How to Create Glow-In-The-Dark Bowling In Your Home

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.

Glow-in-the-dark bowling: Discover a simple, inexpensive activity that will get your kids moving and giggling, and telling their friends all about it.

Why Bowling?

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:

  1. The youngest person to ever shoot a perfect 300 game was 10-year-old Chaz Dennis from Columbus, Ohio.
  2. 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.
  3. The maximum weight for a bowling ball is 16 pounds.
  4. There is no minimum weight for a bowling ball.
  5. A 292 is the rarest score anyone can get.
  6. The German outdoor version of bowling called “skittles” is named after the small pins used, not after the colorful candies.
  7. There is a bowling alley in the White House. It was built in 1947 for President Truman.
  8. Pins are made of maple wood and covered with a hard plastic coating.
  9. King Henry the VIII enjoyed bowling and was said to use cannon balls to knock down pins.
  10. 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.

dark 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

Preparation Time

10-15 minutes to prepare your pins

Activity Time

20-30 minutes to complete a 10-frame game

Location

  • 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.

bowling supplies

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

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.

make 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.

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.

hallway setup

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.

pin diagram

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.

Bowling Lingo

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!

lights out bowling

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.

making pins

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.

Conversation Starters:

  • 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.

Study it!

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.

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.

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About the Author, Kirsten Nelson

Kirsten Nelson is a professional mom of two, blogger and podcaster. In her spare time, she works as a ghostwriter and copywriter for a Calgary-based marketing firm. Other posts by »




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  • http://www.SelfEmployedKing.com/ Mike Kawula

    Hey Kirsten – Super Creative! Kids use paper cups down our hallway all the time for bowling, but they’d love the Glow-Stick idea especially with friends!

    Thumbs Up!

  • Gregory Grigoriou

    Awesome idea. I wonder if there is a more permanent solution for the glowsticks though. It seems such a shame to create these amazing pins only to be able to use them for 24 hours. Maybe something with LEDs glow sticks?

  • http://www.mykidsadventures.com/ Jennifer Ballard

    Great article, Kirsten! Thanks for being part of My Kids’ Adventures from the very first week. My son’s Cub Scout pack will have a great time doing this on our next campout. They love games to play in the dark.

  • Belinda McElroy

    I LOve this idea and will do it the next time my grandchildren come. We have the perfect long hallway to do this in. Can’t wait!

  • KirstenNelson

    Mike- Paper cups are a great idea! Hope you guys enjoy the glow-sticks :)

  • KirstenNelson

    Gregory- That’s a very clever idea! I will have to keep an eye out for LED glow sticks. My kids love flashlights of any kind, so that would be a huge hit! Thanks!

  • KirstenNelson

    Awesome, Jennifer! This would be lots of fun on a campout. There’s definitely something magical about playing in the dark. :)

  • KirstenNelson

    Excellent, Belinda! I hope the grandkids have fun. Sounds like you’re the grandma’s house grandkids never want to leave. :)

  • http://kommein.com Deb Ng

    We have played hide and seek using flashlights, I wonder if you can use small flashlights for bowling as well?

  • Ana from SimpleNailArtTips.com

    This is such a great article Kirsten! My kids would definitely have a blast with this one! I love all the random facts about bowling too! Can’t wait to try it! ~Ana

  • KirstenNelson

    Thanks, Ana! I hope your kids enjoy it.

  • KirstenNelson

    What a fun idea, Deb! I love playing hide and seek with my kids. They are still at the age where their giggling gives their position away before I can find them.

    I’m sure there’s a way to use small flashlights in bowling. My kids love playing with flashlights. I bet it would transition well into a blanket fort slumber party! :) Great idea! Thanks for sharing, Deb!

  • Leigh

    oh wow!! this sounds super fun!!! I showed my kids and they are really excited to do this:) thanks for the great idea!

  • KirstenNelson

    Very cool, Leigh! Glad to hear the kids are excited to give it a try. Hope you guys have a blast!

  • http://www.EricTTung.com/ Eric T. Tung

    Perhaps use a few drops of white paint or milk to cloud up the water and see the pins more distinctly!

  • KirstenNelson

    Oh, that’s a very interesting idea Eric! That opens the possibilities WAY up! We will have to experiment with that next time. Thanks for the great idea!

  • Melanie Kissell

    Super cool idea, Kirsten — love it!

  • KirstenNelson

    Thanks, Melanie! we sure had fun with it.

  • EmilyQuestions

    I LOVE this idea – what a creative way to have some family fun! Thanks, Kirsten!

  • Brandon Schaefer

    Kirsten, great article and great information, love the fine details, even down to the diagrams.

  • KirstenNelson

    Glad you enjoyed it, Brandon! And who says the devil is in the details… the details are the best part :)

  • KirstenNelson

    You’re most welcome, Emily. Hope you and your family have as much fun as we did! Enjoy!

  • Bron Hogan

    Gret idea – cant wait to play this with my grad kids!

  • KirstenNelson

    Awesome! I’m sure you will have a blast. That’s a night at Grandma’s they are sure to remember for the rest of their lives. Enjoy!

  • http://PositiveWomenRock.com/ Kelly Rudolph

    Great idea! Thanks for the fun project that leads to a fun game. Sharing with my mom friends.

  • KirstenNelson

    Thanks for passing it along, Kelly :)

  • Bridgitte Raven

    awsome. doing it this weekend. cant wait.

  • Melissa Jo Capps

    I absolutely love spending time with my grandbabies and this is an awesome idea for me and my grandson. We spend a lot of time doing crafts, nature walks, discovery hiking, etc. I am going to try the glow-in-the-dark paint for this as a permanent substitute for the glow sticks. The initial cost will be a little more than the glow sticks, but will be a one time purchase. Thanks, Kirsten, for sharing such a fun, family time activity.

  • http://www.jonkidwell.com/ Jon Kidwell

    Thanks Kirsten. We do a lock-in every year at school and Nighttime Bowling will be a fantastic activity to do with the kids.

  • KirstenNelson

    Sweet! Let me know how it goes, Bridgitte :)

  • KirstenNelson

    What a great idea, Melissa! Let me know how the paint works. I’m sure my boys would love painting the bottles, too! Sounds like your grandson is in for a treat! Thanks Melissa!

  • KirstenNelson

    Oh, that will be a blast with a bunch of kids together like that! Very cool, Jon. Hope it goes well for you!

  • Carlisa

    Question, does keeping the water in the water bottle help the glow sticks shine brighter?

  • Colleen Sebastian

    My son and his friends love glow sticks and like to bowl. I can only imagine the fun that will ensue when we combine the two this weekend. Thanks for the idea Kirsten.

  • Steve Himes

    I gave this a try last night. My kids had lots of fun. I had them put on their pajamas before we started and called it ‘Pajama Bowling’! We had names for different rolls during each frame, “Backwards Roll”, “Over, Under Roll”, “Ski Jump Roll” and so on. This was good for the kids, and I also got good remarks from my wife for interacting with the kids in such a creative way. Thanks for sharing!

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  • KirstenNelson

    Hi Carlisa, the water did seem to help “distribute the glow” a bit. I’m no physicist, but I’d guess it’s the same phenomenon as a light in a swimming pool. It really looked cool with the lights out! The water also helped give the water bottles enough weight to stand up. Thanks for asking!

  • KirstenNelson

    My boys feel the same way. It really is a great combination! Hope you buys have fun, Colleen!

  • KirstenNelson

    Awesome, Steve! Glad you guys had fun. Sounds like you guys got really creative. Love the different rolls. :)

  • Dominique

    We tried with with our kids over the weekend and they had a blast! Thank you very much!! This was an awesome idea. ;-)

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  • QCharm

    This is soooo cool!!! Plus, I love the way you expand the activity into various learning/studying/talking activities. You would make a great occupational therapist!

  • KirstenNelson

    Glad you enjoyed it Denise. It really was a fun activity–I’ve always loved anything that glows in the dark. Funny you mention occupational therapist :) We are working with my older son on some sensory processing issues. I guess all my reading is showing up in my writing. Kids aside, I love digging for more information and seeing how it all fits together. Makes my inner geek happy :)

  • KirstenNelson

    Awesome! So glad to hear you guys had fun, Dominique! Thanks a bunch for coming back and sharing your weekend :)

  • Paula Luke

    This sounds like a great idea – we are definitely going to try it on the patio outdoors this summer. There is something a bit exciting and mischievous about playing outdoors after dark (but keeping it safe by doing it in the back garden) and I’m sure my kid’s friends in the neighbour hood will soon want to join in. thanks for the idea

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  • KirstenNelson

    You’re absolutely right about the excitement and mischief of playing outside in the dark. It’s one of my favorite memories from when I was a kid. :) Hope the kids (and you) had fun!

  • Alvin Wayne Weiss

    Great idea; and thanks for the book – I just downloaded it…

  • KirstenNelson

    Glad you enjoyed it Alvin!



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