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DIY Zen Garden Sand Tray

by Jean Van't Hul
September 12, 2014

Make Your Own Zen Garden

I’ve had the idea to create a mini zen rock garden for a while now—you know, the kind where you rake the sand into patterns around strategically placed rocks?

For rocks, though, I wanted to use melted crayon rocks for a pop of color—shiny, colorful treasures amidst the sand.

I don’t know much about zen gardens beyond that I like them so don’t know if this would be considered sacrilegious or something.

But it is pretty. And a wonderful sensory and visual experience.

DIY Zen Garden Sand Tray

Sand for the DIY Zen Garden Sand Tray


  • Small tray with sides
  • Sand (we just used sand from our sandbox)
  • Small rocks (we used our melted crayon rocks)
  • A fork (this functions as the miniature rake)

DIY Zen Garden Sand Tray

The super simple instructions

I filled a serving plate with sand from the sandbox,* added a few melted crayon rocks, and raked the sand around them with my miniature rake (AKA fork).

It seemed to work pretty well.

I set the little zen garden sand tray on the table, beside a bowl of more melted crayon rocks and the aforementioned mini rake, knowing that the set up would be irresistible to my daughters when they came home from school.

DIY Zen Garden Sand Tray

Daphne, the first to get home, immediately started touching and handling the sand and the rocks, running the sand through her fingers and rearranging the rocks.

DIY Zen Garden Sand Tray

She smoothed out the sand and raked it.

DIY Zen Garden Sand Tray

She added more rocks. She brought in her baby tiger “to guard the queen’s treasure.”

DIY Zen Garden Sand Tray

Maia and her friend Stella were also drawn to the little zen sand garden and did what Daphne did at first—used it as a pure sensory experience—running their hands over the sand and rocks, scooping up handfuls of the sand and letting it slip through their fingers.

Only then did they moved on to the business of arranging the melted crayon rocks and smoothing then raking the sand.

DIY Zen Garden Sand Tray

This DIY zen garden was a big-time hit with the kids and with me. I’d love to be able to have something like this available for them to work on whenever the urge strikes or they need a soothing sensory activity such as this one. 

DIY Zen Garden Sand Tray

*One thing I would do differently, however, is use a tray with steeper right-angled sides—such as a baking dish—rather than this plate with the angled, shallow sides. I want to contain the sand as much as possible and minimize clean up. In fact, I would place the whole set up on a tray or mat as well to catch any sand that did end up spilling around the area. (I had a fair amount of sand to clean up after this activity.)

DIY Zen Garden Sand TrayBy the way, if you’re not a big DIYer, you can buy one for all this fun sensory and visual stimuli. This tabletop zen garden is the #1 best seller in preschool garden play on Amazon (where do they come up with these categories?) and comes with two different miniature rakes, a little broom, and a couple of mini crane figurines.

More ideas for you ::

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