November27 , 2022

    Three Things Your Child Can Do At the Beach

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    Summer time is beach time. When the weather gets hot, most of us want to plop down in a chair, sip an icy beverage, and wiggle our toes in the water. But young children do not want to relax at the beach. They want to play!

    As a pediatric physical therapist and an early interventionist, I see many young children who are weak, intolerant of messy hands, and can’t seem to start talking.

    As a pediatric physical therapist and an early interventionist, I see many young children who are weak, intolerant of messy hands, and can’t seem to start talking. I’m often asked for activities parents can do to help their child get stronger, tolerate messy hands, and begin to name objects. Since I live in Florida, a few miles from the beautiful Gulf of Mexico, I incorporate family beach time into my suggestions because going to the beach is what families do.

    Here are three activities you can do with your child to build strength and coordination, increase his tolerance of various textures in the environment, and expand his vocabulary. These will also work at a beach beside a lake, a river, or even in your backyard sandbox.

    Digging Holes in the Sand

    It’s natural to dig holes in sand. Even adults do it. Sometimes we use our hands and other times we dig with our heels. Why do we do this? I guess it’s something to do, but to many of us it just feels good.

    For children, it’s an adventure. Digging in sand, especially wet sand, builds strength in the hands, arms, trunk, hips, and legs. The heavier the sand, the more strength you build. It’s like lifting weights, except the weight isn’t a dumbbell, it is sand.

    It is also useful to dig with tools, such as cups or shovels. This requires a bit more skill and eye-hand coordination. Dig alongside your child and help fill a bucket. Once the bucket is filled, your child can pick up the bucket, carry it a short distance across the sand, and dump it.

    It is not unusual for young children to dislike touching sand. However, it is unusual for children to continue to be intolerant of it. A child’s unwillingness to get his hands messy or sticky may interfere with preschool or school activities, such as finger painting or playing with slime. Helping your child tolerate sand will be helpful to them later on.


    In the early intervention environment (ages birth to 3 years old), we are seeing an increase in the number of children with weak hands. Research demonstrates some of this is related to extensive play on electronic devices and less time grasping and stacking blocks, holding crayons to color, or digging in sand. The gentle touch required to swipe a screen does not build strength or desensitize hands to the natural environment.
    Building a Mountain

    Since you’re digging a hole, you’ll need to do something with the sand your child has dug up. I encourage you to help her build a mountain. After a good-sized pile is created, it’s time to walk up and down the mountain and, while you’re at it, go in and out of the valley or hole you’ve dug. This common beach play is therapeutic for your child. She is learning to walk on uneven and mushy surfaces. Walking on sand improves her strength and balance, especially in the feet and hips. Hold her hand if she need some help or encouragement. Play along with her and talk to her about what she’s doing.

    In the past decade or so of practice, I find many children can’t make up a game or imagine things. They play with a lot of electronic toys or ‘learning apps’ that entertain them and require little to no verbal communication from the child.

    Use a singsong voice, not a boring one. Use phrases such as, “Let’s go up, up, up the mountain!” Naturally, she may decide to stomp, jump, or somehow crush the mountain. These activities build power in the legs and improve her balance as she stands with one leg raised to crash down on the sand pile. Jumping on sand builds strength, coordination, and endurance.

    It is likely someone’s mountain will get damaged and feelings will get hurt. Use this opportunity to help her say, “I’m sorry” or “I forgive you.” These common phrases build vocabulary and teach manners and respect for others.

    Making up a Story

    Finally, building language and communication requires words. In the past decade or so of practice, I find many children can’t make up a game or imagine things. They play with a lot of electronic toys or ‘learning apps’ that entertain them a