Sandpainting – A Native American Craft for Kids

Sandpaintings are pictures made of bits of crushed rock, plants, and other dry materials. The sandpaintings told stories about the people and spirits of the Native Californians. Sandpaintings were used in mythical, medical, and religious ceremonies.

Kayla Snider Navajo Presentation Video

The following presentation created by Kayla Snider explains how sandpaintings are used in many Navajo rituals, and shows quite a few stunning examples of Navajo sandpaintings done during healing rituals.

It would not be appropriate to try and duplicate the religious symbols the Native Californians used for their sandpaintings, so please design your own masterpiece.

Materials for Sandpainting


  • fine sand
  • dry powder poster paint
  • cardboard or heavy tag board
  • white glue
  • zippered plastic bags

Directions for Sandpainting:

  • Mix dry poster paint with sand in the zippered plastic bag and set out in shallow dish to dry
  • Draw design on cardboard
  • Outline with glue and sprinkle with colored sand, let dry.
  • Highlight the insides with different colors
  • When dry, shake off the extra sand

As students each create their sandpainting, they should be thinking about a story or song that would be told/song at the ceremony.

Once the sandpainting ceremony is over, the painting is traditionally destroyed.

Contemporary Sandpainting

The following photo of a work by Joe Mangrum in Union Square, New York, is an example of the technique being used by a contemporary artist.

Sandpainting by Joe Mangrum in Union Square, New York. Photo courtesy of Eden Pictures - CC-2.0

Sandpainting by Joe Mangrum in Union Square, New York. Photo courtesy of Eden Pictures – CC-2.0

Native American Design Reference Sites For Sandpainting and Other Crafts.

The Dancing Ground
The making of a Native American sand painting.
Source: American Studies

Native American Designs
This site has a great collection of designs with very good background on each of the patterns.
Source: Buck-A-Gram

Native American Designs and Colors – Natural Dyes
Learn the sumbolism behind various colors in Native American art.
Source: Nevada Department of Cultural Affairs

What Does this Indian Symbol Mean?
“Over the years, both Native American designs (merely decorative forms) and symbols (a sign representing an idea, a quality or an association) have been subject to “interpretation” by non-Indian dealers and traders. Often, these interpretations are explained in terms of Anglo-European concepts that were nonexistent to the Native American. The result frequently bears little or no relationship to the true meaning of the symbols.”
Source: Wingspread Guides of New Mexico


Cite this article as: classbrain, "Sandpainting – Native American Crafts," in Spanish Missions in California by ClassBrain, December 31, 2012,