Enjoying the Beach With Toddlers

Discover fun, safe ways to enjoy the beach with your little one.

Child on beach
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Once upon a time, hitting the beach meant dabbing on some sunscreen and throwing a towel into a bag. Once you have small children, it resembles something more akin to planning and executing a military operation.

There is, of course, way more to pack. There's also a lot of thought and effort that goes into keeping your little one safe and entertained. Just because it's not the carefree bum days of old, though, doesn't mean it can't be fun -- as long as you re-imagine "fun at the beach" to be an active day of giggles and getting messy versus lounging with a book or soaking up the rays.

So how do you enjoy a toddler-focused beach day? The key is to prepare. It's nice to think of beach days as something spontaneous or laid back, but there is way too much newness and excitement at the shore to allow toddlers to relax. There are also many out-of-the-ordinary-routine factors that will require you to have a well though-out plan and a well-organized bag.

What to pack for a toddler at the beach
It's important to have a beach bag checklist and, if you visit regularly, to have a bag pre-packed so you can get out of the house early (before the sun is too hot for your little one).

Think about the details of those checklist items. You don't just need "towels" -- you need double the number of towels you think you need. Keep one set in the car with clean changes of clothes to ensure you can all be dry and sand free for the ride home. Keep the baby powder in the car as well. Dusting a handful over sandy skin can help you easily brush off the sand.

Wrap up convenient beach food
Using single serving sizes of food works much better for beach picnics. It's important to stay hydrated and nourished at the beach, but it's probably best to keep the food simple and snack-like. Full meals and even sandwiches can be hard for toddlers to eat while dirty and on the go.

Choose foods that aren't too sticky (they just collect the sand) and can stand up to the heat. Divide food into snack-sized bags, so if one little bag full of Pepperidge Farms Goldfish try to swim out to meet their cousins, you have another snack pack at the ready. Small bottles of water or multiple sippy cups of water are also a good idea so that when one is dropped in the sand, it's not the end of the party.

Keep one hand empty
There are many issues and hurdles when you need to take so much with you. One of the biggies is that you have to keep track of all your stuff and your toddler. Using a wagon or beach cart to lug everything to the shore will free you up to keep one hand on your toddler or pushing the stroller that you also want to haul across the sand.

Bring a treasure bag
Great wonders await at the seaside: shells of every size and shape, dried-up seaweed, crab claws, seagull feathers, random bits of garbage that float in with the tide. Your toddler will, undoubtedly, want to collect it all and take it home.

Resist the urge to say, "Ick! No way!" Instead, turn collecting into a beach day activity your child will thoroughly love. Bags as well as plastic jars or old soda bottles work wonderfully for this project.

Plan a safe day out
I hate to be the buzz kill, but it's important to keep in mind that the open beach and water pose a great many threats if you're not careful. As part of your summer safety game plan, have sunscreen on hand. And to deal with the fact that you never seem to get all your toddler's skin covered, you might want to consider investing in a sport-brella (compare prices), which will offer your baby (and you) some shade.

Also prepare for play around the open water. In fact, ocean safety is something every parent -- no matter how old your child -- should be up to date on.

Another (lesser) safety concern for toddlers is foot care. Rough rocks and jagged shells can be hard for adults. It's even tougher on the feet of kids who can easily lose their balance. Investing in water shoes for your child is a simple way to avoid unnecessary scraps and make the day all the more magical.

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