Winter Beach Activities
We’ve all been there. It’s January (or November or February or whatever month brings the most drearies to your neck of the woods). It’s cold and wet and cloudy, the kids are restless, and everyone is struggling to find motivation to get out the door.
If you’ve been around the Tales of a Mountain Mama Community for a while, you’ve probably heard us use the phrase: There’s no such thing as bad weather. If you haven’t, we highly recommend you pick up the fantastic book by Swedish-American author and mama Linda Åkeson McGurk.
It’s kind of a catch phrase, but there is so much truth to the idea that you can get out with your kids in almost any conditions – as long as you have the right gear and the right mindset.
Let’s Head to the…Beach?
Winter really puts this to the test, especially for those of us who live in moderate climates that stay dark, cold, and rainy for months on end. One of the best kept secrets we’ve discovered to get winter wiggles out when there’s no snow on the ground? Believe it or not, it’s winter beach play!
There’s something magical and unexpected about playing at the beach in winter.
We practically live at the lake in the summer, but when the conditions change it becomes a whole new world for kids to explore. Familiar spots take on new life, and the idea of wading in the water fully geared up inevitably brings everyone so much joy.
If you’re not convinced, keep reading for some tried and true gear and winter beach activities along with tips to help you prepare for memorable fun even without the sun.
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Winter Beach Play: Make a Plan
What to Bring for Winter Beach Activities
Preparing well for a winter beach day does take some extra effort, but it’s well worth it. One of the most important things to always remember is a complete set of dry clothes for each kid, along with some beach towels that you don’t mind getting sandy or muddy.
We also often toss in an extra set of gloves or mittens (in case one pair gets soaked) and some hand warmers because extremities are always most vulnerable in cold, wet conditions.
If you’re looking for a sustainable alternative to disposable hand warmers, check out Amelia’s review of Aurora Heat Reusable Hand Warmers.
As long as the ground isn’t frozen, digging tools are also a winner in winter conditions. Wet sand is perfect for building structures (or monster truck obstacles courses), so as long as your beach toys aren’t too flimsy they’re great to bring along.
How to Build Excitement for Winter Beach Play
As with any outdoor adventure, getting kids in on ideas ahead of time can help motivate everyone to stay positive and engaged regardless of weather or conditions. What will keep them engaged the longest? What ways can you utilize the water for some unique and memorable experiences?
Depending on how long you have (or how long you’d like to stay outside), you may want to have a couple of plans for what to do once you get to the beach before you’re out in the elements. We’ve found that if kids have something to focus on right away it helps them get moving which in turn keeps them warmer and happier for longer.
Another great way to get kids excited for winter beach activities is to invite some friends to come along with you. Let’s be honest, this is true for almost any adventure! But it can be especially helpful if they’re less than stoked about getting out the door.
Warming Up after Winter Beach Play
One of the ways we build enthusiasm for winter beach play is to brainstorm fun ways to get cozy after we get the wiggles out. If you can, come up with a special craft, game, or even a fun movie for them to look forward to when they get home.
Bonus if it’s something they don’t get to do very often and you’re able to make a positive association between the wet weather adventure and something that really feels like a treat!
Another way we love to get cozy after wet weather outings is to have a mid-day bubble bath with either a fun bath bomb, bathtub crayons, or glow sticks. After everyone is clean and dry, have a nutrient-dense snack and a warm beverage to keep the warmth going and the positive vibes flowing!
Winter Beach Activities: Gearing Up
Best Base Layers
Another mantra of the TMM team is to just say no to cotton next to the skin whenever possible. This is especially true where there is potential to get moisture sneaking in around the cuffs or if there’s high potential for kids to get sweaty. Cotton soaks up moisture and traps it next to the skin, and when you combine that with cold it can get both uncomfortable and dangerous quickly.
For some of our top recommendations for kids base layers (and discount codes!), check out Stephanie’s Best Base Layers for Kids post.
In cold, wet weather we always recommend wool base layers if you have them. Wool retains about 75% of its insulating power even when it’s wet, which makes a huge difference in keeping temperatures regulated.
The downside to wool is that it is typically more pricey than other materials and takes some additional care. If that’s not your jam, there are also great synthetic options out there (like polyester, spandex, nylon or a blend of these) that will keep kids warmer and drier than cotton. REI has a great post on How to Choose Baselayers that goes through different fabrics and their properties if you want to learn more!
It’s important to remember that active play can cause kids to heat up (and sweat!) quickly even in colder weather. The wet and cold combo is an instant fun killer and a recipe for disaster, so pay extra attention what’s next to your kids’ skin and you won’t regret it.
Another piece of gear that often doesn’t get enough credit is a quality pair of socks. Again, material is critical (following the same guidelines as with base layers) and you also want to make sure socks are long enough to cover the entire area underneath the boots.
Darn Tough, Smartwool, Icebreaker, and REI all make high quality kids socks that keep feet as warm and dry as possible.
If you’re heading to the beach, where there is potential for kids to be splashing in water that’s ankle-deep or higher, you want to make sure their boots are as tall as possible to minimize the chances of water intrusion. Lower boots with pull-on holes are great for lots of other kinds of play, but the beach really requires maximum coverage.
If your kids are really serious about their splashing, you may be interested in the KidORCA over-the-knee boots that gets high marks from TMM team member Jami. For more moderate splashers, the Puddle-Dry Rain Boots from Jan & Jul, Stonz Rain Boots (use code MTNMAMA15 for 15% off), and Muckboots for kids are all excellent options.
Regardless of the boots you have, it’s important to make sure that the soles and seams are intact and that rubber isn’t cracked before you head out. Even the best boots don’t keep out water once they’re compromised.
We also find that securing rain pants OVER boots works best for keeping out water. This can be tricky when rain pants are a bit on the shorter side or when the elastic on ankle cuffs is weak, but we find this to work much better than trying to tuck the bottoms of rain pants inside of boots.
There are two main options for wet weather outerwear: one-piece rain suits or a jacket/pants combo. Suits work best for smaller kiddos and for keeping out water from all possible angles, while a jacket and pants can provide more versatility and ease-of-access for bathroom breaks.
A quality one-piece rain suit is an absolute game-changer for super active kids or littles who will inevitably end up rolling around on the ground or sitting in puddles. Our absolute favorite suits are the Cozy-Dry (fleece lined) and Puddle-Dry (unlined) Play Suits from Jan & Jul. Their waterproofing is super impressive (and eco-friendly!), and their gear comes in lots of fun, bright colors and patterns.
Another suit we love is the Stonz Waterproof Play Suit (use code MTNMAMA15 for 15% off). Also incredibly waterproof and durable, this suit is thinner than the Jan & Jul suits and works best layered over warmer base- and mid-layers in the winter. We also LOVE that it has elastic straps to help secure the bottom of the pants underneath the soles of boots!
Jackets & Pants
Again, Jan & Jul is at the top of our list for quality and durability in this category. They make rain bibs, pants, and jackets in both the Cozy-Dry and Puddle-Dry options, and their gear holds up to some serious hard play while still keeping kids dry. We especially love the length of the jackets and the fit of the hoods.
For a balance of quality and affordability, it’s hard to beat the Reima Lammikko rain bibs. Paired with the Reima Lampi jacket, kids can withstand hours of hard play in the rain and wet (and again we love that the bibs include a strap to secure pants to the soles of boots!).
Hands are often the first things to become uncomfortably cold, especially in wet conditions. And while mittens and gloves definitely compromise dexterity for fort building and sand sculpting, they also make it possible for kids to last A LOT longer on winter beach adventures.
Even if my kids resist wearing them initially, I always have gloves or mittens available just in case they end up wanting or needing them.
One option is to wear non-waterproof liner gloves under a waterproof shell mitt like the 360 Degree Reflective Waterproof Shell Cuff Mitt from Polarn O. Pyret or the Kura Unlined Rain Mittens from Reima.
If you want mitts that are insulated AND waterproof, look for ones that have longer cuffs that extend past the wrist and cinch down around the opening. The Jan & Jul Toasty-Dry Waterproof Snow Mittens and Stonz Kids Mitts are a couple of our favorites that also work well in the snow.
Whatever brand you choose, just know that all things are not created equal when it comes to waterproofing. Evo has an excellent guide on How Waterproof and Breathability Ratings Work that can help you understand the tech specs on the gear you have or are considering.
For a full round-up of all our favorite rain gear recommendations, check out Amelia’s Best Rain Gear for Kids 2022 post!
Rain gear discount codes
- Use code MTNMAMA to save 20% on Reima gear
- Use code MTNMAMA15 to save 15% on Stonz Gear
Winter Beach Activities
There are few things that get (most) kids squealing with delight quite like good ole fashioned mud. It’s squishy, it’s sticky, it’s often “forbidden”, and it looks like poop. What more could a kid ask for?
There are also few things that get (most) parents squirming quite like mud. It sticks to everything, it makes its way into every nook and cranny of the house, it gets caked under fingernails and dried into clothes, and it looks like poop. What more could it do to add to our workload?
Of course that’s an oversimplification, but it does take some deep breaths for a lot of us as parents to truly embrace mud play. Especially in the colder weather when rinsing off is a more uncomfortable and complicated task.
But here’s the truth that stands the test of time: Mud is SO MUCH FUN if you can embrace it. Need convincing? Go read Ginny’s post Preserving Wildhood: Go Play in the Mud and give it an honest try.
Gear yourself up and stomp along the mucky shore of a lake. Challenge your kids to make mud balls and toss them as far as they can into the water. Watch their faces light up when you give them permission to get downright dirty. It’s magic.
If you’ve spent much time at the beach in the summer, you know that wet sand is ideal for building. It’s packable, moldable, and typically requires you to collect bucket after bucket of water to get it to the perfect consistency. Great news about winter beach play? That perfectly sculptable sand is ABUNDANT without you having to do a thing.
Building forts is one of our favorite winter beach activities – we use rocks, branches, logs, and sand to construct some epic hideouts and castles and imagination playgrounds. You can even bring along a carrot nose and try your hand at constructing a Frosty-esque sand person!
Another way to add some memorable flair to winter sand play is to pick up some holiday-themed cookie cutters and use them as sand molds to decorate your creations.
One of life’s great simple pleasures, there’s just something about creating a big splash that is immensely satisfying. If you’re in a temperate climate like the Pacific Northwest like we are, the lakes never get cold enough to freeze over and are perfect splashing grounds throughout the winter months.
There are all kinds of classic lakefront activities that are just as fun in the winter – rock skipping, digging channels and making “islands” at the water’s edge, and splash contests are just a few. Our kids also love to tie long blades of grass to sticks and pretend to fish – I’m always amazed at how long this can entertain them.
The novelty of wading into the water fully geared up is real! And on windy days when the lake has “waves” it becomes especially giggle-inducing for kids to let themselves get splashed by the tiny breakers.
If you’re in a coastal area, watch the tides and go on a low tide exploration! Tidal flats are full of interesting treasures and perfectly gooey mud.
Whatever you do, prepare yourself to be outside for longer than you anticipate. Once kids get started with winter beach play, you’ll likely have to drag them away. Pro tip: the more you play with them the longer you’ll last as well!
Know Your Environment
Of course it should be noted that the water in winter, even if it’s well above freezing, is cold and can be unpredictable. Creeks and rivers often move quickly and it’s important for kids to be aware of their environment.
It’s always wise to have a “warm up kit” easily accessible with essentials like a blanket, towel, extra hand warmers, and a thermos of warm water or herbal tea.
Winter Beach Play: Managing the Aftermath
Once you’ve embraced the chaos and eventually dragged the kids away from the beach, the reality of parental responsibility begins to set in. What on Earth do we do with all this disgusting gear?!?
We always have a complete set of extra clothes (including socks and underwear) and a towel readily available in the car so kids can take off outerwear and any damp or dirty layers before buckling in.
Once dirty, wet gear is off you can place it in a bag or a tub or pile it on a tarp in the trunk depending on your preference. Just try to separate it from where kids are sitting in the car if you can to avoid spreading mud or sand as much as possible.
Another great hack is to have kids stand inside a bag or tub as they peel off their wet outerwear, that way it’s already contained and you can just lift them out into the car!
We also typically have a cozy blanket, stuffy, or lovey in the car to help with the transition.
Once you’ve unloaded your mound of winter beach carnage, rinse off as much excess sand, dirt, and mud as possible either with a hose or in a utility sink. Next you’ll want to either move straight to drying things out or – if necessary – wash the especially or stubbornly dirty stuff.
Keep in mind that technical gear will wear out much more quickly and lose its waterproofing properties if it’s not washed properly. For some great tips on how to make your gear investments last, check out Jami’s post on How to Clean Your Outdoor Gear and Kristin’s post on How to Wash Wool.
Hang drying is always optimal for outdoor gear, although it can be tricky finding indoor space in rainy or cold weather. As much as possible, try to keep wet things separated as they dry (don’t hang jackets or suits on top of each other).
For fleece-lined suits, jackets, and pants like the Jan & Jul Cozy-Dry line, we recommend turning them inside out initially to dry out the lining. Boots can either be dried on a boot dryer (like this one from DryGuy or the larger capacity PEET Advantage Plus), or upside down on a floor vent.
Avoid storing anything in an enclosed space if it’s still damp – if anything err on the side of leaving things hanging longer than you might think you need to in order to avoid unnecessary stank.
Winter Beach Activities: The Bottom Line
Like most outdoor adventuring, winter beach play requires creativity, preparation, patience, and proper gear in order to maximize fun and minimize tears. With all of these things, however, the beach can be just as memorable and fun in the winter as it is in the summer and is a fantastic place to burn off energy even when the weather is less than ideal.
What are your favorite ways to play on the beach in the “off season”? Share your ideas in the comments! If your beaches are frozen, check out TMM Team Member Kristin’s post on Ice Play!
Winter Beach Activities
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