Beaching it with Young Kids: A Survival Guide

June is upon us!  It’s officially beach season.  As a born-and-raised Jersey girl (a completely non-Snooki-esque Jersey girl, I’d like to note), I grew up loving being able to enjoy the peace, beauty, and warmth of a nice day at the beach.

My three little ladies enjoying the beach last summer, while they work on thoroughly sanding up their bodies.

And then I had kids, and of course, wanted them to be able to enjoy the shore like I did as a child.  What I quickly learned was that with 3 kids under 5 in tow, a day at the beach was no day at the beach.

Over the past few summers, I have discovered a few tricks to help make a beach trip with small kids a bit more enjoyable and a bit less what-was-I-thinking.  So here you go, my personal list of preparations for any attempted beach outing:

1.  Sunscreen the kids before you even step out the door.  My preferred method is when they are buck naked, before bathing suits even go on.  I’m a huge fan of the spray sunscreen for the body, and only resort to the lotion sunscreen for faces.  And after one unfortunate incident, I have also learned to make extra sure all part-lines are well covered.  Those hats never stay on long.

2.  A lot of the challenge of a one adult/multiple kid beach outing is logistical.  I invested in one of those Wonder Wheeler beach carts last year and I LOVE it.  So practical.  Many a beach trip I have loaded that puppy up with my chair, 3 kiddie beach chairs, a lunch cooler, an umbrella, a small baby pool (more on that later), a beach bag, our sand toys, and all our towels… and when my just-turned-2 year old got tired of walking after taking three steps on the sand, I was able to pick her up with one arm and haul the Wonder Wheeler with the other, while my older two daughters led the way toward the water.

3.  Once you find your ideal beach spot, strategically close enough to the water that the kids can enjoy the small waves and distant enough from other beachgoers that you don’t have to worry about your kids being on their best behavior (because they won’t be), it’s time to set up shop.  I use a beach umbrella anchor like this one to set up our umbrella and ensure that I will not be “that lady” who has to run like an uncoordinated hippo after my uprooted umbrella as it narrowly misses impaling sunbathers in its path.  Two summers ago, when my little one was still too small to really play in the small waves at the shoreline, I’d always bring a small inflatable baby pool with me, that I’d fill with 7 or so big buckets of ocean water and plop under the umbrella.  Perfect small child holding area.

As evidenced by the holes, this mesh sand toy bag has put in a lot of hard work during its career. Retirement is on the horizon.

4.  When it comes to sand toys, I have two tips: the first is to buy a good old mesh laundry bag, a la your college dorm days, and use that to transport all your sand toys.  A few shakes after loading it up gets all the sand off the toys and out of the bag.  The second tip: throw away all those cruddy plastic shovels you get with beach pails.  They stink.  Every one of them will break, and every broken shovel will yield tears, so just nip it in the bud and toss them in the recycling bin now.  I bought a set of heavy-duty plastic measuring cups that work great as shovels and are much more durable.

5.  If the stars align, you could very well find yourself actually sitting in a beach chair at some point, with all of your children happily occupied.  If this happens, it’s important to be prepared and have something to read.  Right now there are several eCoupons available for some nice easy beach-readable magazines:

6.  Departure time can get a bit chaotic.  I pack one bag of just clean, dry clothes for post-beach changing.  Don’t forget to include underwear… your preschooler does not want to drive home commando, trust me.  In the clothes bag, I always include a plastic grocery bag to toss all the wet, sandy suits and towels into.

7.  Anybody with young kids can tell you that by far, the most trying part of a beach adventure involves sand removal from every nook, cranny, and crack of their little bodies during changing time.  My lifesaver when it comes to this task is baby powder.  I keep a giant bottle of it in our changing bag, and liberally douse each kid after peeling off their suits… the sand that had appeared to be permanently adhered to their skin suddenly just wipes off.  It’s awesome.  Yes, the changing area looks a bit cloudy when we’re done, but on the plus side, we’re all thoroughly de-sanded and we smell baby fresh.

8.  If the location of the clothes-changing isn’t as private as you’d like, there are great hooded kid beach towels that can provide a bit of a privacy screen when you leave them on while you take the suits off and put the clothes on.  I got ours at Bed Bath and Beyond – they were $8 each, and I used a 20% off coupon for each of them too.  Well worth it.  (As an added bonus, once these are on, your kids can’t drop them, step on the towel of their sibling, or stop you as you’re halfway back to the car asking you to re-wrap them.)

9.  Finally, the much-anticipated finale of every one of our beach trips is a stop on the way home at the Italian Ice and ice cream place.  This serves multiple purposes: the kids have a reason to cooperate during the pack-up-and-go process, I have the threat of nixing the dessert stop in my back pocket should things get out of hand, and possibly most importantly, I myself have the vision of a cup of half chocolate soft-serve, half peanut butter Italian ice to get me through the 10 torturous minutes of kid de-sanding.

Happy Beaching!

Have any beach tips to share?  Please tell us in the Comments!

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