Activities for When Kids Have to Wait (no materials required)

20 activities for when kids have to wait


We have all been there…what was supposed to be a 10-minute oil change or wait at the doctor’s office suddenly becomes more like an hour (or two!). Worst of all, you weren’t prepared for the wait and didn’t bring any coloring books or toys along with you! Don’t panic…you have this list FULL of activities for when kids have to wait!

(With that being said, you *might* want to go ahead and pin this post or bookmark it to your phone…just in case.)    :)

This list is divided into two categories:  activities for when others are around and activities for when it is just you and your kids. Silly activities are great for when it is just you and your kids, but might not be appreciated when there are other patrons waiting in the same room.


Just You and Your Kids

These activities are perfect for waiting in exam rooms or when you have the place to yourselves…where others won’t be disrupted.


–  Play Simon Says:  This timeless game is the perfect way to keep kids active (i.e. burn a little energy) and occupy their attention all in one!


–  Sing a silly song or recite a finger play (the more actions the better):  Hokey Pokey, Do Your Ears Hang Low, Itsy Bitsy Spider, Deep and Wide, Father Abraham, London Bridges, Old McDonald Had a Farm, This Little Piggie…just to name a few.


– Create a piggyback story:  Start telling a story and then pass it along to your child. Have him/her piggyback off of the start to your story and continue telling it with his/her own flair. Continue piggybacking off of each other until your wait is over or the story has become too outrageous to continue! :)


–  Have a Thumb War:  Link knuckles with your child and go to war to see which thumb is the strongest!


–  Do jumping jacks.  Did I mention that it might be necessary (for everyone’s sanity) that your kiddos to get some energy out while waiting?


–  Play the Body Count Game:  I love this idea from Creative Connections for Kids!


–  Find Your Funny Bone First:  Have your kids compete to see who can point to their funny bone first. Continue the race by calling out more body parts. (Idea from Teach Mama)



With Other People Around


–  I Spy:  A classic game that can be easily reinvented! “I Spy with my little eye, something ______” (insert color, shape, beginning letter, etc).


–  Letter Hunt:  Call out a letter and ask your children to identify objects around the room that begin with that letter.


  Play “How Many?”:  Call out a shape, color, etc. and ask your child how many objects he/she can find. (idea from This Reading Mama)


–  Read the Room:  Have your child walk around the room and identify words (or shapes, colors, letters and numbers for non-readers).


–  Round Robin Game:  Start with a topic (colors, types of fruit, animals, etc) and go back and forth with your child(ren) naming a color until no one can think of any more (idea from Making Time for Mommy). Try it with other topics too (four-legged animals, types of fruit, etc.).


–  See how high you can count:  Quietly count aloud with your child and see how high you can go (idea from Nothing If Not Intentional). Another idea is to guess how many seconds (counts) until the doctor comes in, your food arrives, your car is ready, etc. Then count together and, whoever comes closest to the actual number of counts it takes, wins (idea from The Chaos and the Clutter)


–  Recite Memory Verses:  A great suggestion from Meaningful Mama! (Or you could keep these ABC Scripture Cards in your purse at all times). :)


–  Imaginary Traveler:  Take turns asking your kids to imagine where they might go and what they object want to take along on their trip, beginning with the letter “a”  and continuing consecutively through the alphabet. For example, “I’m going to Australia and I’m taking my Angry Birds.” “I’m going to Brad’s and I’m taking my Batman shirt.” Encourage participants to be as silly as possible.” (see this and other great “thinking games” at What Do We Do All Day?)


–  Play the “What’s missing?” Game:  This idea from Craftulate is brilliant when you have a purse or diaper bag with you. You could even play with items you find around the room.


–  Guess Which Hand?:   Put an item in your hand and put your hands behind your back. Have your child guess which hand the item is in. (idea from Your Modern Family)


–  Play “I’m Thinking of a Number”:  Think of a number and keep it in your mind. Begin giving your child clues. This classic game is great for kids who are familiar with the concepts greater than and less than.


–  Ask “Would you Rather?” Questions:  Would you rather be in a pool or marshmallows or in a pool of M&M’s? Would you rather have bright blue hair or bright blue feet? Find  more questions like this (along with printable cards) from the Measured Mom.


–  Play the Verbal Memory Game:  Give your child a short list of items (3-6 depending on the age of your child). Then have them recite the items in order. (idea from There’s Just One Mommy)



Have a piece of paper and a pen? Try this fun waiting room idea from Mama Smiles or these no-talking games from Teach Mama.



Also, I loved this reminder from Study at Home Mama:

I love playing the games like I Spy, but I also find that these boredom times are great to encourage children to either (1) talk, or (2) find their own entertainment. I think when kids are expected to entertain themselves, and they aren’t always given the answers, they learn to rise to the occasion. I think it takes practice — don’t always give entertainment during car rides, leave some free play time at home every day, etc. Engage your children in conversation and teach them how to start conversations — with you, or other kids. When you do this, your child is more apt to strike up a conversation (asking a question or sharing a story) than start whining about how they are bored.


Finally, as a last resort (i.e. deaf-con meltdown), you can always give them your phone. I am personally trying to be more engaged with my kids and less reliant on technology because I don’t want to miss out on interactions with them! But there are times when everyone has had enough (including me…just keepin’ it real). In these dire situations, I might break out the phone and let them play an educational app for toddlers, preschoolers, or beginning readers.



Activities when kids have to wait



What are some of YOUR best tips for when kids have to wait?




  1. My favorite is played with pennies and a wall. Each player gets a penny and stands a set distance away from the wall. Players slide (on tile) or toss (on carpet) their pennies trying to get as close to the wall as possible without hitting it. The closest player wins.

  2. Our favorite restaurant game was “Hide the Sugar Packet”. One person hides a sugar packet somewhere on or near the table (no getting out of your seat) while the other players close their eyes. Then one of the players is the Seeker and “walks” their fingers around the table. The Hider gives clues by saying “colder” or “warmer” as the fingers get further from or closer to the hiding place.

    This could be modified for other places than restaurants.

    My 15 & 21 year old sons still refer to this game fondly. It is a really fun family memory.

  3. Thanks for the list. I sometimes have a tough time thinking of these things when needed – I may need to print up a little list for my wallet.
    I see so many kids on electronic devices every time we’re in a waiting situation. I love that you saved that one for last rather than starting out with that option!

  4. We like to play “What Animal am I?” It’s like 20 questions specifically about animals. One person thinks of an animal and we all take turns asking questions to figure out what type of animal it is – and we don’t limit the questions to Yes or No answers for the sake of our youngest. It’s a lot of fun and we all really enjoy it!

  5. Statue Game
    While waiting for a tour of a bank with our girl scouts – 7 year old squirrelly girls – I whipped up this game: “Have you guys ever played the “Statue game?” I whispered to the young ladies – “it’s a game of who can be most like a statue! When I say Statue, everyone pose like a statue and remember statues don’t talk…. ok now switch become a different statue!” Play through a few different poses – or until the giggles take over! They loved it and we’ve been spreading it ever since ;-)

  6. My nephews love to play Guess My Animal. One person thinks of an animal and the others ask yes or no questions to try and figure it what animal they are thinking of. They have also learned tons about animals by playing this game.

  7. My grandchildren and I play a game we call, “On the way to the beach…” Each person takes turns adding to the story alphabetically and must recite from the beginning each time.
    On the way to the beach we saw an awesome anteater always blowing big bubbles craving candy while doubtful Debbie was eating everything from fuzzy figs to grilled goobers…
    When we FINALLY (because it takes a while) finish we say it backwards. Really passes the time and the story can get pretty funny.

  8. My kids and I used to do a sort of finger play but it was unscripted. We both used our fingers as you would a doll and played out different scenarios. They loved it and it forced me to be creative.

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