Sandtray Mandalas

Today’s post is by guest blogger Liz Freeze. She’s a fellow therapist and Arkansan who works with kids in a school setting.  She shared this post in a group and I thought it was an ingenious, unique way of working on the sand. Take a look- I bet you will agree.

Mandala is a Sanskrit term that loosely means circle. They have been created for centuries and are often used as a meditative tool. They can symbolize whole, full circle, or completion.

After viewing a few of them, you begin to notice them everywhere. For example, take a look at flowers, spider webs, nautilus shells, cells- after a while, it becomes hard to find a place in nature where they aren’t after REALLY looking.

The idea to have clients create their own mandala in the sand was appealing because the process itself is creative and meditative. Noticing the shape and texture of each piece is a simple mindfulness exercise.  Working in the sand also provides an opportunity for sensory input, which means double win in my book.

As further evidence that the use of mandalas is fruitful, know that Carl Jung used them as a therapeutic tool to explore the unconscious. He personally created mandalas as well. Again, it seems that mandalas are a natural fit for sand work given Jung’s strong support of sandplay therapy.

Since I’m a school-based therapist and working with small kids, I need super portable items. Fortunately all these items shown below fit into my bag I carry into the school.

Previously, I have used mandala patterns with coloring pages, I have seen how they improve focus even with little ones. My clients have created them with no prompt or direction during traditional sand tray sessions.

The client’s mandala creation is a reflection of how they are feeling at the time. The finished design is considered a self-portrait that reflects the creator. How better to make a self-portrait than using actual 3D images, such as those made in the sand tray?


Materials Needed:

  1. Stone bakeware tray or any round tray with enough depth to hold enough sand to work in.
  2. Sand
  3. Simple interesting pieces to build in the tray. These can be a variety of things including natural stones, beads, buttons, shells, and wooden craft sticks. Some clients drew circle patterns in the sand with the craft sticks. Any small items can be used to represent the client’s world. Have fun with finding a variety of things for the mandala process.

Helpful Hint: I placed everything on a wooden tray to keep the sand spills under control. Clean up was fairly simple. I only had to dust off the table and floor using a small hand broom.

Instructions to client:

Clients were provided the definition of a mandala. They were shown a few mandala images using natural materials. These can be found on Google images. They were given a simple directive to begin in the center and build a circle pattern out from there. The circle could symbolize how they are feeling or something they are struggling with today.

Clients were asked to notice the patterns and colors they selected as well as the shape and texture of their selected pieces. Clients were encouraged there was no “right” way to create. Soothing nature sounds played in the background and no time limit was set.


Even at their young age, my clients were focused and thoughtful. They picked up the pieces and explored them with touch before placing them in the sand. Some items were moved around and rearranged several times before the client declared the circle finished.

During processing, I asked each client to tell me about the mandala and what appealed to them most about the different pieces selected.

For further sessions, I plan to change this up by providing different materials that clients can use to create different images. I will be sure to include leaves and other natural items, since I’ve noticed that clients seem naturally drawn to them.

Alternative use: Group or family therapy. Directions could be that each member take turns to create one part of the circle.

Some helpful links:

Images of natural mandalas

Group therapy ideas

Mandalas in therapy

Art therapy with mandalas


Liz Freeze, LMSW works as a school based therapist in Benton, Arkansas. She has worked with elementary children and adolescents for two years as a therapist and many more as a volunteer in the public school system. Her favorite things include tea, yoga and finding new ways for kids to express their thoughts and feelings.  She is currently working to become a Registered Play  Therapist and a certified yoga instructor.


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