The Essential Beach Toys – The Bucket And Spade

If you are planning on taking your child to the beach, then almost certainly one of the first things you'll have checked that you had, or bought, will be the traditional bucket and spade. There can be no more classic idea than a small child crawling about on the beach making sand castles, digging holes and forts, burying dad and collecting interesting stones, shells, bits of seaweed and small things that skuttle around at the bottom of their bucket. If you managed to get all the way to the beach without having purchased this essential equipment, then you'll probably have been reminded by the parade of brightly coloured shops and stalls all along the sea front selling a range of buckets and spades that will astonish you.

Do you go for small chubby plastic spades, longer handled spades, plastic ones or metal? And what about buckets – is this one too big, too small, is a square bucket better for castles or is a round one easier to use? The choices and decisions make this seemingly easy task one that requires great thought. After all, the whole beach trip's success may depend on the type of bucket and spade that you choose.

For very small children there is a charming array of buckets and spades, although frequently there are fewer spades than there are forks or rakes. This is for a very good reason – small children, such as toddlers, tend not to be very good at realising what they're doing with all the sand that is on their spade blade. Generally, anything that needs to be got rid of can be hurled into the black void that is the invisible space over their shoulder. This is otherwise known as your lap, the picnic or mummy's head. A toddler armed with a spade will wreak devastation with sand flying everywhere, and this wildly fantastic game is likely to end only when either one of the family wrestles the toddler to the ground, removing the spade with, of course, the resulting flood of tears and wails, or when the toddler themselves hurls a ball of sand into their own face, and then this results in tears and wails.

Rakes, on the other hand, are slightly safer, with the toddler less able to hurl great wads of sand around, but a few flurries. Hopefully they will be more interested in the patterns they can make with it in the sand.

Of course, as a child gets older, spades are necessary as all children love digging holes, and a good sturdy spade will be required. Metal blades are much better for getting through wet sand further down, but are also very good at being used to attempt to slice of toes – whether intentionally or not. Therefore, these are best left for the older children who have a much better grasp of where their toes are, and the need to keep them attached.

As for buckets – a strong handle is all you need, since wet sand or water weighs quite a bit, and you do not want this dropping suddenly and either landing on your child's toe, or over your items. For instant satisfaction with small children a smooth sided round bucket will produce good castles fairly reliably and easily, whereas the more complex ones that have turrents are good for older children who are happier to out a bit more effort into them.