My 3-year-old loves to be outdoors, no matter the weather. I often find her with a disappointed face when she discovers that it is dark already.
I also feel for my eldest daughter. By the time she has returned from school, finished her homework or attended her out of school activities, it is too dark to play outside. She misses out on the outdoor fun the younger ones have had during the day. I’m sure working parents must feel that it is hard to encourage their children to play outside in the winter months due to the lack of daylight hours.
What if we could find things to play that would only work in the dark? I've collected a few basic supplies — flashlights, glow-in-the-dark paint, head lamps and mini-battery operated lights — to fuel our outdoor play at night. (I chose head lamps as a safety measure for my middle daughter who has poor eyesight.)
The girls were so excited when I told them we were going to play in the dark. The head lamps were particularly popular with the little ones, who immediately set off to become cave explorers. Taking flashlights outside was also a great way to observe the weather; the mist looked eerie under a flashlight and we could watch the raindrops in in the light rays.
1. Flashlight tag
The children run around, one child has a flashlight and has to tag the other children by shining a light beam at them.
2. Grandmothers' footsteps
The children quietly sneak up to the "grandmother" and if she hears footsteps she shines her flashlight at the culprit and they return to the start. The object is to steal a piece of treasure she has at her side (we used glow in the dark balls) and get back to the start with them without being caught by the grandmother's flashlight beam.
3. Hide and seek
My children love to play hide and seek so this was a real favorite. Hiding in the dark means you can find so many more great hiding places. The seeker uses their flashlight to find those who are hiding.
4. Glow-in-the-dark water play
We added glow-in-the-dark paint to the water in our water table. I also dropped in some glowing stars and moons and a variety of containers. The girls had great fun making "star soup."
5. Treasure hunt
Fill plastic Easter eggs with mini-battery operated lights – we also added water beads for added effect. Hide them around the garden and look out for where the lights are shining. The girls also enjoyed the effect the eggs had when they put them inside their clothes.
6. Glow-in-the-dark sensory play
Add glow-in-the-dark paint to goop (corn starch and water), water beads, play dough, shaving foam or play dough.
7. Glow-in-the-dark painting
We painted on black paper with glow-in-the-dark paint — you could put a large sheet on the fence or alternatively, mix the paint with corn-starch and a little water and paint directly onto the ground. It washes away easily in the rain. We used this to paint hopscotch on the driveway and used the glow-in-the-dark balls as markers.
8. Shadow play
Children love to play with shadows. Use flashlights or outdoor lights to cast shadows onto white walls or even better erect a white sheet between fences or trees and get the children to stand against it making shadows and shapes.
9. Light tables
We made a homemade light table from a translucent plastic box with a black lid. Turn the box upside down and place battery-operated lights inside. There are all kinds of activities you can do with a light table. You can place natural materials, glass beads, buttons or candy wrappers on top to make patterns, spread sand or rice on top to make marks or use interesting colored containers.
10. Look at the stars
On a clear night what could be better than looking at the stars? We printed out a map of the stars but just to look up into the night sky can be awe inspiring.
We have had such a good time. The girls love to wrap up warmly and investigate what they can see with a flashlight. My 3-year-old wanted to go outside to play with ice as it was getting dark this evening. I asked her if she would like me to put the outside light on so she could play. "No, Mummy," she declared. "I want to watch it get darker and darker."
Editor's note: This article was originally published in 2014 and updated for 2017.