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Simple Educational Card Games

Simple educational card games can teach important skills for school. While playing educational games you can teach numeracy skills, matching, counting, comparing, social skills, and manners. This article explains how to teach and play.

Did you know that you can play cards and teach important concepts at the same time? All you need is one or more children of at least age 4 and a standard deck of playing cards.

Numeracy Skills

Because standard playing cards are mainly identified with numbers, and have a set sequence and values, they can be used to teach a variety of mathematics skills that will be useful when a child starts school.

  • Matching

Children may be able to match the shapes of numbers even before they can name them. This means that Concentration can be a fun learning game very early. For the first experiences, it’s better to start with a small array of cards, say four across and four down (making sure that you use 8 pairs of any kind you like). Children who are more experienced may enjoy the challenge of larger arrays, even up to the whole deck, in which case the game becomes a memory feat, as well as a matching exercise.

Students will also have the opportunity to match cards when playing Old Maid, as they try to match the card drawn from another player with the card in their own hand, and in Go Fish, when they have to match a verbal description of a card to the card itself.

  • Counting

Counting comes into play in several ways with cards. Counting the spots on the cards, and counting the cards themselves when dealing are two counting activities. Children can also use counting to compare their stacks of cards when playing War or to compare how many books they have when playing games like Fish or Old Maid. When a child is the dealer, encourage him or her to count out loud. For two people, this might take the form of “One for me, and one for you. Two for me, and two for you,” etc. For dealing to multiple players, some children just say the number of cards at the beginning of each round of dealing.

  • Comparing

In playing games like Authors or Go Fish, in which players collect books, children only have to know who got more books to know who won. This can be done without any counting. In card games like War, the comparisons are more complicated. Players must continually compare the card put down by each player to see which is bigger and which is smaller or if they are the same.

Social Skills

  • Turn Taking

Useful for everything from two-person conversation to the dinner table to the classroom to - well, even to the United Nations or the US Congress - turn-taking is learned in youth partly by the enforced turns of game playing.

Who gets to go first can become an issue, but is possible to vary things to that various people have that opportunity. This can be worked in the following ways, each of which also encourages the use of a useful skill: 

  • Youngest first 
  • Oldest first 
  • Alphabetical order (by first name; by middle name) 
  • Backwards alphabetical order 
  • Start from the dealer’s left 
  • Start from the dealer’s right 
  • Tallest first 
  • Shortest first
  • Polite Conversation

Playing a competitive game in a controlled environment is a great time to teach elements of polite conversation. 

Acknowledging another’s achievement is an important part of games. Phrases like: 

  • Good move! 
  • Nice play! 
  • Way to go!

are appropriate, even for your opponent (who may be your sibling or your friend). 

Ending is a really important time for polite behavior. Winners can be happy they won without making loser’s feel bad. Loser’s can be disappointed without making too much what is only a game. Winner’s might say: 

  • Good game! 
  • Thanks for playing! 
  • Let’s keep going until you win, too. 
  • Would you like to play again?

Loser’s might say: 

  • Congratulations! 
  • Good game! 
  • Thanks for playing! 
  • Can we play again?

In all of these ways, simple card games can help prepare children for school and for life.

Written by Mary Elizabeth