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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: October 31, 2023

A boy with a flashlight gets ready to play outside after dark clever games with head lamps, glow in the dark paint and more
Gather your supplies to play outside after dark.

My 3-year-old loves to be outdoors no matter the weather. After we change our clocks in the fall, I often find her with a disappointed face 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 during the day.

Outdoor time is healthy for kids all year round. But 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.

What if we could find ways 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.

Clever games to play outside after dark girls with headlamps are excited to play in the dark
Girls are ready to play games outdoors after dark. Credit: Rachel McClary

10 games to play outside after dark

1. Flashlight tag

One child holds a flashlight while other kids run around, hiding in the dark. The child with the flashlight 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, one child plays the grandmother. She turns her back to the other kids, who line up across the yard. The kids try to sneak very quietly toward the grandmother. If she hears footsteps, she turns around and 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 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 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 this in your yard or at a neighborhood park, with adult supervision.

4. Glow-in-the-dark water play

To play with our water table after dark, we added glow-in-the-dark paint to the water. I also dropped in some glowing stars and moons and added a variety of containers. The girls had great fun making an impromptu recipe for “star soup.”

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

5. Treasure hunt

For our after-dark treasure hunt, we filled plastic Easter eggs with mini battery-operated lights. We also added water beads for a special effect. We took turns hiding the eggs around the garden and then hunting for them where the lights were shining. The girls also had fun just playing with the eggs.

6. Glow-in-the-dark sensory play

For a sensory experience, we added glow-in-the-dark paint to goop (corn starch and water) and also tried mixing it with water beads, playdough and 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 bought glow-in-the-dark paint and set up an art station at our outdoor table. Black paper with glow-in-the-dark paint works great. You can also use glow-in-the-dark tape to make cool designs.

For after-dark hopscotch, mix non-toxic glow-in-the-dark paint with cornstarch and a little water, then use it to paint directly onto the ground. We used this to draw a hopscotch grid on the driveway and used a glow-in-the-dark ball as a marker.

8. Shadow play

My 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. Make your own light table

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. Place natural materials, glass beads, buttons or toys on top to make patterns; spread sand or rice on top to make marks; or use interesting colored containers.

10. Look at the stars

When the clouds clear, what could be better than looking at the stars? We printed out a map of the stars, but just looking up at the night sky can be awe-inspiring. You can also buy a map of the stars to guide your stargazing.

Embrace the dark

While many of us relish the Pacific Northwest’s long summer evenings, perhaps we can take a page out of a kid’s playbook once in a while. My 3-year-old wanted to go outside to play with ice as it was getting dark one evening. I asked her if she would like me to put the outside light on so she could see better. “No, Mummy,” she declared. “I want to watch it get darker and darker.”

More fall fun...

Editor’s note: This article was originally published some 10 years ago, but it’s always popular at this time of year.

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