PSED: Social sand play

Written by: Judith Harries, teacher, Northampton
3 January 2019

Sand tray activities can be a great way to help children achieve personal, social and emotional development goals; for example, by developing sand tray rules together and inventing new games.

Wet and dry sand and different sized trays
Shells, stones and sticks;
a marker pen; role-play cooking and eating utensils; dry pasta; corn our; powder paint; washing- 
up liquid; glitter; sequins; pebbles; feathers; child- sized rakes; household paintbrushes.
A poster of agreed sand tray rules
50 Fantastic Things to do With a Sand Tray by Kirstine Beeley (Featherstone Education)
Sandtray Therapy by Linda Homeyer (Routledge)
The Little Book of Sand and Water by Sally Featherstone (Bloomsbury)
Sand and Water Play: Simple Creative Activities for Young Children by Sherrie West and Amy Cox (Gryphon House)

This is the rst article in a series looking at sand play in your setting and how to develop all the Early Learning Goals as the children play and explore activities in sand. The series starts with ideas for Personal, Social and Emotional Development while playing cooperatively around the sand tray.

  • Playing and exploring
    Children make and keep rules for sand play.
    They take turns to be in charge and select what to play in the sand.
    They encourage each other to try out a new activity in the sand tray.

This is a good starter activity for introducing cooperative play around the sand tray. Place shells, stones or wooden sticks with the children’s names written on them. When children arrive at your setting invite them to nd their name shell, stone or stick and place it in a basket or bucket next to the tray. Explain to the children that this is a way to self-register. Invite them to remind friends to nd their marker in the sand when they arrive.

Sand tray rules
Talk to the children about some simple rules to remember when using the sand tray. Some rules may depend on your setting or the size of the sand tray but here are a few to think or talk about:

Up to 5 children playing at once
Roll up your sleeves (especially in the wet sand)
Don’t throw the sand
Share the toys
Keep the sand in the tray.

Agree the rules with the children and they are more likely to remember them. Write them on a poster for display.

Sand favourites
Talk in a group about favourite activities and make a list of the top ve. Provide a labelled set of equipment for each selected activity. Allow the children to take turns each session to be the ‘sand master/mistress’ and choose one of the favourite activities to play in the sand. Do they prefer wet or dry sand, building structures or hiding toys, small world play or sand therapy, natural materials or plastic bricks? Encourage children to try out a new activity in the sand. If the sand master/mistress has chosen something they haven’t tried before to play in the sand that day, challenge others to have a go.

Sandy cafe
A good way to play around the sand tray and extend children’s personal and social skills is to open a sandy cafe. Pretending to create sandy food together is always fun. Please emphasise to the children that they should never actually eat the sand! Provide lots of different role-play cooking utensils, including saucepans and cake tins, and use plates, bowls, spoons, ice cream scoops, pizza wheels, etc. Let children use dry pasta with the sand to make some exciting looking meals; for example, sandy pizzas, sandy pasta, sandy cakes and sandy ice creams.

Playing with different types of sand

Moon sand
Work with the children to mix together 4 cups of sand with 2 cups of corn our and 1 cup of water. The consistency should be a bit like crumbly pastry and it should hold together in a ball if moulded. Add some more water if it is too dry. Add colour by using 1 or 2 tablespoons of powder paint rubbed into the mixture, again like making pastry. It is a good workout for the ngers and hands. Let children play with the moon sand on a shallow tray or tuff spot.

Sand mousse
Sand mousse is another fun and even messier use of sand! Squirt some washing up liquid onto the sand in the tray and then mix in some water to make a frothy, whipped mousse consistency. Children will enjoy this sensory play experience.

Glitter sand
Just mix in some glitter and sequins to the dry sand for an extra special sparkly sand activity.

  • Active learning
    Children make a new friend in the sand tray.
    They work together with a partner to complete a challenge.
    They focus on and express their feelings as they play in the sand.

Set the children some challenges to motivate their play in the sand tray. Can they make a new friend in the sand tray today? Encourage them to observe each other’s games and try to learn a new game. Help children to learn from each other. Ask children to work with a sand tray partner to complete an activity, such as building a sand shape using a mould, constructing a tower in the wet sand, nding the most coins hidden in the dry sand using a sieve, or making a road track in the sand using plastic vehicles. How well did they work together?

Sand therapy play
If you are interested in developing sand play therapy further, try here for training. One-to-one sand tray therapy play can be used with children as a resource for calming down, taking time out, or encouraging emotional self-expression. Place wet or dry sand in a shallow, smaller tray and provide some small world play figures. Try to facilitate rather than direct the activity allowing each child an opportunity to work out feelings by choosing gures and making up stories.

  • Creating and thinking critically
    Children invent new games using names to play in the sand.
    They evaluate the sand tray rules and try to solve any problems.
    They compare and test the differences between playing with wet and dry sand.

After all the children have registered using their named markers, challenge groups of children to invent new games they can play with their names in the sand. Can they hide a friend’s name in the sand for them to nd? Take out one of the group’s names. Whose name is missing?

Talk about any problems with the sand tray rules. Can children think of any new ways to solve them? Do they need to make any new rules or adjust their behaviour? Listen carefully to their suggestions.

Add some smooth coloured pebbles into the Zen sand tray (see box below). Let children handle them and place them in different patterns and arrays onto the sand. Challenge children to think of other natural items they could add to the tray in this way, such as shells, feathers, sticks, and so on.

Comparing different types of sand
Actively compare wet and dry sand by providing both trays in your setting. Ask children to think about the differences. Can they pour the wet sand? Can they build models with the dry sand? Try to encourage some critical thinking about the different types of sand.

Zen sand tray
Playing in a tray of dry sand can be a very calming activity for some children and it’s a good idea to have it available in your setting in a calm corner. Place a thin layer of dry sand in the tray, and start with no other equipment except children’s ngers. Invite them to just feel the sand between their ngers. Then add child-sized rakes or household paint brushes. Ask children to make patterns in the sand with the tools. Gradually add more tools or let children suggest mark-making tools they could use. Play some soothing music as the children use the tray. Talk about how it makes them feel.

EYFS Early Learning Goals
As children are involved in self-registration at the start of a session, nding their named marker in the sand, and helping each other nd their names they will demonstrate positive relationships with other children and develop reading skills

at the same time (L). They will discover more about different materials by creating new types of sand and comparing wet and dry sand (UW).

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