Blowing things up for fun is encoded deeply in our nation’s DNA, but it’s generally not a safe activity for children. That doesn’t mean you can’t create an impressive spectacle this Independence Day though. I tried to capture some essence of the fireworks experience with each of these kid-safer suggestions. I also included a couple options that seem like good ideas, but are actually terrible ideas.
Table of Contents
Despite what you’ll probably tell your kid, most safe replacements for fireworks are not as fun as fireworks—fireworks are awesome—but water rockets are the exception. They are way more spectacular than you think they’re going to be, and provide an easy DIY project you and your child can do together that ends in sending a plastic bottle hundreds of feet in the air (then getting stuck in a tree).
Water rockets are generally a daytime thing, but if you want to get creative for the fourth, you could add some LED lights for a nighttime launch. Here’s a guide to building your own water rocket, but picking up a pre-made water rocket kit on Amazon is way easier.
LED fog machine
Part of the reason fireworks are cool is the way they create an unusual visual experience for your kids. You can safely create a similar “you don’t see this every day!” effect with an LED fog machine at night. Filling your backyard with a thick layer of mist isn’t traditionally associated with Independence Day, of course, but you can think of it as a celebration of the rugged individualism that makes our country great. Plus, Halloween is right around the corner.
Silly String can damage vinyl and the clear coat on your car. It’s flammable and not biodegradable. I probably shouldn’t recommend it, but on the other hand, it’s Silly String, the dumbest, funnest toy in history. Silly String satisfies the slightly dangerous, “we’re not supposed to be doing this” vibe that comes from lighting off fireworks, but it’s non-toxic and won’t blow your fingers off. As an added bonus, modern Silly String no longer damages the ozone layer like it used to.
Launching a spinning LED light into the nighttime sky isn’t as thrilling as blowing off a roman candle, but it’s something, and it’s way safer as long as no one shoots it at their eyes. These “Rocket Copters” are only one of the many kinds of LED slingshots you can pick up for almost nothing.
Whether you call them bang snaps, party snaps, pop-its, snap-its, poppers, or just “those little white paper things that explode when you throw them,” kids love ‘em. Each tiny pebble in a bang snap has been soaked in volatile silver fulminate, but the concentration is small enough that they’re generally considered safe for kids—even if one goes off in their hand, it’s only going to sting a little. “Adult snappers” are not safe for kids, however.
Glow sticks are cool, I guess. They light up. Yay. I don’t know that many kids who get too jazzed about them in this day and age, but still, I feel obligated to say “get your kids some glow sticks for the fourth.” I recommend these ultra bright glow sticks for the more intense light and the longer duration, but you could get all patriotic with these red, white, and blue glow sticks too.
Glowing soap bubbles
Ordinary soap bubbles are probably passé to your child, but you can make glowing soap bubbles and really wow ‘em on the fourth. Some kinds of glowing bubbles glow on their own; some need a UV light, but you can make them all yourself with household objects and simple instructions. Here’s a YouTube video to get you started; mind the toxicity of any chemicals you add to soap bubbles, of course.
Part of the allure of fireworks is that they’re really loud and annoying. Well, so is a vuvuzela. This horrific plastic horn is guaranteed to delight children, even if everyone else will hate it. Nothing says “I love America!” like making a ton of noise, am I right? I recommend only giving a vuvuzela to someone else’s child, however.
Bad substitutes for fireworks
In researching this article, I glanced at other online articles suggesting fireworks replacements for the fourth of July. Many often-repeated suggestions are just not fun (“yay! A flashlight!”), but a couple common tips are borderline dangerous.
It might seem like a good idea to substitute lasers for fireworks (particularly if paired with a fog machine) but lasers are never a good toy for children. The low power variety probably won’t permanently blind your child if they shine it in their eyes, but it’s possible to buy powerful, sight-destroying lasers online and not even know it—laser manufacturers aren’t exactly known for quality control.
Sending a bunch of helium balloons with LED lights into the nighttime sky probably looks impressive, but they eventually land somewhere. Latex balloons aren’t the worst thing ever for the environment (they take six months to four years to biodegrade) but they are often eaten by wildlife, causing death. Plus, helium is a non renewable resource we need for weather balloons, arc welding shields, and supersonic wind tunnels.