The days grow shorter, and nights get longer as we transition from fall to winter. With dark, cold evenings, it’s easy to succumb to the allure of cozy indoor activities. However, just because the sun sets earlier doesn’t mean outdoor adventure has to end. If your kids are anything like mine, even though it’s dark by 5:00 pm, they’re probably still bouncing off the walls and have lots of energy to burn. Today, Amy Eastin, Kansas City mom of three, is here sharing ideas and activities that will not only keep your kids entertained after dusk but will also create lasting memories filled with laughter, wonder, and the warmth of familial bonds. Let’s embrace the darkness and light up the night together with these nighttime activities for the whole family.

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Embracing darkness in the winter and fall

Part of what makes winter different than other seasons is the shorter days and longer nights. The lack of sunlight is usually seen as a negative. And I agree that it’s certainly less conducive and convenient for spending time outside. However, it’s also part of what makes winter special and if we can learn to manage our expectations and get creative, we can still spend a lot of time outside in the winter evenings. 

The evenings bring with them a special ambiance. By encouraging your family to venture outdoors after sunset, you not only extend your playtime but also instill in your children an appreciation for the beauty that lies within the mysterious realms of the night. When else can you explore in the darkness and still make it home in plenty of time for bedtime?! 

So, instead of retreating indoors when the sun goes down, consider embracing the darkness as a special part of the winter experience. From glow-in-the-dark treasure hunts to storytelling by the flickering light of a bonfire, the night becomes a canvas for imaginative play, allowing children to explore their creativity in a magical setting. Embracing the darkness not only opens doors to new activities but also strengthens the family bond through shared experiences under the vast winter sky.

Here are some ideas so your family can continue having fun outdoor time at night. Enjoy playing outdoors after dark! 

Flashlight tag

Our family plays our own version of freeze tag with flashlights. We have one person with a flashlight who chases everyone. They tag people by shining their light at them. Then, that person is frozen. In order to become unfrozen, another person must crawl under their legs. 

This game has led to me running harder and faster than I had in years. We laugh so hard, and the kids all scream and run. It is so much fun! 

a family wearing headlamps

Photo by Sarah Boles


Our kids are still fairly young and have bedtimes before it gets dark in the summer. This makes stargazing in the winter extra special because they haven’t seen the stars for a long time. Sometimes, we put out a blanket on our lawn and bring pillows and blankets and cuddle to keep warm. 

We can’t see as many stars from our house in the city though, so we also like going on nighttime drives and looking for stars out the windows. I check out books on stars from the library, and we look at the Sky Tonight – Star Gazer Guide app to learn about the stars and look for specific constellations. 

For more great ideas for ways to help turn stargazing into a fun and educational activity, be sure to check out this post on Using Storytelling to Connect Children with the Night Sky

stars at night and the milky way

Glow-in-the-dark toys 

Somehow, even simple games become more fun and novel when you do them in the dark. They take on an entirely new dimension of excitement and novelty when played in the dark with the addition of glow-in-the-dark toys. Whether it’s a game of catch with luminescent balls or a spirited round of capture the flag with glow-in-the-dark bracelets, the darkness amplifies the thrill, turning familiar activities into unique and memorable experiences. The bonus is that I can always see where my kids are because the toys illuminate them!

glow in the dark capture the flag

Here are some must-have glow-in-the-dark toys: 

Ring Toss: This ring toss tic-tac-toe set is perfect for a family game. It takes skill but is still fun for the whole family. 

Capture the Flag: This classic kids’ game can still be played at night! Invite your neighbors, split into teams, and have some fun!

Football: Play catch as a family or a football game with friends. Either way, you can keep playing after dark! 

Glow Velcro Catch: This classic toy has a light-up version! This is a great game if you want to get your kids outside but don’t feel like running around yourself. Give this to your kids, and you can sit down and watch them play. 

Lawn Darts: Light-up lawn darts are fun for the whole family. We like to break into teams to play. Our family gets competitive. Whoever wins usually gets a prize, like getting to choose the movie at our next family movie night. 

Basketball: You don’t have to stop playing basketball if you have a basketball hoop just because it’s dark. This light-up ball will be easy to spot and be a way to get outdoor family time when it’s dark. 

Glow Rocket: My kids love rocket launchers like these, but you can’t use the traditional ones at night because it would be too easy to lose your rocket in the dark. These light-up ones are the perfect solution to nighttime play for rocket enthusiasts. 

Glow Frisbee: Another great way to play catch even though it’s dark outside! 

Light up hula hoop: Let’s be honest, hula hooping at night just looks cooler, and it’s just as fun! 

Kick the Can: This classic kids game can still be played at night! Invite the neighborhood kids over, split into teams, and have some fun!

campfire in the snow with three trees

Flashlight hide and seek

We play hide and seek in the dark often. We all carry a flashlight, which we are allowed to turn off. The way we play is that you hide but then try to run to the front door before the seeker tags you. We all start off hiding, then when the seeker is distracted, we run as fast as we can for the porch. It’s so much fun and ends with us all laughing and out of breath. 

a man and child walking at night with Christmas Lights in the background

Outdoor movie night (with hot cocoa)

Hear me out on this one. A movie in the cold might not sound delightful, but imagine that you’re under lots of blankets, snuggling your family, and sipping hot cocoa. The unique ambiance of the season adds a touch of magic to your cinematic experience. The cozy blankets, the breath of cold air, and the hot chocolate create a memorable sensory experience that your kids will love! This is a great way to make an ordinary movie night memorable for your kids and have fun outdoors at the same time.  

Here’s a great post on how to have a fun and successful outdoor movie night with your family

ideas for getting kids outside at night in the winter

Campfires and s’mores 

We eat s’mores at least twice a week in the winter. It’s kind of our winter thing! My kids think it is so fun, plus we get to warm up by the fire! Afterward, the kids almost always end up running around the yard, and my husband and I relax by the fire. It’s a win for everyone as we all get to spend quality time outside together (and get a delicious treat)! 

Check out our full post on ways you can take your bonfire up a notch and get creative! 

kids around a campfire

Lantern walk or full moon hikes

Winter is the best time to go on a night hike if you have little kids because it gets dark so early that their bedtime won’t be pushed back too late. There is something magical about hiking at night. If you’re able, go on a night hike when the moon is full (and the sky is cloudless). You’ll be amazed by how much you can see and how magical the world feels around you. 

Or, you could go on an evening lantern walk, even just around your neighborhood. Waldorf schools around the world take part in an annual evening lantern walk custom every November to commemorate Martinmas, and again in December around the Winter Solstice, the longest night and shortest day of the year. It’s a beautiful time of connecting with our kids with the Earth.

Lantern walks can be small family affairs, or large gatherings where groups of families or neighbors light their lanterns and go out together after the sun sets. Walks can be quiet and contemplative, or songs can be sung (we like a mix of both!). Bring a thermos of hot cocoa or hot apple cider, and it will make the event even more festive and fun. 

night time lantern walk with kids to spend more time outside in the evening during winter and fall months

Northern lights nights

We live in Missouri, so it’s not very often we can see the Northern Lights, but it can happen. This year, I am following the northern light reports that predict when it is likely that they will be visible. I plan to load up the kids and drive them out of the city to an open spot if there is a good night to view. I think my kids would definitely remember their mom keeping them up late to witness something so special. 

If you live in a place where you’re more likely to see the Northern Lights, take advantage of that! Pack the kids up and get outside to observe and appreciate their beauty! Trust me, they’re quite a spectacle that not many people get the chance to see! 

kids climbing at night wearing headlamps

Glow stick walks

We go on lots of night walks around our neighborhood, but a way to make them interesting is to add glow sticks! This is such a fun (and super easy!) way to add some fun and excitement to any nighttime activity. My kids love wearing glow necklaces, crowns, and bracelets. It gets them excited about walking at night and makes them easy to spot in the dark.

kids playing outside at night with glowsticks

Photo By Sarah Boles

Add twinkle lights to your backyard

Elevate the allure of your backyard or swingset by simply adding some twinkle lights to your space, which will keep your kids outside longer during evening hours. The lights not only add a touch of enchantment but also serve as a practical solution, providing ample illumination for safe play. Never underestimate the appeal of a set of twinkle lights! Kids who haven’t shown any interest in a swingset, treehouse, playhouse, or sandbox may get excited about it all over again just by the addition of fun lights! 

Build a winter fort

This year we’re planning to “winterize” our climbing dome by covering it in plastic. If you have a tree house, play structure, or build a stick teepee, you can make it more winter-friendly by covering it in a plastic tarp. I plan to hang twinkle lights inside so my kids can play out there at night time. 

Outdoor public spaces

Take advantage of outdoor lighted public spaces during fall and winter evenings to maximize your time outside. Public ice rinks and ski areas are usually well-light through evening hours to get your family outside and active. Go for an evening stroll in a well-lit downtown area with shops and restaurants. Also, look for botanical gardens, parks, zoos, and other outdoor places in your area that may be open in the evening.

Embrace the darkness

This year, I am looking forward to embracing the darkness and making our evenings fun and memorable. The whole family is happier when we get time outside, and I love the quality time we have. Getting outdoors at night is one way to keep the winter blues away. 

Which of these things are you most looking forward to trying with your kids? 

About the author 

Amy is a Kansas City-based adventure mom to three kids. She loves exploring all that the middle of the USA has to offer, from hiking trails to family experiences, rivers, museums, and everything in between. Before kids, Amy traveled and lived around the world, rode camels, trekked through mountains, and occasionally danced with the locals. Now, Amy is usually road-tripping with her kids (and sometimes her husband), getting outside, and exploring Kansas City. Amy is passionate about promoting the Midwest as a travel destination and encouraging families to get outdoors with young kids.

You can find more from Amy in the following locations: 
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RWMC posts: Amy Eastin