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Outside in the Dark times [ideas for fun in the dark dark winter]

Jazz up your winter nights with some outdoor darkness time.

January and February can feel like long, dark, dull months especially after all of the festivities have ended. Don't sit around waiting for Spring and daylight to return. Make the most of what you've got. Fires and hot food and drink to warm your cockles and some serious darkness fun!

In the late Autumn and Winter, by the time my kids are back from school it's dark already. One of my outdoor groups is an after school session and it is very dark by the time they are ready to go home. We make a thing out of playing in the dark. We will have a fire for warmth and making hot food and drink which is essential for after the sun goes down in winter to keep up morale. We also use head torches for safety but also just for fun. We make up games and enjoy the challenge of seeing and experiencing things differently.

Being outside in the dark is as important for me as being out in the rain sometimes or being allowed to get dirty and muddy, balance on a log across a stream and take a few new risks to stretch and challenge yourself. The great thing about darkness fun is that it can be in places that you go to all of the time but it will all be completely different...........

Lighting your way

Actually, if you stay outside at the end of the day, through twilight and into the night you will be surprised at how you won't even need torches and extra light as your eyes adjust brilliantly on their own. You do need to know where all of your kit is though and how to use it with out too much thinking as all of these simple things become more complicated in the cold and the dark. Trust me, I have learned that the hard way!

We use small willow pyramid shapes wrapped with battery powered led lights in some sessions. The group can use these to define their boundaries for the space. Because of their shape they can be left on the ground, hung in branches or sat on a shrubbery. We put these out at twilight just before it gets really dark. They love to select where to put them. This group is pretty hardy but these lights are reassuring to any nervous kids.

It is also nice to make your own tin can lanterns. We made these in preparation for a school "microcamp" in the school field. The task was designed to help kids start to get their heads around being out in the dark. In the end they used the lanterns as a runway to the toilet!

Night cook

I often talk about food being cooked and shared outdoors as one of our greatest pleasures and it is so true. Try this even on a winters night. Don't wait until Summer to get the BBQ out. BBQ for all of your friends in the middle of winter, make the most of the darkness. Most winter food is spectacular and easy campfire food also; soup, stew, chilli, tagine, warm campfire bread. Make your drinks warm ones; spiced hot chocolate, warming ginger and lemon tea, mulled apple juice. Of course there are also some great alcoholic versions too. What's not to like?

Light, Dark and Wild Science

One of the kids says that they love playing in the dark because everything looks different. It does, the light fades and changes the colours of everything. Remember that we only see colour because of light reflecting off of different surfaces so less light =less colour. Even in the summer you can have fun measuring your shadows as the sun goes down and keep an eye on how everything changes and seems different. You can track the sun in the sky and see if you can match it to the actual time on your watch. In one summer sun to darkness workshop we used people to measure our shadows as the sun went down and tallied it over the night-much fun! This is a good way to get in some wild science. Look at colour and light theory and then experience it happening in real life.

How not to loose everything!

Food and drink in the dark is better when it is a one pot job and already prepared. If you need to assemble anything in the "proper" dark it is surprisingly tricky. A simple pot of soup cooked on the fire and then served in a mug with no cutlery is easy and there are less things to loose when you leave the site. Having one place where you keep things helps, a rock or a tarp where kit and stuff can be left so that you know exactly where to look for it all when it's time to pack up. We have lost many hats, gloves, torches and drink bottles from leaving them somewhere in the light and then discovering that they are impossible to find in the dark!.

Nocturnal creatures

Think about what creatures do as the light disappears. Birds will have their bedtime chat before they go to sleep and then you may be lucky enough to hear owls. It's the birds changing shifts. My daughter Sunny and I went on a micro adventure one night to a wood we had visited before. As we tied our tarp up for shelter we noticed that all of the trees were covered in tiny beetles that we had never seen by day. Not being able to see everything and every squishy or crawly thing actually makes some people less anxious about where they are and what they are doing. It's not uncommon to hear fox cries on a microadventure and I will never forget the mystery bird on the estuary that made noise all night long!


Going on a microadventure is a great way to experience the dark at any time of year. Wrap up warm and sleep out under the stars. Use a bivvi bag or tie up a hammock. This is a proper darkness adventure for kids and adults alike. One of our group camps was actually a tree hammock camp, it was brilliant, I can't recommend it enough. Another tent based camp, built in one night for kids to have an optional sleep under the stars, if they wanted to. Keep an eye on an astronomical calendar and coincide a microadventure with a meteor shower or lunar eclipse.

Moonlit Story telling

I read somewhere that a Mum made walking on a full moon into a family routine. What a great idea. You can see a lot on a moonlit night, you don't even need torches, it is a surreal experience as it is most definitely night time but you are able to see everything so easily. Again the colours are completely different and moon shadows are fascinating. What a great time for telling stories about moonlit smugglers, witches and beasts.

We have in fact run our wild theatre group in the woods in the dark. This inspired the material that we worked on. This Autumn we had The Great Pumkinapple which was an event where the performers created and told stories to their audience around a big campfire with warm seasonal food and drink. It was a fantastic event and great addition to all of those darkness festivities. I think I will make it an annual event, we loved it so much.

Big kids in the dark

A Secondary school camp that I worked on for a few years in a row used to choreograph some very complex midnight activities every year, involving hidden glow sticks trails, flour bombs, coloured smoke flares and the music from top gun on a loud speaker! The point being that they knew that the students wouldn't go to sleep anyway so keeping them up at least until midnight for really challenging activity, that only works as well in the dead of night, is not only practical but super exciting. Every year this midnight event was the subject of much speculation and anticipation, proving you are never too cool to play in the dark!

Creative Inspiration

I am also an artist and by accident most of my images seem to depict twilight hours. I don't set out to do this consciously but somehow, the colours I favour always look as though I have caught that moment just before real darkness falls. For me I think that cross over time is full of change and possibilities. The narratives for twilight, dusk and dawn are fascinating. You can also use this in your writing or for literacy projects if you work with kids. Take them out and get them to describe the colours, the sounds and what they feel, it will be like nothing else they have experienced and the material will be great.

Fun and Games

If you need some inspiration just think of how you can adjust your usual games to become more fun at night, some games really lend themselves to the dark. Here are some of our favourite games to play:

1. Head torch hide and seek. Go hide with your torches on and then turn them off. Each person can turn their torch on when they are found.

2. Park in the Dark. One of our sites is next to a park so we may at the end of some sessions play "park in the dark" This is actually just playing in the park with our head torches but they love it! The challenges are more exciting and it makes them explore different kinds of imaginative play.

3. Night Fetch. You can buy a ball that glows up when it bounces. We use some of these to play fetch in the dark. The ball is thrown into the night and then it is chased and retrieved when it lands and lights up.

4. Spotlight. Use a pretty strong beamed torch and shine it into spaces in the dark, the group must try to be the first in the beam or spotlight. This has been a useful game when it has got dark on camps but no-one is tired enough for bed yet.

5. Howl and seek. One person hides in the dark and then switches off their head torch. The rest of the group hunt for the hider by following the howls that they make. Seeking using sound only. If the group grow to be great at this game adjust the howl to a quieter animal noise to make it more challenging.

Don't just take my word for it, get out for a moonlit walk, for some darkness play, tell stories and share food around a fire. Make the most of what we have, make fire and food in the dark and share a game of hide and howl!

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