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11 fun games kids can play with just pen and paper

Try something different and play paper games

A blank notebook and a pen
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Engaged in the daily battle to get the kids to put down the smartphones? Then there’s the video games and the iPad. Sure, technology is awesome, but kids and teens do spend entirely too much time on them. It’s a challenge many parents face on a daily basis. Trying to get kids to power down gets even worse when the tween and teen years roll around.

If you’re trying to think of ways to get kids to lift their headd up and do something that doesn’t involve electronics, you aren’t alone. Finding ways for kids to be creative and explore activities minus a device can be difficult, but sometimes, simpler really is better. There may not be a lot of technology involved in old-fashioned games to play on paper, but they can be just as much fun for younger children, tweens, and yes, 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 a fun menu of games to play on paper kids will definitely enjoy. It doesn’t even need to be game night to play paper games for kids. Paper games are perfect on-the-go or at home.

Colorful paper boats
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How to make games to play on paper

When kids have a spare moment, out comes the phone. It’s what kids and adults typically use to when boredom creeps in. The funny thing is paper has long been a boredom buster and you don’t even have to plug it in. 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.

Remember paper footballs, airplanes, boats, fortune tellers, and trash can basketball when class got boring? Let’s not forget the doodling. All you need for games to play on paper is … paper! Any kind is fine — from notebooks to computers 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

Next time the food is taking forever or there’s a delay at the airport, take out a notepad. Your children may look at you strangely and expect the eye rolls from tweens and teens, but it will be worth the effort. The wonderful thing about games to play on paper is that they travel just as easily as those smartphones. Once you have paper and something to write with, you’re ready to go. There aren’t pieces to set up or put away and there isn’t anything to lose. Games to play on paper are of course, fun, but they’re educational too.

Paper games for kids develop critical thinking skills. They’re also working those fine motor skills because kids are actually writing. Playing games on paper encourages kids to use their communication skills, too. Players are interacting with one another more so than they would be playing on an app on their smartphone. Paper games don’t have to be involved or complicated to get kids interested, either. We’ve got a fun list of games to play on paper that don’t disappoint. These paper games are all simple, fun, ideal for kids of all ages, and perfect for on the go or family game nights.

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. 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 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.

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 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.

Example:

Cup

Cap

Cat

Bat

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 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.

A person about to play a paper game in a notebook
RVStock / Shutterstock

More fun games to play on paper

Another perk about paper games is the lack of cleanup. You can also keep games going or start fresh the next time you and the kids are waiting in the doctor’s office. If the list above isn’t enough, we’ve got more paper games for kids the whole family will enjoy.

Battleship

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.

Categories

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 two or five 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.

Mastermind

For a fun guessing game with numbers, try Mastermind. This game is also known in some circles as Bulls and Cows. Someone thinks of a four-digit number. The other players take turns guessing until the secret number is uncovered. Write down people’s guesses and fill in the blanks in the four-digit number if someone guesses it correctly. The number puzzle can be uncovered much like a game of Wheel of Fortune. Whoever solves the secret number creates a new one. To keep the game moving, set a time limit for guesses. You can also give people a set number of guesses.

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 when you don’t have a selection of board games to choose from.

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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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