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:
- A zoo and a cherry orchard
- A millinery store
- A Dutch sand table
- A Japanese tearoom
- Animals of Africa, an African village, and the Sahara Desert
- Farming in the rain belt vs. dry farming
- A barnyard (for use in Language, Science, and Hygiene lessons)
- The Pied Piper of Hamelin
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