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10 Ideas for Playing Outside in the Dark

Venture out in early darkness with fun and games the kids will love

Rachel McClary

Published on: November 04, 2019

playing outside after dark games and ideas for kids
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 returned from school, finished her homework or attended her after-school activities, 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.

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 under a flashlight and we could watch the raindrops in the light rays. Here are 10 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.

playing outside after dark
Credit: Rachel McClary

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 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 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 there are 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 added a variety of containers. The girls had great fun making "star soup."

Playing with water after dark glow in the dark water play
Credit: Rachel McClary

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, play dough or shaving cream.

After-dark hopscotch with glow in the dark paint
Glow-in-the-dark hopscotch. Credit: Rachel McClary

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 a hopscotch grid 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, hang a white sheet on the fence or between 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 is always popular at this time of year.

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