7 fun games you can play with just pen and paper

Getting kids off screens is increasingly challenging, especially as children get older. Finding ways for your kids to be creative and explore can be difficult, but sometimes, simpler really is better. There may not be a whole 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 during travel — especially when those airport delays crop up. With paper and 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 a game on paper is a snap.

pad of paper with pencil to play a game
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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 a paper game is paper. Any kind is fine — from notebook to computer to construction. A writing utensil like pen, paper, 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 games, then recycle them when the fun is finished.

colorful paper boats
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Tic-tac-toe

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

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. Snowman can be played 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.

Pictionary

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 his or her 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.

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.

Example:

Cup

Cap

Cat

Bat

Word scrambles

Make studying for those spelling and vocabulary test 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.

scrambled letters on paper
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Connect Four

Just like the classic game, Connect Four can be played 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.

With smartphones, tablets, and binge-watching, it can sometimes be hard to remember that fun can be had 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 pass the time.

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