When it comes to kiddos and their legendary energy supply, forget trying to bottle it. A five-gallon bucket would be a better place to start. Siphon off some of that super juice into active games like flashlight tag, monkey tails and Simon Says to make bedtime easier. Your little Energizer bunny will drift off to dreamland in no time. Sleep tight!

Kids in Halloween jimmies
photo: Allison Sutcliffe

Take it Outside

When it comes to energetic little people, nothing zaps that endless supply like the great outdoors. Give them game time coupled with fresh air and watch them crash. Hard. Here are our favorite ways to give them a (literal) run around in the backyard or at a local park before the sandman comes a-calling.

Light it up. The shorter nights make a few rounds of Flashlight Tag an enlightening pre-bedtime game. All you need is flashlight or two to shine on your sidekick as she darts back and forth across the yard trying to avoid the spotlight. Once she’s tagged, trade places or let her keep running for maximum sleep potential. Plan for about 15-20 minutes of play time before whisking your Little off to bed. She’ll be sawing logs faster than you can say “lights out!”

Kids running outside in pjs

photo: Allison Sutcliffe

Monkey around. Building on the “tag, you’re it!” theme, Monkey Tails is a silly variation that gets the whole crew involved in the chase. Simply tuck tails (socks or even dad’s ties make great ones) into the monkeys’ waistbands, then send everyone off, ducking, dodging and running wild, in an effort to keep their tails from being nabbed by another player. The last player with a tail wins. Then it’s off to bed for your little monkey.

Heed the call. Modify a classic pool game with a few tweaks, and you’ve got a backyard romp to tire out your kidlet. Play a few rounds of Marco-Polo outside before slipping on the jammies and starting the bedtime routine. All that ducking, dodging and blind searching is more tiring than you’d expect, which makes it a great way to wear out wee ones pre-bedtime.

Green light, go! Resurrect a playground fave to tire out the tots. We love Red Light/Green Light because it’s simple and quick to play. Plus, it gives parents the option to take it easy as the caller or join in the game (hello daily workout!). Stop and go until they’re tuckered out from all that running.

Boy playing catch

photo: Allison Sutcliffe

Play ball. Augment a standard game of catch with Pop Up (think fly ball!) to get those wiggles out before bedtime. Parents, work hard to launch balls rocket-style so littles players have a reason to run, run, run. With any luck, they’ll be worn out after a few “innings,” in addition to having a head start on training for the Majors. Play ball, then sleep tight!

Run a relay. Put all the stuffies around the pad to good use with a sleepy time relay race. The goal for this one is simple. Besides giving your wiggle worms a chance to dash here and there, it’s as easy as piling all the stuffies on one end of the yard and racing to put them to “bed” on the other. When the relay ends, send your little sleepyhead off to snuggle with all those lovies. Work out parent/sidekick teams or have sibs race against each other in this run-you-ragged pre-jammie game.


Explore Inside

For cold or rainy nights when outside play time isn’t an option, or for kids who like to live low-key, consider playing an inside game (or two) before they hit the hay. Take one of these ideas for a test drive the next time your crew has energy to burn. 

Photo: Gabby Cullen 

Strike a child’s pose. Soothe your sleepyhead to bed with a short and simple nighttime yoga session. Think of it as a reverse sun salutation to greet the moon and get your little yogi relaxed before tucking him in. Stretch and bend right along with your sidekick to get zen-ed out before stories. Best part? Jammies and yoga were made for each other.

Get tricked out. Reserve front row seats for a toddler pre-bed spectacular! Invite your sidekick to show you his best dance moves, tricks and gymnastics stunts on “stage” before heading off to bed. They’ll tumble tiredly into dreamland after putting on this production.

photo: Gabby Cullen

Follow the leader. Playing multiple rounds of Simon Says puts parents in charge of the petering-out pace. Wind them up with lots of jumps and twirls and hands on your toes to expend that daily dose of excited energy. Then quiet things down with stretches to the sky, yawns and a final curl up into bed. Simon says he’s all tuckered out!

kids playing simon says
photo: Allison Sutcliffe

Toss toys. This simple clean-up game is an easy two-fer. Focus energy from wound up toddlers getting ready to board the train to sleepytown? Check. Playfully encouraging cutie pies to clean up their play space? You bet. Set “baskets” out around the room and then have kids shoot toys for points from different angles. Keep score or total the toy tally for reinforcing fun. Practically perfect! 

Guess again. This simple game will help your little thinkers put their brains to bed before their bodies settle in for the night by using up brain power. Lay out a toy grid on the floor and have a blanket at the ready. Then it’s eyes shut tight while mom or dad hides one toy under the blanket. Open them and the search is on as your little Sherlock tries to figure out which toy is missing. Eureka!

Little people and blanket game
photo: Allison Sutcliffe 

Time it out. Extra energy is no match for timed trials. So grab your device and use it to time the kidlets running stairs, taking laps around the kitchen island, tearing up the basement. Whatever “course” you choose, encourage little racers to beat their last time or compete against a sib before racing off to bed. And they’re off… to sleep! 

photo: Gabby Cullen

Go on a hunt. Let them burn off those last bits of the day in search of stuffies for bedtime cuddles. Hide a bunch of them around the house, then send the littles off and running in an extensive search and rescue operation. Or tie in the hunt with getting ready by hiding pajamas, toothbrushes, books and blankies for tiny tots to find. We love the way this expenditure dovetails nicely into the nighttime routine.

How do you wear out the kids before bedtime? Tell us about it in a comment. 

— Allison Sutcliffe

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