The 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.
Yes, that guy was alive. And yes I wanted to scream.
Here’s what we found:
YES! I did totally freak out when I turned one over and it was alive. I have never, ever, ever in my life seen a horseshoe crab alive, so I did in my mind scream
- Horseshoe Crab site by the NOAA that includes Horseshoe Crab Fun Facts, the History and Biology of Horseshoe Crabs, and more
- An article in The Coastal Point — What’s With the Horseshoe Crabs?
- A video from Nature: Learning about Horseshoe Crabs
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.
Those little holes were everywhere–lucky us to catch a glimpse of the ghost crab!
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.
- Video from Between the Lions: If you were a spider crab
- Animal Spot: Ghost Crab
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!
- Go Remora from Wild Kratts
- GloBio: Skates and Rays information site, super kid-friendly and call the egg sac a ‘mermaid’s purse’
- The Assateague Naturalist — everything found on the shores of the Assateague
Hermie, chillin in her condo while Maddy and I learn about how to k
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. . .
- Crazy About Hermit Crabs from Wild Kratts
- Hermit Crab Care on YouTube by expertvillage that is seriously four minutes of hermit crab everything
- 20 Hermit Crab Facts You Really Need to Know — actually really did need to know this. . .
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!
Want to get your kids doing a little beach-hunting? Print out this Beach Scavenger Hunt before you head to the shore!
Check out a few other posts that may help you develop strong and healthy habits for your family:
- wait time
- my day, your day
- frozen peas
- kids who rock the kitchen
- kids who rock the laundry
- rest time
- gem jars
- arm circles
- noticing kids
- homework routine
Post originally published July 30, 2012
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I added this to the science resources page on your We Teach site! This is a wonderful post with so many things people might not realize or think to do at the beach! Carolyn
So cool! My kids are just little now, but I look forward to doing all this with them one day.
Don’t you just love opportunities where the kids can learn and don’t even realize it?! Our beach vacation was similar. The kids discovered all sorts of new beach and ocean life. I turned it into Beach Week at The Homeschool Scientist. http://thehomeschoolscientist.com/tag/beach-week/
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.
Elaine!! AWEsome. I cannot wait to try this –will definitely do it next year!! Thanks for reading, and huge thanks for the idea!!
I want to add this article to my science blog!!!! I love it!
thanks so much, Lara!! Means so much to me!!
I am planning a beach trip and I have hermit crabs at school. I am going to keep my eye out for those other things…YIKES!
YIKES is right–but they’re so cool, too–let me know if you find ’em!!
Thank you sooo much, Laral!!
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!
crabs can be scary
Ghost Crabs? Those are not ghost crabs those are devils bags, they are shark eggs that didn’t hatch and dried in the open air and sun! The waves wash them up.
http://www.kids-fun-science.com/ghost-crabs.html this is a ghost crab