Kids can dig all day at the beach, at least mine can, and they love to collect shells. But my oldest is passionate about nature, and we’re always looking for fresh ways to enjoy the ocean. One easy way: Next time you head to the beach, check the tide charts. One of the best times to bring young children to the ocean, Sound or Bay is as high tide turns to low tide, since the receding water leaves behind lots of interesting sea creatures to examine. Whenever we head to the Peconic Bay on the North Fork or, say, Coopers Beach in Southampton, Long Island, we try to time our arrival to a few hours into a receding tide, since the kids love splashing into the tidal pools to look for crabs, mussels, cleaner shrimp, starfish, which we’ve only found in Montauk near Ditch Plains. (The stunning photo above is a tidal pool at Montauk Point, taken by Rick Berk, sold here.)
Here’s another idea: You know those $2 nets you see in gas stations in beach towns? Buy one. My 7-year-old hunts for minnows for hours with his, and he’s caught a dozen in a day, putting them in a bucket for an hour or so before throwing them back. He’s also used his net to pick up a large spider crab and smaller blue claws, which he finds fascinating.
Sometimes I pack watercolor paints, brushes and paper cups to bring to the beach. If the kids find a grouping of rocks or shells they admire, why wait to start the craft? They can paint in their bathing suits, let the creations dry and then bring them home.
We often collect large handfuls of beach reeds and make sculptures out of them. We’ve done this by positioning them upright in the sand to make “rooms” or letters or even sea animals. We’ve also used string we brought along to tie them together to make simple boats to float. We’ve packed them in a bucket, brought them home and used a hot glue gun to make interesting formations the kids put on shelves for display. (We also used our hot glue gun to stack rock cairns, which I thought were really cool, too.)
Pack their binoculars and a magnifying glass. How fun is it to take an up-close look at a sand crab? See a seagull diving for fish? Let the kids use the binoculars to get a front row seat.
Lastly, why not get on a paddleboard (or kayak) and take a 10-minute solo paddle? You can let one of your children ride on the front (life vest on, of course) and encourage them to be on the look out for cool sea creatures in the water below. On a clear day in the Long Island Sound or Peconic Bay, you can see horseshoe crabs, all different varieties of fish, even jellyfish. Spot a big conch shell and you can hop off and examine the snail inside. Think of a paddle board as a science cruiser.