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10 fun games kids can play with just pen and paper

Disconnect and challenge kids to think with games to play on paper

A blank notebook and a pen

Tired of seeing the kids with their heads bent over an iPad or staring at their smartphones for hours? You’re not alone. It’s something many parents struggle with on a daily basis. Getting kids off screens is increasingly challenging, especially as children get older. Finding ways for your kids to be creative and explore activities that don’t involve an electronic device can be difficult, but sometimes, simpler really is better. There may not be a lot of technology involved in old-fashioned pen-and-paper games, but they can be just as much fun for younger children, tweens, and even teens.

Paper games for kids can be a quick boredom-buster on an inclement weather day when waiting at a restaurant or while traveling or vacationing — especially when those airport delays crop up. With paper and a pen or pencil, you don’t need to worry about how much battery charge there is or stress out about finding an outlet to plug into. Putting together games to play on paper is a snap. Don’t worry if you don’t remember the rules to the Hangman, we’ve got cool games to play on paper that kids will definitely enjoy. It doesn’t even need to be game night to play paper games for kids.

Colorful paper boats
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How to make paper games

There is actually quite a lot you can do with a piece of paper to pass the time. Kids have been doing it for ages to kick the boredom in class. Remember paper footballs, airplanes, boats, fortune tellers, and trash can basketball? All you need for games to play on paper is … paper! Any kind is fine — from notebook to computer to construction. A writing utensil like a pen, pencil, marker, or crayon is necessary for some games, but not all. If you want to go green, use papers headed for the recycling bin to play pen and paper games, then recycle them when the fun is finished.

Colorful construction paper with pencils and paperclips
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Games to play on paper

Once you have paper and something to write with, you’re ready to go. These paper games are all simple, fun, and ideal for kids of all ages.


In America, it is tic-tac-toe, but in England, the pen-and-paper game is called noughts and crosses. Head to Ireland, and the game is known as X’s and O’s. All you need to do to play this two-player game is to draw a 3 x 3 grid. One player is X and the other is O. The player with three in a row horizontally, vertically, or diagonally is the winner. Traditionally, O’s go first.


Snowman is a kinder, gentler version of the game Hangman. In classic Wheel of Fortune style, set up a puzzle for kids to solve. Count out blank lines to spell a familiar word, like “apple.” Kids guess the letters to fill the spots until the puzzle is solved. If a guess is wrong, you draw a piece of a snowman. The snowman takes shape from incorrect guesses.

For younger kids, generate easier puzzles, but for older players come up with more challenging ones like movie titles. You can play Snowman with one or more players. This can also be a fun classroom game on the whiteboard.

Dots and boxes

This two-person game is another classic that moms and dads may have played growing up. Draw a nine-dot array of three dots across in three rows. Players take turns drawing a horizontal or vertical line to connect two dots. The object is to finish a square. When a player finishes a square, put his or her initials inside. The player with the most squares in the array is the winner. It’s helpful to use two different colored pens or pencils for a round of Dots and Boxes. Doing so makes it easier to tell which player is which.


If you have a group of players, Pictionary is a great go-to game and will be a fast favorite for tweens and teens. Adults enjoy it, too. Divide players into two teams. Write down a bunch of phrases, movie titles, animals, or television shows on Post-its using a similar theme. Fold and place in a container.

Without speaking or using letters and symbols, players take turns being the artist and must draw a picture to help their teammates guess the phase, object, or title. Teams earn points by guessing correctly. Set up a time limit for each turn. Keep it short, so the game moves along.

Word ladders

Forget Words with Friends on your smartphone. Play Word Ladders on a piece of paper. To start this two-person game, have each player choose a word with the same number of letters. One word goes on the top rung and the other on the bottom. Each person sets up the word ladder on a piece of paper. The object is to change one letter at a time to make a word ladder between the two words. The shortest ladder wins. If both players are stuck, rule the game a tie and start another word ladder.






Word scrambles

Make studying for those spelling and vocabulary tests a bit more fun by making word scrambles. Players have to unscramble the words. Set up word scrambles using themes like current holidays or the week’s spelling list. Give kids a time limit to unscramble the words.

Connect Four

Just like the classic game, Connect Four can play on paper, too. Set up a grid with six rows and seven columns. One player is O and the other is X. The object is to get four in a row horizontally, vertically, or diagonally. However, you may only mark a space with an X or an O that is the lowest in the column.

A person about to play a paper game in a notebook

More fun games to play on paper

Need some more inspiration for paper games for kids? Try these.


Yes, you can play this popular board game with paper. All you need is graph paper. Each player makes a grid using the graph paper. Label the horizontal boxes with letters and the vertical ones with numbers. Then, the players draw three or four battleships in their grid and the guessing commences using the letter and number grid. If you sink all of your opponent’s battleships, you are the winner.


This is another paper game based on a board game. It was also a TV game show. Categories is a lot more fun with multiple players but you can play it with two. To start, decide on four categories. Next, choose a letter. Set a timer for 2 or 5 minutes. Each player has to think of as many words as possible in each category, beginning with the chosen letter. When the time is up, each player reads their words. If anyone has the same word, they must cross it off the list. One point is for each word no one else has in each category. The winner is the person with the most points.

Word chain

The game starts with the first person saying a word like “think.” The next person must write down and say a word that starts with the last letter, such as “kitten.” As the game continues, the word chain gets longer with each person adding a word, beginning with the last letter of each word said. To keep the game moving, have a time limit for adding a word. Word chain doesn’t actually have a winner. It’s more about getting the participants to think quickly. The paper game is a perfect pick for expanding vocabulary and practicing those SAT words.

A page of scrambled letters
Pongstorn Pics/Shutterstock

Final note on paper games

With smartphones, tablets, and binge-watching, it can sometimes be hard to remember you can have fun without technology. When kids are bored or when you’re stuck waiting, take out some paper and a pen. Play one or more of these fun games to play on paper to pass the time. With these cool games to play on paper, you don’t have to worry about battery life or finding a charging station to keep the kids occupied. Paper games for kids are also a wonderful way to reconnect especially on road trips.

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Dawn Miller
Dawn Miller began her professional life as an elementary school teacher before returning to her first love, writing. In…
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