When visiting the beach with children they can have the experience of their lifetime – if we have thought about the trip carefully enough. You need to decide whether you want your children to experience (a) the “natural” beach or (b) the “urban” beach. This is the single most important decision you need to make. It will affect both where you go and what (if anything) you take.
TIPS FOR AN URBAN BEACH EXPERIENCE
If you want children to have an urban beach experience then you will not be looking for unspoilt places of natural beauty – you will be seeking a beach that is urbanized: probably crowded, full of organized activities, loud music, cafes, vendors of junk food, performers of expensive tricks and bins full of the rubbish that the crowds have left behind. You might as well be sitting on one of those real urban beaches – imported stretches of sand in the middle of a city – where there is nothing natural at all.
On top of all the entertainment that already exists you will want to communicate to your child that there is nothing to do.You will also want to inhibit their creativity with regard to finding things to do and exploring this environment, so you will take even more things – plastic buckets and spades; balls; floating devices; maybe a cricket set; radios; other portable electronic devices; books etc. for entertainment. You will want lots of “stuff” to distract the child from any traces of the natural world that remain.
You will want to communicate to the child that the aim in the urban beach is often just to have fun (although the child might as well be in a park with a sand pit or duck pond, or even their own backyard to enjoy your company). After a while they will hardly notice the ocean. It will be like a glorified outdoor shopping mall experience – with even more expensive rides than the indoor malls! Don’t forget to max out on the junk food and create an experience as far from the natural world as possible.
TIPS FOR A NATURAL BEACH EXPERIENCE
If you want your children to experience the “natural” beach you will be seeking more remote locataions that are off the beaten track. You will allow the child to experience the unique marine environment without being distracted by plastic toys, organized games and crowds of people. You will allow their sense of wonder and curiosity to flourish and give them time to experience the ocean, the wind, the sand and the rocks without constantly trying to entertain them.
It is a good idea to simply go for a walk with the child on the beach. There are hundreds of fascinating discoveries to be made from crabs and birds, to shells and pebbles, rock pools and fish, to seaweed and plants that they wont find anywhere else. It may also be one of the few times they see the horizon and appreciate the vastness of the sky and the world they live in. Allow them to show you things that you would otherwise miss; and stop along the way lots of times.
A natural beach experience wouldn’t be complete without some rest time for adults and improvised games for the children. Avoid bringing any toys or games rather let the children be creative and find their own things to do – slide down a sand wall, jump over piles of sand they have made; create a moat and castle (just a pile of sand will suffice) and otherwise have wonderful fun without those plastic structures in bright primary colors; toys and games that we have come to rely upon.
Make sure you help your child enjoy and appreciate the natural world first, since it is often harder to do so once they have been en-culturated to the more urban beach environments. With regular visits from an early age to a natural beach the child will have their eyes opened to a whole natural world of wonder that they would otherwise miss; and they will appreciate this experience for a lifetime.
Of course you will need to make sure that you have adequate protection from the elements – long sleeves, sunblock cream (even zinc cream) and hats are absolute necessities on any sunny beach or near water since the reflected UV from the water seems to make the effects of the sun worse.
In very sunny climates, it is a good idea to go at a time of day when the sun is lowest, to make use of natural shade on the beach and even take your own beach tent. You will also need to make sure you stay hydrated and realize that the wind an add to the dehydrating effects of the beach – and can easily blow away natural or artificial shading structures.
Take a change of clothes – not skimpy short-sleeved swimwear – just a change of clothes for the children. Let them splash around in the water in good protective clothing and if they do more than paddle just change them afterwards with a new outfit as you leave the beach (if they do just paddle chances are you wont need to worry about changing them at all).
Make sure you know about any natural dangers on the beach – poisionous jellyfish; snakes or even sharks that may be feed in shallow waters at the end of the day; rip currents that may drag you out to sea; mud that might suck you down and so on. Make sure the children don’t go near water without supervision.