Keystone Science School: Long nights don’t have to be short on fun |

Keystone Science School: Long nights don’t have to be short on fun

JOEL EGBERTKeystone Science School camp director

Here on the Keystone Science School campus, we’ve sadly let go of the long days of summer and started to find ways to learn new things and have some fun during the darker hours of winter. Why does it get so dark so early this time of year? We are approaching winter solstice, a time each year where Earth is angled as far away from the sun as it can get. This means shorter days and longer nights. How do our bodies adapt? Our bodies automatically adapt to less light. We have special cells in our eyes called rods that allow us to see in the dark. There are 90 million of these cells in each eye. Rods contain a photosensitive pigment that allows them to react very quickly to the smallest increase or decrease in light. Try this: With an adult’s supervision, light a candle in a dark room. Then cover one eye with your hand and look at the candle for a few minutes with your uncovered eye. Blow out the candle and carefully look around the room. Blink one eye at a time, from left to right. Now do the same thing with the lights on in the room. One eye has its rods activated while the other doesn’t. What’s different?How do animals adapt? Some animals, called nocturnal animals, prefer the dark to the light. They sleep during the day, roam at night, and have a very keen sense of smell and hearing. One that resides here in Summit County is the Big Brown Bat. Although bats have eyes, they don’t rely on them like we do. The Big Brown Bat uses echolocation to navigate, which means it uses sound to see. When it screeches, it creates sound waves that radiate outward until they come into contact with something; for example, a moth. The waves bounce off the moth and back to the bat, carrying the “sound” of the moth’s body back to the bat’s sensitive ears within six thousandths of a second. The bat just “heard” one of its favorite treats and knows exactly where to find it. Try this: Grab some friends or family members for this great game. Make a wide circle around two people. Blindfold one of the people inside the circle – they’ll be the mighty Brown Bat. The other person is the Moth. The circle of friends are there to keep the Bat and the Moth safe and in bounds. When everyone is ready, the Bat says “squeak” and the Moth replies with “squeak.” The Bat must try to tag the Moth without seeing it, using only its ears to determine where the Moth is. Once the Moth is caught, switch places until everyone gets a turn.How do parents adapt? Shorter days can pose a challenge for parents looking for activities to keep their kids busy. At the Science School, we take advantage of clear winter nights by looking at stars through our telescope, going on night hikes, or heading out on a moonlit cross-country ski. Inside, we like to stay cozy by lighting a fire, reading a book, or playing games with family and friends. Try This: Extra-long nights offer a good opportunity to start getting younger kids comfortable at night. In addition to trying some new exciting nighttime activities, this can be a good time to start cultivating your child’s independence with fun sleepovers away from mom and dad. Even very young children can start out staying over with a family member such as a grandparent or aunt, and progress up to a close friend of the family. Eventually try having your child stay with a friend from school. The change in environment and routine – different food, different books, different people – will be a challenge for many children, but it’s a challenge that will help them develop valuable coping skills that ultimately translate to strong independence and self-esteem. Joel Egbert is the Camps & Retreats Director of Keystone Science School. He can be reached at

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