Looking for a fun twist on an evening in with the kids?
Love the crash of knocking down pins, but not the questionable fashion of rental shoes?
Try glow-in-the-dark nighttime bowling at home.
It’s bowling with a little something extra that is sure to get your kids so excited they’ll jump off the couch, turn off the TV and play—no silly shoes required!
In this article I’ll show you all you need to create this indoor adventure.
Bowling has been entertaining families for thousands of years. Some researchers have traced the history of bowling back as far as 3200 BC.
Granted, the sport has changed a bit since ancient Egypt. But it has continued to grow in popularity and is now enjoyed by some 95 million people in 90 countries.
Now you can experience bowling at home!
Random Bowling Facts
10 things you probably didn’t know about bowling:
- The youngest person to ever shoot a perfect 300 game was 10-year-old Chaz Dennis from Columbus, Ohio.
- Bowling balls were made of wood until the early 1900s. Hard rubber was used until the 1960s and 1970s. Today most ten-pin bowling balls are made from polyester, resin or urethane.
- The maximum weight for a bowling ball is 16 pounds.
- There is no minimum weight for a bowling ball.
- A 292 is the rarest score anyone can get.
- The German outdoor version of bowling called “skittles” is named after the small pins used, not after the colorful candies.
- There is a bowling alley in the White House. It was built in 1947 for President Truman.
- Pins are made of maple wood and covered with a hard plastic coating.
- King Henry the VIII enjoyed bowling and was said to use cannon balls to knock down pins.
- The world’s largest bowling alley is in Japan and has 114 lanes.
What Is Nighttime Bowling?
We introduced our boys, ages 5 and 7, to bowling at my oldest son’s birthday party. We reserved a lane with gutter guards, put on our oh-so-stylish bowling shoes and played a couple of games of 10-pin at the local bowling alley. We had a blast, but left with my wallet $60 lighter.
I wanted to try a more economical do-it-yourself version of bowling and was excited to discover nighttime bowling.
When the lights go out, set ‘em up and knock ‘em down.
Nighttime bowling is a simple way to engage with your kids when the sun goes down or when the lights go out. It’s fun and the nighttime aspect lets you share something cool and unique that they’ll remember for a long time.
What You’ll Need
- 6 glow sticks
- 1 ball heavy enough to knock over water bottles (We used a small basketball.)
- 6 water bottles
- Paper and pencil to keep score
10-15 minutes to prepare your pins
20-30 minutes to complete a 10-frame game
- Indoors: A clear hallway, kitchen or living area (Make sure to remove all fragile or breakable items when bowling inside.)
- Outdoors: A relatively level patio, playground, driveway or grassy area (Use caution if you are near a street.)
Nighttime bowling is easy. All you do is drop some glow sticks in water bottles, set up your pins and knock ‘em down.
#1: Get Your Pins Ready
It’s easy to set up the cool, glowing pins of nighttime bowling. The secret is the glow sticks. I picked up two packs of Coleman Illumisticks from Target when I stopped to get some milk. They’re also available on Amazon. They were quite bright and colorful.
I’m sure the dollar store–variety glow sticks would work just as well as the Coleman brand.
Nighttime bowling supplies lined up and ready to go.
Follow the directions on the glow stick packages and “crack” your glow sticks to activate the chemicals. My kids had a blast cracking the glow sticks and dropping them in the bottles of water.
Glow sticks start glowing almost instantly. The Coleman glow sticks were very bright and colorful.
#2: Get Your Pins Glowing
Add one glow stick to each water bottle to create six bowling pins. Be sure to leave approximately 1 inch (2.54 cm) of headspace in the water bottles to prevent overflow when adding the glow sticks.
Peel the labels off of the water bottles to make it easier to see the glowing pins.
Use different-colored glow sticks and water bottles for pins. Peel labels off of bottles so you can see the colors.
Turn off the lights to see the full effect of the glowing pins.
The pins are aglow and ready to play.
#3: Set Up the Bowling Alley
Nighttime bowling is well-suited to either indoor or outdoor play. If you’re enjoying a warm summer evening outside, set up your pins on a patio, playground, level driveway or flat grassy area.
If you’d rather stay indoors, all you need is to set a a clear path in a hallway, kitchen or other living area. To avoid the rain and banana slugs that frequent our yard in Seattle, we opted to play indoors.
Our makeshift bowling alley with pins aglow.
Nighttime bowling would be a fun activity to play at family reunions or other gatherings too.
Set pins up in a triangle formation approximately 4 to 6 inches apart:
- 3 pins in the back row
- 2 pins in the middle row
- 1 pin in front
Variation: To make it easier for bowlers to knock down pins, decrease the space between pins. To make it more challenging, increase space between pins.
Aerial view of pins.
#4: The Rules: By the Book or Create Your Own
Traditional bowling rules are a bit complex, especially for younger children.
I wanted to focus more on having fun than on fiddling with the rules in the dark, so I pared down the rules to simplify things:
- For each game, you play 10 frames, or rounds.
- During each frame, every player has a turn to knock down as many pins as possible.
- Players get to roll the ball twice each turn. If a player knocks down all the pins (a strike), they only roll the ball once for that turn.
- Players receive 1 point for each pin knocked down. Have a paper and pencil handy to keep score.
- To make it more challenging for older kids, assign different point values to different-colored pins: 1 point for red, 2 points for blue, 3 points for green, etc.
- When you complete all 10 frames, add up everyone’s points to see who got the highest score.
I made sure to review what it means to play with good sportsmanship with my boys and emphasized the importance of taking turns and treating each other with respect.
Impress (or embarrass) your kids with these cool bowling phrases:
- Strike—Knocking over all ten pins with the first ball
- Turkey—Three consecutive strikes
- Ham bone or four bagger—Four consecutive strikes
- Wild turkey—Six consecutive strikes
- Golden turkey—Nine strikes in a row
- Deuce—Bowling a game of 200 points or more
#5: Turn Out the Lights and Bowl!
Grab the ball, turn out the lights and have fun!
Bowling in the dark—a great adventure.
Allow 20 to 30 minutes to complete a 10-frame game. We played heartily for about 30 minutes.
The glow sticks will remain active for about 24 hours. My boys played their own games in their room after we finished the family game, and then set up the pins again in the morning for some self-directed fun.
Talk to Them
Nighttime bowling offers many opportunities to engage in conversation with your kids. Ask lots of questions and encourage them to ask questions, too.
For example, while setting up your pins, talk about what makes glow sticks glow.
Let kids help make the pins. Note the headspace in the bottle to prevent overflow.
While playing, have your kids experiment with setting the pins in different ways—closer together or further apart—and guess which setup will be easier to knock down.
Experiment with different ball-release styles. My boys both agreed that granny style was their favorite.
- Can you knock over more pins if you roll the ball harder or softer?
- What different ways can you think of to roll the ball?
- Would it be easier or harder to knock down more pins if the pins were spaced further apart? Let’s experiment!
- Is it easier to knock more pins down when you are closer to the pins or when you are farther away?
- What is the highest possible score?
- Can you think of any stories or shows where the characters were bowling?
- How would you improve the game? What would you do differently?
Ask kids to compare their experience at a traditional bowling alley with your nighttime bowling. Mine agreed they liked the glow pins better, but they missed the bowling ball return machine (the pinsetter) that seemed to magically return the ball so they could play another frame.
Have the kids keep score. It’s a great opportunity to practice basic math skills while doing something fun.
Take advantage of kids’ unending curiosity to dig deeper into their questions and learn more. I’ve listed a few fun lessons that could spring from nighttime bowling. These would be great for homeschooling parents or for anyone who has kids who are eager to learn more.
- How do glow sticks work?
- How do friction, gravity and momentum make bowling possible?
- Math activities for bowling.
Some Final Thoughts…
Nighttime bowling is a simple, inexpensive activity that will get your kids moving and giggling and telling their friends all about it. And you get to wear your own shoes!
You’ll earn glowing reviews for an evening of family fun. This is definitely an activity that my family will be doing again soon. I hope you’ll try it, too.
What do you think? Did you make any variations to suit your family? I’d love to hear from you and see pictures of your glow-in-the-dark bowling fun. Please share your experience in the box below.