Just as much as adults, kids need something to look forward to in these dark months. Make the most of it with these fun and inexpensive activities:
Take a glow-in-the-dark bath
Add a couple B complex vitamins to the bath water, turn off the regular lights and turn on a portable black light. Bring out all the tub toys and hop into this amazing glowing yellow bath. You’re using vitamins to make the water glow, so you don’t have to worry about kids accidentally drinking some of the water. Plus it rinses off easily and doesn’t stain at all. You only need about three capsules per glowing bath, so one bottle of vitamins should last a long time. (As always, children should never be left unattended in a bathtub. Keep the light a safe distance away from the tub.)
Now that you’ve got a black light …
Other household things that glow in the dark under a black light include highlighters and laundry detergent. Fun fact: The phosphorescent property of detergent is what makes your clothes look whiter. (That’s mentioned in the 2014 Stephen Hawking biopic, “The Theory of Everything.”)
Make your own glow “paints” by squeezing highlighters in a cup of water. There’s a squishy piece inside markers that’s soaked in ink. Pop off the end of a highlighter (pliers are helpful), pull out the squishy part and squeeze that into a cup of water so the ink comes out. Or use petroleum jelly to “paint” — it glows bright blue in the dark under a black light.
It’s also fun to look at your passports, driver’s license and money bills under a black light. This is how airports check documents for authenticity!
Arm the person who is “it” with a flashlight, count to 20 and catch other players by shining a beam of light on them. If you get caught, you’re out. Last person caught is the next “it.”
Look at the night sky
Backyard astronomy for kids is easy this time of the year because it’s dark so early. You can see all kinds of neat things that change constantly — all you need is a clear night. Binoculars are helpful but completely optional.
This month, Mercury pops into view in the southwestern sky right after sunset. Look just above the horizon and you’ll see it fairly easy through Jan. 28. Above, you’ll see a distinctive orange spot near the moon. That’s Mars.
Blind taste test
Darken the room and have the kids sample some simple finger foods. Let them smell it and feel it and see if they can identify it. It’s an interesting way to eat — you might even get toddlers to try something green, only because they can’t see it’s green.
Set up a light table
I have a portable light table from the days of looking at film. You might have a light-up table for tracing, or does anyone still have an old-school overhead projector? You can easily make your own light table using any see-through plastic tub with a battery-operated light inside. Place pieces of colored gels on it, translucent toys like Magna-Tiles or even cups of water with food coloring. It’s a very pretty way to learn about color mixing.
Drape a bedsheet over the dining table and lay a lamp on the ground behind you. That’s all you need to set the scene for your story. A shadow puppet is as simple as a figure taped to a stick. Or even easier, use your hands.
You can also play with light and shape in the negative space. Cut shapes out of a cereal box, and tape colored gels over the holes to make your own “stained glass.” Using a flashlight, try moving the light and the cardboard closer and farther away to see how that affects the shadow. How do you shrink it or make it expand? Can you make the shadow crisp or blurry?
Decorate a lamp
Make a personalized lamp for your kids’ room by cutting shapes out of colored cellophane and taping it onto the lamp shade. Warning: Kids may be so excited they’ll turn the lamp on and off about a zillion times.