“The Animal in Us”: Sandtray Activity for Preschool through First Grade Students

This contribution is from Martha Nodar, who earned a 25 dollar gift certificate to childtherapytoys.com. Learn how you can do the same!

The Animal In Us is suitable for children ages 2-7 and uses a traditional sand tray, and figurines that most sand play therapists already have.

• Start the activity by asking the child to select an animal to represent him/herself in the sand tray.

• Next, ask the child:

o What animal would you pick to represent your Mom, Dad, siblings?

o Avoid asking “why.” Instead, ask: “What made you select this animal to represent your Dad?” Give the child an opportunity to say he/she didn’t know and accept the answer.

• Animals can be used to represent our primitive emotions while offering a fun and safe way to involve children in expressing themselves. The goal in doing this activity is for children in this age group to express the feelings and thoughts they may have, but may be too young to have the cognitive ability to express.

• For example, children in this age group may not feel safe expressing having witnessed their parents’ anger. But, it is likely they will feel it is fun to compare their parents with miniature animals, especially after they have also compared themselves to an animal.

• It is not likely a child in this age group will say “My parents were screaming at each other last night and it scared me.” Instead, they may be more willing to illustrate it in the sand by representing their parents with aggressive animals, such as lions, tigers, bears, or alligators.

• The idea of beginning the activity by asking the child to pick an animal to represent him/herself is based on several reasons: to ease the child into the activity, and to help the child get comfortable with using animals to represent people in the family. Because of children’s cognitive development before age 7, it is not likely we would be able to fully extract and interpret the meaning in their traits. But, the activity offers a glimpse into how the child may perceive him/herself within the family system.

• For instance, does the child perceive him/herself as a bird (in a cage) and his parents as cats or tigers? Does the child bury his representational animal in the sand? Stay with the metaphor to make it safe for the child to begin expressing him/herself. There is no need to “fix” anything; just listen and pay attention to the body language.

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