Get the kids to put up with long waits, share details about their days, do their chores, and―oh yes―have fun.

By Jane Margolies
Updated July 15, 2009
Boy wearing a paper hat
| Credit: Monica Buck

Games to Pass Time

The pediatrician is running behind schedule; the traffic to Grandma's is worse than you expected. Stave off the boredom and the "Are we there yet?" sighs with imagination games.

Ages 8 and up
The first player says the name of a city, a state, or a country ("North Carolina"); the next person has to come up with one that begins with the last letter of that answer (A―"Argentina"). Rules: You can't use the same place twice, and the places have to be real. You're out if you can't come up with a new place. The last one standing wins.
Try it: After the kids have tired of checking for loose change in the airport lounge's pay phones.

I'm Thinking of an Animal
Ages 3 and up
One player says, "I'm thinking of an animal that...," and gives a clue ("...has fur"). The next person tries to guess what the animal is ("A bear?"). If the guess is wrong, the "it" person repeats the clue and gives an additional one. ("No, that's not the animal I'm thinking of. My animal has fur and whiskers.") And so on. The winner gets to be "it" next.
Try it: When you're trying to keep your son from behaving like a bear, a pig....

What Happens Next?
Ages 4 and up
Begin to tell a story. Just as you reach a dramatic moment, say, "And then...." This will be your child's cue to continue. The next person, in turn, picks up where he left off. If your child is too young to develop a story on his own, ask leading questions. ("Do you think the cat ran away? Where do you think she went?") Once you agree on a plot direction, ask for more details. ("Who came with her?")
Try it: As you wait for dancing popcorn to hit the big screen.

Fortunately, Unfortunately
Ages 5 and up
In this variation on What Happens Next?, someone starts a story with a sentence ("One day Sydney was on her way to the grocery store"). Other players, in turn, continue with a sentence about something bad that happens ("Unfortunately, a bird had an accident on Sydney's head"), then something good ("Fortunately, she was near a friend's house, so she ran in to wash her hair"), until the nonsensical story comes to a natural end.
Try it: In that lull between the arrival of your always-bored niece and the return of her parents.

Car Bingo
Ages 3 and up
On your computer, make up grids of pictures of things your kids are likely to see from the car on a road trip (or find ready-made ones at, then print them on index cards. Everyone gets a card. When someone spots something, he crosses out the picture. When a complete row of pictures is crossed out, the player calls "Bingo!" Tip: For younger kids, try smaller cards; for older kids with longer attention spans, try larger ones.
Try it: When you just can't handle the Wiggles CD.

More Games to Pass Time

Ages 4 and up
One person closes his or her eyes and makes a scribble on a piece of paper. The next person, with eyes open, must turn it into a drawing of something real.
Try it: When the unthinkable happens: no crayons at the restaurant table.

Ages 6 and up
You say a word ("sunny"); your child has to give the opposite ("cloudy"). With older kids, the words can get more sophisticated ("attack/defend," "exonerate/blame"). Not only will they be passing time but they'll also be prepping for their SATs.
Try it: When the amusement park opens at 11, not 10.

The License-Plate Game
Ages 4 and up
Sure, you can play the classic version (see who can spot the most states), but there are variations. For older kids, read out the numerals that appear on a plate; the first person to multiply all the numbers together wins. For younger kids, have them look for the entire alphabet, starting with A.
Try it: When the CD inside the Harry Potter case is in fact Danielle Steel.

I'm Going on a Trip and I'm Packing...
Ages 4 and up
Start with this phrase, then add what you're bringing. The next person repeats what you said and adds something else. A more challenging version: Players have to add things in alphabetical order ("an apple," "a beach towel," "a camera"). For younger players, make the game easy by not requiring that they recite all the previous items.
Try it: When the road sign flashes, DELAYS: EXITS 54–92.

Ages 7 and up
Write your child's name or a familiar word on a piece of paper and see if she can rearrange the letters to create other names or words. Alternative: Scramble all the letters in a word and see if she can figure out the word you started with.
Try it: When the doctor's receptionist says, "Just five more minutes," like she did an hour ago.

Ages 8 and up
Agree on a number (say, three), then go person to person counting to 100. Whoever comes to either a number with a three in it or a number that's a multiple of three says "buzz" instead of the number (1, 2, buzz, 4, 5, buzz...). Tip: Don't use the exact number of people playing or the same person will be saying "buzz" again and again.
Try it: When all else fails.

Games to Communicate or Motivate

How do you get them to fill you in on the details when all they want to say is "Good," "Nothing," or "Fine"? Keep their eyes on the prize.

Two Truths and a Lie
Ages 5 and up
Tell your child three things about your day―two true and one a lie. He tries to guess which is the lie. Then it's his turn to tell you three things about his day.
Kid’s prize: Parent-sanctioned fibbing.
Your prize: Finally getting somewhere with the age-old question "How was your day?"

Stump the Chump
Ages 7 and up
Ask them to test you on what they learned in school. It will force them to remember so they can come up with questions. They get points if they stump you; you get points if you manage to get it right.
Kid’s prize: Bragging rights over Mom or Dad.
Your prize: A window into your child's classroom.

Mad, Sad, Glad
Ages 3 and up
At dinner everyone takes turns describing one thing that happened during the day that made them mad, one that made them sad, and one that made them glad.
Kid’s prize: The whole table's undivided attention.
Your prize: Dinner theater.

Conversation Starters
Ages 5 and up
On index cards, jot down some provocative questions. (You can file the cards in a recipe box.) When the dinner-table conversation gets stuck on soccer schedules and whose turn it is to take out the garbage, let one of the kids pick a card, then go around the table giving everyone a chance to respond to the question. Suggested topics: If you could have any talent or ability, what would it be and why? What would you like to be doing in 10 years? Which person from the past would you most like to meet and why? What five items would you put in a time capsule? If you had one day to do anything you wanted (money is no object), what would it be? Find more conversation starters here.
Kid’s prize: A chance to think big.
Your prize: A chance to think big.

More Games to Communicate or Motivate

Ages 4 and up
Borrow a board-game sand timer to encourage your kids not to dawdle in completing small tasks (setting the table, tying their shoes) before the timer runs out. Better yet, have siblings race one another; keep track of who has a better record. Conversely, you can use the timer as an enforcer if your child takes too little time doing something, like brushing her teeth.
Kid’s prize: Potential victory over a sibling.
Your prize: A few nag-free minutes.

The Table-Manners Game
Ages 6 and up
At the dinner table, assign point values to certain virtues (napkin in lap: one point) and offenses (talking with your mouth full: minus one point) and keep track of what your kids are doing or not doing. At the end of the meal, the one with the most points wins. You can also promise the kids dinner at a favorite fancy restaurant once they collectively amass a certain number of points.
Kid’s prize: Dinner as competitive sport.
Your prize: An effortless exercise in etiquette.

What's Wrong With This Picture?
Ages 5 and up
Ask your child to set the table and deliberately mess something up. (A fork can be switched with a knife, a glass can be turned upside down.) When he's done, it's your job to find out what's wrong with the picture. He can also play with a sibling if the cook has her hands full.
Kid’s prize: Permission to make a mistake.
Your prize: A set table. (Well, almost.)

Games for Parties

Who says you have to shell out $200 for a magician or a puppeteer for your daughter's birthday party? When they're young, at least, fun doesn't have to cost more than a few bucks.

Mystery Bag
Ages 4 to 8
Stash a dozen texturally weird things (cotton balls, paper clips, a chunk of pizza dough, an avocado) in paper bags. Place the bags in a row on a table and have the kids reach inside them, assembly-line style, to guess what they're touching.
Gear: Lunch bags and assorted household items.
Cost: About $2 for bags.

Draw-a-Face Relay
Ages 4 to 6
Tape two large pieces of poster board to a wall and draw a big head-shaped oval on each. Divide the children into two teams, line them up, and give the first person in each line a crayon or a thick marker. When you give the signal, the first person in each line runs to the wall and adds a facial feature―a mouth, hair―then races back, handing the marker to the next child in line. The first team to complete a face wins.
Gear: Two large pieces of poster board, masking tape, and crayons or markers.
Cost: About $1 for each 22-by-30-inch poster board; about $3 for a set of 10 markers.

"Everybody Wins" Musical Chairs
Ages 3 to 6
In this version, no one is ever out. Start the usual way―with one chair fewer than the number of children. Set up chairs in a row, with adjacent chairs facing opposite ways. When the music starts, the children walk around the chairs. When it stops, they sit, leaving the last two kids to sit on the same chair. Before you start the music again, remove a chair. Keep going until all the kids are piled up on the one remaining seat.
Gear: Straight chairs and a music player.
Cost: Nothing.

Pass the Parcel
Ages 3 to 8
Gift-wrap a trinket or a treat (a toy animal, a superball, a lollipop) and secure it with tape. Wrap that package and a second treat in another piece of paper. Continue until you have a big package with enough treats for all the children attending the party. Then have the kids sit in a circle and, as music plays, pass the package from person to person. When the music stops, the child holding the parcel gets to unwrap a layer and keep what's there. Be sure to stop the music at the appropriate times so everyone gets a prize.
Gear: Wrapping paper, tape, small gifts, and a music player.
Cost: $3 for wrapping paper; $1.50 for tape; $1 to $2 for each trinket or treat.

More Games for Parties

Penny Relay
Ages 5 to 10
Divide the children into two teams (or more, depending on the number of kids at the party), line them up, and give each team a cup with the same number of pennies. On the opposite side of the room, place an empty container for each team. At the signal, the first child in each line places a penny between his knees, walks as fast as he can to the container (while keeping the penny in place), drops the penny in without using his hands, then races back and tags the next person. The team that empties its cup of pennies first wins. Tip: Choose large containers, like mop buckets, for younger kids (it's easier to get the coins in) and smaller containers, like tennis-ball, coffee, or soup cans, for older kids.
Gear: Cups, pennies, and empty containers from the recycling bin.
Cost: Nothing.

Dress-Up Relay
Ages 5 to 10
Before guests arrive, make two piles of large-size clothing―pants, shirts, jackets, ponchos, gloves, hats, scarves. Divide the children into two lines across the room from the piles. At the signal, the first child in each line runs to his team's pile, puts on all the clothes, turns around, takes off the clothes, runs back, and tags the next person in line. The first team to complete the race wins.
Gear: Clothing.
Cost: Nothing.

Feather Blow
Ages 3 to 5
Give each child a feather. At the signal, the kids start blowing their feathers in the air. Whoever can keep his in the air the longest, using only lung power, is the winner. This game can also be played in teams, with everyone in a team working to keep one feather in the air.
Gear: Feathers (available at art-supply and five-and-dime stores or at, $5 for a three-ounce bag of neon feathers).
Cost: About $5 for a bag of feathers.

Water-Balloon Toss
Ages 5 to 12
Let children pick partners, give each pair a round balloon filled with water, then line the pairs up in two lines, with partners a few feet apart. At the signal, the children holding the balloons toss them to their partners. If a balloon falls and pops, the team is disqualified. After each throw, everyone takes two steps back from his partner, which makes it harder and harder to catch the water bomb. The last team that still has an unpopped balloon wins.
Gear: Balloons.
Cost: About $2 for a pack.

Egg-Roll Race
Ages 4 to 10
Have party guests use their noses to push hard-boiled eggs across the lawn or the living-room floor as fast as they can. The first one across the finish line wins.
Gear: A dozen eggs.
Cost: About $2.