In the past, I’ve found it SO HELPFUL to know a few games my kids can play with just a pencil and paper—whether we’re on the go, stuck in a waiting room, or I just need to finish a conversation, pencil-and-paper games are no-hassle way to keep them entertained or distracted. 👏
My boys and I have a few go-to faves—check out the list below (games perfect for preschoolers are at the top, then keep scrolling down for games older kids will love)!
Put your hand on a piece of paper and outline it with a pen or pencil (or ask your kiddo to do it). Have them do the same with their hand next to yours, then compare the two. For an extra challenge, trace your hands while making the “OK” sign or a thumbs up.
BONUS: They can color in “polished” fingernails, draw rings, bandaids or any other details they can come up with! This game helps them hone their gross and fine motor skills. Asking them to compare the pictures also prompts critical thinking.
Player one starts by drawing a head at the top of the paper, then folding it back so only the neck shows. Player two draws the middle part of the body, then folds it back so only the tops of the legs show; keep passing the paper around with only a spot for the next body part showing (see the featured image at the top of this article for reference). When the whole body is drawn, reveal the (wonky) masterpiece!
This one helps preschoolers learn the key body parts. You can also try asking each player to sound out the letters in the word as they draw it; as they get older, ask them to write them down, too (a-r-m).
This one’s especially great for practicing fine motor skills. Draw a grid of dots on a piece of paper (start with 6 up and 6 across—make the grid bigger as your child gets older). With everyone using a different color pen, take turns connecting two dots to create a single line.
When a player completes a square, they place their initial in the middle (if your child isn’t writing yet, they can just fill in their squares with the color pen they’re using). The player with the most squares at the end wins!
Draw a line on a piece of paper—it can be straight, squiggly, long, short, anything you want! If your kids are little you can start with simple shapes, like a circle, until they get the hang of it.
Ask your kiddo to use your scribble to create a picture, incorporating it into the image somehow—watch as their imagination turns your random squiggles into wild scenes and characters!
Create a grid of squares and list each letter of the alphabet down the left column. Across the top row, list different categories like boys’ names, animals, and colors. Capture their interest by choosing categories that reflect things they love (in my house it’s Star Wars characters and pizza toppings).
Take turns filling the grid with words that fit each category and start with the letter in the left-hand column. For example, you might write “cat” for pets that begin with the letter C. No worries if your child isn’t writing yet; this still helps teach letter sounds, so they can tell you their answers while you write them down.
This one’s perfect for preschoolers practicing the ABCs, mastering colors and sorting, and working on memory recall in general for all kids (and parents, too).
Start by writing a letter on the page, then take turns adding a letter to the beginning or end. The trick is, you have to be building toward a word—but the first person to *finish* a word that’s at least three letters long loses!
You can “bluff”—pretend to be working toward a word without really having one in mind—but if the other person calls you out, they win. However, if they ask what your word is and you DO have one in mind, you win!
This one takes some great critical and creative thinking skills. Write words or phrases on small pieces of paper, then fold them up. Take turns choosing a phrase and drawing what it says on another paper. Stuck for ideas? Find words and phrases in magazines and just cut them out.
Try to get the other players to guess what it is without talking or writing any letters. As your child grows, try adding a time limit or a theme, like favorite books. We once used a theme of “Harry Potter characters”—tough to draw, but so fun!
The next time you’re stuck in a waiting room or you only have a few minutes to connect with your kiddo at the end of a long day, I hope these games spark some fun!