10 ways to get the kids off the couch to enjoy the longer evenings

10 ways to get the kids off the couch to enjoy the longer evenings

Trying to get your clan to put down that phone or tablet and get up and get active is no easy task. Susan O’Shea suggests 10 tried and tested methods

WITH Santa bringing a lot of gadgets in his sack this Christmas, kids across the country are probably now bleary-eyed from staring at screens.Here are some ways to get your gang moving again.

On your bike

Greenways are one of the best developments in recent years, and while packed during the summer, can make for a lovely winter’s day out. We cycled part of the Waterford Greenway last December, and while cold were rewarded with a fabulous setting sun over the Copper Coast. 

If you don’t own your own set of wheels, you can hike bikes at the starting point, or from your local bike shop. See www.osi.ie/blog/irelands-greenways-and-trails for a full list of the country’s greenways.

10 ways to get the kids off the couch to enjoy the longer evenings

Mini valets

You can kill two birds with the one stone here and get the kids active by washing the car while also saving money. If they need encouragement, add an incentive such as they get to keep any coins they find under the seats. If they are a bit wiser than that, offer them a fiver for a job well done, it’s still a 50% saving on what you will spend at the car wash.

Get them to don a raincoat and some old clothes, and now the hosepipe ban is a thing of the past you could even finish with a water fight. It’s cold and they’ll get wet, so what? They will also have fun. If your teens are too cool to be seen cleaning the car, suggest any variation on a bit of housework that involves some elbow grease and gets the heart pumping. 

Throw in a financial incentive, make it a condition of their pocket money, or if all else fails threaten to disable the wifi.

Battle it out

This isn’t one just for the boys… my 12-year-old daughter adopts a “shoot to kill” policy when we play with Nerf guns (left). Divide the families into teams, or go solo, and if the weather permits take it outside for extra space to run around. You can sell it to Fortnite fans that it’s like a real-life version of the game, and even throw in a few floss moves after you score a direct hit.

The kids will soon be spluttering and sweating as well as having the time of their lives. If you don’t own nerf guns, or don’t like the idea of guns in general, get a soft ball and play dodge ball, or any variation of using each other as targets.

The Daily Mile

The brainchild of a head teacher in the UK, who was despairing about the rise in obesity levels and poor concentration in the kids in her school, the Daily Mile simply gets children out of the classroom for 15 minutes every day to run or jog, at their own pace, with their classmates.

For the family version, head to the local park, the green in your estate, even the garden, measuring out the mile in advance. You’d be surprised at how quickly their fitness levels will improve. Keep a record on the fridge recording their times to keep them motivated.

Barking mad

This may not suit every household, because of work commitments, space, allergies etc, but a dog… and an active breed, not those handbag types that are just for show… is a sure-fire way to get you out and about en familie. 

Anytime I suggest a walk and it’s met with groans and protests, I point to our cocker spaniel, say the word “walkies” and she gets into such a tailspin they can’t say no, and once out they love it. 

Another option is to volunteer to raise a puppy for the Irish Guide Dogs, which sees you agree to home and exercise a puppy until it turns 12-15 months, with full support from the organisation, though be prepared for tears at the parting.

Lead by example

If you spend a disproportionate amount of time on your phone, then it will be hard to get the kids to put their devices away. Encourage them in an outside activity and then take part yourself. I go on the trampoline with them, yes I look like an idiot, but I come off sweating like they do. 

I play football, hurling, tennis, badly in the case of all three, but they don’t mind. Our bedroom becomes a wrestling ring, where we have regular “takedowns”. We have plank competitions in the kitchen and dance-offs in the sitting room.

If you go down to the woods...

Brightly-painted fairy doors have been springing up in woods across the land of late, and can make a simple walk in the woods a real treat for the little ones. See www.mykidstime.com for a full list of woods with fairy doors.

For older kids, wait til dark, grab some head torches and head out for some spooky fun.

Just make sure you pick a woods that you’re familiar with to avoid getting lost. See www.coillte.ie/our-forests/explore/activities/ for ideas and locations.

Run for your life

Since the first park run in Malahide, Co Dublin in 2012, these volunteer-led, free events have really taken off. The runs take place every Saturday morning at over 55 venues with around 5,000 people of every age and ability taking part each week and they are not limited to adults. 

Junior parkrun is a series of 2k runs for children aged between 4 and 14. They are open to all, free, and a great way to get kids up and running in a non-competitive way (www.parkrun.ie/events/juniorevents). Keep an eye out for local 5ks run/walks and sign the whole family up. These are usually charity events for a good cause, well--marshalled and safe for kids, and setting them a goal is a great incentive.


While our fabulous summer meant we made the most of our coastline, there’s no need to limit a visit to the beach to when the sun’s out. While it may be too cold now for most of us to take a dip, younger kids in raingear will still love making sandcastles, and if you pick a windy day the older ones will be enthralled to watch surfers strut their stuff. 

10 ways to get the kids off the couch to enjoy the longer evenings

Check out www.scavenger-hunt.org for some cool tips on beach scavenger hunts. It includes a printable list of 30 things they must find on the beach. Or even join forces with a Clean Coasts Group who volunteer to clean up local beaches and rid them of the scourge of plastic. You get exercise and help the environment at the same time.

Treasure hunt with a twist

Geocaching is a great way to get out, use maps, find things and leave your own treasure for people to find afterwards.

The beauty of this is that it’s all over the world so you can continue it in any county or country you are visiting or when on holidays. www.geocaching.com/play OK, it’s not a completely screen-free activity and you need to use a GPS on your phone or other device but it’s less about the screen and more about working as a team and being on the move.


When it comes to screen time, the advice from experts is try to avoid screen time completely for under 2s; try to keep screen time for 2-5 year old to one hour each day, and for children over 5, have clear limits and a good guide is no more than two hours each day.

Screens include all devices with a screen such as TVs, computers, smart phones, laptops, tablets and game consoles. Reducing screen time by even 30 minutes a day will bring real benefit. 

Safefood, the HSE and Healthy Ireland’s ‘START’ campaign encourages families to make a “play pact” by committing as a family to pause for play and spend less time on their screens.

The website www.makeastart.ie provides lots of simple ideas on getting active in and around the home

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