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Play Like Fireflies

Fireflies are synonymous with summer nights, camping out under the stars, and childhood delight! There are few other creatures who share the same amazing capacity to create a glow of light within their bodies- and to use that glow to flash messages to communicate! To bring some of that summertime magic into your child’s play, offer a flashlight and invite kids to explore their world like fireflies.

The Guide

Learn about fireflies: If you live in an area where fireflies are commonly found, head outside around dusk or dark and look for their flashing lights. Fireflies can often be found near long grasses, marshy areas and near ponds, lakes, streams and other bodies of water. If fireflies are not commonly found in your area (or don’t come out until past your wee one’s bedtime), watch this video of fireflies lighting up a summer night together. To learn more about these fascinating beetles, watch this video from National Geographic about the synchronous fireflies, known for coordinating their flashes.


Explore flashlights: Ask, “Would you like to pretend to be a firefly?” Head outside after dark and offer your child a flashlight to explore. If waiting for the sun to go down interferes with your child’s bedtime, explore flashlights inside a tent or hideout outside. Or, if playing inside, turn off the lights and close curtains and blinds. Give kids plenty of time just to practice turning their flashlight on and off and explore how they work. Invite kids to shine their flashlight on a wall or side of a tent and move closer and then farther apart. Notice how the size and intensity of the beam of light changes with the distance between the flashlight and the wall.


Play with shadows: Place your hand in front of the flashlight as kids point their light on the wall or side of the tent to show them how to make shadows. Invite kids to move their own hands in different positions to make shadow shapes and hand puppets. Invite kids to hold objects from nature in front of their flashlight to explore shadows, too.


Flashlight hide-and-seek: Hide nature treasures around your space and invite kids to pretend to be fireflies searching for insects to eat. Can they use their light to find their food in the dark?


Play with patterns: Each firefly has its own flashing pattern that they use to communicate with each other. Try out your own flashlight patterns by either turning the flashlight on and off or by placing a hand over the light and then removing it. Play a call and response game with your child in which each person takes a turn to create a flashing pattern and the other person imitates. Or, play some music and flash your lights to the beat of a favorite song.

Why is this activity great for kids?

Flashlights are super tools for teaching kids about light and shadow, all while helping them develop their focus. Adding a tool to imaginative play supports divergent thinking. And, pretending to be another creature is a wonderful way to nurture kids’ cognitive empathy.

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