Teaching your child about the tide

Being salty types, we spend a lot of time both on the water and at the beach. We especially love rock hopping at low tide, and this presents a great opportunity to chat to your little ones about the tide. See what they think about it!

Ask them what they think is the difference between high tide and low tide. Are they aware of the way the water moves up and down the beach at different times of the day? Have a discussion about keeping safe – if they’re playing around the rocks, they need to keep an eye on what the tide is doing so that they don’t get stuck by incoming water. Does the state of the tide change the types of games they can play, with access to different areas? What about the different kinds of seaweeds, crustaceans and molluscs they can see?

Or if your child is two, like my son, the chief interest at low tide may be throwing rocks into rockpools as hard as he can…sorry, little hermit crabs…

It’s never too early to start to teach your child about the tide, and how it works. It’s a fascinating, but actually kinda complex process – so I’ve tried to simplify it here in a way that you can discuss with your little rock-hopper.



There are three things that all work together to cause the tides:

  1. The sun
  2. The moon
  3. The earth itself

Each of these things has a gravitational pull. You can demonstrate gravity by dropping something and explaining that it is a force of attraction.

Both the earth and the moon are constantly moving through space. Because the earth spins on its own axis, it keeps all the water in the oceans balanced on all sides of the planet. However, the moon has a very strong gravitational pull which is strong enough to disrupt that balance. The moon ‘pulls’ water towards it and then releases it again, and this is what causes the tide to go in and out. In most places, there are two high tides and two low tides a day related to the earth and the moon moving around each other.

The sun also has a gravitational pull, although it is not as strong as the moon’s. But when the moon and the sun are in alignment on the same side of earth, we get stronger than usual tides as the two pull together. These are called spring tides. When the sun and the moon are perpendicular (at right angles) to each other, we get weaker tides, called neap tides.

So there you have it! Or, as my son puts it, “the moon pulls the water”. That works, too.

Happy seaside gallivanting, everyone!

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  • Sarah
    06/03/2016 at 5:27 pm

    We explained to Master 3 that when he can’t swim it’s because the moon ate the water . When there is enough water to swim again it’s because the moon is good at sharing!

    • Michelle
      10/03/2016 at 7:32 am

      Ha! That’s a good way of putting it!

  • Kimberly
    12/03/2016 at 8:55 am

    This is great Michelle, must keep in mind when Maya is older.

    • Michelle
      14/03/2016 at 8:09 am

      Thanks Kimberly, there’s going to be a series of posts like these so you’ll have a whole file! x

  • Kate
    07/05/2016 at 8:03 am

    Love this – we live across from a tidal creek so the boys are constantly commenting on the tide and just this week my four year old wailed, “It’s low tide in my water bottle, Mama!” as he desperately waved the empty bottle around from the dinner table. Gotta love the way their little minds work.

  • Michelle
    12/05/2016 at 1:45 pm

    I’ve said a similar thing about low tide in my wine glass 😉 x