Beachside Fun

little girl playing with sand at the beach

Here are some eco-friendly and cost-free fun games and activities to keep the kids happily occupied at the beach – out of the water – while you get to relax (some of the time!) and enjoy the sunshine as well.

The sun’s shining, the breeze is balmy, and the kids are home for what seems like an awfully long time! Must be summer holidays. Must be time for the annual (and usually fruitless) search through the garage debris for everything you think you need for a family day at the beach. This year, if you can’t find the buckets, spades, boats and body boards, give up searching and check out the ideas below for some low-key, high-interest (possibly even educational) new approaches to keeping the children entertained on the sand.

safe, stress-free water play

The ocean is a dangerous place, even in the shallows. It offers no rest for the vigilant parent, but once small children have had an initial dunking in the surf, they’re usually just as happy to be playing in water away from the sea’s edge. That’s why it pays to pack a large domestic bucket (for ferrying water) and a blow-up paddling pool (or any other large water-holding vessel, such as a plastic laundry tub). Position your water-holder close to your deck chair and well away from the ocean. Fill it up with sea water using your bucket, and the kids can have all the fun of wet sand and fresh salty water without you having to be alert for the dangers of undertows and breakers.

scavenger hunt

Pack a pencil and paper and some snaplock plastic bags, and you have all the makings of a beach scavenger hunt. (Dot a few wrapped lollies around the immediate environment and it soon becomes a treasure hunt!) Don’t write your list of “look-for’s” until you reach your destination (this gives you a chance to assess what the environment holds). Then, scribble down a list (or if your children are very small, draw) of the items to be searched for. They might include a feather, a shell, a flower, a seaweed-bobble, a yellow leaf, a bottle top, etc. Ask the searchers to pop each object they find into the snaplock bag and to return to you when they have everything on the list.

Tip: define the search boundaries carefully so that the children are never out of your sight. If you have a mix of ages, team older children with younger ones or instigate a time-handicap, with older children starting their search later than the littlies.

born to reign

Children of all ages enjoy ‘creating’ out of sand. However, kids usually want you to be heavily involved in building whatever they’re creating, be it sand castle or starfish. To assure yourself of a break, get in early with the suggestion that the children create a throne sculpture – with you (as king or queen) sitting in it! As they build the throne around you, increase their fun (and your own comfort) by passing out a few royal commands such as “please pass my sunglasses and the bottled water.”

Tip: suggest your royal builders get your throne’s backrest in place for starters and, if the sculpture seems to be progressing too swiftly, make a royal decree that you want your throne embellished with jewels (aka shells, seaweed, and pebbles).


Let your children contribute toward their beautiful beach environment with a litter-thon. Pack kitchen tongs or disposable gloves, and some supermarket shopping bags. Accompany your children as they collect any litter lying on a pre-defined area of the beach, and use the opportunity to point out any items which are not safe to pick up. Make the exercise fun by offering a treat for each piece of litter found, but make the real reward the praise your children receive for being tidy kiwis.

sand sundial

Build a sundial in the sand and you’ll be teaching your children the concept of time, as well as letting them help run the day’s programme. Collect 12 small stones (each representing an hour of the clock) and place them, evenly spaced, around the edge of a circle drawn in the sand. Press a driftwood stick into the centre of the circle and ask the children to note (and mark in the sand) where its shadow falls. Your sand sundial won’t give you an accurate time but the shadow will move as the day progresses. Help your children to make simple decisions based on the position of the stick’s shadow. For example, they might decide to “ … have lunch when the shadow falls on this stone.”

shadow tag

The wide open spaces of the beach are the perfect setting for shadow tag with one person attempting to ‘tag’ another by jumping on their shadow. If you have a mix of ages, make a rule that older children can tag a player only if they jump on a particular part of their shadow (their foot, for example).

beach hopscotch

Even if your children already know this old-fashioned favourite, playing hopscotch on the sand brings in a whole new fun, cheat-checking dimension. Draw out the hopscotch grid on the sand and get everyone checking foot prints to see if the ‘in’ player stands on a line!

snap happy

By thinking ahead and taking creative snaps at the beach, you’ll have year-round, picture-perfect greeting and birthday cards for the rellies. Ask your child to draw a picture (or make a sculpture) in the sand and, if they can, to sign it. Then take a photo of the artist sitting beside their masterpiece. Or, ask children to write their name in the sand as large as they can, then position yourself on a sandhill to take a shot of the giant signature with your child standing beside it. The results can be mounted on plain card or sent, as is, as a postcard.

add value to your next beach trip by packing:

1   a bird identification book and binoculars

2   a shell identification book

3   a magnifying glass (for playing I-spy in rock pools and looking at sandhoppers)

4   biscuit cutters for sand ‘baking’

5   pieces of fabric and string for building a beach shelter

6   paper and crayons for driftwood rubbings

7   wool or string for making a shell hanging

Catlins author, Diana Noonan, is one of New Zealand’s best-known writers for children. With her love of gardening and the outdoors, she can often be found writng on subjects of natural history.

more beach fun from tots to teens:

5 of New Zealand’s Most Loved Family Beaches

Essential Summer Safety Tips

Must-See Family Beaches In Auckland

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