Sand, sun and surf aren't all it takes to have a great day at the beach. The perfect getaway also requires a few fun accessories to keep the kids (and you) busy, everything from balls to goggles.
Let's start with the basics. Everybody needs a beach ball, right? They're lightweight and inexpensive, they come in all sizes and prices, and they're suitable for just about any age. A jumbo, brightly colored 48-inch ball (about $4) is a popular choice. You can get smaller sizes -- 16- and 24-inch -- or even balls with characters and themes, such as Winnie the Pooh or a map of the world, for about the same price. Look for balls in toy, pool and discount stores.
Want more ideas to toss around? Intex Recreation Corp. makes a 13-inch quirky, inflatable Goofy ball. The ball, which has a smiling face and 3-D eyes, has sand weights inside that make it wobble when it rolls. Cost is about $2.
For soggy fun, try Splash Balls ($2.95 for a set of two) or a Splash bat and ball ($4.99). Soak them with water before a game if you want to drench your playmates.
Kids also can enjoy hours of imaginative play with other simple, classic beach toys. Sand molds, which come in a variety of shapes that include depictions of Disney and Sesame Street characters, start at about $2.50. They're easy to use and are suitable for toddlers; scoop the sand into the molds, turn over, and you've created a favorite character.
SCULPT A MASTERPIECE
Sand can be a medium for budding free-form artists of any age. If you've got a potential sandcastle architect in your family, you'll want to provide the right tools, such as a four-piece sand crab set ($2.50) from American Plastic Toys Inc. It comes with a rake, shovel, sand mold/sieve and pail, and is a good choice for ages 3 and up. Need more to keep the kids busy? Try a 10-piece Wagon of Beach Toys (about $10), also from American Plastic Toys. The toys -- everything from a boat to a sifting pan -- all fit in the plastic wagon.
Those lop-sided sand structures may not seem like much at first, but a little sand dabbling could be the start of something bigger later on. Jill Smith never dreamed that playing in the sand would foreshadow her career. The Melbourne resident is a professional sand sculptor who owns Sandsational Sand Sculpting Inc.
Smith said children who are older, more serious sand sculptors can use "things like small artist's palette knives, trowels that you use for mason work, large and small . . . then you start raiding the kitchen for things like melon ballers and straws. A good spray bottle is good to have, too, since it is easier to work with the sand when it is wet. The metal tools work nicer than plastic, but plastic is good for the kids. Don't forget the shovel and buckets."
In between creating sand sculptures, kids can act as a lifeguard with beach sets (about $20) from Processed Plastic Co. The sets include a lifeguard chair with an umbrella, a sand pail and shovel, an inflatable ring and a whistle. They're available in several themes, from Barbie to Winnie the Pooh.
Pool and beach stores are full of colorful floats, water wings and other inflatables in a wide range of prices. But keep in mind that items meant for swimming pools aren't always suitable for the beach.
"We have a surf beach, and people get a false sense of security when they're on a float," said Joe Wooden, deputy chief with the beach patrol in Volusia County. So only a float with a grab rope is considered a safe choice for the beach.
Children can wear the water wings and vests while frolicking on the beach and in the shallow water, but such items should not be used as flotation devices while in deep water, Wooden said. "But watch them 'children' carefully, because lifeguards can't watch everyone. There's nothing better than a good old-fashioned mom and dad watching over the kids. Try stay in where you can touch the bottom at all times. Anytime you go to the beach, you should try to have the kids swim directly in front of a lifeguard."
For kids who may not be into the water but want to dress the part, there's Big Time Toys' Super Swimmer sets that include webbed gloves, goggles and a one-size-fits-all fin. The set is available in several designs including the Shark Attack set, the Princess Mermaid and the Creature Attack gear (about $20.)
Sports enthusiasts also will find items suitable for beach play. Saturnian 1 Inc.'s volleyballs, footballs and soccer balls (starting at $10) are made of a meshlike fabric and are especially suited to play near water. They can be found in pool and sporting goods stores.
Saturnian 1 also makes the Fun Gripper Flyer, a 9-inch flying disc that is soft enough to fold up and stick in your pocket but strong enough to fly through the air to your buddy. They come in tie-dyed fabric with a soft edge that won't hurt children's hands when they catch it (about $10).The beach is also a popular place to fly a kite. You can get kites for a couple of dollars at drug and discount stores. If you want specific shapes or designs such as birds and butterflies, take a look at choices from Go Fly A Kite, starting at about $13, available in sporting goods stores.
Toward the end of the afternoon, when the kids have finally expended all their energy, they can stretch out on an easy-to-carry velour mat such as the Rollee Pollee ($30) with a built-in but removable pillow. The mat is machine washable and comes in several designs including an under-the-sea scene and crayon box