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It’s very dark!

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By Nina Filipekfreelance education writer and supply teacher

Explore some of the exciting aspects of night-time and the dark

Dark area

child with torch

In a corner of your room, create an area where the children can experience the dark, for example, under a large table draped with blankets, or inside a playhouse with the windows blacked out. Hide a selection of objects with interesting textures, smells and sounds in the dark area. Add luminous objects for fun, for example, plastic skeletons and spiders. Encourage the children to discover the hidden objects. Change the objects each day so that there is something new for the children to discover.

Let the children take a torch when they first enter the dark area. When they feel more at ease, suggest that they go in without it. Encourage the children to spend time in the cave exploring the dark for themselves, but be on hand to supervise them inside, if necessary. Encourage the children to talk about what it felt like in the dark area. Was it fun?

Suggested resources

Blankets; curtains; black paper; objects with different textures such as furry and plastic toys, metal spoon, wooden spoon, woollen hat or glove, cloth slipper; objects with distinctive smells such as bar of soap, pomander; objects with distinctive sounds such as tambourine, bell, maracas; safe, edible objects with distinctive textures, shapes and smells such as orange, apple, banana; extra adult help to supervise the children in the dark area.

1 Nocturnal animals

Make and decorate a nocturnal animal mask

Creative Development

Exploring Media and Materials

Development matters: begin to be interested in and describe the texture of things (30-50 months); create constructions, collages, paintings and drawings (40-60+ months).

Early learning goal: explore colour, texture, shape, form and space in two or three dimensions.

What you need

Group size: small groups. Photographs of nocturnal animals; ‘Animal mask’ activity sheet; child scissors; recyclable materials to make animal features such as faux fur, felt, feathers and so on; felt-tipped pens; lolly sticks or elastic.

What to do

Look at the photographs of nocturnal animals. Encourage the children to talk about and describe the animals’ interesting features, for example, the owl’s big eyes, the cat’s shiny green eyes, the fox’s large ears and the hedgehog’s long nose.

Invite the children to decorate their mask by selecting colours, textures and shapes to resemble their chosen animal.

Attach a lolly stick to the side of each mask for the children to hold up against their faces. Alternatively, attach elastic to each mask. What sound do the animals make? Can the children make appropriate animal noises?


Help the children to cut and stick the resources to make their mask.


With the children wearing their animal masks, make up a mime or dance accompanied by improvised music.

Birth to 36 months

Provide a range of toy nocturnal animals for the children to play with.

Cross-curricular links

  • CLL – speak clearly and audibly with confidence and control and show awareness of the listener.
  • KUW – investigate objects and materials by using all of their senses as appropriate.

2 Who’s afraid of the dark?

Talk about different fears

Personal, Social and Emotional Development

Self-confidence and Self-esteem

Development matters: show increasing confidence in new situations (30-50 months); express needs and feelings in appropriate ways (40-60+ months).

Early learning goal: respond to significant experiences, showing a range of feelings when appropriate.

What you need

Group size: small group. Copy of The Owl Who Was Afraid of the Dark by Jill Tomlinson and Paul Howard (Egmont); soft toy owl.

What to do

Read The Owl Who Was Afraid of the Dark to the children. Pass a toy owl around a small group of children. As each child takes the toy, ask them to tell the owl what they think about the dark. Tell any reluctant children that they can whisper in the owl’s ear if they do not want everyone else to know.

Talk about the likeable animals that come out in the dark, for example, hedgehogs, owls and cats, and also the moon and stars. Discuss the enjoyable things that we can do at night-time, for example, curl up in a cosy bed, listen to a bedtime story and so on. Encourage the children to draw a picture of their favourite night-time animal or event.


Offer reassurance and try to allay any fears by drawing on positive images.


Create a night-time mural with shiny foil stars and a moon. Invite the children to draw nocturnal animals on to the background and hide them under paper flaps for other children to find.

Birth to 36 months

Share the pictures in the book with the children.

Cross-curricular links

  • CLL – use talk to organise, sequence and clarify thinking, ideas, feelings and events.
  • KUW – find out about, and identify, some features of living things, objects and events they observe.

3 Cave explorers

Explore a range of materials using the senses

Knowledge and Understanding of the World

Exploration and Investigation

Development matters: show curiosity and interest in the features of objects and living things (30-50 months); show an awareness of change (40-60+ months).

Early learning goal: investigate objects and materials by using all of their senses as appropriate.

What you need

Group size: small group. Dark area; materials and objects with different textures, smells, sounds and tastes; digital camera; printer; photographs of the objects; torch.

What to do

Before carrying out this activity, ask for parental permission to taste foods and check for any food allergies and dietary requirements. Take photographs of the objects that you are going to hide in the cave, then print them out. Hide the objects in the cave and give the children the printed photos. Tell them that they are cave explorers and they will need to use all of their senses to identify the objects that you have hidden. Explain that they can touch, smell and listen for clues, but they should not taste anything.

Ask the children to bring one object from the cave that they think they can eat, and if they are correct, they may eat it on their return. Emphasise that they should not eat anything inside the cave.

At the end of the session, let the children explore the cave with a torch.

Home links

  • Let the children take their animal masks home to use for imaginative play with their families.

Further ideas

  • Encourage the children to draw pictures or write words to express their feelings about the dark.
  • Read other books with a night-time theme such as Can’t You Sleep, Little Bear? by Martin Waddell and Barbara Firth (Walker Books) and How to Catch a Star by Oliver Jeffers (HarperCollins).


Let the children go into the dark area with a partner.


Encourage the children to take turns to hide an object for another child to find.

Birth to 36 months

Place a familiar object into a feely bag. Can the children guess what it is?

Cross-curricular links

  • PSED – work as part of a group, taking turns and sharing fairly.
  • CD – respond in a variety of ways to what they see, touch and feel.