The Little Book of Fun on a Shoestring

Activity Type:

Role Play


3-5 years



Type of Content:


Related Activities

Light And Dark

An idea for fun on a shoestring

by Sam Goodman and Elaine Massey

What you need

  • activity tunnels

  • large barrels (clean)

  • large pipes

  • old sheets

  • a selection of torches and battery-operated lanterns

  • large boxes

  • night-time play creatures (rabbits, moles, owls, foxes and hedgehogs etc.)

  • luminous clothing or luminous strips

  • luminous stickers

  • old CDs

  • plastic mirrors or a mirror sheet

What you do

What is dark and what is light?

  • Talk about what light and dark mean. Discuss the moon, stars, night-time and what we can see in the sky. When do we see stars?

  • Talk about the sun, daytime and light. Discuss sunny days and cloudy days.

  • Talk about times of the day.

  • Explain how all living things – animals, birds, insects and people need light and warmth from the sun.

  • Talk about needing sleep and make a collection of nightwear!

Investigate tunnels

  • Make and explore some tunnels, using play tunnels, fabrics and chairs, or cardboard tubes. Tunnel into sand. What is a tunnel for? Where can you find tunnels?

  • Find out about and investigate animals that live underground. Why do they choose to live underground?

  • Try to find some burrows or tunnels made by animals. How do we know where a mole has been? Talk about nocturnal homes where animals go to sleep.

  • Find out who has travelled through a tunnel in a car, a train or a coach. What is it like in a tunnel?

  • Make caves indoors and outside. Use fabrics, cartons and boxes. Make caves under tables and behind cupboards. Hang ropes between two low points and make tunnels with dark fabrics.

  • Join tunnels to caves. Explore them with torches and safe battery lanterns.

  • Ask at your local scrap-store for used, cleaned-out barrels. With the ends carefully cut off and sanded for safety, they make great tunnels and dark hidey holes which children can decorate as they wish. Put luminous, shiny and holographic stickers, mirrors or mobiles inside the tunnels. Explore with a torch and see if you can guess what is inside.

Let there be light!

Health and Safety

If you light candles in your setting, you must make sure they are supervised at all times, and preferably securely fixed inside a jar or other flameproof container.

  • Make a collection of candles to display. If you ask parents and friends, they may have spare or partly used candles that you could have. Try charity and bargain shops for candles and candle holders. Tea lights are inexpensive and safer to use. Floating candles are effective and will be put out by the water if accidentally knocked!

  • Talk about what candles are made from, what they feel like and what happens as they burn.

  • Discuss where the children have seen candles (birthday cakes, church, at festivals or parties).

  • Light a candle and talk about safety of matches and candles. Keep the candle at a safe distance.

  • Watch the flame! Does it give much light?

  • Talk about what it would have been like to live in a time when all lighting was like this.

  • If you have a scented candle, smell the candle burning – remember to keep your distance!

Investigate lights, lamps and torches

  • Take a walk around your setting or your neighbourhood, and look at different lights and lamps. Don’t forget desk lamps, lamps by mirrors and spotlights. Take some photos of the lamps you see.

  • Use catalogues to make a picture collection of different sorts of lights and lamps. Remind the children of the different sorts of lamps – bedside, work, security, decoration, fairy lights, shop windows, traffic, warning and many more. Look at different lights and talk about why we need lights.

  • The children may have lamps or night lights in their bedrooms. Talk about what these are for.

  • Look at torches. Investigate how torches work.

  • Cover torches with coloured cellophane to make coloured lights.

Investigate light and vision

  • How do people see at night? What helps them? What would happen if we had to find our way without any lights to help us?

  • What happens in places where there are no lights at night – like the jungle, the desert, mountains or at sea?

  • Try a day without using any lights in your setting – what is different? What is more difficult?

  • How do animals see in the night? Which animals go out at night? Collect some information about these animals – is there anything you notice about them?

Investigate reflections...

  • Look at things that reflect light. Collect shiny objects and look at reflections in different things – spoons, saucepans, chrome objects, Christmas baubles, foil and reflective papers, metal tins, foil plates, and mirrors.

  • Display safe mirrors and other shiny things. Try drawing your reflection in a mirror or shiny surface.

  • Collect a basket of shiny things – jewellery, decorations, foil shapes, chrome things, cutlery and ornaments. Put the basket on a piece of shiny material and offer some mirrors or mirror boxes to make reflections. Add shiny fabrics to dressing-up boxes (wedding and evening wear, and shiny shoes from charity shops or offered by families).

  • Investigate kaleidoscopes, and try making one with a cardboard tube and some sequins or beads.

  • Make a mobile from unwanted CDs, foil dishes, strips of foil and other free things that reflect colour and light. Hang the mobile indoors or outside where the wind will catch it. Add some tiny bells or shells.

...And projections

  • Borrow an overhead projector or a light table and explore transparent materials such as cellophane, clear plastic and tissue.

  • Make a collection of everyday objects made from transparent and translucent materials. Try charity shops, car boot sales and supermarkets for coloured transparent picnic plates, glasses and cutlery.

Make a magical grotto

  • Ask around for unwanted fairy lights (or buy some cheaply in the Christmas sales!).

  • Decorate a dark corner of your setting with black sheets or other dark material.

  • Hang fairy lights and ropelights on your walls.

  • Add bead curtains, CDs and sequin fabric to catch the light.

  • Offer torches and battey lanterns so the children can shine them on the dark walls.

Health and Safety

Make sure all lighting is securely fixed with no trailing cables!

Sit in your grotto and tell stories about night and day

  • Hoot – Jane Hissey

  • Whatever Next? – Jill Murphy

  • Peace at Last – Jill Murphy

  • Can’t You Sleep Little Bear? – Martin Waddell

  • Funny Bones – Janet and Allan Ahlberg

  • Fly by Night – Juen Crebbin

  • The Rescue Party – Nick Butterworth

  • Hedgehog’s Balloon – Nick Butterworth

  • Wishing Moon – Lesley Harker

  • It Was a Dark and Stormy Night – Allan Ahlberg

  • Night Light: a story for children afraid of the dark – Jack Dutro

  • Night Monkey, Day Monkey – Julia Donaldson

  • The Owl Who Was Afraid of the Dark – Jill Tomlinson (also available as an audio book)

  • Mog in the Dark – Judith Kerr

  • Dark, Dark Tale – Ruth Brown

  • Owl Babies – Martin Waddell

  • Percy’s Friend the Hedgehog – Nick Butterworth

  • The Winter Hedgehog – Ann Cartwright

  • Night Animals – Susan Meredith

  • Nocturnal Animals and Classroom Nights (Science in Every Sense) – Rhonda Vansant

Investigate shadows

  • Go outside on a sunny day and explore shadows.

  • Use chalk to draw round shadows of people and things.

  • Make shadows indoors with an overhead projector and a big white sheet for a screen.

  • Make shadow puppets from black painted card attached to garden sticks. Play your show on a screen.

And some more ideas...

  • Make a night-time small world with cardboard tubes, branches, leaves and sticks for small world play with nocturnal animals and torches.

  • Talk about people who work at night – police, nurses, ambulance drivers, firepeople, shift worker and those who work at cinemas and theatres, caretakers, bin men and people who work in power stations, all night supermarkets and petrol stations, hospitals, airports etc.

  • Remember to celebrate festivals of light and fire – Chanukah, Divali, Candlemass, the Christmas story, Zhong Qiu (Chinese festival of the moon) and Bonfire Night. Many springtime festivals celebrate the return of the sun, light and warmth after the cold months of winter.

  • Make a simple sundial from a stick and mark the place of the shadow each hour.

  • Make a shadow shape bingo game with black shadow pictures of everyday objects.

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