Planning our beach vacation was easy; finding activities to entertain all four of our kids, ranging from a toddler to a preteen, was not. So when I stumbled across a listing for sand-sculpting lessons on Texas's South Padre Island, I was intrigued. Despite my worry that the older kids would roll their eyes in boredom and the destructo-toddler would ruin the fun for everyone, I booked all six of us for a private session with SandCastleLessons.com, hoping that getting our hands dirty together would be just the family bonding we needed.
David, our instructor, met us on a section of beach dedicated to classes. My husband, Gary, and I had imagined ourselves on the sidelines, encouraging the kids as they learned the ropes. But before we knew it, we were right in there with them, eagerly trying out David's tips. To begin with, he said, we could forget much of what we thought we knew about constructing sand castles. Most important: rather than adding sand as we worked, we would each begin by building one big, dense pile, then gradually whittle it away.
First we created a broad, flat-topped platform by scooping wet sand into a pile and packing it tightly. With our own imagined design in mind, we packed more wet sand into buckets and upended them on top of the platform wherever we planned to add height, being careful to maintain an overall pyramid shape (wider at the bottom). Finally, we added shovelfuls of sand to a five-gallon bucket of water to create a sloppy "soup." This we scooped out with our hands and piled in a pancakelike stack on the very top. As the excess water seeped out, David explained, the sand would meld to form a solid structure. He warned us not to pat it, as that can weaken it and cause cracks.