Our holidays usually involve packing up warm fleeces, a flask of hot tea and a tub of flapjack and heading off for a chilly beach, usually British, occasionally French, but most importantly well strewn with plenty of interesting stones and shells to pick through. Beach pebbles look so pretty when they are wet and shiny, and we are soon happily filling our little plastic buckets. These games and activities have been inspired by many such long days and iffy weather. Please remember when collecting stones from a beach to do so responsibly: some of our beaches need all the sea defences they have to save them from further erosion.
On a large, sturdy piece of card draw some shape outlines, such as a square, circle, heart or oval. Make the shapes different sizes and round off the corners and edges. Leave a space to add in a shape. At the beach the game is to find the pebbles that best fit each shape on your card. If you find a really interesting shaped stone, such as a doughnut, draw that outline in your space. Younger children will enjoy matching the pebbles to their outlines over and over again, so you may wish to ‘borrow’ the pebbles. You can always return them to their beach at the end of your holiday. A variation of this game is to make a stone scavenger hunt. Devise a list of different pebbles to search for such as stripy, speckled, two-tone, flat or ridged. Who can find the best example to fit each description?
For this game you will need to collect lots of pebbles with stripes. (In my experience Wales has the best beaches for these!) Divide the pebbles between two or more players, and then take turns to lay them down one at a time, so that the stripes join together. There is no right or wrong way of doing this: you might create a long line of pebbles, a circle, or an irregular shape. No stripy stones to be found? Try collecting one pebble of every different size, and ordering them from small to big. You could even try collecting stones in different shades of grey, and arranging them from white to black. Notice how much warmer a black stone feels than a white stone when they have been lying in the sun.
Again you can borrow the stones from a beach, or even buy some cobbles from a garden centre. Choose stones that are pale in colour and have a smooth, flat side. Younger children will want to do this activity over and over again, so a cheap washable paint such as Ready Mix works well. After a few weeks out in the rain, the stones can be painted again. You could turn your stones into little creatures or bugs, such as ladybirds or bees, or design your own patterns or pictures. If you don’t need to recycle the stones, a coat of PVA will seal the paint with a more pleasing shiny finish. Acrylic paints will produce the best results for older children, or you can ‘prime’ the stone first with a coat of white emulsion, and then experiment with other paints, pens or crayons.
This is a traditional game which goes back generations. I'm sure most of us can remember playing a version of it, such as Jacks, Fivestones or Knucklebones. You will need to collect four small knobbly shells and one small round stone - this is the jack. For young children a small bouncy ball can be used instead as the jack. First, the shells are tossed into the air and caught on the back of the same hand. Then they are tossed again and caught in the fist. Shells that have dropped are picked up by tossing the jack into the air, retrieving a shell and catching the jack, all with the same hand. This is easier with a bouncy ball, which can be allowed to bounce once. The shells can also be scattered and then picked up in this way in ones, twos, three at a time, and then all four together. There are many, many variations of this game to play - why not invent your own tricks and tasks to do?
Mary Barnard lives in Nottingham with her husband and three children. She was a special needs teacher before the children came along.
First published in issue 12 of JUNO. Accurate at the time this issue went to print.