Forget building a sandcastle, these ideas are far more fun if you’re little!
Dig for treasure
In soft, dry sand, bury a few beach toys, and let your toddler dig to find them. If you want to up the fun, bury some of your things that you don’t mind getting sandy, pretend you’ve lost them, and let your youngster save the day.
Follow the stick trail
Find a stick and, in damp, flat sand below the high-tide mark, draw a line for your child to follow. You’ll need to make it as wibbly and wobbly as possible. Once she’s got the idea, let her take over, and you follow her trail.
Dig five or six holes in flat, hard sand and try throwing or rolling balls into them.
Play shadow tag
Challenge your youngster to catch your shadow. All she has to do is to stand on your shadow – once she manages it, swap over.
Be led by your child
It’s great to have lots of ideas up your sleeve to encourage her to explore, but give her the chance to instigate play too. If she’s fascinated by a bit of seaweed, then you be fascinated too. If she hands it to you then wants it back, play her game and pass it back and forth. If you follow her lead, show interest in what she’s doing, and copy her, she’ll feel confident to investigate some more.
Have a seawater race
Each child needs a bucket and a beaker. Set up the buckets in a row a few metres from the water’s edge, and give them a beaker each. Tell them that when you shout ‘go!’ they must race to the sea, scoop up some seawater, run back to the bucket and tip the contents into it. The first person to get an overflowing bucket wins. This is a great game for older toddlers.
Walk like a crab
Toddlers will be fascinated by the discovery that crabs walk sideways. Find one, if you can – because your youngster won’t believe you otherwise – then practise scuttling sideways with your child. This manoeuvre is surprisingly difficult to do when you try it for the first time!
Turn her into a mermaid
With your youngster sitting down, shape a mermaid’s tail from sand over and around her legs.
Make drip castles
When the tide’s going out, head down to the water’s edge and grab handfuls of wet, sludgy sand to make drip castles – you simply drip the wet sand through your fingers to build as high a tower as you can. If your child isn’t sure about putting her hands into the sludge, then a bucket full of half sand, half sea-water poured through a funnel makes great drip castles too.
Or give a young tot a bucket of watery sand and show her how to scoop handfuls out and drip it onto drier sand.
Play musical towels
This game is a must for when you think your on-the-go toddler needs a rest, but doesn’t want to stop playing. Lay out as many towels as there are people playing, and sing while everyone runs from towel to towel. When you stop singing, everyone has to lie down on a towel. The first person to do this wins. No one’s out, and keep playing until your toddler stays lying on her towel.
Create a balancing beam
Draw two parallel lines in the sand and see if your toddler can keep her balance walking between them. If you want to challenge her, include some curves or make the gap between the lines increasingly narrow.
Make a sensory pit
Scoop out a shallow hollow in dry, soft sand. Pour a couple of buckets of water over one half. Your baby will enjoy exploring the difference in texture between the wet, rough, cold sand and the dry, soft, warm sand. Encourage her to feel it with her feet, as well as her hands.
Do your best to stop your baby putting sand in her mouth. If she does, try to get as much out as possible and give her a drink of water.
Sit down behind your youngster, so she’s sitting between your legs with her back to you. Put two tubs in front of her: next to her left hand, place one filled with nice big, smooth-edged shells that are safe for her to handle; next to her right hand, place an empty tub.
Pick up a shell with your left hand, and invite her to share in something you noticed, perhaps, ‘Feel how rough this side of the shell is.’ Then pass the shell into your right hand and put in the other tub. Pick up another shell and repeat, and she’ll soon start to copy you.
It’s great for her to practise passing things from one hand to the other, and it’s thought that activities that encourage a child to repeatedly look from left to right can help lay a foundation for reading.
Bury her feet
As you cover her feet with sand, make a big song and dance about it being the sort of very, very strong sand you use to make concrete, and pat it down to make it set really, really hard. When you’re all done, and there’s no hope of ever seeing her feet again, get her to count to three and jump up as high as she can!
Of course, you’ll need to be shocked to see her feet, and set to work setting them in ‘concrete’ again. If your tot is sensitive, first stick to simply covering her feet and getting her to jump out again until she understands the process, otherwise she might be genuinely alarmed that her feet will be gone forever!
Learning how to kick without falling on your bottom is one of the trickier tasks in your toddler’s life. So, this game will make her feel like Supergirl! Get her to stand in front of you with the breeze coming towards you. Give her a beach ball and ask her to kick it. The wind will make it move in your direction – success!
Be warned, when she realises her superpowers, this game could go on for a long time. It’s a fun game to play with a younger tot too – just sit her down, and you sit opposite her.
Make sand angels
Get your child to lay on her back in dry, soft sand and move her arms up and down, and her legs in and out – you do it too! Stand up to view your sand angels.
Tap, tap, tap the ball
Take a small plastic ball with you (the type used in ball pits). In damp sand, dig a circular channel that’s just a little wider and deeper than the ball. Find a stick, and put the ball into the channel. Your toddler will love pushing the ball around the circle with the stick again, and again, and again…
Make a sand turtle
Forget sandcastles: sand turtles are so much more fun for little ones. Make two low, rounded mounds of sand next to each other, a large one for the shell and a smaller one for his head: have lots of fun smoothing and patting the sand into shape. Then fashion four simple fins, find two little stones for his eyes, and decorate his shell with shells. If the sand’s solid enough, he should survive being crawled over, sat upon, taken for an imaginary adventure across the sea…
Make a memory
For this lovely keepsake, you’ll need some Plaster of Paris (£2 for 1kg, hobbycraft.co.uk) – it’s important this stays out of your little one’s reach. Use a beaker to measure one cupful of plaster, tip this into a freezer bag and seal carefully. Take this and the beaker with you to the beach.
Find a flat patch of damp sand, and dig a small section to loosen it before smoothing the surface. Press your child’s hand or foot into the sand, to a depth of at least 2cm, to make a mould. Now pour approximately half a beaker of seawater (check the plaster instructions for exact ratio of water to plaster) into the freezer bag containing the plaster, and reseal.
Squeeze the bag to mix, until there are no lumps. Gently pour the plaster into the mould. Leave to harden, then dig it out. Ta-dah!
When it’s time to go home
When you’re all tuckered out from having fun, it’s time to head home. Yes, there might well be tears at this point, but a few smart moves can make this part of the day run so much more smoothly – if you’ve left a ‘comfy kit’ in the car. This is simply a bag containing an old bath mat, towel, fresh set of clothes to travel home in, bottle of water and some child-friendly after-sun lotion.
Calling it a ‘comfy kit’ simply secures your toddler’s co-operation. Stand or lay your little one on the bath mat, and use the bottled water which will be warm from being left in the car, to wash off any remaining sunscreen and sand – a bottle with a sports cap makes this job a doddle.
Dry her, and smooth on plenty of lotion to soothe and hydrate her skin after a day of sun and sand, before dressing her in those comfy clothes for a happy journey home.