'Sandboxes' in Auroville schools

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'Sandboxes' in Auroville schools

From ‘Little by Little’ by Heidi Watts, 2005


The Sandboxes, known also as “The World Game”, was a unique aspect of the curriculum at Aspiration School in the 1970s, and was reintroduced into the Auroville curriculum at Transition by Jossy in 1999. Jossy prefers to refer to this activity as sand play, but for the time being I will retain the western term “sandbox”, which seems to me a better way to indicate the difference between free play in the sand and a focused and deliberate “game”, in a set place, at a set time, with a specific collection of materials and a watcher/listener/recorder present.

Miriam, who remembers the sandboxes at Aspiration with affection, says they were simply long rectangular boxes filled with sand. “We worked with them maybe twice a week — just the box with sand in a room with shelves full of interesting things. A teacher would draw what we’d done but not interfere in any way, and then ask whether there was anything we wanted to say. I always piled everything in the centre and then made walls around it, circular walls, and walls around walls. We went when we wanted, and it was very helpful." (Miriam '04)

The World Game was brought to Auroville in the early days by an eccentric Jungian psychiatrist, Austin Delaney, who had been working with them at Equals-One. He and his wife lived “in a keet castle at Aurobeach, near what is now Quiet,” according to Johnny.

Austin’s sandboxes were housed in keet sheds, where Austin also had stored thousands of little objects, which could be used to create scenes and small dramas in the sandbox. After a child completed a sandbox the teacher drew a picture of the scene and invited – but did not require – the child to talk about it. Making a sandbox in the first place was always voluntary. At one point every child made a sandbox every day. Christl Klostermann started a room with sandboxes in the Last School building and when the Aspiration School was working only in the mornings after the cyclone in 1972, there were school activities for the children in the morning but in the afternoon they worked with the sandboxes, and then “they really took off.” At a time when there was no common language, the sandbox was a form of self-expression and communication, which, like drawing or pantomime, did not require words.

In describing the sandbox activities, Shraddhavan said, “One way to meet the individual needs of the students was through the sandboxes. We were all the time trying to look at the individual needs of each child. It is amazing what children said through their boxes. They were very helpful in difficult situations.”

“We believed each child has a psychic being, and if it comes to the front it takes education out of our hands and helps them to keep in contact with their true self, so a child can follow the leading of his or her psychic being. This view was in conflict with parents who wanted all the traditional activities for their children at different stages of development.”

When the school in Aspiration closed, the boxes went to Thomas’ house in Certitude, where the younger children continued to come for painting, storytelling and work with the sandboxes. The idea was that, in addition to helping children release their emotions constructively, the sandbox would also be good for reading and writing: to make, to tell, to write. Later, when most of the school experiments moved to Centre Field in 1980, the sandboxes disappeared, but reappeared later, first at Mirramukhi and then at Transition.