Some of my favorite childhood memories are from visiting the ocean with my family. We’d load up our car with swimsuits, towels, drinks, and more sandwiches than you can imagine. The drive was long and tiresome, until we’d start getting closer to the shore.

beach with your toddlerOcean-themed shops began to pop up, boat sales, little vacation huts, ice-cream and water ice jaunts. We’d press our noses to the window, point and exclaim, picking our dream beach town house.

Then we’d drive a long, winding road where there was a beach entrance every half mile or so. We’d always park at the farthest one; our family liked our privacy.

The trek from the parking lot to the sea felt even longer than the drive. We were hot and tired and thirsty. Lugging our gear, our feet sliding clumsily on the sand paths, our eyes skimmed the little shrubs ahead of us, searching for the first glimmer of blue. Sometimes little foxes darted near the sand path and into the shrubs, and we all screamed with delight.

Then came the ocean at last, breathtaking, welcoming, glinting glorious blue, humbling in its endless vastness. There we played for hours, holding hands and running shrieking in and out of the roaring waves. Yes, the seaside was where family memories are made.

If you’re planning a trip to the beach with your toddler, you should know that visiting the ocean is not only great for memory making, but a developmental opportunity as well.

Sand and water play are one of the best ways to mature and develop the sensory system. When your child rakes, lifts, digs, and manipulates sand, he is learning to coordinate his muscles more effectively, and to interpret signals from his tactile system, or sense of touch.

beach with your toddlerHere are a few quick tips to maximize this opportunity for your toddler:

  • When packing for the beach, bring along a few empty buckets, containers, or bowls. This way your child can play with the water at a safe distance from the actual ocean.
  • Don’t forget fine manipulative, like spoons, a small shovel or rake, or even a fork.
  • Burying body parts in the sand is a great opportunity to practice naming different parts of the body!
  • If your child likes to collect shells, allow him to bring home a few of his favorites and keep them in the bathtub for water play. This not only enhances imagination and creativity, but the water always brings out the beauty in a sea shell. Just make sure to choose smooth, unbroken shells, without any sharp edges.
  • Talk about your beach experience before, during and after the trip. Discussing experiences with an adult is one of the best ways for children to learn and develop language skills. Ask your child lots of “wh” questions.
    • Where did we go?
    • What did we see?
    • Who came along?
    • What did the water feel like?
    • What did the sand feel like?

Lastly, don’t forget that your child’s safety is paramount in every experience you bring him along for. Use sunscreen and reapply as directed, always supervise your child in or near the water, and make sure he stays hydrated with plenty of fluids.

Here’s to a happy, healthy, and learning-filled family trip!