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Art to Soothe the Savage Child

Written By Jan

How 30 minutes of sand painting can add hours of sanity to your life

Child playing with sand

Well, “savage” may be too strong a word, but when four-and-a half year old Chloe gets cranky, her mother knows exactly what to do – bring out the sand art. “It’s like magic if she’s in a bad mood,” says mom Michelle of Bedford, MA. “It makes her feel better instantly.”

There may not be another material as soothing to the human soul as sand.  Just imagine yourself on the beach, digging your toes into the cool sand, letting the grains run softly through your fingers. Remember the hours you’ve spent molding dream castles, carving out moats, and watching the water fill them and then sink away. Think how the sand invites you to lie down on it for hours, listening to the rhythm of your own heart.

Sand as an art material has that same ability to soothe. You can make an impromptu sand box for indoors by pouring play sand (see sidebar) on a tray along with miniature people and animal figures, cars and trucks, scoops and spoons.

For a more structured art project, the kind that Chloe likes, try sand painting on sticky canvases. Painting with sand requires no tools; colored sand is applied directly with the hands onto a tacky surface so that it can be rubbed in place. This tactile approach enhances the sense of touch, building and improving fine motor skills while it helps kids slow down and enjoy the process as much as they love the colorful result.

“It’s like magic if she’s in a bad mood”

dog sand art

For children, making sand pictures on sticky canvases is a satisfying way to express themselves. They start with a simple outline that has been cut into the liner – a dog for example. They can make the picture into anything they choose by peeling off parts of the liner and rubbing colored sand onto the sticky surface. As they gain mastery over the basic steps, they learn ways to create more complex pictures – a dog standing in a yard of flowers or playing with a ball on a striped rug.

Why sand painting works to calm kids down:

  • it’s sensory, bringing together physical energy with imagination
  • there is a natural rhythm to it – peel, pour, and rub – that is comforting
  • it’s easy to be successful: even very young children can make colorful, pleasing designs

How to get the most out of sand painting with your child:

  • schedule art as part of daily “down time” for the kids
  • have favorite sand canvas images on hand
  • plan to work together with your child, even if they already know how to do it, so you can talk together about the art, or just about the day

As fun as beach sand is to play in, outdoor sand should stay outside to avoid potential health problems. Play sand, available from toy and craft stores, is filtered and certified clean for sandboxes and indoor play.  Colored sand for painting sand canvases is available here

Learn more about sand painting and other creative family activities. 

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Jan thinks of herself as a creative dabbler, and loves trying out new materials and tools, especially sand, paper, fabric, and kathunkita machines*. Jan started out as a letterpress and offset printer, and gauges her happiness on how many things she can make happen each day. Her motto is “Try something new, it will change you, and when you change your life you can change the world.” With this philosophy she opened a walk-in art studio in 1996 that still serves as an incubator for new projects and products. Jan is a Certified Play Expert (CPE) and an MBA.