Girls ready to play outside in the dark. Credit: Rachel McClary
My 3-year-old loves to be outdoors, no matter the weather. I often find her with a disappointed face this time of year when she looks outside and discovers that it is already dark.
I also feel for my eldest daughter. By the time she has finished school, worked on her homework or practiced her instrument, it is pitch-dark outside. She misses out on the outdoor fun the younger ones have had had during the day. There's no doubt it's harder for parents to encourage their children to play outside in the winter months due to the lack of daylight hours.
But 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, headlamps and mini battery-operated lights — to fuel our outdoor play after dark.
The girls were so excited when I told them we were going out to play in the dark. The headlamps 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 in the beam of a flashlight and we could watch the raindrops in the light rays. Here are 10 great after-dark play ideas to try with your kids:
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. Grandmother's footsteps
In this game, children quietly sneak up to the "grandmother." If she hears footsteps, she shines her flashlight at the culprit and they must return to the start. The object is to steal a piece of treasure the grandmother has at her side (we used a glow-in-the-dark ball) and get back to the start with it without being caught by the grandmother's flashlight beam.
My children love to play hide-and-seek so this was a natural favorite. Hiding in the dark means there are so many more great hiding places. The seeker uses their flashlight to find those who are hiding. Try it in your yard or a neighborhood park.
4. Glow-in-the-dark water play
5. Treasure hunt
For a great treasure hunt, we filled plastic Easter eggs with mini battery-operated lights — we also added water beads for a special effect. We hid them around the garden and found them by hunting around for where the lights are shining. The girls also enjoyed the effect the lit 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, playdough or shaving cream.
7. Glow-in-the-dark painting
We painted on black paper with glow-in-the-dark paint — you can also use glow-in-the-dark tape to make cool designs. You could paint on a large sheet you hang on the fence or, alternatively, mix the paint with cornstarch and a little water and paint directly onto the ground. It washes away easily in the rain. We used this to paint a hopscotch grid on the driveway and used a glow-in-the-dark ball as a marker.
8. Shadow play
Children love to play with shadows. Use flashlights or outdoor lights to cast shadows onto white walls, or, even better, hang a white sheet on the fence or between trees and get the children to stand against it to cast shadows and make 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. You can also buy a star map.
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 is always popular at this time of year.