DISCLAIMER: Safety and ecology rule on the beach. Take all the precautions you feel are necessary to keep your kids safe near open water and strangers. Don’t leave your young children unsupervised or allow them to climb or swim into peril. Also, be kind to the beach critters. Be a proper guest at the beach – enjoy it, but leave it the same or better than when you came. It’s a win-win for everyone. Now onto the list…
1. THROW STUFF
The beach is a great place to vent bad attitudes. Try throwing pebbles and driftwood into the water or practice throwing frisbees or balls to friends on the sand. Just don’t throw your toys in the water, or you might lose them.
If you are visiting a familiar beach and know the terrain well enough, you could hide a “treasure” and draw a treasure map for your children to follow to locate it. If you are visiting a brand new beach, then a scavenger hunt can be fun. We like this one from buggyandbuddy.com because it’s visual for preschoolers and lists items totally typical on any beach in the world.
4. BE ARTISTIC
Bring a handful of crayons and a pad of decent paper and see what happens. If your little artist needs some ideas, suggest spending a few minutes looking around to find a subject to draw. You could practice tracing around shells, doing crayon rubbings of different textures, or you could play a simple round of Pictionary where you sketch something you see for your child to guess, then she draws something she sees for you to guess.
5. BUILD A CASTLE
You do NOT need a bunch of fancy plastic tools to make a decent sand castle. A plain old pail and shovel and your own bare hands are plenty. The trick is getting the right consistency of sand – not too dry and not too wet. This is another activity that kids like to do quietly without a lot of parental orchestration. Obviously help if they ask for it, but it’s fun to watch what they construct on their own. Your pants may get a little damp sitting or kneeling in damp sand. NO BIGGIE. Either bring a change of clothes, or just wait until the damp pair dries enough to brush the sand off.
6. DIG A HOLE
Digging a huge hole to nowhere is oddly therapeutic, even for small children. It’s easy to zone out while doing the repetitive motion. As long as the digging doesn’t disrupt a creature habitat or become too deep that someone could fall in, digging is a great exercise that builds upper body and core strength, hand-eye coordination and all that jazz. And, of course, be courteous and fill the hole back in before you leave so no passerby falls in.
Staring into the vast abyss of the ocean while listening to the crashing waves has a defragging effect that works just as well on kids as it does on adults. Today’s kids need time to just sit and gaze at the horizon. Let them. My quiet two year old spends most of her time on the beach silently looking at the waves crash. I’m totally cool with that.
Whenever we are down in the Florida Keys, where a beach is only a few minutes away, our favorite lunch spot is on a blanket under a palm tree. We could just as easily eat the same lunch at our kitchen table, but WHY?
The white noise of the rolling waves reduces stimuli and makes it easy to slip into a good book. As an adult, I LOVE reading on the beach. Kids can also have fun reading, especially if the books are beachy in theme so they can relate what they see in the book to what they see in real life. That white noise can also lull a little reader to sleep, but just make sure they are totally shaded so they don’t get burned in their sleep.
10. PLAY WITH STICKS
Most beaches come stocked with driftwood. These uniquely shaped sticks are fun to dig with, stack into sculptures or to use as a stylus to draw letters in the sand.
11. TEST YOUR TEMPERATURE LIMITS
If you happen to be enjoying a cold water beach, it’s fun to see how brave you can be by walking down into the water and getting your toes wet. Canadian beaches, I’m talking to you.
12. CLEAN THE BEACH
Leaving the beach cleaner than you found it could lead you to actually CLEAN the beach. You should check with your Ocean Conservancy or other beach-cleaning organization for any special instructions first, but it is usually just to wear thick work gloves to pick up stuff that does not belong on the beach and dispose of it in the garbage/recycling.
Do you have any other suggestions for toddler-friendly activities on the beach? We’re always looking for more fun things to do when we are there.