Teachable Moments at the Beach

Parents can use time at the beach to educate young children about many subjects and provide them with useful skills while everyone is having fun. When learning is fun, children are more engaged, stay with it longer and retain more information. And what could be more fun than a day at the beach?

Coastlines provide ample opportunities for teaching young children about nature and the environment, measuring, physical properties and staying safe.

Which is heavier?

Have your child hold a variety of shells, rocks and different sizes of cups full of sand and ask them which is heavier. This activity teaches a child how to compare different objects, as well as pay closer attention to their bodies. What normally happens is that the child will start tilting their arms back and forth, trying to weigh the difference, leading to antics in which they may start pinwheeling like mad clock hands, adding fun to their experiment.

What floats?

All you need for this teachable moment is a bucket. Have the child put different things in the bucket to see what floats. You can make this more fun by turning it into a “Find It” game. Find me something floats. Find me two things that sink, and so on. This can challenge your child to make predictions as they run around the beach, hunting for solutions to your challenge. Then, take them into somewhat deeper water, about half their height, and help them see if they can float.

Magnified exploration

Sand and seashells look significantly different when viewed through a magnifying glass. You can tell your child that you will be detectives, looking for secrets normally hidden from view. Before you know it, your child will be running up and down the beach, Sherlock Holmes-style, magnifying glass in hand. As they take a closer look at various objects, not only will they learn more about sand, shells and other items, they will also learn how to take the time to really see the details. This skill will serve them well in many other ways.

Sorting shells

Sorting shells and building a personal collection can help your child learn to discriminate better and pay closer attention. Shells can be sorted by shape, color, size or texture. Have them change their sorting criteria to see how the groupings change. These sensory experiences provide a wide range of benefits. 

Cycle of the tides

Explore the high tide line, looking for treasures. Beautiful shells, driftwood and many man-made items can be found. You can encourage your child to make up stories about their discoveries, boosting future language arts skills.Then, stand at the water’s edge and let them see for themselves how the water line changes, explaining how the high tide line they just explored is the furthest water goes and how sometimes the water line is much lower. If your child is old enough, you can ask them to find the moon in the sky, if it is visible, and explain how the moon causes this shift in the tides.

Running in sand and water

Challenge your child to use up some of that excess energy by comparing how it feels to run on dry sand, wet sand, in shallow water and in deeper water. Not only will this help them sleep on the drive home, but it will help them see how different the act of running feels.


While young children feel safer and more secure in stable environments with regular routines, real life isn’t always so reliable. Begin by building a sand castle near the water’s edge. As the waves come closer, the castle will begin to erode. You can ask the child how many waves it will take to obliterate their construction, where the sand goes and what they could do to slow the process. You can show them how a moat redirects the water around the sand castle and explain how weather erodes things as well. By keeping the discussion relaxed and happy, your child will learn that losing something doesn’t have to be traumatic.

“I Spy” beach life

You can help your child learn more about life forms that inhabit beach environments by playing a version of I Spy. Tell them you spy something flying in the air and then ask them to spy something for you to find. As the game progresses, the child will learn to pay closer attention to details while learning about life at the beach. You can also discuss what different creatures eat, and how they find shelter and move around. You can provide vocabulary to help the child describe what they see with words such as beak, living and nonliving, and variations of color.

Water safety

A day at the beach provides the perfect opportunity for teaching water safety. Point out any lifeguards that may be present and, without frightening the child, explain that lifeguards are there to protect people who forget about water safety rules. Be sure to establish very clear, simple rules about water safety. These rules should include never going into the water alone, not swimming out too far, avoiding jelly fish and never pretending to be drowning. Drowning is the second most common cause of death in young children, so this lesson is especially important.

Protecting the environment

A day at the beach is the perfect time to teach young children about the importance of cleaning up after themselves. Children learn from everything they see. If they see you looking unhappily at trash on the beach and picking it up to be disposed of correctly, the child will adopt the same approach to leaving no trash and protecting the environment.

Teachable moments at the beach are practically limitless. All it takes is imagination, a bucket, some measuring cups, a magnifying glass and a positive outlook. Make the most of your next day at the beach-and don’t forget the sunscreen!