non-electronic waiting part two…glad games and perky projects to while away the hours

from The Paper Dolls Julia Donaldson and Rebecca CobbHere’s the second follow-up post to my Musings about waiting, with more non-electronic ways to occupy kids while they’re waiting around or traveling.

Earlier this week, I made a list of entertaining, absorbing books for this purpose. I mentioned audio books as well. They were, and still are, one of our main sources of on-the-road enjoyment.

Today, I’ve got lots more portable, non-electronic ways to pass the

The Land of Counterpane illustration by Brian Wildsmith

The Land of Counterpane illustration by Brian Wildsmith

time that engage the senses, involve creativity and invention, stimulate conversation and laughter, and leap tall buildings in a single bound. Yeah, all that.

When my kids were small, as I visited garage sales, thrift stores, or hobby stores, I kept an eye out for take-along toys, games,or projects which the kids weren’t given access to at home. I had a Sick Box and a Travel Trunk where I could squirrel this stuff away. That meant, when it did come out, it was fresh and interesting.

View-MasterMy old ViewMaster from childhood with the vintage, slightly warped reels in their paper sleeves, was in the Sick Box. This made it quite a privilege to be sick; perhaps even a matter for gloating, when one was ailing enough to get a turn with it! Novelty is our friend. When we had long road or plane trips, things were doled out a bit at a time, and half the stash was for taking out on the trip home. Some days, treats were wrapped in tissue with one new package chosen every couple of hours. That’s the key: keep it fresh.

I don’t know your particular circumstance– a quiet hospital room, a family road trip, an airplane with limited seat space — but I hope something here works for you.


For travel, I’m assuming you are sitting next to these squirts, on deck the entire trip.raffi singable songs for the very young Anything less is a lucky break! Therefore, I’m not filtering these for “what’s unsafe” for managing on their own.

SINGING — Pop in a CD and sing along.  Try Wee Sing, with their extensive catalog, or Raffi, — his old, early songs still echo in my mind!

FINGER PLAY — Try This Little Piggy: Lap Songs, Finger Plays, Clapping Games, and Pantomime Rhymes, by Jane Yolen to refresh your memory on these age-old ways to entertain little ones.

BUBBLES in spill-proof cups

Industrialrelic-jerger-wind-up-alarm-clock from clockview dot comNON-TOYS: a small flashlight, a padlock and key, bubble wrap to pop, a little piggy bank and a few coins, an old wind-up alarm clock (brrrrrrringgg!), coin purses to pack and unpack…Just take a look around your house for possibilities.

DIAPER WIPES — so fun to scrub with! Plus, the car seat gets a good cleaning!

PHOTO ALBUMS with family pictures to talk about

PUNCH BALLOON or a small balloon to bat around

Small, lightweight BALL for mellow games of catch or basketballkoosh ball

KAZOOS, mini harmonica, shakers

FINGER PUPPETS come in dozens of character sets


Party-favor-size PLAY-DOH/silly putty/gakusborne sticker book


FINGER FIDGETZ– Great for fidgeting with! We got ours at a Twin Cities toy shop.

Mini BEAN BAGS/stress balls  to squish and toss


BUKI activity books

matchbox cars from telegraph dot co dot ukMATCHBOX CARS

A BANDANA — serious versatility.  Play peek-a-boo, make hats, wrap and unwrap items, make a blindfold for guessing games…


WHAT DOES JOHNNY HAVE IN HIS POCKET? — “In his pocket, Johnny has an apple core.” “In his pocket, Johnny has a button and an apple core.” Can you take turns and make it all the way to Z? We played this on the hiking trail a lot. There are many variations on this.

I’M THINKING OF A PLACE/PERSON — A more kid-friendly version of 20 questions. Is it a real place, or make-believe? Is it somewhere we’ve been? How long will it take the group to guess that person, book character, real or fictional place? Then it’s someone else’s turn.

THE ALPHABET GAME — Spot the letters of the alphabet in order on signs along the highway. Sometimes, old games are the best.

license plate 6-STATES from licenseplatesusa dot comLICENSE PLATE COLLECTING — How many states and provinces can you spot on your trip?

OLD FASHIONED PAPER & PENCIL GAMES — hangman, tic tac toe, dots and boxes, heads, bodies and legs, to name a few

PLAYDOH IMPRESSIONS GAME  — We invented this game by accident. Take a small wad of playdoh and use it to make an impression of something — the spiral binder of a notebook, a barrette, a pen cap, the sole of your shoe. No one else peeks! Now, pass it around the car, everyone takes a look, and tries to guess what it is.

Travel BINGO (homemade or purchased) or Rubberneckers

MAD LIBS — purchase a book, then make up your own

Usborne 100 Things for Little Children to do on a Trip and other USBORNE ACTIVITY CARDS — so many cheery decks of cards from Usborne

TRAVEL VERSIONS OF GAMES including Haba mini games, Travel Guess Who and other Hasbro mini-meno-game-tintravel editions;

GAMES that travel easily — card games of all sorts, decks of trivia cards, Outburst Junior, Catch Phrase (yes, the electronic version!)


Invent games to help your kids start seeing the world, and you’ll need less distractions.

PEOPLE WATCHING — great way to spend time. We’ve waited in parking lots or airports guessing people’s names,

Perhaps your people watchers will turn into people sketchers some day.

Perhaps your people watchers will turn into people sketchers some day.

destinations, jobs, making up mini stories about them. Find five men with beards, one child with a stuffed tiger, three people in a hurry. Waiting for the school concert to begin? Play I-Spy. Make up your own people-watching game.

WORLD WATCHING — Kids may not be inclined to appreciate scenery, but even in fairly mundane stretches of road, you can make a game of it. Give everyone 10 minutes with a challenge to look out for one unusual or interesting thing. When the time is up, everyone reports. (Did anyone else see that gazelle?!) Mini scavenger hunts can take place anywhere — who can spot a herd of cows grazing? a boat for sale? who can think of something to spot next?

Be INVENTIVE with what’s around you — Have you ever seen the photography work of Nina Katchadourian? Her series “Seat Assignment” is all done in her airplane seat with materials at hand, the in-flight magazine, and a small camera. Check out Proposals for Public Sculpture” which is just one of her sets. Here is sheer genius creativity. What can you invent? I’d guess some of our happiest times were spontaneous games or projects with some object that happened to be nearby.


edemberleyrabbit from fingerprint drawing bookDRAWING is fun for all with the Ed Emberley books such as Ed Emberley’s Drawing Book of Animals. There are many in his series. We also liked Usborne’s What Shall I Draw Today and they have many other drawing and doodling books as well. I’ve also seen these from Illustration School, and these from revered illustrator taro gomi among many, many choices for drawing and paper craft books.

A cheap ream of paper for drawing, or smaller sketchbooks, and a supply of colored pencils, crayons, markers goes a long way. We loved the Prismacolor pencils and also Crayola’s pipsqueak markers. Hello Kitty at least used to sell sets of teensy crayons, markers, and paints in little travel packets — great for keeping in a tote bag for use only on outings.

CONSTRUCTION PAPER, safety scissors, glue stick, and tape = miles of happiness. Make paper paper hats from copdandsomuchmore dot comchains, hats, collage pictures, cylinder cities, spyglasses, snack cones, booklets to illustrate, or a hundred other things.

Highlights STENCILS — We loved the old Tupperware stencils, but these look similar. Great for coloring and making patterns.

DRY ERASE MARKERS — I hear they wipe off the windows? We had special window markers, but if dry erase work, all the better.


Harrisville Potholder LoomPotholder LOOMS for weaving

KNITTING/CROCHETING — Kids can learn these lifetime pleasures at surprisingly young ages.

LATCH HOOK Kits — great for long car rides. My daughter, about age 8 or 9, loved these.



Keep it simple. Purchase an inexpensive sketchbook or scrapbook, collect drawing supplies, glue sticks, tape, and let them chronicle the trip in their own eccentric, whimsical fashion.


PAPER DOLLS — cut out the clothing and dolly dingle paperdollaccessories, or make your own; there are hundreds of varieties out there

POCKET SIZED DOLLS or other little critters  — set them aside for only while you’re on the go and they’ll be a prize to play with


ROGER PRIDDY has lots of activity books. You can search on Amazon.

DOVER Little Activity Books are so cheap. We used a lot of these over the years — sticker paper dolls, mazes, word search, and more. All in a tiny size for only about a dollar. They’ve also got lots of coloring books suited to older children and loads of other activity books.

USBORNE Activity Books — huge variety

4372-At_the_Zoo_Magic_Pen_Painting_BookMAGIC PEN books — Oh, my kids loved these. Super airplane activity. This company also make Invisible Ink books and Mr. Mystery books.

FIFTEEN puzzles, or any of the knock-off plastic versions

The Greatest DOT TO DOT Books in the World — spectacular funfifteen puzzle for ages 9 to 99


DELL PUZZLE MAGAZINES — we taught our kids how to work crosswords, cryptoquizzes, easy logic problems, and other types of word games from these great, inexpensive puzzle books you can find in the grocery store. There are lots of easy crossword books for kids as well.

Games Magazine JUNIOR KIDS BIG BOOK OF GAMES, and The Brainiest, Insaniest Ultimate Puzzle Book are two collections that will last a long time.

ETCH A SKETCH — occupying kids since 1960!

klutz twisted crittersKLUTZ activity books — many of these sheer-genius books are suitable for travel such as Twisted Critters, Me Vs. You, and Made You Look. Take a look at what they’ve got and decide which might work for you. They’re a bit pricey, but genuinely full of ideas that generate more ideas.

MAGNETS AND PAPER CLIPS — something like this, or just a couple strong magnets, plus some paper clips; also binoculars, hand held magnifying glasses, kaleidiscopes, fly eye lenses…

PLAY STOPS, not “rest” stops

On road trips, we tried to stop at a park or rest area rather than a fast-food restaurant and spend 30 from funkymonkeybars dot comminutes running, swinging, climbing the monkey bars, playing tag, throwing a frisbee…whatever — Wear them out! Then feed them a healthy packed lunch and see if you get some nappers!

This is far, far from exhaustive, and play-table-top-football-games-photo-420-FF1104TTNA01really — simple is great. But if you want some websites for companies who stock non-electronic toys, here are just a few I know:

Creative Kidstuff — a Twin Cities store where my daughter worked
Magic Cabin — mail order company
Hearth Song — owned by the same group, but they have some different stock
Hub Hobby — a Twin Cities store with about one million things to do
Melissa and Doug — lots of quality, imaginative toys
Discovery Toys — more imaginative toys and games, including my favorite stacking cups ever

I’d love to hear your favorite take-along, use-while-you’re-waiting, non-electronic  ideas. What works for you?