When I was a kid, the general rule for outdoor play was, “come home when the streetlights come on.” Being in a safe space when it gets dark is always an absolute priority, but the sun going down doesn’t have to mean that outdoor fun needs to end. There are many games and adventures to keep your kids (and yourself) active and having fun well after the streetlights have come on.
Play in a backyard, a front yard, a schoolyard, a park, a field, or anywhere there is lots of space for movement. You’ll want to be a safe distance from roads and parking lots, and ensure that the playing space is free of any tripping hazards and that everyone knows the boundaries for play.
When the kids aren’t quite ready for bed, outdoor play is still definitely an option. Kids will be thrilled to play under the stars and might soon be asking, “what streetlights?”
Think of this as hide-and-seek backwards. Choose one person to be “it.” The other players count to 20 while “it” hides. Using flashlights, the players look for the hidden person. As each finder finds “it,” they hide alongside the hider (and all get squished in the hiding spot like sardines). The last person to find the hider is “it” in the next round.
Required: flashlights for each player.
Make the boxes for the course in different colours and shapes using either glow in the dark chalk or glow in the dark necklaces. You could even use rechargeable LED light strips.
Required: glow-in-the-dark chalk or necklaces.
3. Ghost in the Graveyard
Despite its name, the emphasis in this game is less on creepy and more on fun. All players have flashlights and gather at one spot – home base – to choose who will be the ghost. The non-ghosts then all turn off their flashlights and count to 20 in loud voices while the ghost runs and hides. The non-ghosts then turn on their lights and split up to seek out the ghost. When one player spots the ghost, they yell “Ghost in the Graveyard!” The ghost and all players then must run back to home base. If the ghost manages to tag a non-ghost before they reach home base, that person becomes ghost for the next round.
Required: flashlights for each player.
4. Hula hoops
Pull out those hula hoops and twist and shout. (Well, maybe keep the shouting to a minimum, other kids may be sleeping. Let’s go with twist and laugh?) Wrap the hula hoops with some neon or glow-in-the-dark tape and switch up the moves to keep it even more fun. Go with the traditional twist of the hoop around your hips, or spin the hoop on your wrists, your ankles, or even your head. Try changing the direction of your twist or, instead of moving from side to side, try twisting with one foot ahead of the other.
Required: hula hoops, neon or glow-in-the-dark tape.
5. Red Light Green Light
This perennial favourite, usually played during daytime hours, is even more fun at night. Pick up a roll of red cellophane from your local dollar or craft store and make an actual red light by taping a circle of the wrap around a flashlight.
Pick one player to be the “traffic officer.” The officer stands at one end of the playing area with their flashlight while the rest of the players stand at the far end. With their flashlight off and their back to the players, the officer calls “green light!” and players move towards the officer. Within a few seconds, the officer turns quickly towards the players, turns on their red light, and yells “red light!” Players should then freeze on the spot. If the officer spots anyone still moving, that player must return to the start line. Play continues until one player manages to get past the officer. That player becomes the officer for the next round.
Required: one flashlight and red cellophane.
6. Star Gazing
As calming as lying on a blanket during the day and watching clouds, have your kids lie down and watch the stars. Print out some star charts (there are free printables on the Internet and some amazing apps for your mobile devices) and see if your kids can spot the Big Dipper, Cassiopeia, and Orion. Or, just like when you watch clouds, see if kids can find shapes in the patterns of dots. Do some star groupings look like they’re an outline of a dragon or maybe a happy face? Try to find the brightest stars and look to see if the moon is full.
Required: blankets or towels to lie on.
7. Glow-in-the-Dark Bowling
No need for rental shoes in this awesome version of bowling. Gather up a minimum of six empty plastic bottles and remove the caps. Place one or two glow-in-the-dark bracelets or necklaces inside the bottles and replace the caps. Line up the bottles on a flat surface and use a plastic or rubber ball to try to knock them down. Points can be assigned for each bottle knocked down or different values can be assigned to different colours of bottles for older kids.
Required: empty plastic bottles, glow-in-the-dark bracelets, and a ball.
8. Shadow Puppets
Shadow puppet shows make for great imaginative theatre under the stars. Use either a wall or fence and set up flashlights facing the “screen.” Kids can experiment with their hands to make a multitude of animals, or cut out figures and glue them to popsicle sticks to move through the light.
Required: flashlights, craft supplies.
9. Glow-in-the-Dark Ring Toss
Using glow-in-the-dark necklaces, have kids stand at a set distance (closer for the littler players) and have them try to throw their necklaces around filled water bottles or other rigid targets. This game will ring them in for hours (sorry, I couldn’t resist).
Required: glow-in-the-dark necklaces and a rigid object around which they can be thrown.
10. Flashlight Tag
The most important moves here are to dodge, duck, dip, and dive … away from the beam of a flashlight. Choose one player to be “it” and have them close their eyes at home base and count to 20 while the other players scatter. “It” then has to find the players and tag them with their beam of light. When tagged, players must return to home base. The last person tagged becomes “it” in the next round.
How low can you go? Get your (not too loud) music playing, light up the area with some flashlights, and use a rope for kids to move under. Players must walk bent over backwards, feet first, without falling, while the others cheer them on. After each player makes it under the rope, the rope holders lower it closer to the ground and players try again and again until they can no longer make it under the rope. Warning, this game comes with a lot of laughter.
Required: music, a rope, and flashlights.
12. Jump Rope
There are so many games that kids can play with one rope (or two) and at night, a glow-in-the-dark or lit-up rope makes the game even sparklier (that doesn’t sound like it should be a word, but it really is).
For the smallest kids in the crowd, snake-in-the-grass is always a great game. Have two older kids hold the rope on the ground and shake it. (Having the older kids make snake “sssssss” sounds as the younger kids jump is always a fun touch).
For the older set, a double dutch game using two ropes is always fun. Two kids turn the ropes in opposite directions, while a jumper tries to hop in between them. Even a classic one rope jump is still fun as jumpers see the sparkly rope set against the night sky.
Required: glow-in-the dark, or lit-up ropes.
This game is perfect as it can only be played in the dark. Players partner up and decide on a signal with their flashlights (such as two long flashes, three short, or something similar). Pairs then scatter to different spots in an area (a large space, such as a schoolyard or park would be perfect). Players must find their way to their partners in the dark by identifying their flashlight signal. Players have to make sure their signals don’t get mixed up with others’ which often leads to mixed-up fun.