A Beach Blanket Education

Maybe it’s because the beach is such a completely different landscape from the one we call home. Maybe it’s the legendary lure of the sea. Whatever the reason, some of our greatest learning adventures have happened with sand in between our toes and salty wind in our hair.

For those of you looking forward to some oceanside days this summer, we’d like to share our favorite ways to make your beach blanket the best classroom ever.

1. Read a Whale of a Tale

There’s something so right about delving into a good read at the beach. Take a dip in the ocean. Read a little. Grill up some burgers. Read a little more. Toss out a fishing line. Read a chapter or two. A great beach tale is like the thread onto which you slide the jeweled memories of vacation living.

Some of our favorite oceanside read-alouds:

Island of the Blue Dolphins
Nim’s Island and the sequel Nim at Sea
The Wanderer
Galveston’s Summer of the Storm

2. Become An Explorer

For those of us who don’t live within earshot of the ocean’s roar, the beach is a whole new world to discover. It is full of sights and smells, plants and animals that are completely different from those we experience at home. So pack up the colored pencils, camera and field guides. Take along a blank notebook and work together to document your discoveries.

If you’re new to nature journaling, you can take a peek into ours here.

Some of our favorite beach finds are sea beans, and last year we gained a whole new appreciation for seaweed. You might also be inspired by our friend’s accounts of beach balls, sea wash balls and moon jellies.

Need a few beach bag worthy field guides? Try these:

Golden Guide To Seashore Life
Seashells of North America
Seashore and Wading Birds

A few more ideas for beach life observation –

  • Before you go, check to see if there is a good aquarium or wildlife center near your destination. We’ve also found that seaside universities often have fantastic exhibits available to the public.
  • Take a flashlight out on the beach late at night to look for ghost crabs.
  • Be on the lookout for tracks in the sand. How many different kinds can you find?
  • Seek out different habitats in the area – dunes, bays, rocky inlets, tidal pools – each one is a little world of its own.
  • For the truly adventurous – take a trip to the fish market and bring home a few specimens for dissection. Clams, mussels, crabs, octopus, lobster and fish all are a feast for the mind as well as the appetite!

3. Be a Seaside Scientist

Biology isn’t the only branch of scientific study to be had at the beach.

The beach is a great place to start a study of the heavens with H.A. Rey’s The Stars. Push a stick into the sand at the waterline in the morning and watch how that line changes throughout the day.

Fly a kite, make a windsock or pinwheel, and learn about the changing wind patterns at the beach. Together, devise ways to remove the salt from a bucket of sea water.

Science in Seconds at the Beach is a great resource for more simple science discoveries.

4. Dive Into History

Beaches are teeming with the kind of history that excites young learners, and a few of us older ones too!

During our seaside vacations we’ve toured ships and historic mansions. We’ve learned about the roaring 20s beach scene with its bath houses, gambling, mobsters, speakeasies and debonair celebrities. We’ve thrilled to tales of real pirates and lost treasure.

We’ve toured museums that document horrific hurricanes and driven past the decaying gins that were once the heart of the Texas cotton trade. These kinds of tours are often a great way to take a little break from the heat while gaining a new perspective on your vacation destination.

5. Keep a Trip Log

When we go on vacation we like to keep a notebook where it’s easily accessible to everyone. We keep scissors, glue, watercolors and pencils nearby so that we can record our best beach moments whenever the mood strikes. Maps, photos, tour pamphlets, even recipes work their way into our journal. For the younger writers among us, it helps to keep a word bank alongside the journal. Together we brainstorm words that he might want use to describe his experiences. (You can see a word bank that we used a few years back in the photo above.)

Often this journal becomes a place for remembering questions that we want to explore further at home. (Why is it so windy here? Was that story the tour guide told about the pirate true?) It becomes a souvenir of not only our trip, but also of the things we learned along the way.

So this summer bring home something more from the beach than just pockets full of shells and sand in your shoes. Take home an ocean full of interesting new ideas and fresh discoveries!

How about you? Do you have any fun learning adventures planned this summer?

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About Stefani

Stefani believes that beyond "I love you," one of the most valuable things she can tell her three young sons (and herself) is "take your time." Homeschooling has afforded her the awesome privilege to say it often and with conviction. Stefani writes about her journey to mindful parenting and her learning adventures alongside her boys at her blog, Blue Yonder Ranch.


  1. What a great post! We live within 5 minutes of a beach and have grandparents who live waterfront on an island close by. My son spends lots of time practicing writing/reading/drawing in the sand – something about it appeals to his perfectionist self knowing that his work will be washed away by the tide.
    I often post about our beachside adventures (including today) at wideopencampus.com.

    • grandparents on an island???? That’s the stuff of dreams!
      I love the idea of drawing in the sand… like a great big Etch-a-sketch 🙂
      I’m looking forward to reading up on your beachy adventures!
      .-= Stefani’s last blog: Beach Blanket Education =-.

  2. Can’t wait for the rain to STOP! Because the babies are little and money is tight we will be taking many “day” trips to the Oregon coast, just an hour and a half from us! I can’t wait to sink our toes in the sand and let our children roam, taste, feel, discover, and dream at the beach! Loved this post and a few field guides will find their way into our beach bag, along with a journal! Great pictures! Just praying for sunshine!

  3. What a great article stefani. We are not beach bums, or rather my husband isn’t. So we head for the mountains & woods. But… we do get to the ocean once or twice in the summer and you’ve got some great ideas here.

    Ah… summer…

    • We go once a year, and often to the same beach, so we’ve come to know it, and the surrounding town quite well. As you know, we’re most often woodland and creek explorers too, so really visiting the beach and all it’s odd and interesting life is like visiting an entirely new planet for us. Such fun. Happy summer to you!
      .-= Stefani’s last blog: Beach Blanket Education =-.

  4. This is a great post! I love that joint journal idea, and will be holding that one in my mind for the future. I always love to pack some beachy reads, and recently posted my list of books I packed for my 15-month-old daughter on our beach vacation, here:
    http://inthepurplehouse.blogspot.com/2010/05/whats-in-your-beach-basket-great-beach.html. Oh, I wish I were still there!
    .-= Lise’s last blog: Treasure, revisited =-.

    • I’m so glad you posted that Lise! You’ve got lots of great books on your list.
      And as you can see, I’m a devoted fan of the Golden Guides too :-), especially the older ones.

      There are some fantastic beachy picture books that appeal even to our older boys… Night of the Moon Jellies, Harry by the Sea, Beach (Elisha Cooper), Magic Beach, Clams All Year. .. there are so many good ones!

      Happy Summer Reading!
      .-= Stefani’s last blog: Beach Blanket Education =-.

  5. What a treasure! Thanks, Stefani!
    .-= gina’s last blog: Work to Do (or Not to Do) =-.

  6. fantastic ideas and links. Thanks for sharing. Even though our family lives the farthest from the sea on every side (Nebraska, 8 hours at least to anywhere 🙂 we have the hope to someday move *very* close to the ocean!
    Sarah M

    • I have dreams of that too… or at least owning a little seaside getaway spot. I think once you get a little salt water in your veins you crave it for the rest of your life 🙂

      I hope you get some sand between your toes soon!
      .-= Stefani’s last blog: Beach Blanket Education =-.

      • Thanks for your kind words. Actually, in a few weeks, my husband and I are taking a week long vacation up to his hometown in Vancouver, British Columbia. I will *totally* be spending time at the beach up there. Unfortunately for my kiddos (who are both under 3) they won’t get to go this time, but instead spending loads of time with Oma, Opa, and Grammie instead. A win-win, right? 🙂

        Sarah M
        .-= Sarah M’s last blog: The Magnifying Glass =-.

  7. Jen Luiz says:

    We live in South Africa and take our kids on a beach holiday every year. They are still young (2 and 4 yrs) but even this year we have seen how much they absorb. Looking forward to incorporating all these ideas into next year’s trip, at an age-appropriate level.
    We are off on a month’s camping holiday through Namibia and Botswana next month so I’m definitely going to use the “spirit” of this fabulous article in formulating “educational” time with the kids.
    Thank you so much.

    • Jen Luiz says:

      Oh, forgot to mention, what about sea poetry – classics like Sea Fever by John Masefield and – oh I can’t remember the title and poet but he has a three stanza poem about ships through the ages, it’s beautiful and conjures up wonderful images.

  8. Catherine says:

    Do you find mermaid’s necklaces and purses at your Texas beaches? The girls used to have a pickle jar filled with the purses until I put them in the apothecary jar with my husbands beach treasures he found while living in Guam as a child. Thanks for the references – will have to let G. know that Nim has a sequel.

  9. This is a very timely post for me. We are heading to the beach this summer! What great ideas! We are already going to do a little unit study on all things ocean in the coming weeks to prepare us for our adventure. The books and ideas are going to help us have so much more fun! Thanks!!

  10. This is such a brilliant post, full of fabulous ideas!!! We live at the seaside and go for a tumble, run, play almost every evening… all year round. But we only just discovered rock pooling and the amazing world that lives down there… last week we made kelp horns from dried kelp, you may like: Scroll down this post: http://www.se7en.org.za/2010/06/01/saturday-spot-making-kelp-horns-at-the-shark-center
    .-= se7en’s last blog: Saturday Spot: Making Kelp Horns in Se7en Steps at the Shark Center… =-.

  11. Wow — this takes a trip to the beach to a whole new level, for sure!

    We had a lovely trip recently (which I wrote about for the blog and magazine) but I confess it probably wasn’t nearly so educational. 🙂 For sure, though, you can’t beat the seashore for a place to just soak in nature’s wonders. I am definitely going to bring a Golden Guide or two next time!
    .-= Hannah’s last blog: Remembering our Heroes =-.

  12. Great ideas for our next trip to the ocean. We have a beach about 15 min. from us. Which we will be going to as often as we can, but we go to the ocean once a year to Myrtle Beach and I can’t wait to go back and do some of these things with my kiddos.
    .-= Rana’s last blog: Summer Reading Club… =-.

  13. I am printing out this book list for our next trip to the library. We are fortunate to live near the beach, so we are there at least once a week. I am definitely going to incorporate these ideas into our summer learning program. Thanks!
    .-= Mary @ A Simple Twist of Faith’s last blog: Now I lay me down to sleep… =-.

  14. I just wrote a blog post about making art at the beach – check out the Land Art for Kids book – it really help you engage with the materials you find!
    .-= Gwynneth Beasley’s last blog: Making Art Outside =-.

  15. Stefani,

    What an inspiring and well-written posts. I would love to be a child in your care. I appreciate your bio emphasizing “take your time” as well. Keep up the good work of inspiring mothers of younger children like me, to look forward to all the education that happens outside of a classroom.
    .-= Janna @ Mommy’s Piggy TALES – Record YOUR Youth’s last blog: Featured Tales of the Week =-.

  16. Love this post! We are in Nova Scotia and live about 20 minutes from our favourite beach. There is definitely a lure!

    We are almost finished Island of the Blue Dolphins. For the first time, we used a Progeny Press study guide and have really, REALLY enjoyed it. I plan to find a lot more of them for all my kids. Worth checking out if you haven’t already: http://www.progenypress.com/

    Still chilly (and RAINY) here but I can’t wait to hit the beach with our books!
    Trina @ Joy And Contentment’s latest post: Turning on a Dime

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