It would be nice if life went according to plan, especially when kids are involved, but as any parent knows, the unexpected often happens.
Stuck in traffic, sitting in the doctor’s office waiting room or trying to wrap up a phone call for work? Did you know the secret to keeping the kids occupied for a few extra minutes is easy enough as long as you have paper and a pen?
No doubt you have a pen and piece of paper in your bag (if not, you might want to add them now before you forget). These two simple tools can save you in a pinch when stuck waiting with kids.
Here are 11 ways to distract kids with these simple pen and paper activities to keep kids busy.
These distractions are great for siblings as you need at least two people. You can easily work these into a rotation should you have more than two kids to occupy.
One of the best pen and paper activities has to be dots.
For slightly longer waits, this is a great strategy game. It requires a little set-up as you need to create a grid of dots to play (or you can carry graph paper instead of plain paper in your bag).
Each player takes turns connecting two corresponding dots.
The object of the game is to try and claim a square by closing off all four sides. If you do, add your initials in the box to mark what’s yours.
Of course, like any strategy game, you need to add your lines carefully, so you don’t inadvertently give your opponent a square.
Two different colored pens can help you see where each person put their line, but they’re not necessary.
It’s the person who closes a square that gets to claim the square.
Looking for a great pen and paper activity, but don’t know how much time you have? Tic- Tac-Toe is a great option.
This is like a fallback paper and pen activity and is perfect for something quick. Even though my kids often end in a stalemate, they still love playing this game together.
I love hangman when you are trying to pass the time. One player chooses a secret word, and the other has to guess.
Each wrong guess equals a body part on the line. Of course, you can change this word game into something less violet-like taking away cookies on a plate.
Each wrong guess means one less cookie reward.
Continue the Story
Continue the story is a little creative storytelling and is even more fun with a larger group.
One person starts the first line of the story, and it continues to the next person who adds a line and so on.
The length of the story is up to the group. Some people play this without writing it down, but I like to have the whole story read back again at the end.
The written version is also great if you’re looking for a quiet activity as the story is written and read to themselves.
Like our riddle post, I love the picture riddles because they require you to extrapolate from an image.
Solving them and creating them can be great fun for older kids too. If you need some help with the three riddles below, I’ve put the answers at the bottom of the page.
Pictionary is a staple when it comes to pen and paper activities.
You don’t need the actual game to have the same fun. One person draws an item they have in mind, and the others try to guess what it is.
You can start with a topic to make it easier for those guessing or let them ask yes or no questions for hints.
M.A.S.H. (Mansion Apartment Shack House)
Oh MASH… A classic pen and paper activity for I think everyone, especially girls.
One person creates categories (pets, career, car, home) and includes four items under that category.
They then draw a spiral until the other play says “stop.” Counting the number of rings in the spiral will determine the “magic number.” With this number, the category creator goes through each item in the lists, crossing off the item when the user lands on it.
Keep going until there is one item under each category remaining. The resulting items become the player’s fortune.
This can also be a single-player activity, but it’s not nearly as much fun. My girls created a Princess version during our road trip to Disney World last year.
Fortune Teller (Cootie Catcher)
This counting game of chance is popular with my kids. One person controls the paper while the other makes selections to see what the fortune or outcome will be.
This requires a little work too as you fold and create the catcher, but I’m always amazed at how quickly my two girls can whip one of these together.
PBS Kids offers easy instructions if you want to let the kids practice beforehand.
If you have only one child that is need of a distraction, here are a few ideas that can be completed by a single person.
I sometimes use these as a distraction myself when stuck waiting or looking to restarting my brain when it gets stuck.
Continuous line is one of those great pen and paper activities you can do alone or with a group.
Start anywhere on the page and draw a line filing up as much of the page (or marked off area) as you can. Sounds easy right?
The trick is that you can’t cross a line, so be careful how you draw.
Another creative release is Zentangles. Start by drawing overlapping shapes. Then proceed to fill the newly created areas with a pattern.
Each area consists of one small repeating pattern, but no two patterns can be the same
Similar to an outdoor chalk activity, an art gallery can be created on paper too. Start by creating your frames, then proceed to fill each frame with an image.
You can have a theme for your gallery, such as flowers or portraits or just fill each frame with random images.
A Couple Bonus Rounds
In addition to the above 11 paper and pen activities to keep kids busy, we have a couple of bonus round features you can try out as well!
Close Your Eyes Drawing Game
This game is simple enough. The kids will close their eyes and draw a picture. When choosing the drawing, make sure it is simple enough like a stick figure or tree.
It requires the child to draw a very familiar object from memory without actually looking down at the paper. It is a fun game to play and exciting to see what they actually draw.
This game can be for older kids or even younger kids with a small tweak.
This is a more creative pen and paper activity your child can play as a boredom buster or just to pass the time for an appointment. It is very similar to Mad Libs.
The point of the game is to fill in a template story with characters, descriptions, and actions – just like Mad Libs. Each child can take turns coming up with suggestions until the story is completed.
Typically, you will want to start with an adjective for a person, the name of a person, where they met, what they said, etc.
Pen and Paper Activities that Entertain
So, next time you leave the house with your children to go to an appointment, out to eat a restaurant or even just a long car ride, make sure you have some paper and a few pens in your bag so you can occupy them and distract them from having to wait.
These are just some ways a simple piece of paper and a pen can open up creative fun when you’re looking to distract the kids. In no way are these ideas exhaustive of what you can do.