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Let’s say you’re going to the beach with your little one. You want to make the most of your time in the water, sun, and sand, but sand castles can only hold a child’s attention for so long. You need ideas for what to do beyond those twenty awesome minutes of sand castle fascination.
No worries! With the help of a few creative friends and bloggers, I’ve put together a ginormous list of fun, *free* (or nearly free) things to do at the beach with your toddler! (For your convenience, affiliate links are included when applicable.)
35 Free Things to Do at the Beach with Young Kids
The beach is the perfect place to let your child dump, scoop, and pour to his or her heart’s content. You can use buckets and shovels, cups and spoons, or your hands. Sensory play at its very best!
Go on a scavenger hunt and collect rocks, shells, seaweed, sea glass and sand. Put together a memory jar like these or amp up your water table at home like my friend at My Nearest and Dearest did here. Fantastic Fun and Learning has some great ideas for exploring, creating, and playing with shells in this series.
Before you head to the beach, check out this printable beach packing list. It has everything you need for the ultimate family beach vacation!
Alternatively, pretend you’re a pirate and hunt for buried treasure. This could be shells, beach glass, sand dollars, or trinkets and treasures left behind by other beach bums. (Let me know if you find my husband’s original wedding ring! It’s somewhere in the sand in Venezuela…)
Get some exercise, Mom and Dad! Toss your kids in the air. Dance. Do water aerobics with your tots.
Engage in imaginative play. Try cooking, baking, and creating with sand. You’re familiar with mud pies. Try sand pies! (Sand looks a lot like brown sugar, after all!)
Build your child’s vocabulary. Beach vacations are great for exposing toddlers to new words! Identify sail boats, snorkelers and snorkel gear, shells, waves, fish, parasails, blimps, airplanes, crabs, seagulls, palm trees, and seaweed
Go on an active adventure. Take a walk, climb on rocks, splash in the waves, jump off sand dunes.
Build a moat.
Make sand angels.
For the trip to and from the beach, you may want to check out this post (click HERE) with 50+ screen-free travel toys activities for kids of all ages!
Drink water, use sunscreen, wear a hat, and talk about sun safety. By the end of our recent trip, our two-year-old would eagerly remind us to reapply sunscreen and tell us, “No red spots. That the goal.”
Make a friend. You may find people from different countries and cultures sitting right next to you on the beach. In Jamaica, we heard kids speaking Portuguese, Spanish, and French. Kids need not speak the same language to understand play, fun, and laughter.
Play “Ring Around the Rosie” in the water. The big splash at the end when you all fall down will likely result in lots of giggles.
Take a footprint picture to remember your trip. Surely you can do better than ours! Or you can try making a plaster mold of your footprints.
Draw or write in the sand.
If you play in the waves, your child will inevitably end up with saltwater in his mouth. Take advantage of this teachable moment. Ask your child what it tastes like. (Our daughter thought it tasted “spicy.”) Talk about how and why it tastes different from water from the faucet. Remind them that it’s not good for drinking.
If the water is smooth, demonstrate buoyancy. (Unless you’re like my husband who literally cannot float!)
Bring a truck or digger and turn your patch of sand into a construction site.
Help your future scientist or artist to see the beauty and wonder of nature. Watch the tide come in or out. Catch the sunrise or sunset. See the wind rattle the palm tree branches.
Fly a kite. Buy one from the dollar store or make your own.
Track and name footprints–birds, crabs, people, dogs.
Chase birds. (I’m sure someone will think it’s cruel of me to suggest this. But my daughter LOVES chasing birds, and I like how it scares them away from our food.)
Go boating–peddle boat, sail boat, kayak, glass bottom boat. Wait! What? That’s not free! Au contraire! Many resorts and hotels offer free use of non-motorized water equipment.
Demonstrate how suction works by turning a cup filled with water and sand upside down.
Bury someone’s body or feet in the sand.
Play tag or chase.
Read an ocean-themed book. (This one gets good reviews.)
Take a nap. (Or at least close your eyes and rest!)
Make a railway line in the sand for your toy trains like my friend Jessica did in this post at Play Trains! (Be sure to read her note on why she suggests you use bath toys instead of regular train pieces.)
Look for rocks to paint. New to painting rocks? Check out these fun ideas from my friends at Thrive 360 Living (Sam is the rock painting expert!) and Two-daloo. (Click on their blog titles to see the tutorials.)
Pick up trash. Talk about how litter can hurt animals and the ocean. Rainy Day Mum has an excellent post on how to turn this into a game.
Throw a frisbee.
Roll or toss a ball.
Engage in child-led play. When I sat down and followed my child, she made me a cake. The conversation went like this: “Happy birt-day, Mommy! I bake you a cake!” (I asked, “What’s in the cake?) Her reply: “Salt and spicy things.”
Stamp the sand using feet, cups, hands, buckets, sticks, and shells.
Have a crab walk race.
Color a beach picture–you can find some great (free!) printable pictures here.
And, of course, don’t forget to build a sand castle
(No vacation plans this year? Bring the beach to you! Check out these beach and ocean ideas from my friends at Buggy and Buddy and Fun at Home with Kids!)
This post is part of an ongoing series about traveling with little ones. Click on the pictures to see my three favorite posts, and check out our travel category for even more tips, stories, and ideas!
You can find this post and others at these link parties!
48 thoughts on “35 FREE things to do at the beach with toddlers and young kids!”
GREAT list Rachael! And thanks for linking to our beachcombing at the water table post.
Such a great list! Loving all the cute pictures. Thanks for including our painted rocks. We love collecting treasures at the beach.
Wow, awesome list! Great for somewhat older kids, too…as my Little Engineer informs me he is now. 🙂
Lots of great ideas, thanks for sharing. I’ve pinned for future reference too. 🙂
Thanks so much! (I love your blog, BTW!) 🙂
I really like all the flower activities. I would like to invite you to link up this post to my money saving monday link up. I hope to see you there.
Sorry i missed your link up this week! I’ll try again next week! THanks for stopping by to read and comment! 🙂
We’re going to the beach in two weeks. Thanks for all these great ideas! Can’t wait to share with my little one!
So glad you liked them! Thanks for taking the time to read and comment. 🙂
Lovely ideas-we adore the beach for all the reasons you mention. Can’t wait until we get back there again!
Thanks so much for taking the time to read and comment! I’ve been browsing your site. I enjoy your writing already!
Some really lovely ideas, Thanks so much for linking up to the Parenting Pin-It Party! Have pinned 🙂 http://pinterest.com/jbmumofone/
Great post! Such fun and easy things to do!
Aww, thanks so much for reading and commenting. That means a lot coming from suitcasesandsippycups–I love your blog! 🙂
Love all these ideas – my favourite vacations as a child were summers spent playing on the beach. My favourite thing to do is to explore rock pools looking for fish and other sea life.
Exploring rock pools! That’s one I left off. We’ll have to try that next time. Thanks for reading and taking the time to comment. 🙂
WOW! So much to try out on our next beach vacation. I can’t wait to put some into action. Thanks so much for linking up to Travel Tips Tuesday!
So many awesome ideas!
Sadly beach season is over for us down here in Australia but I’m filing this away to remind me of all the things I want to do next summer!
Thanks for sharing this on Tuesday Tots. I’ve featured it this week as part of our active play roundup! You can see it here if you like and grab a featured button 🙂 http://www.learnwithplayathome.com/2013/05/ideas-to-keep-kids-active-gross-motor.html
I’m taking notes and picking out with my son what he wants to do on our reunion trip. Thank you so much for all these ideas! It is going to be a blast.
We love the beach – even in Winter like it is now in Australia! This is a great list of ideas. Thanks for linking up with Tuesday Tots – I’m honored to be featuring your post this week.
Wow just come across your site, directed from another! So glad i did as i LOVE it 🙂
As a mother of a 2 year old toddler, I’m loving your ideas 🙂
We live in the UK, and recently brought our first caravan, and in 2 weeks we are going to the beach for our first caravan holiday.
I’m definitely going to use your ideas whilst we are there!
Looking forward to reading more from your blog and also looking forward to your future posts
AWww! What a sweet compliment to wake up to this morning. Thank you for reading, commenting, and following along! Ejoy your holiday! If you have other thoughts or questions–feel free to email me directly. 🙂
great list! We will have to try a few of these out soon when we got to the beach:-)
We will be making our annual pilgrimage to the beach this fall. I am so happy to see your FREE list that encourages families to enjoy the simple pleasures of the beach. Who needs a water park? The beach provides never ending natural fun, learning, exploration and family bonding!
“The beach provides never ending natural fun, learning, exploration and family bonding!”–I agree completely!! Thanks for reading and for taking the time to comment, Jeannine.