working.

The purpose of the project was to involve the children with learning and emotional-behavioural problems in using their imagination in the sandtray play to create their own story so they can improve their learning process, their behavioural-emotional development and the raise in their self-esteem.

In the psychologist’s office of the School no. 156 was set up the space needed for the sandtray play activities. 5 trays were bought, miniatures also and a shelf unit where all the toys were arranged in categories.

In the sandtray play programme were involved primary children with emotional and behavioural problems and also children with learning difficulties, especially those with problems in language development and communication. The children were included in the programme as a result of the discussions with the teachers and on their recommendation.

There were two activities a month where 5 to 2 children from a class participated, in 20 sessions.

The activities were made in a way in which to create a suitable climate for the well-being of the children and a greater disponibility for cooperation in order to achieve the purpose and objectives that were set : the focus of attention through an ice-breaking game, the presentation of the purpose of the activity, the introduction in the atmosphere of the story by reading a story or creating a story with the participation of the children in turns and then the creation of the story at the sandtray individually or in pairs.

All the children involved in sandtray play have shown curiosity from the very beginning, firstly they were attracted by the sandtray in the office, and the first thing they wanted to do was to put their hands in the sand. The majority of the children had as their first question whether they would play in the sand and they were anxious to start working in the sandtray. Their sensations and emotions were very intense when they touched the sand. The miniatures’s shelf unit was another attraction for the children, needing sometimes a while to carefully study them and quench their curiosity. The psychologist’s office became a very attractive place for the primary children due to its miniatures and sandtrays, for the actual sandtray activity.

The sandtray activities were finalized with the writing of the story for each child by me or each participating child on a A4 sheet of paper where was added the photo of the made sandtray. The children were very emotional when they received those booklets.

The children were very enthusiastic in choosing the toys, being very involved in selecting them and creating the story. From all 70 children who were included in the project, two children refused to work in the sandtray, saying that they don’t know how to tell stories, but with my support they have finally managed to create a story and they were very satisfied. I tried to observe their manifestations over their work in the sandtray.
I have also worked sandtray with children in conflict in pairs. After the children were counselled in solving their conflict, I have asked them to work together in a sandtray and create together a story. They have worked sandtray in 6-7 counselling sessions and I observed the way in which they manage their emotions and how they interact and relation with their tray partner. At the end of the counselling programme the children managed to take into account the needs of the other child, to respect the decisions of the other without interferring and to cooperate with each other.

The conclusions I reached are :

  • The chosen miniatures and the story that was created reflect the values, emotions and inner tensions of the children.
  • The play in the sand and with the miniatures, the free level of expression in front of the sand tray give the child a sense of wellbeing, creating a psychic comfort which contributes at the rise of confidence, of motivation in the learning process, which leds to a rise of the cognitive-emotional performance.
  • The sandtray programme contributes to the development of the ability to create stories. Sandtray stimulates the children‘s creativity, and their storeies at the end of the psychologist counselling programme have become more elaborate, with a larger successions of events, many characters and better shaped.
  • Sandtray reaches the child‘s fantasy and intuition, developing his creativity and by this, helping in his growth and evolution.
  • Sandtray contributes to the enrichment of the vocabulary and the ability for expression: the children build easier the phrases, create easier a description or a dialogue when they use the material support, the miniatures.
  • Sandtray is a source of emotions and helps the child to understand and express them.
  • The child feels captivated, he adopts a specific style of expression, uses interjection, onomatopoeia, certain sounds, he‘s in the middle of the action.
  • When working in pair in a sand tray, it appears an emotional bond between the children that is practiced or further developed, which leads to solving the conflicts between them.
  • Sandtray helps the children to find solutions the their daily problems because they put into their stories the tensions, blockages and emotional needs.

The sandtray play project is innovative through the fact that both the setting of the sandtray play space and the work method help the child to be involved in the process of exploring and understanding their own identity, give him the necessary confort to apply problem-solving strategies and to make decisions about his own person.

Sandtray Play has significantly contributed at the wellbeing and further development of the communication capacity of the children who were included in the programme. The results obtained from the implementation of this method were the ones we expected and quite significant, they showed the children’s greater disponibility in the learning process, this being one of the main objectives of the educational process. All the children involved were very impressed by the work in the sandtray and expressed their wishes to be further invited to work with it.