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101 Things to Do When There's Nothing to Do

Emergency time-wasters for planes, cars, lines, and waiting rooms

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Child in Restaurant
Photo by Geoff Manasse/Getty Images

Forgot to toss toys in your purse? Carry-on consigned to the cargo hold? Long waiting-room stay used up all your distractions? No matter how organized the parent, there will always come a time when your child will rely on you for distraction, just you and you alone. What do you do when you're stuck without props? Here are 101 informal activities that use nothing more than your clothing, your accessories, and whatever wits you have about you. If your child has a particularly short attention span or low tolerance for boredom, you may have to run through a whole string of these -- but finally, the time will pass.

  1. Play "Rock, Paper, Scissors"
  2. Arm wrestle
  3. Thumb wrestle
  4. Push palms together to see who can push the hardest
  5. Stack hands one atop the other, pulling out the hand at the bottom and bringing it up top
  6. Stack fists, using same rules as above
  7. Stack arms, similarly
  8. Play with your child's hair
  9. Let your child play with your hair
  10. Draw a letter on your child's back with a finger and see if he or she can guess
  11. Draw a letter instead on your child's arm
  12. Have your child draw a letter on your arm or back, and you do the guessing
  13. Take off your shoe and have your child practice shoe-tying
  14. Take off your child's shoe and find a different way to lace it
  15. Take off your child's shoes and socks and use the socks as puppets
  16. Use your wristwatch to give a lesson in telling time
  17. Use your wristwatch to time things going on around you
  18. Let your child try on your wristwatch
  19. Let your child try on your jewelry
  20. Count by twos, threes, fives, tens
  21. Count backward from 100
  22. Pick a number between one and 10
  23. Teach the 9 times table trick
  24. Give a math equation for your child to figure mentally
  25. Give a string of math equations and ask for the answer at the end
  26. Make up math story problems
  27. Say words to spell
  28. Say words to rhyme with
  29. Play "I Spy"
  30. Try some tongue twisters
  31. Play "I Went to ..."
  32. Sing some silly songs (softly)
  33. Do songs with hand motions, with and without the words
  34. Play "20 Questions"
  35. Look for things out the window
  36. Play paddycake
  37. Teach your child some clapping games
  38. Have your child teach you some clapping games
  39. Whisper secrets, silly and serious
  40. Say "Tell me three things you did today"
  41. Tell a story, taking turns one sentence at a time
  42. Write a poem, taking turns one sentence at a time
  43. Hide something (even just your thumb) in one fist -- guess which hand?
  44. Count your change
  45. Count your currency
  46. Make a stack or a snake with loose change
  47. Fold or roll up currency
  48. Make a pattern, train, or house out of credit cards.
  49. Show your child the pictures in your wallet (yes, even your driver's license)
  50. Try to remember one of your child's favorite storybooks; let your child correct your mistakes.
  51. See how your child looks in your glasses
  52. Give an invisible manicure
  53. Give an invisible pedicure
  54. Get an invisible manicure or pedicure
  55. Have your child name all his or her classmates
  56. See how many people your child can name in your extended family
  57. See how many birthdates of friends and family your child can recall
  58. Name a relative's birth year and have your child figure out how old; invent relatives if necessary
  59. Guess what the people around you do for a living
  60. Make a Christmas or birthday wish list
  61. Count how many words you can spot -- on signs, posters, clothes
  62. Make faces
  63. Play Straight Face
  64. Try to make each other laugh -- last one wins
  65. Have a staring contest
  66. Have your child narrate a favorite movie
  67. Interview your child for a TV news show
  68. Speak Pig Latin
  69. Play "Truth or Dare"
  70. Make up your own secret code
  71. Think of rhyming words for items around you
  72. Take turns naming words for a letter of the alphabet; last one to think of a word wins, and you move to the next letter
  73. Same as above, but with rhymes
  74. Same as above, but with entries in categories
  75. Explain the meaning of various figures of speech
  76. Make up silly similes
  77. Make a puppet face with your fist, with your thumb as the lower jaw
  78. Flip a coin
  79. Do "This little piggy" on feet or hands
  80. Give a backrub
  81. Get a backrub
  82. Crawl fingers up your child's back or arm like a spider
  83. Make up an acronym for your child's name, and the names of other family members
  84. Ask for favorites: TV show, movie, book, color, game, animal, friend
  85. Play peek-a-boo
  86. Give your child the name of an object and ask what color it is, what letter it starts with, what shape it is, if it's heavy or light
  87. Go on a "hike" with your two fingers walking over your child's arms, shoulders and head
  88. Break an egg over your child's head by rapping it gently with your fist and then opening your hand to make the egg roll down the face
  89. Do charades
  90. Be mirror images
  91. Play "Simon Says" on a smale scale.
  92. Throw an imaginary ball
  93. Blow imaginary bubbles
  94. Blow a raspberry on your child's arm
  95. "Steal" your child's nose
  96. Be a little goldfish
  97. Do "Here is the church, here is the steeple," or make your own version for another building
  98. Try guided relaxation
  99. Practice breathing techniques
  100. Repeat what the other person says; repeat what the other person says.
  101. See who can go the longest without talking.
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