Exploring the Outdoors After Dark
Summer is the perfect time to take your adventures to the dark side: Literally, play in the dark! Staying up late and being outside make everything extra adventurous. Here are our top four picks (and how-tos) for nighttime family fun:
- See the stars: Pick a clear, moonless light if you can, and spread out some blankets or lawn chairs. You can stargaze right in your own backyard, or an outdoor space without a lot of tall trees. And of course, it’s best if you can get away from street lights and other light sources. (Pro tip: When you first find a spot, have everyone close their eyes for a full minute.When you reopen them, the stars will pop out like magic.)
To identify constellations and other heavenly bodies, make your own star chart in advance (personalized to your date and location!), or install an app on your phone, such as Star Walk, Night Sky or Star Chart.
- Take a wild walk: A hike is a completely different experience in the dark. Sign up for a nature center’s night hike event or find your own. Bring a flashlight, a few headlamps, or even some glow sticks—but consider them backup tools. Part of the fun of a night hike is relying on moonlight and night vision, not to mention other senses like hearing.
Listen for animals as a big part of the experience. Talk with your kids in advance about keeping talking to a minimum. When it’s quieter they’ll be able to pick up the sounds of frogs singing, rodents rustling, bats squeaking, and more.
- Go owling at the moon: During the day you can go birding, but at night you can go owling. Look, and especially listen, carefully to try to spot these totally cool creatures. Owling can be part of your night hike adventure, or the entire focus of an evening’s outing. All you need is a wooded area and some patience (or, as with a night hike, you can attend a special event at a park or nature center). As on a night hike, remind kids to be very quiet so you don’t scare them off since owls have great hearing.
- Flick a flashlight: Do you remember playing flashlight games during your childhood? Teach your kids an old favorite like flashlight tag (a fun combo of hide and seek and tag, where whoever is “it” uses a flashlight to spotlight anyone he finds hiding). Other flashlight games include:
Capture the Moon — Capture the Flag, but with a ball (the “moon”) swapped for the flag. A glow-in-the-dark ball is ideal!
Firefly — a tag game in which “it” holds the flashlight and all the other players chase him.
Flicker Relay — a relay race that challenges players to make a target with a flashlight, run to it, then return to their team, hand off the flashlight, and repeat.
Give your kids more freedom to play outside at night and they’ll come up with their own games and adventures in no time.
Catherine Holecko is About.com’s Family Fitness Expert and the mother of two active children, ages 9 and 12.
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