A deck of cards makes a small, inexpensive stocking stuffer for any kid. Since December 28th is National Card Playing Day, pop one into your child’s stocking and learn a few new games. It’s a great way for a family to have fun and keep up academic skills during the holiday break from school.
When my son struggled to add long columns of numbers, I taught him to play Rummy 500 and had him keep score. He enjoyed it so much, we played Rummy every evening for an entire summer. I’ve been using card games for learning ever since. They can teach, or reinforce, skills from the most basic skill of matching to complex logical thinking. Let me share with you a few games we enjoy.
Rummy—(for two or more players, singly or in partnership)
Rummy comes in many variations. Consult a card game book or website for the one that suits you best.
I taught this game to my middle-schooler to help him add long columns of numbers, and my 7-year-old to teach him to count by fives. In Rummy, you play cards in runs of three or more. This reinforces counting, sequencing, and matching. Or you play the cards in sets of three or more, which requires matching of numbers.
Children can also learn by calculating their own scores. If a player goes out and is left with points in his hand, those points must be subtracted from those he played. Sometimes this results in a negative score. The child learns to add and subtract columns up to three digits, including negatives. Also, deciding which card to play when, and remembering which cards your opponents pick up, requires a certain degree of logical thinking.
Pig—(for any number of players)
Prepare your deck so you end up with only four cards for each player. If you have five players, you will only play with 20 cards—four 2s, four 3s, etc. Shuffle well and deal each player four cards. To play, everyone simultaneously passes one card to the player on the left. Play continues in this fashion until someone gets four-of-a-kind. When a player gets four-of-a-kind, he quietly puts a finger on his nose. As each player notices, they put a finger on their nose. The last player to put his finger on his nose is the pig.
Playing Pig taught my 4-year-old number recognition, matching, and how to lose gracefully.
Concentration—(for any number of players)
I prepare the deck for this game as well. For my younger children, I use fewer cards and make sure I only have two-of-a-kind (two 2s, two 4s, etc.). As they get older, I add more to the deck.
Deal cards face down on the table in uniform rows. Players take turns flipping over two cards. If they do not match, they are turned back in the same place. When someone turns over a matched set, they keep those cards. When all the cards are matched, the player with the most sets wins.
While Concentration (or Memory) teaches younger children number recognition and matching, it helps older children sharpen their memory. We also like to add variations to the rules, like requiring the player to multiply the cards before keeping the matched set. Use your imagination.
Through the Window—(three or more players)
Play this game with a deck of alphabet flash cards. Deal four cards to each person. The dealer begins by saying, “I looked through the window and saw…” He then turns up one of his cards for all to see. Each player then tries to complete the sentence with a word beginning with the same letter of the alphabet as the card turned up. The first player to call out a correct word takes the card. Play continues to the left until all the cards are taken. The player who takes the most cards, wins.
To make this game more challenging, add cards that have blends. Or complete the sentence with a word that ends with the sound. Through the Window supports any phonics program, covering the alphabet, letter sounds, spelling, and pre-composition skills.
Klondike Solitaire—(for one player)
I won’t go into the rules of this game because most folks have it on their computer and already know how to play. But don’t be tempted to have your child play this on the computer. He will not learn to deal, nor will he have the tactile stimulation of handling the cards.
The basic play of Klondike, building the cards from king down, alternating red and black, teaches children to count backwards and strengthens patterning skills. Building the cards up on the aces reviews forward counting. In addition to counting and patterning, Klondike trains children to look at all options for a solution by looking at every possible card for a move.
Make Your Own Playing Cards
Using card stock and a paper cutter, you can manufacture your own cards. Have each of your children make their own deck of cards. If they are old enough, they can make their design on the computer and you can print it from there. For younger children, mark cutting lines on card stock (the typical playing card measures 2½ by 3½ inches) and have them decorate the cards using markers or crayons. For the final touch, use a corner rounder (a scrapbooking tool) to finish off the corners.
Carol J. Alexander has used card playing and other unconventional methods of teaching her six children at home.
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