beach learning: hermit crabs, horseshoe crabs, ghost crabs, sand crabs & more

beach learningThe beach can be difficult vacation for families with young children, there’s no doubt about it.

Beyond even getting there–the packing, the long drive, the daily to-and-from the beach with a million trillion supplies–being there is sometimes hard, too.

Even with a ton of hands on deck, by the end of the week, the sand, the over-tired kids, the sun, the sand, the sand–everywhere!–is enough to make even the most relaxed parent a little edgy.  However, I have to say that once we passed the diaper stage, things got a lot easier.

This year, we could really have fun at the beach–jumping waves, building sand structures, and learning.

The shore is a science class at your fingertips, and for those of us who don’t get to the beach but once a year, there’s so much exploring to do, that it’s nuts.  The beach is an ideal time to really focus on raising curious kids–kids who observe, who question, who wonder, and who want to learn more.

At the Delaware beach we visited–Bethany Beach–we had the opportunity to do some serious firsthand discovering; long walks, quiet hunts, a whole lot of digging, and an equal part of being still allowed us to find some real treasures: horseshoe crabs, ghost crabs (our first!), sand crabs, and more.

And the really cool thing is that no matter what beach you hit this summer–or any time of the year–you can do the same and find treasures of your own.

Here’s the skinny. . .

  • Beach Learning — Horseshoe Crabs, Ghost Crabs, Sand Crabs & More: Don’t get me wrong–we didn’t make our vay-cay one long research session, that’s for sure.

We spent hours and hours in the water.  We rode waves and jumped waves and boogie boarded and floated and floated some more.  We dug and played and dug and played some more.

But what we did throughout the trip was simple:

  • We really looked at what was around us.
  • We took long walks–with a bucket–so we could save our treasures.
  • We asked questions about the things we didn’t know or didn’t understand.
  • We were really excited to share with others all of the new things we were learning.

And what we couldn’t figure out on the trip, we figured out when we got home–or on the way home.  Specifically, we learned about crazy amounts of crabs.  Horseshoe crabs, sand crabs, ghost crabs, and hermit crabs.  And we learned about manta ray egg sac and a little bit about the ocean waves and tides.

beach learning horseshoe crab

Yes, that guy was alive. And yes I wanted to scream.

Here’s what we found:

  • Sand Fleas (we’ve always called them ‘sand crabs’):But these are the little guys we dig up right where the water breaks.  Maddy, Owen, and Cora love to find them and then let them tickle the palms of their hands. You can tell where they are by the air bubbles that come up through the wet sand.
    • Sand Fleas site — everything you ever wanted to know about sand fleas and so much more. Seriously.


beach learning: curious kids

Those little holes were everywhere–lucky us to catch a glimpse of the ghost crab!

  • Ghost Crabs: These are totally new to us–I have never seen them at the beach ever–and I’ve been going to the Delaware, Maryland, and New Jersey beaches my whole life.    We came across one on an afternoon when Maddy, Owen, Cora, and I were taking a long walk. Cora screamed, MOMMY!! IT’S A SPIDER!! MOOOMMMMY!!And by the time I got there, all that remained was a tiny hole in the sand.

    beach learning: manta ray egg pouch

Thanks to the Wild Kratts, Maddy and Owen knew exactly how this egg sac worked!

  • Skate or Ray Egg Sac: Seriously! Maddy found something totally strange and unusual, and she asked a lifeguard what it was.  He said it was a manta ray egg sac, and then immediately, Maddy and Owen started spewing off facts about what it was and how it worked.  Thank you, Wild Kratts!

    beach learning hermit crabs

Hermie, chillin in her condo while Maddy and I learn about how to k

  • Hermit Crabs:We’re thrilled to welcome ‘Hermione’ or  ‘Hermie’ for short, into our family! Maddy decided to use her allowance money to buy a new sister, and we’re totally excited.  But we’ve never had a hermit crab before, so we’ve had to do a bit o’ learning. . .


In Turn Your Family Vacation into a Real Education, on Mom’s Homeroom, Susan Perry, a Los Angeles-based social psychologist and author of Playing Smart: The Family Guide to Offbeat, Enriching Learning Activities for Ages 4-14, is quoted as saying that “Non-school times are wonderful for showing your child that learning happens anywhere and everywhere, and is, in fact, an integral part of life that can be fun, and can be shared.”

She goes on to say that parents shouldn’t “over-structure the learning, rather let it happen naturally.”  And I couldn’t agree more, especially on vacation.

But I can’t stress enough that it has to start early! Curiosity about the world starts with our littlest guys when they are still teeny, and we, as parents and teachers, must continue it with modeling and supported learning from here on out.  Happy beach learning!


fyi: This blog post is part of an incentivized online influencer network for Mom’s Homeroom. Mom’s Homeroom is brought to you by Frosted Mini-Wheats.




  1. says

    We recently did a beach related experiment that your crew might be interested in. We gathered a glass jar of ocean water, let the sand settle and dumped the cleanest water we could out into another jar. Then we watched the level of water in the jar lower until we had salt. There’s a surprising amount of salt in a pint jar of ocean water. This is one good use of extremely hot days! It only took a couple of weeks for our water to evaporate and leave sand behind.

    • amy says

      Elaine!! AWEsome. I cannot wait to try this –will definitely do it next year!! Thanks for reading, and huge thanks for the idea!!

  2. says

    Ghost crabs feed at night. When our kids and their cousins were young, we packed flashlights for the beach and picked one night for “crabbing”. Then we took a night walk on the beach, flashlights at the ready. We scanned the sand, and whenever we spotted a ghost crab (look between the holes and the water), we “pinned” it with the beam of light. The crab froze, we squealed, watched it for a second, and then turned off the light to let him go. So much fun!

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