Back to Previous Page
Sandplay, Sand Tray Therapy, The World Technique are all names given to a non-verbal therapeutic tool developed originally by Dr. Margaret Lowenfeld in London, England in the late 1920’s, and later developed by Dora Kalff in the 1950's.
Today the term Sandplay is most widely used to denote this method of the use of sand and water in a tray in which toys or miniatures are placed. The scene or "world" gives both the maker and therapist a sense of what is going on intra-psychically.
Dr Margaret Lowenfeld (b. 1890, d. 1973) was a pioneer of child psychology and psychotherapy. Originally a paediatrician, she was involved in relief-work in her native Poland after World War One, where she began speculating about what enabled some children to survive and even flourish in spite of traumatic experiences. Dr. Lowenfeld's notably original contributions derived from her recognition that play is an important component of children's development. Furthermore, she demonstrated that language is frequently an inadequate mode of expression for children to communicate their experiences. From these premises she invented non-verbal techniques that enabled children to express their thoughts and feelings.
The three primary techniques invented and developed by Dr. Lowenfeld are The Lowenfeld World Technique, Lowenfeld Mosaics and Lowenfeld Kaleidoblocs.
In the late 1920s Dr Lowenfeld established one of the first child guidance clinics in Britain in Notting Hill, London, which she developed into the Institute for Child Psychology. The ICP trained child psychotherapists in the use of Dr. Lowenfeld's theories and techniques as well as operating as the local child guidance centre. The ICP was eventually funded by the National Health Service. These arrangements provided ICP students with unique experiences of child guidance practice during their training.
Dr. Lowenfeld's inventions are featured in a special cabinet in the History of Medicine section at the Science Museum, London. Dr Lownefeld is also a substantial presence in a major semi-permanent exhibition at the Science Museum, 'Mind Your Head', that celebrates the Centenary of the British Psychological Society.
In 1928 she founded a Children’s Clinic for the treatment and Study of Nervous and Difficult Children. It was here that Lowenfeld developed a research and therapeutically oriented approach to child psychiatry and to develop "toys for reading a child’s mind" or The World Technique. The story is told that Lowenfeld placed a sample of toys before a child client who cried out in excitement, "Caw Mam, it’s a whole world to play with".
In 1931 Lowenfeld’s clinic moved to a new premises in order to accommodate the ever increasing demand for child psychiatry and its name was changed to the Institute of Child Psychology. By 1935 she and her colleagues had opened the first child psychotherapy training program in England. Also that year Lowenfeld published her theoretical ideas on play entitled, "Play In Childhood", still considered a classic text on the subject. Lowenfeld saw in her unique therapy technique that play is a cognitive process which gives the therapist access to the ways in which children think.
"It is generally agreed that before the age of seven children are not able to express their thoughts and feelings in constructive language, although those aspects of mental functioning which register feeling and thought are present in very small children. In what way do children think, register and group their experience?"