From Battleship to Sprouts, we’ve created a must-play list of pencil-and-paper games that beat TV any rainy day. Gather some pencils and paper and check out our best of pencil-and-paper games.
You don’t need a fancy building set for this. Popsicle stick cities, card towers, even buildings out of blocks, or forts out of boxes or pillows, will do just fine. If you want to get competitive, whoever builds the highest tower wins.
Magical Mama (or Papa)
Be your kids’ very own Harry Houdini — without the locks, chains and water tanks, of course. Simply place a coin under one of three cups and shuffle the cups around. Then ask your children to guess which cup holds the coin. Sneaky parents can place the cups near the edge of a table and secretly drop the coin. Watch your tots’ eyes light up in amazement when they learn the coin is gone!
Exercise those creative, cognitive and problem-solving muscles with a good puzzle. You can use a store-bought variety or have the kids make their own. Have your children draw a picture on a sturdy piece of cardboard or Bristol board. Then use a pencil to outline puzzle pieces directly on their drawing. Cut out the pieces with a good pair of scissors, mix them up and get solving.
Choose some of your kids’ favourite tunes and turn up the volume. Ask them to dance until the music stops. When it does, they have to freeze in whatever position they find themselves in – even if they have one leg up. To make the game more challenging, ask the kids to freeze in specific poses: animals, shapes, letters or even yoga postures.
Board and family games
For a comprehensive list of the best of family games from Nursery Rhyme Games and Candy Land to Clue, check out our handy list of top 20 family games.
This game is ideal for larger groups — a sleepover favourite. Divide the kids up into groups. Give each group a bag filled with props, such as a spoon, toy jewelry, a sock, ball or ribbon. Then give them 15 minutes to construct a skit around the props. This game is so much fun that it doesn’t have to be competitive. If the kids want, though, they can all vote on a winning skit.
This schoolyard favourite is sure to be an indoor hit, too. Set up your hopscotch game on any floor surface. Masking tape will do perfectly to form the nine connecting squares. Boxes 1-3 will be placed in a single line, one on top of the other. The next two boxes (4, 5) will be placed side-by-side, followed by a single box (6), two more boxes (7, 8) and the final half-circle “home” base (9). Next, choose a marker, such as a coin, stone or beanbag. The first player will throw the marker into square 1 without letting it bounce or touch the lines. If successful, the player will then hop — one foot on single squares and two feet on side-by-side squares — avoiding square #1. The player may rest on “home” before hopping back. On the way back, he or she picks up the marker on square #1 and, if successful (lands within the lines, hops or jumps with proper footing, doesn’t fall), takes another turn and throws it into square #2. When the player is unsuccessful, the next player takes a turn. Players resume their turns by throwing the marker on the last box played. The winner is the first player to throw the marker home (#9), and smoothly complete the whole course.
DIY balance beam
While you have your masking tape out, why not make your own balance beam? We all know how much kids love walking in straight lines every chance they get. Put on some music, and one at a time the kids can take their turn walking one-foot-over-the-other across the straight line of tape. Make the game more challenging by having the kids walk backwards or balance with one foot on the line.
Hide and Seek
No list of indoor games would be complete without Hide and Seek, now would it? In this classic game, one person (“It”) covers his or her eyes and counts aloud while the other players hide. When “It” is finished counting, he or she begins looking for the hiders. The last hider to be found is the next “It.” Warning: this game is often a source of giggle fits. Families with older children might want to take things up a notch and play Hide and Seek in the dark. Just to be safe, make sure there are no loose items on the floor. If you want, allow “It” to carry a flashlight or turn the lights on once “It” finishes counting.
Kids love finding hidden objects — especially when there’s a prize at the end. Simply write your clues on some slips of paper — get creative. Place the first clue somewhere easy to find, like inside your child’s snack or cereal bowl. Then leave as many clues as you like around the house, making a trail to the final clue. Instead of a prize, the treasure hunt can lead to various coins around the house. This way the kids get to collect all the coins and put them in their piggy banks in the end.
A great way to reuse water bottles (or you can purchase an indoor bowling set). Line six-10 water bottles up at the end of your hall or living room. Place a line of duct tape at the starting line. Grab a medium-sized indoor ball and start bowling! If you want, keep score and give out trophies at the end. (Note: if you need to stabilize the water bottles or make the game more difficult, simply fill them up with some water. Don’t forget to screw the tops on tightly!)
This game will have everyone giggling. Ask the kids to sit on the floor in a circle. Turn on some tunes and have them pass the potato (a bean bag or soft ball) around the circle as fast as they can. When the music stops, the player holding the potato leaves the circle. Keep going until only one player is left and wins the game.
Picnic memory game
Former preschool director and grandmother of three, Marsha Colla, has some innovative games up her sleeve, including this fun and simple verbal memory game, which, Colla says, “challenges the children and makes them giggle.” To play, everyone sits in a circle. The first player says, “In my basket for the picnic, I packed…,” and then says what item he or she packed. The next player then says, “In my basket for the picnic, I packed…,” and then recites what the first player packed and adds his or her own item to the basket, and so forth.
The listening game
One of Colla’s go-to games for her preschoolers and grandchildren, this game is sure to both educate and delight little ones. Take out several miscellaneous items. Have the children look at all the items, and then take them away. Next, ask one child to hide his or her eyes and listen as you pick up an item and make sounds with it. Ask the child to guess which item made the sound. Examples of items might be a comb (run your fingers along it), a glass (gently tap it), cymbals, shakers, sandpaper, blocks rubbed together, a pot and spoon. Be creative and have fun!
You don’t have to go outside to enjoy bubbles. For this game, you need a plate and straw for each player, some dishwashing soap and water. Place a dime-size drop of dish soap at the centre of each plate. Pour a little water onto the plate and gently mix with the dish soap until some suds start to form. Have the kids place the straw in the suds and blow very gently. Watch as massive bubbles start to form. To make this competitive, see who blows the biggest, or longest-lasting, bubble.
This traditional favourite will never get old. To start, choose one player (probably a parent for the first round) to be Simon. The rest of the players will gather in a circle or line in front of Simon as he calls out actions starting with the phrase “Simon says”: “Simon says…touch your toes.” The players then have to copy Simon’s action, touching their toes. If Simon calls out an action without uttering the phrase “Simon says,” the kids must not do the action. If a child touches his toes when Simon didn’t say…, he or she is out of the game. There are lots of great ways Simon can trick players into doing actions when Simon didn’t say: Simon can perform an action without uttering a command, for example, or he can perform an action that doesn’t correspond with the command. Fun! The last player left in the game wins and becomes the next Simon.
Most preschoolers flock to the classroom sensory table as soon as the teachers pull it out. So there is little doubt they will love this entertaining challenge. Find a shoe box or any box that has a lid on it. Cut a hole in one of the sides of the box —large enough for your child to fit her hand in. If you want, get creative and decorate the box with glitter and question marks. When you’re ready to play, put an item inside the box and have your children guess what it is. They can ask questions about the item if they need to, or you can offer clues. Get as ooey-gooey as you wish (fresh pumpkin seeds or slimy spaghetti are great choices for Halloween), or use such simple objects as a brush, a toy, a piece of fruit. To make it competitive, you can give a point to the first child to name the object.
You can’t be too little for this version of basketball. All you need is a bucket and a rolled up sock (or a small, light ball). Each player takes a turn at throwing the sock-ball into the bucket. When a player scores a bucket, he or she takes a step back and throws again until missing. The player who shoots the ball in the bucket from the farthest distance wins.