Outdoor play doesn’t need to stop once the sun sets. These kids’ outdoor activities to do in the dark can be fun and exciting for all!
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For many of us, sending our kids outdoors to play until dinnertime is common practice. After the rigor of school schedules, they need exercise, fresh air and the freedom to play unbounded. And the “witching hour” is much better spent outside, isn’t it?? But what activities can you do when the sun sets early and daylight fades by 4 or 5? We don’t want to send them outside to play in the dark… do we?
The good news is that we don’t need to be limited by daylight — kids can still have fun after the sun sets!
If your children know to stay close to the house and are adventurous spirits, you can still encourage them to have fun in the dark. (If they are old enough and clearly understand the limits you set in place.)
That being said, it’s important to set up some ground rules with your kids:
- discuss where they can go (define boundaries)
- determine when you want them back
- encourage them to check in often
- better yet: join in the fun yourself!
Here are a few ideas for outdoor activities that you can enjoy once the sun has set.
IMPORTANT: Assess your child’s comfort level with darkness and choose your activities accordingly.
Play tag with flashlights. The person who is “it” tries to tag players with their flashlight beam.
Variation: Sit in a circle with the person who is “it” in the middle, blindfolded, with a flashlight. Players creep forwards and get as close as possible before being tagged by the flashlight. The person who gets closest is the winner.
Glow-in-the-Dark Treasure Hunt
Hide glowsticks or battery-powered candles in your yard ahead of time, then go out together to find them. Tell your children the boundaries and let them lead the way to see how many they can find.
Flashlight Nature Walk
Give each person a flashlight, hold hands and set off into nature (or just your backyard). What can you see when you look up? When you look down?
What happens when you turn off your flashlight — can you still see anything? On a night that has at least a little moonlight, challenge yourselves to see without a flashlight or headlamp. Choose a familiar trail or setting, but don’t try to go too far.
Before setting off, allow your eyes to adjust to the darkness. If you need to double-check the trail’s direction, ask everyone to close their eyes while an adult uses a light source to orient themselves.
Stop & Listen
Head outside and find a comfortable place to sit. Ask everyone to stay quiet for several minutes, taking note of everything that they hear. When the time is right, share your observations. Then repeat the process to see if you hear anything different the second time.
Listen for owls, crickets, frogs, the wind in the trees. What else do you hear?
Capture the Prize
Part flashlight tag, part capture the flag, part kick the can this game requires some stealth moves.
The person who is “it” (the guard) is blindfolded and sits in a predetermined location and the rest of the players scatter. The guard has a focused flashlight (limited beam) at hand and a treasure beside them (glowstick, etc.) and calls “game on” to get things started. All the other players then creep stealthily towards the treasure, as quietly as possible, trying to grab it before being caught.
If the guard hears movement, they turn on their their flashlight and shine it towards the movement, trying to “capture” the player. If that player is indeed caught in the flashlight’s beam, they take themselves out of the game. The last player standing becomes the guard in the next round.
If it’s too difficult for players to sneak up without sound, consider playing music to help disguise the sound of crunching leaves.
On a clear night, take a blanket outside, lie back and gaze at the stars. If possible, choose a night when the moon is no more than a crescent — the less moonlight, the clearer the stars. Move away from any source of artificial light (street lights, landscape lighting, bright windows) and even consider driving a short distance to avoid light pollution. Think about areas near fields and other open spaces (without lights) where you have a larger expanse of sky.
Turn off any lights (flashlights, headlamps) and give your eyes a chance to adjust to the darkness.
How many stars do they see? Any constellations or planets? Satellites or planes?
Use an app such as SkyView to help identify or locate the stars, constellations and planets that you see above you.
You can also consider keeping a sky journal, taking note of what you see each time. (See form below for a free copy!)
This is an especially amazing activity during a meteor shower, so take note of their dates!
Keep the games going after dark! Use light-up frisbees, glow-in-the-dark flying discs and light-up footballs. Other options include light-up slingshot rockets, which are a lot of fun. Or get creative and tape spoke lights or glow in the dark stars to a beach ball!
Everyone has a flashlight to begin with. While the seeker covers their eyes and counts, the hiders all find their hiding spot (within predetermined boundaries) and turn off their flashlights.
When time is up, the seeker uses their flashlight to see who they can find.
Using a camera with an extremely slow shutter speed, you can “draw” in the air with flashlights (or glowsticks). Set the camera on a tripod or other sturdy surface, and ask them to “draw” a simple shape in the air with the light pointed towards the camera (after you’ve pressed the shutter). Start with a 14-second exposure setting, an aperture of f/8, and ISO 1600, then play around to see what results you get.
It’s always time for a dance party, so have one in the dark with flashlights and/or glow sticks. Put on some music (being mindful of your neighbors) and go wild!
Collect 6 empty soda bottles and 6 glowsticks. Put a glow stick in each bottle and set them in formation (one in first row, two in second row, three in third row) on a relatively flat spot in the yard. Choose a ball (the larger the ball, the easier it should be) and have fun!
Set up a tent or lean-to outside, and gather together some battery-powered fairy/Christmas lights, blankets or sleeping bags and flashlights. Ask your child to choose a favorite book and head outside for some fresh-air reading time.
Fire it Up
If permitted, have a campfire! Gather kindling (preferably earlier in the day) and lay the base for your fire. When the time is right (and under supervision), light it up and spend some time together sharing stories and maybe even a s’more or two.
Embrace the darkness with your kids and experience the outdoors in a new way!
A few useful tools to consider:
- headlamps: rechargeable, good quality, kid-specific
- glowsticks: battery-powered, rechargeable glowsticks, ‘solar’ powered, single-use
- flashlights: little kids (firefly!), 3-in-1, older kids, glow-in-the-dark, mini animals
- outdoor string lights: corded 100 ft, corded 25 ft, battery-powered
- bracelets: light-up, slap light
- lantern: solar inflatable, small rechargeable, collapsible
- game: light-up bocce balls (not pictured)