By Michelle Donaghey
Relaxing with a cold, cold can of soda on a beach blanket with the radio playing your favorite station. This is a good start, but when you have a family in tow, it is best to bring along more than the suit, blanket, radio and some sunblock.
What to/not to pack.
For starters, a good choice is a Frisbee says Joni Jones of the Indiana Dunes National Lakeshore. This versatile toy can be used for games or just for throwing back and forth. Even one child can have fun with one, playing in the sand using it as a shovel. If it does get windy, keep away from the shoreline! Leave kites, baseballs and bats a home. A better choice for balls might be a beachball, but they have a tendency to blow away when the wind picks up.
It may be tempting to bring Fido or Fluffy, but the beach is not the place for a pet. Pets can pick up all sorts of problems if they drink the water or eat things left on the beach. Besides, most beaches have the rule that the pet must be leashed which isn't much fun!
A rolling cooler complete with drinks, preferably juice boxes or bags are better than cups and sipper cups which should be left at home. They are bulky taking up more space than necessary. Fruit is a good snack choice, particularly because it is biodegradable. For meals, sandwiches are good and peanut butter is best because you don't have to worry about food poisoning. Pack a small, empty plastic garbage bag that you can put all the trash in. Don't ruin it for everyone by leaving your garbage on the beach- besides, if you are caught, you will possibly be fined.
Take along a few old vinyl tablecloths or buy some throwaway ones at the local dollar store. Leave these in the car for sitting on when traveling home in wet suits. While they may not be as comfortable, they will keep your car cleaner and drier!
If you are going to a state park or beach on a local lake, call ahead and find out the rules before you go. Sometimes, cans are not acceptable nor are glass items and some beaches do not allow food or drinks. Small grills may be allowed at some while others do not.
Before letting your kids loose to have fun, be sure that anyone who does not know how to swim has a lifevest that is approved for usage, not water/swim wings, Styrofoam donuts or rafts notes the American Academy of Pediatrics. Do not take a risk and think just because the beach seems shallow it is. If there is a lifeguard or beach attendant, ask him or her about the water drop-off, possible rip currents which can occur on windy days and if there are any hazards to be aware of. "Always swim directly in front of a lifeguard. Bathers should stay near lifeguard stations where there are posted currents and surf conditions," says Jones.
Some beaches will be sand in one area, and muck in another. Do not trust kids or adults for that matter that swim alone will be safe- always stick with a buddy system, particularly at a beach. People should also realize that lifeguards are not baby-sitters. Be sure to slather on the sun lotion every time they swim and/or every three hours or you may pay for it later.
At the end of the day, gather everything up on the blanket and roll it like a sleeping bag and place it in the trash bag you brought along. That way, if sand is in your blanket, it stays there and not in your car!
Michelle Donaghey is a freelance writer and mother of two boys, Chris and Patrick, who are her inspiration. She lives in Bremen, Indiana just south of South Bend, home of Notre Dame. When she isn't writing, Michelle can be found in her perennial flower garden or working on small home improvement projects. Michelle has written for parenting publications including Metro Kids, Atlanta Parent,Dallas Child, Great Lakes Family, Family Times and Space Coast Parent and websites including iparenting.com.
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