Countless studies have shown that being in nature benefits children. It boosts their immune systems, sparks their curiosity and imagination, and connects them to the world around them. It can impact brain development and improve physical health. Yet, a lot of parents bring their kids inside well before dark.
The world looks different after the sun sets. Different animals wake up. We can see the stars shining, and familiar places become new and exciting. Supervised activities can give your children a peek at everything that happens while they sleep. Even if your children play outside during the day, these 10 activities will connect your child with the natural world at night.
1 | Go camping
Whether you’re lying on mats in your backyard or pitching a tent in your state park, camping thrusts your children into life after dark. Decide beforehand if you want to eat before you arrive, cook with the amenities, or build a campfire, if allowed. Then spend some time after dark searching for satellites among the stars, listening to the frogs or crickets, or simply telling stories.
2 | Do something like camping
If camping is too much for you, rent a caravan, cabin, or barn instead. You probably won’t get to build a campfire, but you’ll get real beds and better bathrooms. Just don’t let the lure of the indoors keep your kids from exploring the new area.
3 | Learn the constellations
The International Astronomical Union recognizes 88 official constellations in the sky, but you don’t need to learn them all to have fun. Learn a few easy-to-recognize constellations in your hemisphere at the appropriate time of year. Show them to your children whenever you see them. Explain the myth behind the shapes and maybe encourage them to find their own shapes and create those stories.
4 | Track the phases of the moon
Mark the new moon and the full moon on the calendar and watch each night as it changes. Perhaps your children can track its progress with photos or drawings. Make a group activity to learn why the moon appears to change shape. Go somewhere without light when the moon is full, and they can see everything around them. Then go again on the new moon, and notice the difference moonlight makes.
5 | Find overnight activities in your area
Aquariums and museums sometimes have overnight events that can feel magical because you’re outside your home at night. Overnights at zoos are more likely to have outside events. Nocturnal nights at zoos let your children see the animals that aren’t very active during normal day trips.
6 | Learn from a planetarium
See if a local planetarium has any events after dark. Even if they don’t, planetariums are fun ways for people in areas with heavy light pollution to see the wonders of the sky. They can teach a lot of information at once, though, so plan another outdoor night activity soon after your trip to use what you learn.
7 | Play games in the dark
While time in nature can be great for unstructured play, sometimes having activities in mind can be fun, too. Most daytime games can be played at night with minor adjustments. Get a glow-in-the-dark football. Give everyone a glow stick bracelet and play tag. Use flash lights for hide and seek or do a scavenger hunt under the full moon. If you can’t think of a way to make a game work, maybe your kids will have their own ideas to try.
8 | Take a night walk
Whether you walk through your neighborhood or find a secluded area, a place looks different at night. Look for animals you don’t see as often during the day, like fireflies and toads. Listen to the crickets and cicadas. Learn which animal species live around your house and identify them by their sounds.
9 | Look in the water
Creeks and streams can be brimming with activity after dark. Use a flashlight to search for frogs and salamanders along the banks. Sweep the water for active fish or crayfish hiding in the rocks. Wear bug repellent, though, because the water also attracts mosquitoes.
10 | Watch a sunrise
Wake up early and go somewhere secluded to see the world changing back after a night. If you go in the summer, get up earlier so your kids can feel the dew on their feet. In the winter, you can sleep a little later before bundling up to watch the animals reappear. Your kids might not have noticed the birds had stopped singing for the night, but they might notice when they start singing again. Watch as the sky lightens and the stars fade away even before the sun crosses the horizon.