Kids on the Beach
the pleasures—and overcoming the challenges—of taking small
children to the ocean
The tent seemed simple enough. Rolled up and stuffed into
its cover, it wasn’t much bigger or harder to carry than
a large loaf of Italian bread. Unpacked, spread out on a
beach blanket, it consisted of one large canvas encompassing
both the tent floor and the wall-and-ceiling half-shell;
several corner spikes to anchor it into the sand; and the
long, arching cross poles that would hold the half-shell
up. Two men, 10 minutes, and we would have a shelter from
the sun, a place to take a nap, a semi-quiet, semi-protected
oasis from the hordes of August beachgoers all around us.
The idea was that Denis, not quite 9 months, could spend
the better part of his day inside this tent, in between
heavily chaperoned trips down to the ocean’s edge, and that
his parents could better relax and enjoy the day knowing
that he was ensconced (and thus easily monitored) within
this relatively safe haven.
First of all, the tent was not so simple.
It was big and unwieldy, and feeding the cross poles through
their guides proved much more pains taking than expected.
“Thank God it isn’t windy,” I remarked to Chuck, seconds
before a hearty gust undid about 15 minutes of our work.
Before the day was over, we had christened the tent “Beach
Thing,” and before the week was over, we had ceased to bother
bringing it to the beach.
Anyway, there was a fundamental flaw in our plan to use
the tent as the home base for Denis: We had forgotten to
consult Denis, who, it turned out, would have no part of
being cooped up inside a tent when there was a beach to
There may be such a thing as a small child who clings obediently
to his parents and never throws himself to the whims of
fate by crawling or toddling off on his own, but Denis was
no such child. And so we learned several new things that
year about taking small children to the beach:
Children who naturally enjoy being in water will reveal
their fishlike tendencies at a very young age. In other
words, don’t assume they won’t crawl or toddle into the
ocean. Like the baby turtles who hatch on the beach and
immediately start slithering seaward, they’ll find their
Sand and seashells and rocks and seaweed and hermit crabs
and the like are fascinating to small children and can provide
hours of entertainment. They also can provide opportunities
for kiddies to wander farther and farther from their parents
without realizing they’ve done so.
Even a 9-month-old is capable of stealing your plum—and
of course he doesn’t care how much plum juice he gets on
A child’s first unexpected mouthful of sand is quite traumatic.
Pitfalls aside—or I should say, conquered—taking the kids
to the beach on a beautiful summer day is one of the simplest
and most pleasant family activities Mother Nature ever created.
And while the Capital Region boasts no oceanfront property
that I know of, the great beaches of the Northeast are within
easy striking distance, and there are plenty of nice vacation
areas to choose from. So for those of you thinking about
packing the rugrats into the Honda for their first extended
trip to the shore, here are a few more tips:
Do the math. How close is your chosen location to
a beach? What kind of beach is it? How well does the area
cater to families? Will you be near a supermarket and a
child-friendly restaurant or two? Are there fun things for
the kids to do on a rainy day?
Learn the beaches. Ocean-facing beaches with good
wave potential can be fun, but they also can be dangerous
for small children when the surf really gets roiling. Many
parents prefer bayside beaches with placid waters, where
they can let their kids wade in without worrying that they’ll
suddenly be yanked out to sea by a killer undertow.
Arrive early and leave early, or arrive late and leave
late. Or both. Although some of us spent our college
summer vacations baking on the beach for eight hours at
a time, that can be a bit much for small children—besides,
better not to expose them to the searing midday sun. (Good
time for lunch, shopping, naps, etc.) And you can beat the
crowds to that primo parking space by getting on the road
before most of them have slept off the previous eve’s clambake.
My personal favorite beach time is late afternoon, when
the sun gets low, the world gets still, and for the first
time all day, it seems as if there are more people reading
than bitching about their jobs, gossiping about their friends
and complaining that there’s no place to park.
Apply lots of sunscreen on every exposed inch of their
little bodies. And repeat as necessary. Just like the
Pack plenty of food, and, especially, liquids. The
last thing you want is dehydrated kids. The second-to-last
thing you want is to have to leave too early because there’s
no food and everybody’s famished.
Bring toys. Modern science has yet to improve upon
the good old-fashioned pail and shovel—well, OK, I’ll admit
there was that one time that Denis abandoned our toys to
try and elbow his way onto the next blanket, where the 3-year-old
had a whole fleet of monster plastic trucks. The family
must have had to bring a second car just for the toys. Not
Bring beach chairs for Mom and Dad. The short kind.
You can take them right down close to the water and relax
while the kids splash around in front of you.
And if you think it might work for you, if you think your
kids will actually use it, bring some kind of shelter. Hey,
I’ve got a beach tent if you’re interested. Excellent condition.
Only used a couple of times.
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