With more than 85% of Australians living within 50km of the coast, if you’re raising little ones here in Oz I’ll be heading to the beach is a regular family activity. For my family at least, we consider Australia’s beautiful beaches one of nature’s greatest playgrounds.
But did you know, by the time our children are grown, our oceans might be more full of trash than natural treasures? Between pollution, global warming and over-fishing, these critical eco-systems are at crisis point. In fact, around a third of ocean mammals and corals are in danger of extinction, and more than half of all marine life may have disappeared by 2100. And ocean plastic pollution just continues to get worse: by 2050, our oceans will contain more plastic than fish, according to the Ellen MacArthur Foundation.
That’s why ocean conservation is such an important topic to introduce our kids to, whether through education, sensory play, volunteering or otherwise. The theme of 2022’s World Oceans Day (held this June 8th) is Collective Action: because when we act together, all those little things add up to big, important changes.
But, whilst the stats might feel heavy, the solution doesn’t have to be! With that in mind, here are 5 fun ways to teach your kids about ocean conservation through play, even during the winter months.
- Set up a beach-side sensory scavenger hunt
Most parents have heard about the incredible benefits of sensory play, and the beach is the perfect sensory playground! Now that I’ve got a walking, talking toddler on my hands, one of my favourite activities is to set up a beach-side scavenger hunt. Your local beach is likely absolutely full of treasures, objects, textures and noises that are especially weird and wonderful to your average pre-schooler!
Challenge them to see how many different shells they can spot in your nearest rock pools, or to feel what the tentacles of a slimy anenome are like (just use gentle hands!), or even collect magic sea glass “gems” from the sand. My little one loves to fill up a bucket with all her haul, providing a natural talking point about the treasures she’s found and ocean conservation too (especially when the inevitable bit of rubbish ends up in there!)
- Create your own ‘Trash Olympics’ at the Beach
Do you Take 3 for the Sea? We swear by this simple initiative to get children into a lifelong habit that will keep our beaches and oceans clean. It’s super simple, and easy to turn into a game! Just take 3 more bits of rubbish away from the beach, than you arrived with. Or better yet, turn it into a competition – who can collect the most bits of rubbish in their bucket in just 5 minutes? For those living near urban beaches, in particular, you’ll be shocked at how much they’ll find.
Plus, if you want to make it a play-date, there’s likely an organised beach clean up happening near you. They’re a great way to get children out in the fresh air, show them that volunteering can be fun, and often provide lots of opportunities for kid-friendly ocean education. Try checking in with Take 3 or your local branch of Sea Shepherd or Greenpeace to see what clean ups might be happening locally.
- Enjoy some Ocean-Inspired Sensory Play
So good, we mentioned it twice: sensory play really is the best, most immersive teacher for your budding little ocean lover.
On those rainy days when making it to the beach just isn’t practical, it can be really easy to set up an ocean-themed sensory play session at home. Whether you’re making a sensory beach-scape from coloured rice and flour, creating your own aquarium from an eggbox, or setting up a simple lesson on ocean warming with ice and shaving foam, there are so many opportunities to learn about ocean conservation through sensory play.
- Make Story Time More Sustainable
Story time is a really special moment in any young family’s day. It’s a moment of quiet time that has countless child-development benefits, but it’s also one of the rare moments in the day when children are quiet, calm and receptive. So it’s a great moment to slip in something important, like ocean conservation.
The children’s book market is full of titles that make the ocean and sustainability digestible and fun for the smallest of enquiring minds. Some of our favourites for bed-time are Goodnight Ocean and, for an interactive way to explore the impact of plastic pollution (and recycling), Planet Rescue. And for younger babies, we’d be remiss not to mention our own Little Fishy eco-sensory books – all ocean inspired and made from recycled plastic bottles!
- Make them the Champions of Reducing, Re-using and Recycling at home!
Toddlers can get a bad rap, but despite being in the thick of the ‘terrible twos’. one of the things I DO love about having a toddler is how earnest she is about getting involved in even the most mundane of household tasks. The pre-school years are an amazing time to capitalise on our children’s eagerness to learn and please, by getting them involved in tasks like recycling.
Toddlers often enjoy getting involved in simple tasks like sorting plastics and papers into recycling bins, but older children can find recycling fun and rewarding too! My sister-in-law makes the rewards of recycling especially tangible for her 8 year-old. He’s made taking plastic bottles to the Return & Earn bottle bank quite the little side hustle, making 10c from the machine for each bottle he brings. In fact, he’s been so successful, it’s now how he gets his pocket money, which I think is genius!
It CAN be fun to involve your kids in ocean conservation
Teaching our kids about ocean conservation may be important work, but it can also become really important play! Whether your children fall in love with the ocean through sensory play, or by enjoying a beach-side scavenger hunt, this World Oceans Day the best thing you can do is start a baby conversation about ocean conservation.
About the Author
Jessica Page is a mum-of-one and founder of Little Fishy Swim – an innovative kids’ swimwear & toys company, based in Bondi Beach. With the aim of removing 1 million plastic bottles from the ocean by 2025, their adorable ocean-inspired swimwear and toys are made from recycled plastic bottles, with $1 per purchase returned to Australian ocean clean-up charities. And if you loved these sensory play ideas, you can get their FREE e-book full of ocean-themed ideas and invitations to play here.