Centers at the Beach

Whether you are a homeschooling parent or a classroom teacher, centers are something you are probably familiar with. At home or in the classroom you might already set up stations for your children to rotate through. Typically stations are hands on activities that are short and sweet ways to allow your learners to experience a concept in a tactile way. Centers or stations also typically follow a theme. Today at the beach I noticed a whole gamut of mini lessons and examples of fundamental earth science principals. Our motto "Teach Locally, Learn Globally" exemplifies the broader microcosm, macrocosm relationship. The beach at low tide provides a mecca of microcosms to study to gain knowledge of bigger happenings in the world.

Tide Pools: 

Let's start with tide pools, they are a very simple contained ecosystem at low tide, that at high tide become part of the larger ecosystem - the cove, or even broader, the ocean. Studying a tide pool is like putting a microscope on the bigger happenings of the ocean. Focusing on how each of the organisms interact with one another illustrates how concepts such as food chains, symbiotic and parasitic relationships work.

River Formation:

Looking to runoff on beaches or even after a storm on the side of the road one can see the life story of a river. What takes thousands of years can happen in hours, even minutes. Learners can watch streams of rainwater begin to meander and braid themselves. Watching what glacier melt has taken so long to do and which can only be seen from an airplane on the larger scale. Simply taking bucket of water and releasing at the top of the beach allowing the water to head downhill toward the ocean can usually reenact the phenomena. Taking a video camera and creating a movie back at home or school would be a great way to integrate media into the lesson, by creating a documentary about the life cycle of a river.

A braided river from the air.

Rain run off on the beach


While at the beach for the day take measurements of the waterline to determine how much the tide changes. This is easier to mention when the tide is receding than when it is coming in because you can make lines in the sand that don't get washed away. Have the students use a tide chart before hand to figure out when the best day for the field trip should be.


Some of the materials you may need for a day of centers at the beach are:

  • tide chart
  • field journals to record data/observations, draw diagrams and take notes etc...
  • color pencils to sketch observations 
  • measuring tape for measuring tide change
  • buckets & scoops to collect specimens and samples
  • magnifying glasses
  • portable microscopes if available or you can take samples back home or to school
  • marine life field guides for identifying species 
  • camera with video
  • clip boards 
  • towels

What other activities or centers could you do during a field trip to the beach?

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