Get Outside With The Kids When It’s Dark (Yes, Really)

by Wendy Wisner
Originally Published: 
Courtesy of Wendy Wisner

Last Fourth of July, I had a late-night date with my six-year-old to watch the fireworks. We took a two minute drive to the docks by the water. It was just the two of us and I don’t know what it was, but there was something about that night that felt incredibly special.

As we were sitting on a bench by the water watching the night sky light up, my little guy exclaimed, “Oh my oh! These are the best freaking goddamn fireworks ever!” The woman behind us couldn’t stop laughing, and neither could I.

Heading back to the car, my son said, “Today was the best day of my life so far.”

After my heart skipped about a million beats and I wondered how on earth I had gotten so lucky, I said, “Oh yeah? What do you think made today so good?”

“Well, I love being with you, I loved the fireworks, and we never go out at night,” he said, adding, “We should do that more often.”

Courtesy of Wendy Wisner

“Oh my goodness, we totally should,” I said.

I vowed then and there that we would spend more time outside at night. There truly is something incredible about being out at night—a peacefulness and deep quiet that just isn’t there during the day. The hustle and bustle of your life melts away. You can get lost in your thoughts, and everything feels a little more dreamy, reflective, and magical.

Some of my best talks ever have been during a nice evening walk with a loved one. Long family walks at night, catching fireflies, or playing a fun game of hide-and-seek in the dark are things every kid should experience—as often as possible.

I wish I could tell you that my plan to get out with my kids during the after-dark hours was a success. I will admit that I failed at it abysmally. Sure, we’ve had a few nice evening walks thrown in, but between school, homework, and bedtime, it just never seems like a good time to fit in more of those special nights with my kiddos. Sigh.

Now, of course, winter is here, which makes it feel even more difficult to go out. Just the thought of getting bundled up in coats and hats and gloves is enough to make me want to cancel plans before I even make them.

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At the same time, with the daylight hours in such short supply as we move into the next few months (it’s dark at 4:30 around here!), it seems more imperative than ever that my kids go out in the dark. They do so much better when they’ve had a chance to play outside during the day, even if it’s for a short time.

It’s not just my kids, either. Kids in general thrive if they get time to play outside each day. They are healthier, happier, and more connected to nature. Outside play promotes good social skills, encourages kids to take risks, and strengthens problem solving skills. Free, unstructured play is also a great way for kids to exercise their creativity.

Experts encourage kids to go outside and play no matter the weather. The same should be true about kids playing during the after-dark hours. If you whisk your kids right back in as soon as night falls, think of all the hours of play you lose.

Courtesy of Wendy Wisner

If you’re unsure what exactly your kids will do in terms of outside play in the dark, my suggestion is to start simple. My first step is to go with my favorite: a good old family walk. I’m going to make it a priority to go on one once or twice a week from now on.

If you live in a place that is not well lit at night, going out with a flashlight usually does the trick. You can also purchase reflective clothing. You definitely want to play it safe.

Besides that idea, there are so many night-time activities you can do with kids. I found a handy cheat-sheet of ideas from the Get The Kids Outside Facebook page:

I love the idea of a glow-in-the-dark treasure hunt, and I’m all-in for a star gazing session. I’m thinking an evening of scary story sharing would be rad too. Don’t all these activities make you nostalgic for your own childhood? I swear, some of my most prized memories happened at night, in the dark, bonding with my friends and family, and feeling all warm and fuzzy inside.

Obviously when it’s -3 degrees and icy, I’m likely going to cancel my nighttime family walks and other after-dark fun, but I made a vow all those months ago to spend my time outdoors with my kiddos, and my goodness, I’m going to do it. Really.

After all, the darkest months of the year are when we are most in need of a little extra joy and light, and I can’t think of anything more bright and merry than hanging out with my beautiful children under the stars.

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