Make Your Own Zen Sand Tray for Drawing and Writing

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Make Your Own Zen Sand Tray for Kids Writing and Drawing

Post by Jena

I remember, when Little J was just a baby, we lived in Royalston, a very rural town in the central, northern part of Massachusetts.  It was a very lonely time for me.  I had no local friends because I always worked an hour away before having my baby.  I had no roots in my town.

Little J and I would take a daily walk through the woods to the post office in the center of town.  The post office was next to a small avant garde private school, whose mission was based in nature and the outdoors.  I would watch as teachers took their class outside to the sandbox, where they would practice their writing and math skills by drawing numbers and letters with sticks in the sand.

This is what this project reminds me of.

How to Make Your Own Zen Sand Tray

Little K finds a bottle of sand art in the treasure house of our recycle center.  I come very close to telling him, “no, don’t take that, we don’t need it.”  He has a plan and I’m glad I acquiesced because it turned into quite a nice little project for us.

Zen tray for sand drawing

I set out 2 cookie trays, lined with a light colored construction paper, “to better see with my dear.”

I empty half of the art sand on each cookie sheet and invite the boys to play.

Zen tray for sand drawing

The rainbow colors create a very inviting provocation.

The boys’ fingers don’t hesitate over the trays of sand.

Zen tray for sand drawing

They begin with small marks: circles and little peck marks.

Much like a etch-a-sketch, we can shake the tray to erase marks and start fresh.

Zen tray for sand drawing

And in no time, the boys have the trays on the floor.  It seems easier for them to draw in the sand in this position.

Zen tray for sand drawing

Quickly follows, the shedding of socks and feet in the sand as well…

Zen tray for sand drawing

…where they leave toe marks.  Little J and I write the word “foot” in the sand.

Zen tray for sand drawing

Don’t have a bottle of sand art? You can make your own colored sand art media for your zen sand tray with sand or salt and food coloring.

1. Pour half a cup of salt or sand into a Ziploc bag and add several drops of food coloring.

2. Close the bag tightly, making sure that most of the air is out. (You can add more food coloring to get more vibrant colors of “sand.”)

3. Use your fingers (on the outside of the bag) to mix the color into the salt.

4. Pour the salt or sand in a thin layer on the newspaper and let it dry.

5. Repeat this for each color, giving each its own piece of newspaper.

6. When all colors are dry, pick up the papers one at a time and pour the salt back into Ziploc bags to store.

7. Use in your zen sand tray.

P1030855 - Version 2Jena from HappyLittleMesses here.  Wife of hubby, Big K, momma to Little J and Little K. Stay at home mom, former Atelierista, aka, Studio teacher at an early childhood education center.  Love to be creative, love to use art materials of all sorts (professional to the up-cycled), love to be in the woods, splashing in rivers, digging in the dirt… these things pull at me all day. My favorite thing to do is share this love of the creative process and the love of open ended play with my boys. My greatest wish is to teach them this artistic language, so they have yet another way to express themselves.

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  1. Cindy says

    I love this idea! My 4yr old daughter has never tired of making “dinosaur tracks” in her little indoor sandbox. Colored sand will take that play to the next level! Thank you for your time and energy Mama Jena!

  2. says

    We liked doing this with colored salt as you suggested…a little easier to deal with spills when used indoors! In my son’s 2nd grade class (a Japanese Immersion program), we made little Zen rock gardens this way by also adding river rocks for them to arrange and manipulate in the sand/salt. Lovely post. Thank you!

  3. Alex says

    Love the sand dying info! I am totally going to do that! Sorry to be a spoilsport, but I think cheap commercial colored sand is very highly likely to have toxic pigments such as lead in it. That doesn’t even have to go in the mouth to be harmful, I think.

  4. Melinda says

    Love this activity and your philosophy jena! Thanks for the great post. We will do this soon with our sand we have collected from our creek bank.

  5. Lori N says

    I never thought to dye sand but we have been using cookie sheets of sand since my oldest was 2 and I had to think of a quiet activity for him when I was tending to the new baby. He would sit at the table for an entire morning playing. I finally understood the point of a Zen sand garden. It kept him engaged, yet calm and relaxed despite the new baby chaos! Years later, he still loves the sand tray and so does his little brother.

  6. says

    Eeek, that’s no good. I’ll have to make our own salt sand and discard the sand we found. Thanks for the heads up Alex.

  7. says

    I’ve found that the more simple the idea, the better. Usually taking less time to set up, clean up and can branch out in a million different directions.