Games using pen and paper
What you need: pens or pencils (crayons will do in a pinch), and some paper (graph paper is best for some games).
- Hangman - Think of a word, draw a line for each letter in the word, and let the guessing begin!
- Battle ships - Each player draws in their ships on a 10 x 10 or 20 x 20 piece of graph paper, with each square corresponding to a letter + number (A 1 for example). There are also travel-sized versions of this game.
- Tic-tac toe - Easy fun with little kids (and big kids too!)
- 4 in a row or Connect 4 - Similar to tic-tac toe, but a little more challenging. The travel-sized version works too!
An activity using just paper
What you need: some square pieces of paper. There are many kinds of special origami paper as well.
- Origami - I love origami, and it can be a lot of fun for kids, as long as you pick some easy ones to start off with. A good site is origami-fun, which has a lot of easy origami for kids. Start off with something like the fortune teller for example. It can be played with once it's finished too.
An activity using string
What you need: pieces of string, each piece tied to make a circle (yarn, or shoe-laces can do the trick!).
- Cat's Cradle - It doesn't get more old-school than this: according to Wikipedia, people have played this string game all over the world, pretty much since forever. Try it with your kids: they will be fascinated. And there are so many more things you can do other than just the cradle.
A game using random items
What you need: a random assortment of items from your hand-luggage.
- "What's missing?" - Put 5 or 8 or 10 or more items (let your child's age and interest determine the number) on the tray table on-board, or on a table at the airport. Let your child have a look and then, while they cover their eyes or you cover the items, remove one or more items. Then the game is to guess which item/s are missing. So simple, and yet a lot of fun.
Games that use fingers & hands
What you need: fingers and hands (maybe a puppet or two).
- Rock, paper, scissors - So easy, yet so competitive. Can be used even while you're waiting in line at the security screening!
- Puppets - My son has always loved puppets, and I think they're kind of magical for kids to use and play with. Bring one in your hand-luggage and easily entertain kids from infants to much older. (The paper bag from your seat-pocket will make a puppet in a pinch too!).
- Fingerplays - there are tons of fingerplays that preschool aged kids (and sometimes older kids too) can have a lot of fun with. For some ideas, Google "finger plays" or visit Gayle's preschool rainbow.
Games using no items at all
What you need: yourself and your kids.
- 20 questions - Easy and old-school, and can be tailored for any age group. There's a card game version as well.
- I Spy... - A good game to pull out when you're waiting in line, or walking through an airport with tired, bored kids.
Sometimes it's nice to rely on an honest-to-goodness game in a box (or bag). Magnetic versions are often good because it's easier to keep track of small pieces.
- Travel Memory Game - Excellent fun for kids, and I like this travel version a lot.
- Travel Magnetic Chess - A 9 hour flight could be the perfect time to teach your kids (or yourself!) to play chess.
- Peek-A-Boo Bag - great travel toy for babies.
- Pass the Pigs - A game that involves throwing pigs: how can you go wrong?
Hand picture thanks to Wikimedia Commons.