My family recently planned and pulled off (ish) a massive outing to our local beach — cousins, aunts, uncles, grandparents all put on their sportiest swimwear and their SPF 50 and packed their coolers for a long, hot day by the sea. Based on the crowds at the beach, it looked as if everyone was trying to squeeze in a last trip or two to the beach before school starts. The beach is my happy place. In fact, sometimes when I’m trying hard to relax and I can’t quite get there, I visualize waves crashing on a sandy beach and I feel my tension ease. But you know what I don’t picture on that peaceful, sandy beach? Children. Because a day at the beach with kids is about as far from relaxing as you can get.
We live a few miles from several beaches and have made every kind of beach trip there is – day trips, night trips, short visits, all-day visits, bike treks, hikes, swims, you name it – and we’ve done them all with our kid in tow. Along the way we’ve learned a lot about what makes the difference between a crappy day at the beach with kids and a successful one. Often, we haven’t taken our own advice and the results have been hellish. To save you from that agony, I’ve come up with a list of tips for going to the beach with kids:
- If you’re only going to follow one tip on this list, let it be this: When going to the beach, the child to grown-up ratio should always be 1:1. The over-achievers among us may say, “But they’re so tiny, I can handle two of them on my own.” You cannot. Once you throw in some sand, a vast body of water and a wide open space, children seem to multiply in size, number and strength. And a once competent, intelligent adult becomes a bumbling nitwit chasing an umbrella and a toddler down a sand dune. Trust me: Man-on-man defense is the only defense.
- Now that you have your team assembled, it’s time to think about clothing and swimwear. I highly recommend swim shirts or rash guards for all kiddos and babies because most of these contain SPF of at least 50. This reduces the amount of area on the kids’ bodies that you will have to apply actual sunscreen, which is a good thing because it will also limit the amount of bitching you’ll hear about how you blinded your children by spraying sunscreen in their eyes or poisoned them by spraying it in their mouths. Don’t forget to bring along a dry change of clothes for each child. You don’t want to ride home in a car full of kids in wet, sandy bathing suits unless you like screaming at the top of your lungs things like, “WE ARE NEVER GOING OUTSIDE AGAIN!”
- Footwear is as important as swimwear when taking the kids to the beach. Beach days are not the days for the $2 flip flops you dug out of the bottom of the sale bin at Old Navy. Put the kids in sturdy sandals for the long walk back to the car across the hot sand at the end of the day. Everyone will be tired and in a bad mood at this point, even if you had a fabulous day at the beach. And when you’re heading back to the car,
pack mulesparents will be lugging coolers, umbrellas, beach towels, chairs and possibly a baby across the beach. Your older kids will be begging you to carry them. And if you put them in the cheap flip flops, once those things meet the hot sand, they will vacuum seal to your kids’ feet and you will have no choice but to add your kids to your already heavy load. Save yourselves and bring the sturdy shoes.
- When packing food for the beach, pack whatever your family enjoys – healthy food, junk food, vegetarian, salami sandwiches… doesn’t matter to me. The important thing here is that you bring exactly the same snack for every child. Nothing ruins a beach day faster than a fight over who has the better snack. On our recent beach day, I heard a kid say, “His Pringles are orange and mine are white,” and I thought: Who made that rookie mistake? Also make sure to bring enough of each snack and beverage for everyone. You don’t want Pop Pop to get pissy when everyone drinks his bottled water because they forgot to bring their own.
- If you’re a “no screen time” family, bless your hearts. If you’re a family that embraces screen time, this tip won’t be a stretch for you. No matter your philosophy on screen time, you will want to bring an electronic device for each kid for the ride home. Again, both you and your kids will be tired and grumpy when you return to your vehicle at the end of the day. Whether you are traveling 10 minutes to your home or an hour, the ride is going to be a nightmare, especially if your kid, like mine, is anti-nap. You’ll want them to be entertained. Load that tablet up with “Doc McStuffins” episodes, “Legos Star Wars” games, a bit torrent version of “Big Hero 6” if you have to. These are desperate times.
- You’ll also want to bring a soothing item for each child to have on the ride home – a blanket, binkie or a stuffie – and bring one for yourself while you’re at it because someone’s going to cry on that ride home, and it just might be you.
You’ll notice all of the tips focus on preparation for the beach trip and coming home from the beach trip. That is because these are the parts of the experience with the most potential for problems when traveling with kids. The actual time at the beach is incidental. Now go out and enjoy some nature with your kids!