Art for Special Needs Children: Beginning Sand Art

Balloon sand art project
Finished Balloon Sand Art Project

Many children enjoy sand art and special needs children often particularly like it because of its tactile nature. If you buy the pre-made kits that use the sticky paper, you may find your child frustrated. Peeling the tiny pieces of paper off to reveal the sticky paper underneath is not an easy task with an impatient child. Keeping the loose packets of sand neat and unmixed is also difficult. Over the years, I came up with ways of doing this activity that kept both the cost and the mess to a minimum.

First, I used thick, Tacky glue on a thin paint brush for an adhesive for the sand. Forget peeling those tiny pieces of backing paper off. The kids can’t do it themselves and even my fingernails often weren’t good enough. Just put a very small amount of glue on a paper plate and let them paint it in the areas they want the sand to stick. Restrict the amount you give them to just the amount they need so that the glue doesn’t run everywhere.

Shows an adult hammering a hole in the lid of a baby food jar. There is also a large plastic medicine jar with a lid next to it.
Hammer a hole in the lid of a baby food jar or small plastic jar to use with the colored sand.

In order to work well with the sand, you have to find a way for the child to shake it on the design instead of expecting them to spoon it on or tap it out of an open bag. Since I had them readily available, I used baby food jars with a hole punched in the lid. The good thing about these jars is that the mouth is large enough for you to pour the excess sand back in without needing a funnel. The fact that they are glass didn’t seem to matter in this case because any time my daughter wasn’t shaking from it, the jar was back in the bucket and out of reach. We would only work at a table, sitting down as well. If you can find small plastic jars to punch a hole in, that would be even better.  The plastic lid often cracks when you try to do this, however, so be careful.

To make this activity successful, particularly for young children or those with significant motor skills issues, pick very simple designs at first with large shapes that do not touch each other. The balloon design linked to here ( Sand Art Design Level 1  ) is a good first step. Move to more complicated designs as they get the hang of it.  Here are three more as examples or you can just make up your own ( Sand Art Design Level 2 , Sand Art Design Level 3 , Sand Art Design Level 4  ).   When you print off your design, try to use white card stock instead of plain paper.  It is more sturdy.


Shows a tray with 5 jars of colored sand, a paint brush, a bottle of glue, a small plate with glue on it, and a larger paper plate.

1.  5 shaker jars of different colored sand (red, orange, yellow, green, and purple are shown in the pictures).                                                                    2.  Tacky glue

3.  Small paint brush

4.  One small and one large paper plate.

Shows a shallow baking tray with a sheet of card stock with a printed pattern on it. There is a paint brush and a small plate with some glue on it as well.
Give your child a baking tray with the printed pattern and a paint brush on it, alongside a small plate with glue on it.

When working with the sand, I always kept her work on a shallow baking tray. She would be given one color to use at a time and we would pour the excess back into the jar before getting another color. Any sand in the tray can be dumped on a paper plate, which can be curled into a funnel quickly.  All of this is shown in the picture gallery that your child can follow as they work.

Child:   Follow the pictures to complete your beautiful sand art project.  Click on the picture to move to the next step.

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Adult:  We hope your child enjoyed Art for Special Needs Children:  Beginning Sand Art.  Here’s a way to make it even more fun:  Want a border around your artwork? Use double faced sticky tape around the edge of the paper. Then just shake the sand color you want on it. Done! You can even use double faced tape to make designs with straight lines. The only problem is that it is very difficult for young children to put double face tape on paper themselves. You’ll have to do it.

© 2013 – 2014, Margaret. All rights reserved.