Fun (non-tech) Ways to Keep Kids Occupied While Waiting

Waiting from Oh! The Places You'll Go by Dr Seuss

It’s from my favourite Dr Suess Book. There’s something about the rhythm of this page about waiting that has always struck me.  There’s anticipation in it.

Waiting for a train to go

or a bus to come, or a plane to go

or the mail to come, or the rain to go

or the phone to ring, or the snow to snow

or waiting around for a Yes or No

or waiting for their hair to grow.

Everyone is just waiting.


Waiting for the fish to bite

or waiting for wind to fly a kite

or waiting around for Friday night

or waiting, perhaps, for their Uncle Jake

or a pot to boil, or a Better Break

or a string of pearls, or a pair of pants

or a wig with curls, or Another Chance

Everyone is just waiting.

{excerpt from Oh! the Places You’ll Go! by Dr Suess}

I hate waiting.  I like being quiet and taking time to just be…but I hate waiting.  Now with children added to the mix, waiting can be extra painful at times.  However, waiting IS part of life.  There’s waiting for appointments, waiting at sporting events, waiting in line, waiting in the car. A lot of waiting.  I try (try) and see waiting as an opportunity, rather than an inconvenience and truth to be told: the children and I have experienced many beautiful moments during these times.

Sometimes it’s the simple things that can carry kids through the time: one thing I get my kids to do is get them to walk to a point — could be a wall, or a tree, depending on where we are — and then walk back.

As a parent, it’s good to have a lot of different ideas (tech & non-tech) up your sleeve so you can keep kids occupied during those waiting periods, so the moments can be productive.  To me, the waiting place that Dr Seuss speaks of in the poem, isn’t focused on the actual act of waiting, it’s about having that get-go attitude and making stuff happen; making moments count; ultimately making your life count.

I asked the question of how other parents keep kids busy when waiting on my Facebook page and am sharing the fabulous ideas below, along with my own.

Fun (non-tech) Ways to Keep Kids Occupied While Waiting

fun way to keep kids occupied while waiting

1. A DVD case with paper and crayons inside for drawing. – Beth F

2. Find a word: make up your own book with pictures from the internet and put in the words you want to find and how difficult you want them. – Samantha J

3. Keep a backpack filled with little pocket games, dices & drawing materials. Keep it special: make a rule that the games are not allowed out of the backpack at home, only when out and about.  – Janina M

4. Play found faces: Look for faces in your surroundings. Once you look for them you will see them everywhere! – Jennifer C 

5. A Magnadoodle. – Awen O

6. A small felt board that stays in the car. – Diana C

7. Eye spy. – Sarah B

8. Clapping games (like, Miss Mary Mac). – Ann-Maree J

9. Do homework. – Catherine S

10. Place plastic eggs inside a carton (camping egg carton work well; they are plastic) and fill with surprises: Sometimes edible, sometimes random items like a balloon or a magnet. – Kate M

11. Keep an A5 sized pencil case with pencils and a small pad inside. – Belinda C

12.  Keep a small bag of toys in the car that only come out in waiting situations. Ideas:  matchbox cars, finger puppets, mini ball, small toys, colouring pad & pencils, aqua doodle. – Kim H

13.  Count things together. For example: How many people are in front of us? Guess how long it will take to be our turn? How many _____ can you see?  – Tasha D

14. Tell them why: It’s a good idea to tell the child why you’re waiting and what is coming next. – Tasha D

15. Sing songs and get the child/ren to do the actions. – Clare M

16. Keep small bubbles for when you’re waiting outside. (Tip: keep inside a zip lock plastic bag). – Clare M

17. Mini blackboard (in its own case). Great for tic tac toe (naughts and crosses). – Joanne V

18. Dice in a clear plastic container. Shake and see who can get the biggest total. – Tierney K

19. Play the number plate car game.  Use cues like, what relatives names start with the letter/s EVW 695 = Edward Vera William or look out for the highest/lowest number, or a particular letter. Great for traveling. – Miranda D

20. Peek-a-Boo. – Penny M

21. Lego: Take a small bucket of Lego & a small rug out with you. Lay down the rug down, tip out the Lego, play, and then when it’s time to go, pick up the rug, stuff into bucket and go. – Niki B

22. Balloons: They are small enough to carry around in your bag  kids loves them!  (Tip: You can get a fabric balloon cover so you can use it like a ball.) — Michelle K

23. Books to read. – Elizabeth F

24. Teach older kids a skill like crochet or knitting. – Elizabeth F

25. Doll hair styling: A Barbie or doll with a brush and hair accessories. – Elizabeth F

26. Mini travel games like knuckle bones, connect four, cards (to play snap, go fish, memory match). – Tash W

27. Wikki Sticks – Esquina D

28. Drawing game: Take turns at doing a scribble then another person has the challenge to make a picture out of it (A bit like Mr Squiggle) – Kathleen K

29. Pipe cleaners! Make letters, words, shapes, animals.  Great for car trips too.  They are cheap and take up next to no room and are light in your handbag. – Jasmine A

30. Play I’m packing my grandmother’s suitcase: Pick an item that starts with A, next person B, C, etc. Each person in the line repeats all the previous items until you can’t remember anymore. – Ianna B

31. Talk: Tell stories, ask questions, general natter. – Zoe T

32.  Draw mystery monsters: Tear a piece of paper in half length-wise, then fold into thirds. One person draws a head on the top with lines for a neck, fold over so you can’t see it; next person draws the body and include the beginning lines for leg areas, fold again so you can’t see; last person draws legs and feet. Unfold it to see a crazy creature! – Ianna B

33. Magnetic puzzle are a good size to fit in your bag. – Bernadette M

34. Cricket (in the car).  One person is the batter and each car that goes past = 1 run; a motorcycle = 2 runs; caravan or trailer = 4 runs; trucks = 6 runs; a red car means you’re out and on to the next batter. Great for long distance travelling. – Lisa B

35. Elastics.  Great for while siblings are at sports training.  Easy and light to put in handbag and a few can play at once. – Stephanie W

36. Food – always carry food! – Briana T

37. Eye spy with colours: “I spy with my little eye something that is red.” – Laura R

38. A little walk. Find a point — like a tree or a wall depending on where you are — and get the child to walk there and back. Repeat. – Kelly B

39. A pack of cards! – Therese M 

40. Guessing/sharing games: Who can pick the colour of the next car that passes? Is the next person who comes in/out a man/lady/girl/boy?  In a magazine, take turns at choosing one thing from each page that you would like.  – Karen A

41. Handbag memory game: Lay out various times from your handbag, look at them, then close their eyes and take one away. The kids have to remember what is missing. With older kids take it all away and have them write down all the things they can remember. – Rebekah K

42. Etch-a-sketch. – Gemma

43.  Sugar packets: count how many sugar packets there are (or make picture shapes with them). – Joanna E

44. Make lists: for example, birthday presents for a year away or ranking things like 5 favourite or least favourite activities.  – Joanna E

45. Spelling words: When you get your children’s spelling words, take a picture on your phone so you can practice when out and about. – Annette V

46. Who am I game:  Start with something like, “I’m thinking of an animal with ____.” or “I’m thinking of a fruit that is ____.”  or “I’m thinking of a person who _____.”  Keep the hints coming until the child guesses correctly. – Terri D

47. Maths game: Bring a calculator and get the child to add up what they would eat or the pet food or just the drinks ect. Ask questions like: Which is cheapest? If you had $10 and need milk and bread, what would you choose? How many steps are from one aisle to the next? – Jess H

48. Thumb wars. – Elena L

49. Spot-0: Pick a non-common car colour or type of car (we pick yellow) and yell out, “Spot-o” when you see one.  This is an on-going game the kids play every time we are in the car.  – Kelly B

50. Imaginative story: Look around you, pick a person, object or landmark and make up a spontaneous story.  – Kelly B

51. On long travelling trips, when you see a kms signs –for example: 30 kilometres to the next town —  count down every kilometre until you reach it. – Jess H

52. Draw pictures in the dirt with a stick. – Gail B

53. Count birds. – Kelly B

54. Nature hunt: make a list of things for kids to find — like 3 leaves, 1 interesting stick. – Gail B

55. Cuddle, tickle or do hair styling. – Kelly B

57. Play ‘Good Day/Bad Day‘ with the kids. It gives an insight into how they’ve viewed the day outside of directly asking them. – Simply Being Mum

58. Play catch with a tennis ball. – Kelly B

58. Paddle pop stick puzzle.  Plain paddle pop sticks can be used to make shapes and pictures.  – Kelly B

59. Alphabet Game: One person says the letters of the alphabet in order, while others in the family say something that starts with that letter. Younger children can be the one to say the alphabet. For older children, they might like to choose a category for the words, for example: names, countries, animals, food. – Homework Help for Parents

60.  Take-turns story: Make up a story by each adding a sentence.  One person starts with a simple sentence, and the next person adds a joining sentence.  See where the adventure takes you! – Natural Learning UK

Print it out and take it with you. Click below for the PDF file.

ways to keep kids occupied when waiting - download list

Ideas on items to keep in the car or bag

  • Small cars (like matchbox cars)
  • A small bag, box or large pencil case to keep things in
  • Finger puppets
  • Mini balls
  • Tennis ball
  • Travel games
  • Bubbles
  • Balloons
  • Fabric balloon cover
  • Calculator
  • Pipe cleaners
  • Playing cards
  • Uno
  • Small toys
  • Plastic animal figurines
  • Colouring pad & pencils
  • Aqua doodle
  • Mangadoodle
  • Etch-a-sketch
  • Books
  • Paddle pop sticks
  • Clip Board box with pencils & paper

make a drawing kit for travel

clipboard box (a clip board with a compartment inside for pens and paper

fabric balloon ball

balloons and fabric cover in a zip lock bag

keep toys in your handbag

Spot the toys in my handbag

paddle pop stick game

Paddle Pop Stick Game

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  • Reply
    February 12, 2014 at 12:16 pm

    This is such an incredible list! THanks for putting this together! (I have always loved that page in Oh the Places You’ll Go too! Fabulous sounds – and thought provoking too!)

  • Reply
    February 12, 2014 at 8:56 pm

    I like to draw shapes, numbers or letters on my kids backs (just with my finger obviously) and they have to guess what you’ve drawn. It’s a nice quiet one for the doctor’s waiting room. Thanks for the great list – love the pipe cleaner idea!

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    April 22, 2014 at 12:18 pm

    What a great list. So many fun new ideas! Pinned to remember!

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    May 27, 2014 at 12:36 pm

    I love this. And I think I’ll enjoy this too. Thank you for sharing. You might want to see this.

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    Stacey Gifford
    October 6, 2015 at 7:02 am

    Love this article. Great ideas! We also do EYE SPY too! If you know your pediatricians, dentists or any family waiting area that could use some great waiting room toys to help parents with their children while they wait please have them check out: http://www.littlepeoplescove.com. We offer really cool wall toys, activity cubes and play centers. Thanks, Stacey

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