From a photograph by Solomon D. Butcher of four daughters of rancher Joseph M. Chrisman, at their sod house in Custer County, Nebraska. From left to right, Harriet, Elizabeth, Lucie, and Ruth. Photographed in 1886.

Sunday, February 22, 2009

Sand Tables in the 1916 Classroom

Sand table in a rural school remembered



At Duff Valley District 4, the one-room school I attended as a child, we had a sand table. It was a sturdy, wooden box about 2 feet wide, 3 feet long, and 6 inches deep, supported by 4 legs. The outside of the table was painted a sickly shade of pale green, and the inside held about two inches of sand.

I suppose that someone's father made it for the school and filled it with clean sand from a blowout in his pasture. Sand is one thing that is plentiful in the Nebraska Sandhills.

Sometimes we played at the sand table when we spent recess inside or when we finished all our schoolwork. However, I don't remember any special toys for the sand table. By the time I was in fifth grade or so, the teacher had dumped out the sand and was using the table to store a set of Funk & Wagnall encyclopedias that my mother had donated to the school.

I had never considered the age of that sand table, but after reading about sand tables in the 1916 issues of Primary Education, I suspect it might have been a couple of generations older than me.

According to Primary Education a scene constructed in a sand table was an excellent educational device. For example, a teacher's classroom activities during the county fair included a model fair in the sand table:

The children constructed a fair in the sand-table, placing booths and a merry-go-round, and pasteboard people, horses, cows, etc. Each child also made a toy merry-go-round to take home. These were made from the given pattern during the drawing and construction periods, thus giving lessons in tracing, some measurements, cutting, coloring and construction. (Source)


How-to books for sand table scenes were offered for sale in the advertisement section of the magazines. In the articles, many sand table scenes are described:



The frequent mention of the sand table in this teachers' magazine suggests that it was an effective teaching and learning tool. If it seems odd or quaint, remember the times. In 1916, the students weren't jaded by electronic wonders, and teachers didn't have today's myriad of resources.

A sand table was so simple and inexpensive to make that any school could have one -- even our little country school out in the Nebraska Sandhills. However, I think our sand table was just a relic by the time I came along in the late 1950s. Our teachers were using modern technology to enhance our learning -- the phonograph, the hectograph, and the filmstrip projector!

Also in Google Books: Primary Education magazines from 1894 through 1923

2 comments:

Collagemama said...

I went to a laboratory preschool for the University of Nebraska Teacher's College in old Bancroft Hall in the summer of 1960. Playing at the sand table is the thing I remember most about the experience (well, also the warm grape juice and graham crackers). We played with scoops and pails, but also made little scenes. Your post made me realize the sand table had uses for teachers of many different grade levels.

Genevieve said...

I agree about the versatility of the sand table. They used it as a little stage for all sorts of productions.

I think some children would still enjoy creating a miniature world in a sand table and would benefit from the creative experience.

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CONTENTMENT: Keep your heart free from hate, your mind from worry, live simply, expect little, give much, sing often, pray always, forget self, think of others and their feelings, fill your heart with love, scatter sunshine. These are the tried links in the golden chain of contentment.
(Author unknown)

IT IS STILL BEST to be honest and truthful; to make the most of what we have; to be happy with simple pleasure; and to be cheerful and have courage when things go wrong.
(Laura Ingalls Wilder, 1867-1957)

Thanks for reading.