Think of a day at the beach as an investment in your children's development

Posted by Barbara F. Meltz  July 27, 2011 06:00 AM

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No questions in the virtual Mail Bag today, so I'm taking this rare opportunity to ruminate on one of the reasons I love the beach so much, and why you should, too, if you're the parents of young kids.

I was at my favorite Cape Cod beach the other day, South Cape Beach in Mashpee, ( A beach in Mashpee? On Cape Cod? Huh? OK. Time out for a brief plug on why this is one of the best and perhaps least well-known beaches for familieis on the Cape: It's on the Vineyard Sound, so there are no big waves (well, hardly any waves; it's more like a lake). Big kids may not like that, but this is paradise for little kids. It's a 90-minute ride from Boston, so do-able as a day trip. There's plenty of parking for non-residents; if you walk the short distance along the beach to the resident beach area, there's a great snack & drink stand, as well as portable bathrooms; and for nature lovers, there are fabulous walks around Waquoit Bay.)

So, back to the other day where I couldn't help but be transfixed by the kids in the two family groups near by. It was like a watching a textbook page on play come alive. Each group had four kids between the ages of 2 and 6.

The youngest kids were playing side by side (text books call this parallel play), consumed for more than an hour, digging holes, going back and forth carting water in little pails.

Several of the 4 & 5-ish aged boys was alternately throwing sea weed into the water and at each other, draping it on the sand in designs, and digging. When the two 6-ish aged two girls weren't playing in the water, they were collecting shells to decorate the sand castles they made. They had a storyline, of course, that was all about a princess and several princes.

The parents in both groups? They were carefully monitoring it all from age-appropriate distances, depending on the kids, and were called upon now and then to comment on the castles, the designs and the holes. But mostly, these kids were self-directed, independent, in charge of their own little worlds, and having a ball.

I know these parents weren't thinking about the practice their kids were getting in small and gross motor skills, or as David Elkind has put it, that there's power in play, that "spontaneous, imaginative activities [can lead] to happier, healthier children."

I say that park entrance fee qualifies as an investment in their kids' future.

PS. I always answer questions in the order in which I receive them. Typically, there's a week or more backlog but right now, (July slump?), I guarantee if you send a question in, it will get answered asap.

This blog is not written or edited by Boston.com or the Boston Globe.
The author is solely responsible for the content.

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5 comments so far...
  1. Funny because we just got back from a beach vacation in RI and so this seems so timely. We had a slightly different (eye opening) experience with our daughter who is almost 4 y.o. She's an only and we didn't travel with any family/friends, so she largely played with us on the shore or brief periods by herself. We could tell that she wanted to play with other nearby kids in the 3-6 year old range, but because they were louder and way more active and rambunctious than she is prone to be, she more or less just stood there and watched them from the sidelines. It seemed like the other kids knew how to just strike up a conversation or ask to play with complete stranger kids, but our daughter seemed a bit shy and not sure what to do. We tried to encourage her introduce herself and ask if they wanted to play with her, but she largely just stood there or dug nearby (perhaps so it felt like she was playing with them?). It dawned on me that because she's been in preschool or daycare for most of her daytime life, she has not had many opportunities to make new friends on the spot at parks, beaches, etc. and so is probably not sure how to navigate initiating play with others that she doesn't already know. Or at least that's my theory. It makes sense too because it's not like her dad or I go up to other adults on the beach and just start chatting it up. We probably need to get out more and give her more opportunities to come out of her shell a bit and learn how to play with new friends. Advice I should follow myself more too!

    Posted by Sleepymama July 27, 11 09:02 AM
  1. Barbara, I sent a long question yesterday! Don't tell me it disappeared into the internet dead letter box!

    Posted by anon July 27, 11 10:52 AM
  1. Thank you for the article! Last summer the beach and other outings were so logistically difficult with 16 mo old twins and a 3 yo. This year (2,2 and 4yo) the whole world had opened up for us! It is so much easier for me to go to the beach and let the kids do their thing. They get along so much better than at home. The laundry, dishes, chores are often left behind but I have all winter to do those! I am going to share this article with my hard working husband who wonders what we do all day.
    I have similar concerns as sleepymama about my slow-to-warm up 4.5 yo who does not readily join in with the other kids. She stares!

    Posted by Mom of 3 little ones July 27, 11 12:13 PM
  1. I love the beach for kids. Its a terrific day out! Though I really don't love South Cape beach. Too much seaweed. And it does drop off quickly in the water. And my kids are teens now, so they don't like it so much. I like Old Silver better and its just as close.

    For sleepymama, sometimes you have to go over to other kids, or even to the other mom, with her so she'll feel more at ease. Like you say, she doesn't know what to do because she's never had to. At the beach everyone is friends, especially when you are trying to dig to China or make the biggest sandcastle or best tunnel system ever!

    Another idea--I have a outgoing one and shy one. The outgoing one was always bringing other kids back to our blanket, the shy one clung to us like a bathing suit. Over the years (might be hard now with young ones, but something to think about) we've started having her bring a friend. Or sometimes we try to dig the deepest hole and then other kids come and play with us. We can gradually back off then and get back to sunbathing.

    Posted by ash July 27, 11 03:06 PM
  1. When the children are digging holes - watch them like a hawk! Sand can easily cave in and smother a child,

    Posted by reindeergirl July 29, 11 09:48 AM
 
5 comments so far...
  1. Funny because we just got back from a beach vacation in RI and so this seems so timely. We had a slightly different (eye opening) experience with our daughter who is almost 4 y.o. She's an only and we didn't travel with any family/friends, so she largely played with us on the shore or brief periods by herself. We could tell that she wanted to play with other nearby kids in the 3-6 year old range, but because they were louder and way more active and rambunctious than she is prone to be, she more or less just stood there and watched them from the sidelines. It seemed like the other kids knew how to just strike up a conversation or ask to play with complete stranger kids, but our daughter seemed a bit shy and not sure what to do. We tried to encourage her introduce herself and ask if they wanted to play with her, but she largely just stood there or dug nearby (perhaps so it felt like she was playing with them?). It dawned on me that because she's been in preschool or daycare for most of her daytime life, she has not had many opportunities to make new friends on the spot at parks, beaches, etc. and so is probably not sure how to navigate initiating play with others that she doesn't already know. Or at least that's my theory. It makes sense too because it's not like her dad or I go up to other adults on the beach and just start chatting it up. We probably need to get out more and give her more opportunities to come out of her shell a bit and learn how to play with new friends. Advice I should follow myself more too!

    Posted by Sleepymama July 27, 11 09:02 AM
  1. Barbara, I sent a long question yesterday! Don't tell me it disappeared into the internet dead letter box!

    Posted by anon July 27, 11 10:52 AM
  1. Thank you for the article! Last summer the beach and other outings were so logistically difficult with 16 mo old twins and a 3 yo. This year (2,2 and 4yo) the whole world had opened up for us! It is so much easier for me to go to the beach and let the kids do their thing. They get along so much better than at home. The laundry, dishes, chores are often left behind but I have all winter to do those! I am going to share this article with my hard working husband who wonders what we do all day.
    I have similar concerns as sleepymama about my slow-to-warm up 4.5 yo who does not readily join in with the other kids. She stares!

    Posted by Mom of 3 little ones July 27, 11 12:13 PM
  1. I love the beach for kids. Its a terrific day out! Though I really don't love South Cape beach. Too much seaweed. And it does drop off quickly in the water. And my kids are teens now, so they don't like it so much. I like Old Silver better and its just as close.

    For sleepymama, sometimes you have to go over to other kids, or even to the other mom, with her so she'll feel more at ease. Like you say, she doesn't know what to do because she's never had to. At the beach everyone is friends, especially when you are trying to dig to China or make the biggest sandcastle or best tunnel system ever!

    Another idea--I have a outgoing one and shy one. The outgoing one was always bringing other kids back to our blanket, the shy one clung to us like a bathing suit. Over the years (might be hard now with young ones, but something to think about) we've started having her bring a friend. Or sometimes we try to dig the deepest hole and then other kids come and play with us. We can gradually back off then and get back to sunbathing.

    Posted by ash July 27, 11 03:06 PM
  1. When the children are digging holes - watch them like a hawk! Sand can easily cave in and smother a child,

    Posted by reindeergirl July 29, 11 09:48 AM
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About the author

Barbara F. Meltz is a freelance writer, parenting consultant, and author of "Put Yourself in Their Shoes: Understanding How Your Children See the World." She won several awards for her weekly "Child Caring" column in the Globe, including the 2008 American Psychological Association Print Excellence award. Barbara is available as a speaker for parent groups.

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Barbara answers questions on a wide range of topics, including autism, breastfeeding, bullying, discipline, divorce, kindergarten, potty training, sleep, tantrums, and much, much more.

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