I like to say that I was “born for the tray”. I spent my childhood collecting actual sand from beach vacations, carrying pounds of it hundreds of miles home in backpacks on cars and planes (and through airport security), and collecting tons of knick knacks. What a wonderful surprise when I found out that these knick knacks actually were something very valuable called miniatures and I would grow in my adult life to collect hundreds of them for my job! And some of those knick knacks from childhood? They sit on my sand tray miniature shelves in my office today.
When shifting to virtual sessions one of the things I have such a hard time transitioning was the power of Sandtray. There are so many great ideas for virtual technology trays like Virtual Sandtray but at $169.99 I had a difficult time committing. Other therapists have gotten creative and used a Whiteboard App or Paint3D for free to create visual worlds with clients through screen share.
For me, while digital is an amazing alternative for still utilizing Sandtray with clients while you are engaging in Tele-Play, it was missing the tactile kinesthetic and sensory element that the sand and miniatures in office brings. I wanted to share three ways for those who are not quite tech savvy or who are also missing the sensory and touch experiences of Sandtray to continue to support clients virtually.
Your Own Tray
For this option you literally use your own tray or portable tray and your own miniatures. A major benefit to this is that the children you work with are already familiar with your miniatures and may find comfort, meaning, and metaphor in using miniatures that they previously used in office.
You as the therapist manipulate the sand and select the miniatures and placement – all dictated by the child. Joel Lambrides an LPCC and RPT from Minnesota shows an amazing video of how to set it up HERE! He uses a brilliant fixed camera system (cell phone) that can be placed over the tray to create an aerial view. Another take on this would be a two camera system with a Telemedicine platform that could have more than one “client” where the therapist has both the phone fixed over the tray and another device to maintain eye contact and communication with the child.
Draw Your World
I first talked about this technique HERE. For this type of Sandtray have the client or parent tape together four sheets of computer paper in a rectangle. You can have the client start out by drawing what kind of ground the “tray” will have on the paper. Will it be grass, rocks, lakes, rivers, mountains, or volcanoes? The sky is the limit! Then, do your sand tray work as usual adding in miniatures to tell the story and create the world. I love this technique because it allows clients to be in control and touch, place, and re-arrange the world. How do clients gather miniatures? Don’t worry – keep reading! I have you covered below.
Okay – I saved my favorite for last! For those that know me know that I started out my Sandtray journey with a tray of corn. I have experimented over the years with other mediums besides sand to create trays and have enjoyed seeing the different dynamics that come out with each. SO as I was brainstorming how to help clients get not only the movement and placement control (as with the technique above) I also wanted them to have a sensory experience of sand as well. Do you know what feels kind of similar to sand AND most families either have on hand or can get for a reasonable price? RICE! Most families also have some sort of casserole pan or cake pan – thus the “Sand” Tray of a casserole pan filled with uncooked rice was born! Now – on to the miniatures!
Selecting and Creating Miniatures
Most clients have some sort of miniature collection in their house. These could be action figures, toy soldiers, princesses, or if they are like me – knick knacks! I give clients a list of the categories of toys and encourage them between sessions to go on a hunt for minis. I also assure clients that although it can feel overwhelming they really only need a couple of things for each category. I encourage clients to get creative, go outside, and have an eye out for all things mini!
Now, there are definitely young people who would only be able to find a select few items in their home. That is totally fine! For these children we create! You can spend a session having the client draw figures they want to be in their tray on paper, finding pictures from the internet to print out, or using stickers. You can adhere pictures to small card stock rectangles (with a bit behind for support and a bit sticking out the bottom) or small pieces of popsicle sticks to get them to stick in the sand. For some young people they may need the supervision and help of a parent for cutting out and pasting/taping. For the young people that draw their world, create a flat base on the bottom with paper – like this genius method HERE!
I created a free handout explaining the Draw Your World and “Sand” Tray technique that you can grab to share with clients HERE!
What are your favorite ways that you have used the power of sand in the virtual world? Drop a comment below!
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I'm Ann Meehan, an LPCC, RPT-S, and EMDR Consultant. I help other therapists grow in their passions as play therapists, trauma therapists,and child and adolescent therapists.