Hit the beach running:  carve out fun and science lessons in the sand

The sky is blue, the forecast is hot and sunny. It’s beach time! Pack up the kids, coolers, and gear (including waterproof, high-SPF sunscreen), and be prepared to burn calories and teach cool stuff. Share how sand is “made” and then make things with it! Dig holes, sculpt castles, or play games. It’s all good.

Adam Hadhazy, writing for LiveScience, in an article titled “Science of Summer: Where Does Beach Sand Come From?” offers a great answer to share with kids and also discusses why sand looks so different from one beach to another, noting that “Indeed, every beach is essentially a product of its regional and local environment, and is accordingly one-of-a-kind.” He quotes Jeff Williams, retired senior scientist with the U.S. Geological Survey Woods Hole Science Center, who describes, for example, the source of the distinctive Bermuda beaches: “The origin of this famous coloration is the remains of tiny, single-celled creatures called Foraminifera that have pink or reddish shells.”

Of course, “the pull” of the beach is a real thing and offers its own science-in-the-sand. Last month the Funky Frugal Mommy blog posted “3 Ways to Teach Kids About Science at the Beach,” suggesting that if you are visiting an ocean beach with a tide, have kids put a stick in the sand or mark a spot on the beach and come back later to see what’s changed. She adds that “This is a great time to explain to them about the gravitational pull of the moon causing high tides or low tides and why it actually happens,” noting that low tide reveals “many interesting things” and urges exploring for a closer look. Plus, she says being at the seashore also offers a great opportunity to talk about birds, fish, coral reefs, and “the need to keep the ocean clean.”

Back in 2013 a post titled “10 Fun Beach Lessons” on the Happy Housewife blog compiled some super cute learning-at-the-beach ideas including Sand Volcanoes from One Perfect Day and an Ocean Preschool Pack from Homeschool Creations. For toddlers, Watch Me Color! Wavy Water is an adorable coloring book with a joyful menagerie of water-loving creatures that make it fun, and simple shapes and wide borders that make it easy for little fingers and hands to master coloring. Similarly, with the sea creature-themed Splish, Splash! My First Coloring and Sticker Skill Book, toddlers match stickers to small pictures on each page, and then they use the stickers as guides to help them color the larger pictures. It’s rewarding creative play and problem-solving for little learners.

When we think "beach," although it’s not usually the next thought that comes to mind, a few winter activities have summertime interpretations. The Canadian website activeforlife.com offers “21 Active Beach Games,” one of which is making sand angels in the same way as snow angels. (Last month Ludington, MI, on the shores of Lake Michigan, was the site of a Guinness world record number of 1,387 sand angels, shattering the previous record set in England of 352.)

A couple other fun go-get-‘em beach activities from Active for Life include Squirt Ball. The site says, “Give each child a beach ball and squirt gun or spray bottle and have them stand across a line drawn in the sand. Each child has to squirt their ball with all of their might to get it across another line down the beach. Run to the water’s edge to refill squirt guns if water runs out or to begin the game again.”

Among another 6 activities linked at the end to the original 21 is this: “Give a typical game of tag a seaside theme like ‘Sharks & Fish.’ One person is the shark who must tag the others. Once tagged, the fish become part of the shark’s family and help tag the remaining fish. The last person to be tagged is the fastest fish."

On that next trip to the beach, pack the usual frisbee, beach ball, pail, and shovel, but also pull out a few surprises for fun and learning.