Nature's aquariums—tide pools are places of wonder and discovery. Your child will be fascinated by the many forms of life they can discover in tide pools as they observe these mini-ecosystems up close. The abundance of marine life and simplicity makes exploring tide pools an excellent nature-based activity to do with your kids. While you don't need to prep too much or haul too much stuff (our favorite kind of activity) to go tide pooling, it's best to have a basic understanding of what to expect to get the most out of the activity.
What are tide pools?
Tide pools or rocky intertidal zones, are areas of the coastline that are covered and uncovered each day by the high and low tides. Tide pools are formed when water is trapped in depressions on rocky shorelines during low tides. An incredible variety of colorful marine plants and animals can be found on rocks or in tide pools—seaweeds, sea anemones, mussels, hermit crabs, limpets, and sea stars. The level of low tide will determine what you can see.
How do you "tide pool?"
To "tide pool" with your kids is to simply head out to a tide pool (at low tide) and explore to your heart's desire. Blending in with their environment is a survival strategy for most critters you'll find in tide pools so your child will have to practice close observation and patience.
You don't need to bring anything but curiosity, though water shoes can certainly be helpful if you're exploring around rocks, and it might be fun to bring along a magnifying glass as well as marine life guide book or ID cards to your local tidal organisms.
Tide pooling is a great sensory experience. Encourage your kids to gently run their two fingers (to be gentle to the animal)to get a sense of textures.
If you live somewhere where you will find live or desiccating sea urchin, be careful. The spines can easily get stuck in little (or big) feet and can be quite painful.
When do you tide pool?
You should check your local tide report to see when low tides are expected in the area you plan to explore. Each day has two low tides and two high tides. Choose the low tide time that works best for you.
Do you have to be an expert on marine life?
You certainly do not have to have specialized knowledge of marine life, though it certainly helps if you can help your child understand what he or she is looking at. You might want to do some research together ahead of time to learn what creatures are local to the area you plan to explore. Also, portable ID cards or a guide book can certainly be helpful. There are abundant online resources that you and your kids can explore to get up to speed on tidal marine life.
Is it safe for the organisms?
It is important to remember that walking through tide pools is very dangerous to the tiny, delicate marine organisms living there because they can be easily crushed underfoot. Exploring pools usually means turning over rocks that may be protecting animals from light and air that could kill them. Pulling intertidal animals off the rocks or poking them with sticks can damage or destroy them. Few organisms survive being removed from their tide pool home.
Most of all, have fun and let your kids' curiosity take over! Happy tide pooling!!
Tips for Tide Pooling
Do not disturb or turn over rocks.
Avoid harming tide pool animals—don’t pick them up, pull them off the rocks, or poke them with sticks.
Walk gently and cautiously. Rocks can be sharp or slippery. Take care not to step on marine life.
For safety’s sake, always face the ocean when exploring tide pools and beware of unexpected waves that can sweep you off the rocks.