5 Ways to Keep Your Students Safe at the Beach
21 October, 2019
The summer months are the perfect time to get out and enjoy the beauty of the beach. With the warmer weather and ample sunshine, a day (or two!) at the beach is a great way to enjoy the great outdoors and have some good ol’ fashioned fun.
When it comes to outdoor education, the beach actually offers innumerable opportunities for learning, from tidal ecosystem studies to snorkeling, surfing, and a walk through the sand dunes. Like all outdoor activities, however, going to the beach has its inherent risks. As outdoor educators, it’s up to us to help manage that risk to keep our students safe at the beach.
If you’re looking forward to that upcoming field trip to the beach but are concerned about keeping your students safe, don’t worry. Coming up, we’ve got some top tips for beach safety for kids so you can focus more on planning an awesome trip. Let’s get to it!
Hazards at the beach
A beach is a naturally dynamic place. Crashing waves, changing winds, shifting sand dunes, and a plethora of wildlife all add to what is a naturally occurring chaotic environment. While all the flora and fauna of the beach have adapted to this quickly changing world, we humans need to be on high alert for things that could be dangerous.
What dangers are there at the beach? We’re glad you asked. Here are a few:
Rip Currents. Perhaps the best-known danger at the beach, a rip current is a strong channeled current of water that flows away from shore. These currents are known to very swiftly pull a swimmer away from the shoreline and out to sea, past the surf zone and the line of breaking waves. Sound scary? It turns out more than 80% of beach rescues are due to rip currents, so it’s worth knowing how to identify rip currents and be prepared to act if need be.
Lightning. The hot air and ample moisture of the beach make it the perfect location for a rocking lightning storm. Although it’s not very common, people do die from lightning strikes and the beach is a particularly exposed place to be during a storm. It’s important to be able to identify the signs of an impending thunderstorm and know where to seek shelter until the skies clear.
The Sun. Perhaps the most obvious, yet most under appreciated danger at the beach is the sun. Although the sun is the reason many of us head to the beach in the summer, excessive heat and sunburn can be bad news for any human. All beachgoers should be prepared to protect themselves from the sun.
Drowning. Even if there isn’t a rip current, anyone - even the strongest swimmer - can drown at the beach. Accidents happen so it’s best to be prepared to prevent them before they take a catastrophic turn for the worst.
Keeping students safe at the beach
Okay, now that you understand the main dangers that you can encounter at the beach, it’s time to discuss some of our top tips for beach safety for kids. Here are our favourite strategies:
1. Pay attention to the ocean
When you arrive at the beach, you and your students may be tempted to jump right into the water, especially if it’s hot outside. But, as we’ve mentioned, the ocean is a dynamic place that warrants caution.
After you get to the beach, gather up your students and ask them to sit with you for 15 minutes to watch the ocean. Take this time to discuss the dangers of rip currents and how to identify them.
Keep an eye out for patches of smooth water perpendicular to the shoreline between breaking waves - this is a sign of a rip current! Teach your students about avoiding rip currents but also instruct them to swim parallel to the shore and then back to land at an angle if they get caught in a rip.
2. Be alert for lightning around mid-afternoon
Due to somewhat predictable changes in atmospheric conditions, lightning is most common in the mid-afternoon, especially during the summer months. If you’re going to be at the beach all day, you’ll want to have a game plan for what you’ll do if a lightning storm hits.
Early signs of an impending lightning storm include rapidly changing, gusting winds, a sudden downpour of rain, hail, and mammatus clouds. Instruct your students to quickly come find you at the first crack of thunder so you can seek shelter away from the beach.
3. Sunscreen, sunscreen, sunscreen - and hydration!
The sun is the source of energy that feeds nearly all life on Earth, but can also cause a lot of damage to the unsuspecting human. When we’re at the beach, especially when we’re in swimwear, we’re particularly susceptible to sunburns and heat exhaustion, which can both be dangerous conditions if left unattended.
The trick? Gather students up every hour and a half for a “sunscreen break.” Ensure that everyone is using sunscreen protection and applying an ample amount to their skin. Also, make sure everyone has full water bottles at the start of the day and that they’re hydrating in between activities.
4. Swim with a buddy
As we know, drowning can happen to anyone, even a strong swimmer. To help protect your students from a potential drowning, you can require that they always swim with a buddy and swim only in lifeguard protected areas. You can also stipulate that students can only swim at the beach if they’ve previously taken a swim test at the school or outdoor programme centre to demonstrate their competence and skills.
5. Understand the dangers of marine life
Marine animals and plants are a critical part of a beautiful and complex greater ocean ecosystem. While it’s really not likely that you or your students will come into contact with venomous marine life (depending on your location), it’s worth knowing what dangers are possible at your local beach and what to do if a student gets stung or bitten. That knowledge can make a huge difference in an emergency.
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