1. What is Sand Tray Therapy
2. Categories of Sand Tray Toys
3. Common Toys for Sand Trays
4. Free Download Sand Tray Item List


Sand tray therapy refers to an intervention used by trained therapists that incorporates the use of sand inside a container (tray) that participants use to unconsciously process their emotions, thoughts, and experiences.

Sand tray therapy can be used by any client in therapy, however, it is commonly used by children, including teens. This can also extend to families where parents and children can interact with each other.

Sand tray therapy encourages children to play and to use play as an important process to help them explore and express their feelings through toys instead of words. Participants can manipulate sand and toys to represent their worldview. This includes what may have happened as well as their expectations or perceptions of the future.

Training is important in the use of sand tray therapy. Some of the most common mistakes made by those who may want to engage in some kind of play therapy is assuming the selection of toys by participants can be assumed to be literal. For example, if a child chooses a soldier toy and starts shooting other toy characters, some may assume the child is acting our aggression and could even be potentially showcasing violent tendencies.

However, in therapy, not all that seems obvious is the reason. A selection of a toy soldier could also be viewed as a protective character by the child. It could also simply be a replication of their parent’s job. Even more simplistic, it could be the only green toy available, (if green is a child’s favourite colour). The reasons are varied and are a good indication of how therapists should be mindful of appropriate training in addition to not transferring your interpretation of what a toy symbolizes.

Sand tray therapy allows for non-verbal interactions between client and therapist, however, it also provides an excellent sensory experience that clients can benefit from where talk therapy may sometimes create distress or impact the client’s energy levels.


Sand tray and sand play are words that some therapists use interchangeably and for the most part, only therapists are concerned with therapy labels as opposed to clients who visit a therapist for help regardless of the mode of therapy used.

Sand tray therapy can involve the therapist becoming involved in the client’s use of sand play. Sand play, however, is primarily used only by the client when they create their world using sand tray materials.

Sand tray therapy may contain more interaction with the therapist who can incorporate multiple modes of therapy as part of their interaction with their client.


Amongst the many available options for sand tray components, we can usually categorize them based on their functionality. Some of the common categories for sand tray toys include (includes affiliate links):

These are the physical categories to consider when selecting components for your sand tray, however, it’s also helpful to consider the purpose of each element. The purpose can also be identified into some common categories including:

  • Nurturing – dolls, baby items, families, houses, food, medical, communication-based
  • Protective – police, parents, teachers, pets, symbolic animals, superheroes, nature
  • Combative – soldiers, superheroes, dinosaurs, dragons
  • Creative – mythical and fantasy creatures
  • Emotional release – sensory toys, bears, soft toys, religious

Although these categories provide a general framework for the use and purpose of each toy, each client will bring their interpretation and meaning to a toy. For example, a police officer toy could be used to represent protection to one client and fear to another client.

Categorizing items is not integral to developing a sand tray kit, however, being aware of the distinct uses of some toys can help therapists develop a well-rounded sand tray kit over time. As many sand tray therapists explain, items should be selected for a useful purpose instead of simply collecting as many toys as possible.


It can be a fine line between providing quality choices for the participants versus having so much choice that the participant feels overwhelmed with the options available to them. Your session should not have the participant spending most of their session time weighing up too many options, however, some may argue this represents an opportunity to process decision-making with your participant.

Available options are also important to consider when developing a budget to allocate towards toys and replacing them. If you purchase an expensive item that is broken, consider that it may not be within your budget to replace that item and therefore you run the risk of feelings of blame, frustration, and anger being directed at the participant or internally developed within the participant. This is relevant in the case of an iPad, camera, computer, or phone. If you have these items in your practice for client use, you can consider the cost of each and whether they are easy enough to replace in the event of any damage or required upgrades.

Some things to consider when developing your sand tray kit and your space in general include:

  • Select for a purpose not just for collecting
  • Create an environment that is safe, contained, and free from outside distractions
  • Allow mess
  • Allow for easy clean up
  • Consider appropriate categories of toys for your client base. Eg children, autistic children, cultural diversity
  • Select simplistic toys that don’t require complicated set up or use
  • Allow for creative expression
  • Consider durability of toys

Aside from toys, you may want to consider a few items to help you manage your sand tray materials. These items include:

  • Rolling bag – if you offer mobile services, a rolling bag can assist in transporting your items
  • Mesh bags – helps to keep your materials separated into categories
  • Ziplock bags – can be used to contain sand or cleaning supplies
  • Throw rugs – children can play on the rugs and you can use the rug to collect the toys. You can also purchase outdoor rugs that are made from polypropylene that can withstand more wear and tear and rigorous cleaning

The Center for Play Therapy includes a list of sand tray toys to consider for your space.

Below is a suggested list of items to gradually include in your sand tray kit over time. This list is not exhaustive, nor does it imply these items are essential to include. 


  • Balls
  • Band-aids
  • Bendable doll family
  • Mini broom, dustpan
  • Building blocks
  • Chalkboard, chalk
  • Construction paper
  • Crayons, pencils, paper
  • Cushions/Pillows
  • Dishes (eg. plastic)
  • DIY Toy Tools (eg. Hammer, screwdriver, spanner)
  • Doll furniture
  • Dolls
  • Furniture
  • Hand puppets
  • Hats of various roles (nurse, pilot etc)
  • Masks
  • Medical kit
  • Musical instruments
  • Paints, easel, newsprint, brushes
  • Pipe cleaners
  • Plastic food
  • Play money and cash register
  • Play-Doh or clay
  • Purse and jewelry
  • Rags or old towels
  • Rope
  • Sandbox, large spoon, funnel, sieve, pail
  • Soap, brush, comb
  • Sponge, towel
  • Telephone (minimum two to communicate)
  • Toy soldiers and army equipment
  • Toy watch
  • Vehicles – Truck, car, airplane, tractor, boat, school bus
  • Xylophone
  • Zoo animals, farm animals


SIGN UP below to download the FREE Sand Tray Items list. Use this list as a guide to start developing your sand tray kit.

Common Toys to Include In Your Sand Tray Therapy Kit

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Common Toys to Include In Your Sand Tray Therapy Kit

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