Waiting is NOT easy, especially for kids who are hungry, tired, or really excited for what is coming. These simple waiting games will save your sanity the next time you have some time to kill.
Every parent knows the struggle of trying to keep kids entertained in a public place while waiting for something…
Whether it’s waiting for food to be delivered at a restaurant, standing in line at the post office, or excitedly awaiting your turn to ride the teacups at Disneyland, minutes can feel like hours when your kids are antsy and the timeline is out of your control.
I don’t have a magic wand to make those lines move faster (I wish!), but I do have some tried-and-true waiting games to fill the time.
I tested out a bunch of the ideas below on our recent trip to Florida where we spent four fun-filled, and exhausting, days at Disney World and Universal Studios. If you’ve ever been to Disney, you know we had a lot of opportunities to practice waiting during our days in the parks.
I can happily report that the kids LOVED these waiting games. It transformed our experience of standing in lines from a boring waste of time into fun family bonding.
I’m not going to claim that no one ever complained, and we didn’t play waiting games every time we were in line, but I loved having a list of ideas to pull out of my pocket whenever I could sense that the kids needed a distraction. It definitely helped keep everyone’s spirits up.
Download and save this list for those times when you’re stuck in a long line or anywhere else that requires emergency creative intervention to prevent meltdowns and endless rounds of “He’s touching me!”
Your future (frazzled) self will thank you for planning ahead.
On to the ideas!
22 creative waiting games to play with kids
1. I spy
It might be one of the oldest games in the world, but it’s such a good one! Start by looking around your area and saying something like, “I spy with my little eye something…RED!” Then see if someone in the group can guess the item you chose.
Variations: Change up your clue at the beginning. Rather than saying the color, say “something that rhymes with….” or “something that starts with B.”
2. Guess who?
This is similar to the classic game 20 questions, but in this version you’re ONLY guessing people (or sometimes animal characters). We especially like playing this game with Disney characters. One person thinks of a character, and the others ask yes or no questions, such as “Is this character a boy?” or “Is this character magical?”
Choose an item (it could be something in your purse, something from the table at the restaurant, or even a stick from the ground) and say, “This [item] is NOT what you think.” Then, imagine what that item could be that is different than it’s traditional use. For example, “This pen isn’t actually a pen. It’s a magic wand.” Pass the object around the group, and encourage kids to think of (and act out) as many other things that item could be…a sword, an antenna, a spyglass, a moustache? When you run out of ideas, choose a new object and start over!
4. Buzz word
Choose a special word or phrase, and listen carefully to the people around you. Possible example words: time, shoe, dinner, love, etc. When someone (outside your group) says the word, say “Bzzzt!” and celebrate! Then choose a new word.
5. What’s missing?
This is one of our favorite waiting games to play in restaurants while we’re waiting for food to arrive. Place 5-10 items on the table, and encourage kids to try to memorize each item. Then, have everyone close their eyes while you take one item away (hide it under the table out of sight). Invite players to open their eyes, and see who can guess what’s missing! Winner gets to be the next person to take something away.
Variations: For an added challenge, play with more items, or try taking away 2 or 3 items for kids to guess.
6. Guess the number
Pick a number between 1 and 100. Other players try to guess your number. After each person’s guess, you say “higher” or “lower” to point them in the right direction for the next person’s guess. The person to guess the correct number first is the winner!
Variation: For older kids, you can make the game harder by choosing a number between 1 and 1000. It was fun to do this with my kids and have them realize that if you’re strategic about your guesses, it still doesn’t take very long to narrow things down. Sneaky little math lesson!
7. Silly acronyms
An acronym is a word where each letter stands for another word (like NASA: National Aeronautics and Space Administration). Can you come up with your own silly acronyms?! Here’s how: Choose a word, and then come up with a silly sentence where each word starts with the letters of your inspiration word. For example, “ball” become “Billy always laughs loudly” or “Barracudas angrily launch lightbulbs.” See who can come up with the silliest sentences! Use the letters of your name, a name of a city or state, or anything!
Variation: You could also flip this game to see if kids can guess what some real acronyms stand for. Do you know these? SCUBA, LASER, FOMO, ASAP, PIN?
Note: An acronym is only considered an acronym if it is said as a word, not when the letters are said individually, like FBI (which would be considered an initialism).
8. 1, 2, 3, Animal
Think of an animal and three clues to describe it. Give ALL three clues before anyone is allowed to guess. Whoever guessed the animal correctly gets to pick the next animal. (Or you can just take turns to keep things even.)
Variations: When we play this game at home, everyone has to ACT like the animal after guessing it, but that may not work in public places. You can also play where you give ONE clue, and then everyone is allowed ONE guess. Then give the second clue, and allow everyone a second guess. Continue on until someone guesses the animal!
9. Alphabet race
Look around and try to find each letter of the alphabet, starting with A and going all the way to Z. How fast can you find all 26 letters? You may have played this in the car, but it’s also great for when you’re standing in line in a store or other place that has a lot of words on signs, magazines, menus, etc.
Variation: Instead of the whole alphabet, see if kids can find the letters to spell their name. This is especially good for younger kids, or when you just have a minute to wait, but your five-year-old is going bonkers in the grocery line…hypothetically.
10. Invent tongue twisters
If your kids are already familiar with Peter Piper and Sally who sold seashells, challenge them to make up their own tongue twisters! Make a silly sentence where most or all of the words start with the same sound (fun fact: this is called alliteration!). Then, challenge each other to say them five times fast!
Have one person start a story with a simple sentence such as, “Once there was a boy who loved bananas.” Pass the story around the group, allowing each person to add a little bit more! You set whatever rules make the game fun for your group. You may want to limit each person to adding one sentence, or give each person a certain amount of time. We like to pass the story to the next person with a cliff hanger like “he opened the door and saw…NEXT person!” The one big rule we have is that everyone’s ideas are welcome, and you have to go along with whatever the storyteller says. No complaining “That’s dumb!” or “I don’t want that to happen!”
12. Would you rather?
Get everyone talking by asking some fun “Would you rather” questions. Make up your own, or get a whole list of questions here. Or, print a complete (and FREE) set of conversation cards to tuck into your purse and pull them out when you’re on the go!
13. Scavenger hunt
Rather than moving around for this hunt, just hunt with your EYES. It’s like I-spy, but rather than having kids try to guess the item you “spy”, tell the players something more specific to look for and see who can find it first. Here are some examples:
- a Ferris wheel
- a purple flag
- a green arrow
- a cowboy hat
14. Back drawing
Draw a letter on your child’s back and see if they can guess the letter. Super simple, but my kids love it.
Variation: We often play a similar game when waiting for the car to fill up at the gas station. I draw on the window of the car by where my child is sitting and they have to guess the letter (Make sure to draw backwards to yourself so it’s correct for the viewer).
15. Rhyme time
Say a word, and see how many real words your group can think of that rhyme with it. For example: RED rhymes with bed, said, dead, fed, head, led, bread, and so on. When you exhaust your ideas for one word, pick a new one and play again!
16. Outburst…on the go
Name a category (like types of flowers), and see how many items the group can name in one minute. Give one “point” for each item named. Category examples: U.S. states, boys’ names that start with B, foods that are red, etc.
Variation: Rather than timing kids, combine this game with the alphabet game and see if you can collectively think of a boy’s name (or another category of your choice) for each letter of the alphabet.
17. Have a finger dance party
If you’re in a place where playing a song on your phone is acceptable, choose a song, and invite everyone to join your finger dance party! The rules? Point just one index finger up in the air, and then dance that finger around! This is a great one to use in the car when you’re waiting in a drive-thru line (or for grocery pickup).
18. Time trials
Give kids a simple challenge to see how long they can do a certain skill. For example, “How long can you hold your breath?” or “How long can you stand on one foot?” Repeat the same challenge several times to see if kids can beat their own personal best (I try NOT to make it a competition between kids because we have enough sibling rivalry already).
19. Memory challenge
Have players face in one direction and try to memorize all the details they see for one minute. Then, have them turn around and face the other direction while you ask them questions to test their memory. For example, “There is a picture of a flower on the on the wall. What color is it?” or “What color hat is the cashier wearing?” Feeling brave? Let your kids take a turn to try to stump YOU!
20. Word train
Choose a starting word (like “start”). The next person has to think of a word that starts with the last letter of the previous word. For example: Start…tank…kite…elephant…and so on. How many words can you link together.
Variation: For a more advanced version, pick a category that all words have to fit within, like “food.” Apple…egg…grape…eggplant…tomato…etc.
Have a preschooler who could use some counting practice? Challenge them to count how many of something you see around you. “How many pictures are hanging on the wall? How many trees are planted along this sidewalk? How many people are in line ahead of us?” It passes the time and builds math skills!
22. Trivia questions
Why not learn something new while you wait? You can google trivia questions for kids on a variety of topics: geography, animals, Disney, or miscellaneous. While we waited in the hour-long line for Rise of the Resistance, I challenged my boys to answer over 100 Star Wars trivia questions. Simple, and it kept my boys occupied for over a half an hour!
There you have it! 22 waiting games to keep your squirrely kids occupied when you’re stuck in a long line.
Pin the image below to save these ideas for later!
Do you have any favorite waiting games for kids? Share in the comments below!
Want more simple activities for kids? You’re in the right place! Here are a few other favorites I think you’ll love: