Editor’s note: This article first published on July 16, 2015.
While beaches may not come to mind as Canadian tourist destinations, Canada is home to some of the world’s most stunning beaches, several of the most notable of which you can find in our list to the right. And that list represents only a smattering of the gorgeous beaches this country has to offer.
Beach holidays can be wonderful family getaways if you’re prepared. Of course, sand and water are a combination that invite free play and will trigger most kids’ imaginations to create fabulous, undirected games and activities.
But having a list of engaging ideas in your back pocket might mean the difference between them wanting to pack it in after only an hour at the beach and not being able to drag them home after several.
The following activities are fun and also help kids develop their basic movement skills:
1. How Low Can You Go?
Nothing beats good-old digging in the sand. Get your kids to see how deep of a hole they can dig and when they’ve dug as far as they can, see if an adult can fit in the hole or see how long it takes to fill the hole with water.
Required: shovels and varying levels of attention span
Skills developed: lifting and lowering objects
2. Mini Golf
Let your child bring out their inner Phil Mickelson and spend a day at the sandy links. Pick up a plastic set of clubs and balls at your local dollar store or improvise with what you have on hand at the beach. Set up a few targets to aim for or dig holes in the sand to practice your child’s short game.
Required: a set of clubs and balls
Skills developed: striking, coordination
3. Beach Frisbee Golf
Substitute a plain old game of frisbee with frisbee golf. Set up targets using items you brought to the beach (could be a picnic blanket, an umbrella, a towel, or you could even dig a hole in the sand to aim at). Take turns trying to throw your frisbee as close to the target as you can. Make sure smaller kids are allowed to stand closer to the target than the bigger ones to keep frustration levels to a minimum.
Required: at least one frisbee
Skills developed: throwing
4. Water Bucket Relay
Kids love relay races, and at the beach the old egg and spoon race can be replaced with a water bucket relay. Give each child a plastic cup, spoon, or large shell and have them run to the water, fill their carrying implement, and race to empty it in a bucket. Kids love the challenge of trying to keep the water from spilling before they get it into their bucket.
Required: a bucket and carrying tool for each child
Skills developed: balance, agility
5. Let’s Go Fly A Kite
I don’t think I’ve ever encountered a child who doesn’t love to fly a kite. Even if there isn’t a lot of wind, kids can run with kites and have a great time watching them fly behind them. Kites can be purchased in toy stores, dollar stores, or made by kids before the beach visit.
Required: a store-bought or home-made kite
Skills developed: running
6. Limbo at the Beach
The limbo dance originated in Trinidad in the 1800s. Bring it to the 21st century with a fun beach version. With two people holding the ends of a pool noodle, jump rope, or boat oar, have each child take a turn trying to go under the “bar” with their backs facing the sand. After each child has succeeded at a certain height of the bar, lower it again and again. If you can play music without disturbing other vacationers, pick a selection of fun beach tunes.
Required: an item to use as a bar and music (optional)
Skills developed: balance, falling, and tumbling
7. Beach Bowling
Line up empty bottles or bring your own dollar store plastic pins and balls. The best part about beach bowling is that you don’t have to rent shoes that have been worn a few hundred times. Remember to let the smaller kids line up closer to the pins.
Required: a set of pins and balls
Skills developed: throwing
8. Beach Volleyball
Depending on the ages of the kids playing, a real volleyball and net can be set up. For the smaller set, a beach ball and a towel are great substitutes. Try to count the number of times you can get the ball back and forth.
Required: a ball (some beaches have nets set up)
Skills developed: volleying, throwing
9. Tug of War, Beach Style
Using a skipping rope or towels tied together, stand at the water’s edge. Divide the kids (and adults) into two teams. Make sure the middle of the rope is right over a line drawn in the sand. Hand the ends of the rope to each team and show them how to pull. Be prepared to end up in the water!
Required: a skipping rope and strong muscles
Skills developed: balance
10. Squirt Ball
Kids can work together or compete against each other in this fun game. Give each child a beach ball and squirt gun or spray bottle and have them stand across a line drawn in the sand. Each child has to squirt their ball with all of their might to get it across another line down the beach. Run to the water’s edge to refill squirt guns if water runs out or to begin the game again.
Required: squirt guns and beach balls
Skills developed: running, hand/eye coordination
11. Sand Hopscotch
Bring the popular hopping game to the beach! Using a stick or rock, draw a grid on the sand and use rocks or shells for markers. If the sand is hot, don’t forget your flip flops or water shoes.
Required: nothing to bring along other than a bounce in your step
Skills developed: hopping, throwing
12. “Parachute” Games
Kids love parachute games. Adults love parachute games. So grab a large beach towel and a beach ball, hold the ends and sides of the towel with the ball in the middle of the towel, and see how high that ball can bounce. Aim for the sky!
Required: a beach towel and beach ball
Skills developed: lifting and lowering, motor control of hands and arms
13. Slithery Snake Game
Have two kids or adults hold the ends of a skipping rope down on the sand. Wiggle the rope slowly or quickly depending on the age of the children and have the kids jump over the rope without getting touched by the “snake”. Warning: this game may trigger squeals of fun.
Required: a skipping rope
Skills developed: hopping and jumping
14. Bubble Blowing
A beach is a great wide space to blow and chase bubbles. And if the bubble juice spills on your bathing suit, simply head for the water to wash yourself off. The dollar store is a great source for multiple shapes and sizes of bubble blowers and bubble juice, or you can make your own bubble blowers and juice at home before you head to the beach. And we’ve got an activity [PDF] you can make part of your play.
Required: bubble juice and blowers
Skills developed: running, jumping, motor control of arms
15. Bocce Ball
Bocce ball is so simple for all ages to learn and to play. A “jack” or target is thrown on the sand. Players then throw their weighted balls and the one who gets their ball closest to the target wins a point. The game continues until a certain number of points are reached. If you don’t own a bocce set, improvise with rocks and other beach treasures. Just always make sure no one is walking by when it’s your turn to throw!
Required: bocce set or beach treasures
Skills developed: throwing
16. Build an Inukshuk
What could be more Canadian than building a beautiful inukshuk? Have your children gather stones or sea glass of various sizes and let them build their own landmark. The tallest inukshuk ever recorded by the Guinness Book of World Records is over 37 feet tall but odds are good that your children will probably produce an item slightly smaller in size.
Required: tones and/or sea glass
Skills developed: coordination
More fun in the sun
Tried all of the above and still looking for more? Okay, you guys are totally winning the beach Olympics! Here are some more ideas that offer a bit of a twist on the typical beach activities and are super fun for kids of all ages.
17. Beach Treasure Hunt
Supply each child with a list (can be a written list or a list with pictures) and a bucket in which they can collect their treasures. Have your kids hunt for driftwood, shells, rocks, crabs, something round, something blue, a feather, etc. The list can be as long or as short as you feel your child will be able to handle.
Required: a bucket in which to collect the treasures; a prepared list of items
18. Sand Angels
Canadian kids definitely have experience in the art of snow angels. Transfer those skills to the sand and make summer angels. Sure the kids will get sandy but that’s half the fun!
Required: no aversion to sand in your hair
19. Do You Want to Build a Sandman?
Another chance to transfer your winter skills to the beach! A sandman can be decorated with pebbles, shells or rocks for eyes and mouths. Children can use their creative skills to use other beach treasures such as feathers or seaweed for their sandman’s noses, arms, clothing, etc.
Required: the knowledge that you’ll get a little sandy – plus a bucket, shovel, and beach treasures
20. Sand Castles / Forts / Animals
No trip to the beach is complete without digging in the sand. But why limit yourself to a castle (though castles are always fun, too)? Let your kids’ imaginations run wild and ask them to make a creation of their own. If you’re building close to the water, make sure you get photographs of all creations before the tide comes in.
Required: shovels, buckets, sticks, and any other items that could be used to make a fun sand creation
21. Picasso in the Sand
Using a stick, hands, shovels, or rocks, have kids draw a picture, a word, or letters in the sand. Or use treasures collected on the beach to make a drawing.
Required: a drawing implement and a creative mind
Whether you’re heading to the ocean or the lake, pack some basic beach toys, hats, and sunscreen, and prepare to have fun (and don’t forget the healthy snacks and water to keep them energized and hydrated).
Enjoy your trip to the beach and please send us a postcard to tell us how it went. Or save a stamp and leave us a comment below; what worked and what didn’t. And if you have any ideas to add to our list, let us know.
And for 6 more creative beach activities — that don’t require any apparatus — click here.