Throughout my years serving in Children’s Ministry I would find myself searching for a creative way to engage children when they were dropped off at Sunday School or a similar Children’s Ministry program. My goal was to make that uncomfortable time more welcoming for both the introverted and extroverted child. I enlisted the help from children in younger and middle elementary grades, asking them what would help during that transition time. They started by telling me what not to have…coloring sheets was number one! Much to my surprise throughout our conversations and open-ended questions they would mention building sandcastles at the beach, sifting, pouring, burying and hiding items in the sand as one of their favorite activities. They would also talk about their preschool days playing in the sandbox. That was my aha moment! A simple indoor sandbox became one of my favorite tools to have on hand in Children’s Ministry.
The indoor sandbox was a giant sensory bin that became a “Chatterbox”, where children felt comfortable to be themselves, talk and ask questions. The sandbox offered:
- Sensory rich hands-on learning where the child determines the outcome
- Easy and affordable way to create new themes by changing the items
- Creative ways to present a Bible Story
- An environment conducive to promoting social skills
- Encourages the imaginative nature of the children
With a limited budget I found the most affordable and easiest indoor sandbox was a plastic tub with a lid. The sandbox would either sit on the floor or a tabletop with plastic tablecloths underneath to catch loose sand. On some occasions several small plastic tubs were used for smaller group interaction and one large one for group play. We even tried sand trays to change things up a bit.
The possibilities are endless with what can be added to the sandbox to create teachable moments. Inexpensive items like twigs, rocks, sifts, spoons, funnel, animal and people figurines. Storytelling became a favorite as we invited the children to retell the story from the Bible, act out with the props from the lesson, or show ways to share God’s love with others. They became immersed in the story themselves as they played in the sand.
One of the children’s favorite was using the sandbox to help them pray. The children called it Chatterbox Prayer. I would have several trays filled with sand in a quiet part of the room. Next to each tray verses from Matthew 11:28-30 displayed in a picture frame. In another frame I would layout out the Prayer Station Instructions.
Prayer Stations Instructions:
- Slowly read the scripture verse for today.
- Think about something you did this week that you regret.
- Write or draw in the sand your concern with your finger.
- Take a moment and really think about this word or drawing.
- Take your time and silently chat with Jesus about what’s on your heart.
- Wipe the word or drawing away, accepting the forgiveness of Jesus.
Think of the possibilities of having children read and then retell Old Testament stories using the sandbox. The sandbox is perfect for creating the desert landscape. With the desert landscape as the focus start adding small people figurines and small toy animals, plastic cactus and pieces of fabric and toothpicks to create shelter. Check out local craft stores for unique miniature figurines.
The sandbox served as a visual tool to help older children work through thought provoking questions. Have several objects that create an impression in the sand, like a leaf, fossil, penny, or your hand. If needed to make a more detailed impression mist the sand a bit with water. Ask the children as the objects make impression in the sand to think of “What impressions are they making on people around them?” Like their friends, teachers, people that are not like you. Do they show love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control? Do they have a servant heart?
We as adults must remind ourselves as we help children learn and discover God’s Word that some of the most valuable learning happens naturally through play! I loved seeing all God’s children learn about what it means to be a disciple and grow in their faith, all around a simple sandbox, God’s Chatterbox.