It’s super helpful to have ideas for simple games that can be played anytime / anywhere, so when you’re stuck in a line or a waiting room, you’ve got a way to entertain kids.
Most of these work best for children age 5 and up. A few, like I Spy and Scavenger Hunt, are good for younger kids – I’ve marked those with an asterisk.
Talking / Listening Games
These games can be played anywhere, with no materials. (They even work great over the phone or on Zoom.) They can work with two people or with a group. No need to move around to play, so they’re good for restaurants, car trips, etc.
Progressive Stories. One person starts a story: “Once upon a time, a polka-dotted elephant…” then the next person continues “… boarded a spaceship headed for… “
Packing the Suitcase. One person starts with something like “My aunt was going on a trip to Japan and she packed her toothbrush…” and the second person says “My aunt… packed her toothbrush and a four leaf clover.” The third person repeats what has come before and adds a new item. Keep going till someone makes a mistake.
Two Truths and a Lie – Each person tells two true things about themselves and one lie. Others have to guess the lie.
Would you Rather? Ask any question using the format “would you rather ______ or _______” and the other(s) choose their preference, and why.
Fortunately / Unfortunately. One person starts a story with something as simple as “One day I decided to go for a picnic in the park.” Then the next person says “Fortunately [fill in the blank]” then someone else jumps in with “Unfortunately [fill in the blank]” and keep on going… on and on…
Never Have I Ever: One person says “never have I ever _______” and describes something. If you’ve never done it either, you leave your fingers down. If you HAVE done it, raise a finger and keep holding it up. The next person says “never have I ever”. At the end of the game who ever has the most fingers up “wins.”
Play 20 questions. “Is it an animal, vegetable, or mineral?” (Learn more.)
Geography. Someone names a place (city, country, whatever category you decide on). The next person needs to name another place that STARTS with the letter that one ENDED with. So, for example, CaliforniA, ArkansaS, South CarolinA. Can also do animals or other categories following the same rules.
*I’m thinking of an animal that starts with the letter A. You say that… someone guesses it, then it’s their turn to say “I’m thinking of an animal that starts with the letter R, or whatever. Instead of animals, you could do Star Wars characters, Pokemon, or whatever. [For younger children, simplify this by describing things: “I’m thinking of an animal that’s small and brown… we’ve seen one in our backyard… it has long ears…”]
Categories. On NPR’s Sunday puzzle, he sometimes has a puzzle like “If I give you the 5 letter word Piano, can you give me five women’s names that start with the letters in PIANO?” (e.g. Paula, Inez, Amy, Nadia, Olivia). We pick any five letter word, and do categories like “Cities in Washington” or “Models of Car” or “Animals” or whatever.
And if all that was too cerebral, try: Rock Paper Scissors and Thumb Wrestling.
*I Spy. One person finds something they can see around them, says “I spy with my little eye….” The other person searches for it. When they find it, it’s their turn. For toddlers, this is simple “I spy something red” or “I spy a dog.” For older kids, it’s more sophisticated “I spy something starting with the letter L” or “I spy something that was made before 1980.”
Paper and Pencil Games
These just require something to write on. Paper, white board, the Zoom white board, etc.
Tic-Tac-Toe. Draw out a grid – you and opponent take turns drawing in X and O.
Hang Man. You come up with a word, draw out the hangman. Participants guess letters.
*Doodle Game. One person makes a random scribble, then the other person needs to use that scribble as the foundation for a drawing – creating some artwork that somehow includes that scribble. For young children, they always do the scribble, the grown-up always completes the drawing.
Dots and Squares. Draw several columns of dots. Person 1 draws a line between two dots, then person 2, then person 1 again… whenever they complete all four sides of a box, they write their initial in the box.
Draw on Your Head. The child places the paper on top of their head. Then you give a clue, like flower, bird, house, etc. They draw a picture on top of their head without looking, and then share it.
Find details on these and more pen and paper games here: https://www.thelondonmother.net/easy-pen-and-paper-games/
Moving Around Games
*Play Simon Says. Or Red Light, Green Light. Or any of the MANY variations on Tag.
*Scavenger Hunt Fetch. Ask child(ren) to find certain objects – they run and find it and bring it back.
*Charades. Give a clue to one person – they act it out – others guess. For younger children, you act things out, they guess.
On the Move Games
These are for when you’re walking or moving in a car or on a bus or train…
License Plate Game. How many states or provinces can you spot license plates from over the course of a trip. If you print a map of the states, your child can color each in as they find the license plate, which will reinforce geography knowledge for them.
Find the Alphabet on Signs. Find a sign with the letter A on it. Then another sign with the letter B. And so on. (Or do the same with numbers.)
*Find Colors. Spot something red, then orange, yellow, green, blue, purple…
*Scavenger Hunt. Prepare (or find online) a list of items to try to spot as you travel. Or you can create Bingo boards. For younger children, just tell them one idea at a time to search for – can you find an animal?
Punch Buggy. If you see a Volkswagen Beetle and call Punch Buggy, you get to punch someone. P’diddle, P’daddle. After dark, if you see a car with one missing headlight, you say p-diddle, and if you see a car with no headlights, you say p-daddle. You get to kiss someone.
Encore. Name a word – other people try to sing songs including that word.
While You Were Sleeping. When someone wakes up from a nap, make up a crazy story of “what they missed”.
There are more fun ideas for road trip games here: https://www.erieinsurance.com/blog/road-trip-games-to-play