50 Quick Activities for Kids When There's Nothing to Do

Emergency time-wasters for planes, cars, lines, and waiting rooms

Mother and son arm wrestling.
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Forgot to toss toys in your purse? Did your carry-on get consigned to the cargo hold? Has that long stay in the waiting-room used up all your distractions? No matter how organized you are as a parent, there will always come a time when your child will rely on you for amusement, just you and you alone.

What do you do when you're stuck without props? Let's find your child some informal activities that use nothing more than your clothing, accessories, and whatever wits you have about you.

If your child has a particularly short attention span or low tolerance for boredom, you may have to run through a whole string of these, but rest assured that the time will pass.

Pass a Few Minutes

These activities can pass the time without the need for props of any kind. Instead, they're simple things that can keep the conversation going while keeping your child occupied for a few minutes at a time.

  • Draw a letter on your child's back or arm with a finger and see if he can guess it. Switch roles and see if you can guess the letter.
  • Look for things out the window and play "I Spy."
  • Whisper secrets, both silly and serious.
  • Say "Tell me three things you did today" and ask questions along the way to extend the time it takes.
  • Have your child name all his classmates. After that test, see how many people your child can name in your extended family or how many birthdates your child can recall.
  • Ask about your child's favorite things. Start with a TV show, movie, book, color, game, animal, or friend.
  • Give your child the name of an object and ask what color it is, what letter it starts with, what shape it is, and whether it's heavy or light.
  • Repeat what the other person says; repeat what the other person says.
  • See who can go the longest without talking.

Play With What You Got

Think about the things that you do have in your possession and engage in some free play.

Whether it's you hair or the money in your wallet, it's likely that you have something on you right now to offer a few minutes of distraction.

  • Play with your child's hair or let your child play with your hair. When that gets tiresome, give or get a back rub.
  • Count your change, bills, or any other item you have in quantity.
  • Take off a shoe and have your child practice shoe-tying or see if she can find a different way to lace it.
  • Take off your child's shoes and socks and use the socks as puppets. If you don't want to go that far, just use your hands.
  • Use your wristwatch to give a lesson in telling time or to time things going on around you.
  • Let your child try on your wristwatch or jewelry.
  • Hide something (even just your thumb) in one fist and have her guess which hand you have it in.
  • Make a stack or a snake with loose change or fold and roll up currency into fun shapes. Even flipping a coin can pass a few minutes.
  • Show your child the pictures in your wallet (yes, even your driver's license).
  • See how your child looks in your glasses.

Play a Quick Game

There are many great games that amuse kids to no end. Now would be a perfect time to play those. If your child hasn't played one of these before, you can even buy a few minutes explaining the rules.

  • Play a game of "Rock, Paper, Scissors."
  • Arm or thumb wrestle for a few minutes to keep those little hands busy. You can also stack your hands, fists, or arms one on top of the other, pulling out the hand at the bottom and bringing it up top.
  • Play patty-cake or teach your child some clapping games. You can also ask your child teach you some clapping games she learned at school.
  • Play a fun game like "20 questions" or "I went to ...". A game of "truth or dare," "Simon says," or charades works in some instances, too.
  • Speak pig Latin or make up your own secret code.
  • Be mirror images of each other with one person leading the game.
  • Throw an imaginary ball if space allows and you don't think it will get out of hand.

Get Silly

Sometimes you just have to get silly and when you're desperate to quell boredom, it's the perfect excuse.

  • Sing some silly songs softly so you don't disturb anyone. As an alternative, do songs with hand motions and skip the words completely.
  • Try to remember one of your child's favorite storybooks. Let your child correct your mistakes, even toss in a few outrageous titles you know he'll chuckle over.
  • Give or get an invisible manicure or pedicure.
  • Guess what the people around you do for a living.
  • Make faces or play "straight face" and see who makes the other person laugh first. You can even have a staring contest.
  • Have your child narrate a favorite movie or interview your child for a TV news show.

For Little Kids

If your child is too young for some of these other ideas, there are a few games you can play that are perfect for the little ones.

  • Play peek-a-boo or "steal" your child's nose.
  • Crawl fingers up your child's back or arm like a spider. It's also fun to go on a "hike" with your two fingers walking over your child's arms, shoulders, and head
  • Blow imaginary bubbles or a raspberry on your child's arm.
  • Play as if you're a little goldfish.
  • Do "here is the church, here is the steeple" or make your own version for another building.

Practice Math Skills

For kids who are already in school, take this time for some age-appropriate lessons. Free time is a perfect opportunity to practice any math skills she's learning at the moment.

  • Practice counting by twos, threes, fives, tens, or try counting backward from 100.
  • Pick a number between one and 10 and see if she can guess what number you're thinking of.
  • Teach your child the 9 times table trick.
  • Give a math equation for your child to figure out mentally. If he's too quick in answering, give him a string of math equations and ask for the answer at the end.
  • Make up a few math story problems.
  • Name a relative's birth year and have your child figure out how old they are. If you need to, invent a few relatives or use fictional characters they recognize.

Get Creative With Words

You can also use this opportunity for some word play. Like math, adapt or choose these to fit your child's skill level and help them discover just how fun words can be.

  • Say words for your child to spell or give your child words to come up with rhymes for.
  • Try some tongue twisters or make up silly similes.
  • Tell a story, taking turns one sentence at a time and see what sort of silliness you can create together. You can do the same with a poem, trying to end with rhymes.
  • Count how many words you can spot on signs, posters, and clothes around you.
  • Think of rhyming words for items around you.
  • Take turns naming words for a letter of the alphabet. The last one to think of a word wins, then you move to the next letter. You can do the same thing with rhymes or use only words that fall into certain categories.
  • Make up an acronym for your child's name and the names of other family members.

A Word From Verywell

With a little creativity and the help of these ideas, you can keep your child entertained for as long as needed. You can also think of it as a good time to bond with conversation and lots of laughs. Before you know it, whatever you're waiting for will be over and you'll have a fond memory of your time together.