An older woman holding a child's hand as they walk into the ocean.

Challenging the water play norms – calling on the adults!

The summer break is a perfect opportunity to experience the joy of blue space – coasts, rivers, lakes. Most of us who grew up around salt water hold fond memories of the smells associated with it. These smells can instantly transport a stressed adult mind back to feelings of childhood freedom with fresh winds and the wild exhilaration of trying to ride, jump and dive through waves. 

While the sensory experiences in green and blue spaces differ, (dappled light of tree canopy, rustling leaves, smells of flora, and the sound of birdsong in contrast to bright light reflections off water, wave motion, sea smells and water sounds), the good news is that all of these sensory experiences are beneficial for our physical and mental well-being.

They’re good for us at any age, and exposure to them at a young age increases the benefits as we grow older. 

All the benefits aside, it’s not always easy to spend time around water with little ones. In families where the number of children outnumber the adults, or the adults haven’t grown up around water, a day at the beach can feel too risky.  This is in addition to scheduling naps, dealing with suncream-related meltdowns, soggy and expensive water nappies, itchy skin, and fear of things in the water (seaweed, jellyfish, sharks, monsters).

If you can overcome these hurdles to have a morning by the water, it’s magical, and the kids tend to come home tired and in a more relaxed and calmer state.

A woman holding a young child on her hip walking into the ocean. She is grinning.

As the kids get bigger and more water-aware the importance and benefits of time in blue space don’t change, but our job as parents tends to. Sometimes the job of parent (particularly mum) isn’t that fun and there are things we’d prefer to be doing rather than role of Minder of Things, or Beach Patrol Sergeant. It’s not that the beach isn’t fun, but more so that our job at the beach isn’t.

So, I am publicly putting the call out to fellow mums/ aunties/ nannas to challenge yourself to shun the boring beach roles wherever possible this summer so that you can also be a swimmer, wave jumper, seaweed finder, sandcastle builder. These things are still fun and we’re still deserving of them.

(I also respect that you might want some quiet rest time ‘minding the things’). 

Yes, the water is cold – always too cold for our female bodies. I long suspected I was suffering some rare cold-water affliction, but research shows that women experience cold more vividly than men and children. I’ve decided that it’s ok to be cold when swimming and the best way to convince myself of this is to reframe it to feeling “refreshed” rather than borderline hypothermic.  

It’s not only ok to be getting in there and having fun, it’s important for our own well-being, for our connection to nature, and our connection to our kids. By getting in there and jumping waves or doing underwater handstands (you can still do it, water is so helpful) we are demonstrating to the kids that we (mums, nannas, and aunties) are also here to experience the joy of a summer day and continue to be active and have fun as we get older. We’ll show them (and ourselves) that wobbly skin and beach hair/hat hair isn’t going to stop us and, in the process, demonstrate to our tween and teen girls, our young fellas, and ourselves, that everyone can have fun in and around water – it’s not just for certain demographics.

The menfolk also have an important role if we are to succeed in challenging and changing the water play norms. Dads/ grandpas/ uncles, this is going to require your support. We need you to put your hand up to mind the things, find the snacks, take kids to the shower, and re-apply the suncream while the womenfolk enjoy the water and play.

We also need you to remind everyone that the women in the family can build epic sandcastles, ride boards and skim rocks too.  

If this all sounds wonderful but a trip to the beach feels too hard, my suggestion is to go really early or really late in the day when the UV is low, the carparks are less full, and you can enjoy the freedom of just turning up with a towel. If this is still a bridge too far, then paddle pools, buckets, sprinklers, and hoses can also bring relief from the heat and much water-induced happiness.

And if it’s all too hard, maybe run a bath for the little ones and bribe the bigger ones to wash the car. Surely that counts as water play? 

Want some tips for water-based play these school holidays? Visit for our list of awesome free metropolitan and regional water play spaces to explore, and discover unique swimming spots in the Play in WA web app.  

This blog was first published as Why the summer break is a perfect opportunity to experience the joy of our beaches in The West Australian newspaper.

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