For over thirty years, my family has convened for an annual summer vacation at Topsail Island, off the North Carolina coast. This year, the young’uns–that’s to say, those in my generation–had brought young’uns of their own. Three couples were bringing nascent offspring to the beach for the first time.
So, while we were learning that a vacation with children, while still very fun, is not at all relaxing, we were also thinking of ways to keep the kids entertained. While our own geeklets are not yet of an age to enjoy such offerings, we figured it ripe time to arm ourselves in advance, so that we can stave out the cries of boredom when they come.
The guiding principle of our brainstorming: kids love sand. You’ve got a whole beach of the stuff out there, to mold and shape as you see fit. Be ready with a little know-how and the proper tools, and you can really impress. If you’re ill-prepared and don’t have your sand-shaping implements, no worries, though. There’s a lot you can do on the beach with a little innovation, some seashells, and some colored chalk:
- Drip Castles: One of the coolest and most effortless techniques in sand construction is the drip castle. Grab a fistful of wet sand and then turn your hand upside down, like a funnel. The mixture will travel down your fingers, allowing you to direct its flow. As the water leaves the sand, it will create knobbly little towers in the sand that never cease to amaze young children. They will watch in astonishment as their little drip structures grow in size, topple over, and then grow yet again.
- Burial: If mere sandcastles have lost their luster, you may need to resort to human burial. It’s not as macabre as it sounds. When practiced with caution, burying each another in the sand can provide hours of amusement. Combined with some creative sand sculpture and seashell placement, you can even turn your daughter into a mermaid for an afternoon.
- Colored Sand: This is my family’s secret weapon against beach boredom. The moms and dads would always bring a big box of colored chalk, some low grit sandpaper, and a few empty jars. Down on the beach, when the kids weren’t looking, they’d fill up all the jars with sand. Then, during the inevitable rainy day, we’d get to make colored sand.
It’s quite easy. Pour a little sand into one jar and then rub some chalk on the sandpaper. Once you’ve got enough chalk dust, you dump it into the jar and shake it up. Then you pour it into the other jar. That’s your first layer of color.
Now, just repeat, mixing your sand and color in one jar, and pouring into the other. You can create some pretty cool designs by mixing and matching your colors. By the time the sun’s out, you’ve got a jar or two of beach sand to bring home with you when vacation is over.
There’s lots to do on the beach, but try and keep safety in mind when you’re breaking earth. Remember: more people die from sand submersions than shark attacks, so be mindful of nighttime surf strollers and fill in your foxholes. Also, wear your sunscreen.