The first time we took our older daughter to the beach, she toddled onto the warm Florida sand, full of joy. That joy dissipated immediately after her feet got wet and she realized that sand was wedged into all the crevices between her tiny toes. She spent the rest of the day bouncing back and forth between our folding chairs and a public foot-washing station, desperate to get that clinging muck off her.
At the time, I was thrilled. I, too, hate sand, because it’s a scourge: You’ll find it in your kids’ ears and belly buttons for weeks after a single trip to the shore. There are so many lovely bodies of water — ponds and streams and lakes, even! — that you can wade into without quite so much sand. Why would you do this to yourself?
But ponds don’t have waves, nor the delicious smell of salty sea air, nor boardwalks filled with regionally specific treats, a beach lover might argue. Intellectually I understand the appeal, but I was still chagrined when my kid stopped hating sand and started begging to go to the beach the minute the temperature hit 70 degrees.
Because I am not totally evil, I will grudgingly take my kid and her sister to the shore this summer, even though the amount of gear I will need to pack into a car to keep them sunburn-free and occupied for several hours without a bathroom in sight feels overwhelming.
Luckily, our pals at Wirecutter, a New York Times Company that provides product recommendations backed by rigorous research, are here to help.
Kalee Thompson, a senior editor for Wirecutter’s baby and kid section, wrote the following tips for surviving a day in the sun with your kids:
Sunscreen and insect repellent. If you have a child who will obediently stay still, arms outstretched, while you generously apply a pasty goop to his entire body, tell us how you do it. Most of us don’t have those kinds of kids, and after tons of sunscreen testing, Wirecutter determined that what’s most important is that a sunscreen is not greasy, goopy or thick, and is easy to apply. A big bottle is also key, since not applying enough or neglecting to reapply are the biggest sunscreen-related problems, according to the experts we spoke with.
Look for a sunscreen labeled “broad-spectrum” with an S.P.F. of at least 30. Wirecutter’s favorites are inexpensive lotions from Coppertone and No-Ad, though we also recommend the Banana Boat Ultra Sport Clear Sunscreen Spray S.P.F. 100, as some kids absolutely can’t stand lotions. Thinksport S.P.F. 50+ Sunscreen is also a great reef-safe choice for ocean snorkelers or for anyone else who prefers a formula that relies exclusively on physical UV blockers as opposed to chemical filters.
No-Ad also sells sunscreen sticks, which are great for kids like mine who prefer to apply sunscreen themselves, or to carry something they can easily reapply in their own bag. Sticks also have the added bonus of not running into kids’ eyes like lotion sometimes does.
It’s not a great idea to get a sunscreen-bug spray combo, since sunscreen should be reapplied way more often than bug spray; and bug repellents can reduce S.P.F. But if you’re concerned about bugs or ticks, we also have advice on choosing an effective insect repellent.
Swimsuits, sun hats, rash guards and cover-ups. Sunscreen can be surprisingly stressful to apply to small children. You’ll need to struggle with it less if they’re covered up more, so check out the personal recommendations from Wirecutter’s editors for kids’ swimsuits, rash guards, cover-ups and sun hats. (Because the American Academy of Pediatrics recommends keeping babies under 6 months old out of direct sun altogether, these are especially important if you have an infant.) Wirecutter parents love rash-guard-like swimsuits, which not only protect more of those sensitive little bodies from the sun, but also help prevent sand from infiltrating body crevices. A sandy diaper is a recipe for truly horrendous diaper rash.
Sand toys. Speaking of sand, Wirecutter recommends The Green Toys Sand Play Set, a pail-and-shovel set that’s robust enough to last for years without splintering into beach-littering plastic shards.
Swim goggles. Another thing that can cause summer meltdowns: goggles that fog up, pinch hair or don’t fit. We’ve found kids’ swim goggles that are much better than what you’d likely pick up at the drugstore.
Beach chairs. Wirecutter has been reviewing beach chairs for years, and one of our favorites — The Renetto Original Beach Bum Canopy Chair — has a built-in shade. If your family is comfortable simply sprawling out on the sand, a small shade tent paired with a blanket or old sheet makes a nice setup.
How to carry it all. It’s a lot of stuff, right? If you have a car that has room for beach gear, you might be faced with a long expanse between parking lot and shore; and a wagon might not be as ridiculous as it seems. Wirecutter is testing a fleet of them in Southern California this summer, including a cheap collapsible one from Costco and a couple of luxury-S.U.V.-like models.
If you’re trying to limit your load or are relying on public transportation, a basic tote is a good option. One of Wirecutter’s favorites includes an oversize mesh bag with open outside pockets, which I’ve personally found is perfect for keeping sunscreen, bug spray, goggles and snacks within easy reach — as well as for lugging those soggy, sand-filled swim diapers when no bathroom or even garbage can is in sight.
P.S. Thank you to all the readers who suggested parent-friendly TV shows last week. Here’s a round-up of your favorites (the Australian show “Bluey” got so much love) and your advice for keeping younger siblings away from the screen. Read last week’s newsletter here.
P.P.S. Forward this to a friend who has a beach trip planned. Follow us on Instagram @NYTParenting. Join us on Facebook. Find us on Twitter for the latest updates.
P.P.P.S. We adored all the responses to this tweet about prenatal and postpartum body weirdness. Look out for Is This a Thing? in next week’s newsletter for answers to your burning body questions (literally).
Want More on Winning at Summer?
I reached out to Jolie Kerr, NYT Parenting’s go-to cleaning expert, for advice on how to deal with my sworn enemy, sand. Here’s what she had to say: “Sand! It is the glitter of the earth, and it is a MESS. The best way to clean up sand that’s been tracked into the car or your house is with a vacuum — a hand-held vacuum will be the best bet for the car, and for smaller messes at home. If your kid brought a sand castle’s worth of the beach home, get the full-size vacuum out. BUT! This is the time to switch away from the standard attachment and use either the hose or crevice attachment; brush attachments will just trap sand in the bristles and you’ll end up vacuuming the sand all over the house.
There’s a popular “hack” for removing sand from skin that involves using baby powder, but then you’re likely to end up with a different kind of mess for your kid to track all over the place, so instead of packing baby powder for your trip to the beach, do this: Toss a big, soft-bristled paintbrush into your beach bag and have your kids use it to brush the sand off them — it’ll be fun for them and less work (and earth glitter!) for you.”
This 2013 New York Times photo essay of children getting their sunscreen applied is something I think about every time I apply the lotion to my children’s smushy faces.
The New York Times travel section just published 25 writers on their favorite beach vacations. I was thrilled to see Rehoboth Beach, Del., get a shout out, as I love going there with my family, especially to a charmingly rundown amusement park called Funland.
Parenting can be a grind. Let’s celebrate the tiny victories.
My 7-month-old daughter frequently battles eye contact — an enduring trait that’s prompted us to enroll her in early intervention therapy. Any time I manage to hold her gaze and unearth a smile, it feels as though I’ve quietly reached the summit of a mountain.
— Bridget de Maine, Sydney, Australia
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